The Problem Swartz, a mother of two daughters, felt that girls "between boys and toys," as she puts it, lacked cool but wholesome media designed expressly for them. So she created the Beacon Street Girls, a book series with an ensemble cast, including an adopted soccer enthusiast and a dyslexic girl. The books, as well as sleeping bags and other related products, were available on the company website and in a few dozen mostly independent bookshops. But Swartz had bigger ambitions, hoping to post $1 million in sales that year and eventually become the American Girl brand of the preteen market. She knew, though, that in a culture dominated by Britney Spears, wholesomeness would be a tough sell.
What the Experts Said Christopher McKee, a marketing consultant at the Geppetto Group in New York City, thought the Beacon Street Girls were too "goody-goody" to appeal to tweens. "Kids that age don't like to be patronized," he said. "They like darker characters, like Harry Potter." However, Tasnufa Islam, an eighth-grader from the Bronx, New York, was a big fan. "The Beacon Street Girls really appeal to me," she said.
What's Happened Since Beacon Street Girls books and accessories are now sold in hundreds of gift shops and bookstores in 38 states, including Barnes & Noble and Borders. Though Swartz remains committed to her original wholesome mission, books five and six took a somewhat darker turn, tackling issues such as childhood obesity and a cutthroat class election. "The girls fight like cats and dogs," Swartz says. "That's not goody-goody to me." Swartz says she met her $1 million sales goal in 2005.
What's Next Swartz expects revenue to double, to $2 million, in 2006, fueled by sales of five new books. Book seven, called Freaked Out, pushes the limits a bit further by including a story line about underage drinking. How far will Swartz go? "We are a for-profit company," she says. "But are we going to do something on sex? No."