Back when Beaver Raymond was entrenched in the apparel industry, he worked directly with big brands including Perry Ellis, Marc Jacobs, and Tom Ford. So when he left a career that had lasted more than 20 years to start an offbeat toy business—selling a fiberglass “gun” that shoots safe, soft, edible marshmallows—some people thought he’d lost his mind. Despite the doubts, Raymond stuck to his instincts and went with his gut feeling—something he says he’s been doing his whole life.
When he left a career that lasted more than 20 years to start an offbeat toy business, some people thought he’d lost his mind.
The zig-zagging journey to co-founding the successful, Dallas-based Marshmallow Fun Co. actually began in his youth, when Raymond became interested in business. “Where I got my drive was selling cards door-to-door, selling popcorn at games, saving my money along the way,” he says. In grade school, he remembers, he went to a baseball game once and disappeared from his family’s sight. After searching in a panic, relatives found Raymond in the stands selling popcorn for a set profit that he’d negotiated with a worker at the concession stand. “I always felt that I was going to own my own business,” he says. “I was always ambitious.”
Raymond graduated from Bishop Lynch High School, then enrolled at Texas Tech to study advertising and marketing. A year before he was due to graduate, he was offered a job in the clothing industry—a position with a significant salary. So, he dropped out of school. That led him to work at Manhattan Industries, an apparel manufacturer, under CEO Larry Leeds, who became Raymond’s mentor.
Working in the clothing industry motivated Raymond to start his own apparel business, called Central Falls. “I got in a pattern of asking my retailers, ‘What do you want? What are you looking for?’ That’s when I started my own company,” he says. The clothing company did private branding for Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, and Harold’s. About 15 years into the venture, fate intervened when Raymond’s son, Jake, was on the cusp of turning 9 years old.
As Raymond was preparing for Jake’s birthday party with his wife, Kim, he was trying to figure out what to give the kids as party favors. The night before the celebration, he stayed up late working with PVC pipe and creating what is now known as the Straight Shooter. To get it to work, all the kids had to do was drop in a marshmallow and blow at one end, expelling soft, harmless marshmallows at their “victims.” The favors were such a big hit, Beaver partnered with his friend, Johnny de la Valdene, and sent their idea to Jeff Mitchell, an engineer and another friend of theirs.
Since the founders wanted their invention to be safe for children to use, they perfected the design so the marshmallow could not be inhaled. They also switched to using fiberglass, which was much lighter, instead of the PVC pipe.
Once the new product was ready, it needed distribution. “I didn’t know anybody in the toy world, [but] because of my clothing background, I called Neiman’s, and they put it in their catalog,” Raymond recalls. “Nordstrom was buying it. Mainly we sold at clothing stores.”
The marshmallow shooter was featured on ABC-TV’s “Good Morning America” show, and Raymond began getting phone calls: “People were calling us wanting to order a container, and I thought, ‘What is a container?’” Toys-R-Us became interested, as did Bass Pro Shops and many other top retailers. Says Raymond: “It was exciting, because my clothing business was [also] successful [at the time], and the toy was being hugely received.” In 2008, the venture known as Marshmallow Fun Co. recorded sales of $4 million. A year later, sales hit $7.5 million, and Raymond knew it was time to shut down Central Falls.
Since the initial invention, other products have followed. Marshmallow Fun now has products known as blasters, blowers, and mini-bows—whatever one may need for future marshmallow battles. Its newest offering, the Snow Ball Blaster, expels soft, snow-like material, which means its “ammunition” is just as safe as marshmallows.
Marshmallow Fun now is branching out beyond the marshmallow world into the pet industry. It’s developing a dog-treat launcher and, next spring, will debut a ball launcher for canines.
One of Raymond’s favorite quotes is by Zig Ziglar, the late Dallas motivational speaker: “If you’re not willing to risk the unusual, you will have to settle for the ordinary.” Raymond certainly risked the unusual, and his life is far from ordinary. Marshmallow Fun is aiming for worldwide distribution by year’s end.