NEW YORK -- When Larry Schwarz talks about the future of his entertainment company Rumpus.com, he is quick to point out one thing: The Disney empire started with just Mickey Mouse.
Who knows if Schwarz will ever be the next Walt Disney, but he's sure trying and many people are betting that this energetic 30-year-old will make it big.
He is already creating quite a buzz with his zany toys and soon-to-be-released online movie. And he shocked the retailing world early this year by cutting off supply of his toys to their stores and only offering goods on the Rumpus Web site.
''I've never wanted to be like every other toy company out there. I'm sticking to that,'' Schwarz said. ''I have big dreams of what this business will become. Who knows, maybe one day we'll even have theme parks too.''
Founded only three years ago as Rumpus Toys, the company is a small player in the industry. Mammoth manufacturers like Mattel and Hasbro dwarf it in size -- Rumpus' sales last year totaled around $15 million, while Mattel brought in $5.5 billion.
Still, Rumpus has managed to make waves. It doesn't make action figures or plastic dolls; its toys are offbeat plush creatures like nothing else on the market.
Take Gus Gutz -- one of Schwarz's first creations. He looks like just a soft, goofy doll, but a child who reaches down his fleece throat can pull out his inner organs, such as the intestine, heart and kidneys.
''Some of the stuff is crazy, but they are so fun and creative, very over-the-top,'' said Chris Byrne, a New York-based toy industry consultant. ''I love that Larry is willing to actually take such risks, and he's gotten noticed for it.''
That's what Schwarz wanted when he founded Rumpus in late 1996. After finishing law school, he decided to give his toy-making dream a try rather than being an attorney.
He set up shop in his parents' New York home and begin designing toys. By the winter of 1997, a small lot of his dolls were being made at a factory in China.
''I said OK, now I am going to do this, and if it doesn't work, I haven't lost anything but some money and time,'' Schwarz said during an interview at his hip downtown headquarters. ''The first few months, I wasn't so sure what was happening.''
The only retailer willing to give him a chance was FAO Schwarz (no relation). The specialty toy chain ordered about 60 dolls, just to see how the small supply went over at its New York flagship store.
Schwarz also sent Gus Gutz to some television hosts to see if they'd take it on air.
''We had no idea if anyone would like it, but then next thing we knew Kathie Lee Gifford brings it on her show, and everyone wants Gus,'' Schwarz said. ''FAO calls us back and says, 'Send over more.' ''
That first break helped put Rumpus on the map. Many mom-and-pop shops -- which are typically more willing to take a risk on a new toy line -- embraced the company's products.
The big chains, however, were still hesitant. But Schwarz was determined to get noticed.
He secretly placed toys on store shelves at retailers who wouldn't stock his merchandise, hoping that shoppers would try to buy them. His press events were sometimes over-the-top; on one occasion he displayed a live rooster to show that his Wake Me Willy doll was more enjoyable in the morning than a rooster's screams.
Rumpus hit stride in 1999. Its toys were in stores nationwide and across the Web, including being a top seller on Internet giant Amazon.com.
Rumpus also was recognized for innovative Web site, http://www.rumpus.com. The company won great acclaim for its online cartoons, many of which were tied to its popular toys.
Investors started to take note, including Kevin Micher, president of Universal Pictures, and William Lauder of Clinique, who poured their own money into the company and sit on its board of directors.
''Larry has a mind that comes up with things with magical appeal,'' said Stephen Klein, the chairman of the Internet media and marketing company iballs, who put some of his own money into Rumpus.
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