All kids can be little stinkers sometimes. And Britt Menzies’ two kids, Max and Emma, were no exception. But when Britt became inspired to create cute and spunky kid characters based on her children, a brand was born. Celebrity Parents spoke exclusively to Britt about StinkyKids, being bullied as a child, and what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur—and a happy mom.
What was life like prior to launching StinkyKids?
I was a stay at home mom. I had worked at Coca Cola as an accountant in the past. Being home with my kids brought out my arts and carts side. One day my daughter Emma asked me to paint her as a ballerina, and that was the beginning of StinkyKids. What I was meant to be truly came out.
From that first painting, how did the books develop from there?
It’s been an evolution since that first day. I basically turned that into a hobby business. From there, someone wanted to buy the rights to the characters for tee shirts. But once they got into Nordstrom, I knew it was more than just tee shirts and so did Nordstrom’s. They told me to create a story behind the characters. That’s when I created the dolls and wrote the books. My mom would laugh about me being a children’s author because as a kid, I had the worst spelling and grammar!
What were some of the more stinky things your kids did?
The first book was about Britt going to bed with gum in her mouth. The other one was when Max was in school and he thought it was funny to pull down his pants. And the Have a Heart book is about bullying at preschool. I was heavily bullied when I was a kid.
How were you bullied?
It was intense. It was during elementary and middle school. I had things thrown at me constantly. I had people meeting me after school in gang style. I was the only Jewish person in the neighborhood, so that definitely had an effect.
I came up with the idea of little stinkers learning from their mistakes. Kids make mistakes. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad kid; it just means you’re a kid. You can still make good choices afterwards and learn from it. When I was on the playground with my son Max, I told him to be a leader of good. And that’s how it came to be the StinkyKids motto.
It’s true. The term “stinky kids” can be construed in a negative way. It’s good to acknowledge that yes, kids can be annoying, but that’s not necessarily how they’re always going to be.
It gives them the opportunity to make mistakes but not be classified as a bad kid. I think the StinkyKids brand caught on because this is real kid activity, so people can relate to it. Everyone has made those same mistakes. I always say that childhood is funny, mistakes are funnier, but the way kids try to make up for their mistakes is the absolute funniest.
Now let’s talk about the musical, StinkyKids: The Musical. How did it come to be?
As an entrepreneur, I have a motto that says “Never assume no.” Madame Alexander produces my StinkyKids dolls, as well as the Pinkalicious and Angelina Ballerina dolls. I realized that both of those brands had musicals, but not StinkyKids. So I spoke to Vital Theatre and said, “You have shows that are good for girls and their daddies, and girls with their parents, but what about a show for everyone in the family?” And within a couple of weeks, we were signing to do the musical. We’ve had sold-out shows since it opened in March, and we just won the Off-Broadway Alliance’s Best Family Musical for 2012.
What are your plans for the future?
A lot! [laughs] StinkyKids is a fully licensed brand, so we’re looking to expand the toy line and include arts and crafts, even apps so kids can play with them. I’ve written the synopsis for 12 more books. There’s even a StinkyKids bike coming out. It’s really expanding the product line. I’d like to have it animated too, and our hope is that the musical will travel as well.
How old are your own Stinky Kids?
Max is now 13, and that’s a whole new chapter of stinky kids! [laughs] I don’t know if I can do it; I think those are going to be chapter books! And Emma is 9. Both kids are truly my business partners. I bounce things off of them all the time.
How do you balance it work with family life?
Well, I handle business right away. I don’t have to-do lists. When someone emails, I answer right away. The more the work piles up, the balancing becomes harder. I have a traveling office. If we’re at the pool, I have my laptop with me. I make myself accessible all the time. You have to act quickly in today’s world. My kids want me to succeed, and they understand that sometimes work comes first.
But I always include them. Emma has a makeshift desk, and she’ll get on the phone and say, “Hi this is Emma, the creator of StinkyKids.” [laughs] I feel that I am giving them so much more because they are learning that when you go for what you love you’ll be successful. It’s not always easy, but you make it work. I’m lucky because both my kids and my husband Mark are very supportive of me. I mentor a lot of entrepreneurs, and I tell them that your business has to be a part of you. You have to have passion, drive and be the ambassador of your brand. And then the sky’s the limit.