Finger Puppets Inc, a start-up from Palm Desert, California began almost by accident. In 2012, Robby Sorensen had dropped out of his commerce degree at University Canada West in Vancouver and moved to Southern California. “I wanted to do something more creative, and had my sights set on film, or PR, but wasn’t sure exactly…? Somehow I envisioned myself living in a warehouse in LA, doing something artistic and being extremely interesting. I couldn‘t sit through anymore math classes.” Says Sorensen.
Sorensen enrolled at College of the Desert in Palm Desert, and began trying to figure it out. “I was thinking about taking an Intro to Business class, mainly because I thought it’d be an easy ‘A’ for me given my commerce background, plus I always liked dreaming up ideas for business.” He went back to Canada to visit family for the holidays at the end of the semester. On his way to his hometown a winter storm left him unexpectedly stranded in Vancouver for a night. It was here that he ran into an old acquaintance and was introduced to someone who had just returned from Peru with a bag of finger puppets.
“This was the first time I had ever seen these little knitted finger puppets.” Sorensen went to work right away and spent the holidays researching the finger puppets. He learned that they were handmade by rural artisans all over Peru, they have been made for generations, and that there were hundreds of styles to collect. “I immediately saw the potential for a really cool brand.” He became so fascinated with Peru he decided to go there before the semester began. “I half expected it to be a wild goose chase, but figured I’d have a fun vacation. I showed up in Lima, never having been there before, not knowing anyone, or speaking Spanish, so its really quite amazing, but by lunch on the first day, the stars had aligned for me and I had found what I came looking for.”
Upon returning from Peru, Sorensen went back to class and began planning the company whenever he could find spare time. He decided Spanish would be more beneficial so he never took the Intro to Business class. Next he hired people to help start-up the company while he completed the semester. He also began the long visa process so that he could legally move to the USA full time and build the finger puppet company. “I used all the money I had saved for school along with help from family and friends to get things going, but America is where dreams like this can come true.” The company took off fairly quickly and it was clear to Sorensen that there was tremendous interest in the product. “The United States is the most sophisticated market in the world, so it required a lot of work to develop the brand and refine the presentation in a way that the market would respond to. “
Focus groups offered positive feedback, early beta testing in stores was extremely encouraging and Sorensen was inspired by the ideas generated. “ I got really excited once I realized the product had traction with millennials, I already knew they had great interest in socially responsible brands and since I was working with artisans from subsistence communities in Peru, I saw a natural connection. I began to build the brand around the history of the finger puppets and the incredible people who make them. “ Sorensen went back to Peru many times and even had an apartment in Lima for a while. “Regular trips to Peru are the best part of the job,” says Sorensen (a big fan of Peru and especially of Peruvian cuisine.)
After almost two years of research and development, the brand officially launched in June of 2015 at the ASTRA (American Specialty Toy Retailing Association) tradeshow and was an instant hit. “Since then we have picked up tons of accounts all across the country and more come every day.” It didn’t take long before distributors from overseas started calling. Now his company is about to sign a lease on a small warehouse, and is expanding to offer fulfillment services for other small brands alongside the finger puppets.
Neilsen Research shows that around the world, 66% of respondents to a recent survey say they’re willing to pay more for products and services that come from companies who are committed to positive social and environmental impact, up from 55% in 2014 and 50% in 2013. This is not just a fad, but evidence of a shift in the way we think about our purchasing decisions. According to Sorensen; “I’m a firm believer that business is a tool than can be used as a force for good.”
Socially responsible brands are everywhere today, driven by the millennials, a market segment that already accounts for an annual $1.3 trillion of consumer spending, or 21% of the total. When companies support social and environmental issues, millennials respond with increased trust (91 percent) and loyalty (89 percent) as well as a stronger likelihood to buy those companies’ products and services (89 percent).
Finger Puppets Inc. collaborates with artisan groups that uphold and adhere to fair trade practices. We assist them with marketing and distribution helping expose their craft to a global audience and making a tremendous impact on impoverished communities while offering great products to the public.