Local business Damhorst Toys and Puzzels Inc. has been chosen as a finalist for the first Small Business Spotlight Awards contest hosted by retail giant Amazon.com Inc.
Co-business owner Megin (Damhorst) Cassimatis said they had nothing to lose by entering the contest and were chosen from 1,300 small businesses. They are competing for votes generated by interest from social media with five other businesses that range from a rope company to healthy coffee creamer, beef snacks, pet supplies made out of recycled and natural materials and a pizza stone made out of ultra-conductive steel.
According to an Amazon spokesperson, the six finalists were chosen based on their story of origin and company vision, customer centricity, product innovation, selection and value.
She added that U.S.-based small and medium-sized businesses sell on average more than 4,000 items per minute in Amazon’s stores. Overall, independent third-party sellers—primarily small and medium-sized businesses— made up 58 percent of all physical gross merchandise sold in Amazon’s stores last year and their sales far exceeded $2 billion on Prime Day in July this year.
Megin thinks her deceased parents, Don and Carol Damhorst, who started the company in 1971, would be pleased with the Amazon recognition and the progress she and her brother Kris have made with the business. They expanded their production space by about 2,000 sq. ft. in 2016 and have 14 full and part-time employees in the Hermann Industrial Park. They still sell direct to their customers just like their parents and have tried not to change things too much, other than upgrade shop technology.
The company still produces kid-friendly wooden toys and furniture, just like when they sold direct to new customers at summer craft shows. From the mid-1970s into the 80s, Don, who was a college professor, and Carol, took their family of three kids along for the ride in a big box truck staying at motels along the way, the kids fighting over who got to sit where in the truck.
Their hand-made products struck a chord with new parents and grandparents alike and the toys were seen as fun, educational and made wonderful gifts.
Their website history reads:
“Damhorst Toys manufactured the first ever personalized wooden name puzzle stool, patterned after a jigsaw puzzle. Made in America, the name “puzzle stool” became an instant hit. By design, it taught small children hand-eye coordination as they struggled with and then mastered proper placement of the puzzle pieces. It taught them to recognize shapes and distinguish one letter and one color from the next, and to spell their name. It also instilled a sense of independence while brushing their teeth, reaching up into a closet, and having their own "chair" to sit on while reading.”
In February of 1998, the Damhorsts moved the business from their home in Wildwood, to a larger shop here in Hermann and in 2004, Megin and Kris took ownership of Damhorst Toys full-time. Their sister, who did not join them in the business, is a chief of operations manager for a large company in Chicago.
The Damhorst kids have made measured business decisions. They have expanded the product offering to include coat racks, bookends, more puzzles and personalized baby blocks. The product characteristics haven’t changed. The edges on all their wood products are smooth to the touch and painted with brightly-colored water-based acrylic non-toxic paints in a color palette created by Megin’s mother who was an art teacher.
“We haven’t changed the color palette,” said Megin. “We haven’t changed too much and we’ve kept the look, feel and touch the same. We don’t want to be the generation that cheapens the product.”
The siblings sell through their own website and the Amazon site.
“We’ve had to educate ourselves about social media,” she shares. [Brother] Kris does the marketing and we’re trying to change with the times.”
What will Kris and Megin receive, should they win the Amazon contest? The winners will receive a prize package including six months of dedicated Amazon account management, Sponsored Products advertising credits, promotion on Amazon.com and a trip to Amazon’s Seattle headquarters. Winners will be announced later this year.
To vote for Hermann-based Damhorst Toys in the Small Business Spotlight Awards contest:
1. Click on the supplied link or go to the Damhorst Toys Facebook page and find the “Small Business of the Year” post, pinned at the top of the newsfeed.
2. Click on the link that goes to the contest page on Amazon and,
3. click to vote after signing in.