How One Entrepreneur Survives Challenges Like COVID-19

By Adriaan Brits Sunday, June 28, 2020

Jay Kamhi, the 59-year-old founder of Kamhi World Toys, has been an entrepreneur since he was a teenager, spending the first 20 years as a vendor on the streets of New York.

Like 30.2 million small businesses across the US, Kamhi is suffering the impact of COVID-19. However, he will survive just as he has for the past 40 years because he never forgets his “thing.”

Kamhi’s continuously evolving business has taken him from vending on the streets to wholesaling, online sales, design and manufacture of novelty toys, and now the production and distribution of emergency medical goods. Over the years, he has survived pop culture fads, 9/11, trademark wars, and political trends.

We take a look at his method for overcoming business challenges below.

Spotting Opportunities Early

As a child, Kamhi was obsessed with The Addams Family and became attached to “Thing,” the hand that walked around in the show. At 17 years old, he saw “Thing” in a store window, bought it, found the inventor, and became a distributor. The following week he sold all the hands within an hour and made $250.

Kamhi was so excited that he told his father he didn’t want to go to college because he wanted to sell “Thing.” His father understood — his dream was to act, write movies, and direct them. Instead, he became a social worker because his mother never understood his passion. His father then said to Kamhi, “Keep doing your thing.”

Quick-Thinking Leads to Shifted Focuses

After selling “Things” for ten years, interest in them declined. Kamhi then decided to expand his line of novelties and begin wholesaling to stores. Big stores like Walmart and Target never bought from him because buyers didn’t understand his products. As a result, Kamhi went 100% broke and owed $1 million in debt.

His mistake? Shifting away from selling directly to customers had taken him away from ideas that he knew were good, and killed his sales and motivation. Because he loved his employees more than he loved his products, he persisted and took the business online, on Amazon.

As part of his products, Kamhi made and sold Clinton pens, George W. Bush pens, and Obama pens without trouble. When he made the talking Trump pen, he entered a trademark war because Trump had trademarked his name. Kamhi ended up with $30,000 worth of unsellable pens.

He survived that crisis by making a version of the pens without saying Trump on the packaging. The pen was amusing yet unprovoking, so he listed it on Amazon. Its humorous nature was discussed on national television on shows like The View and The Sean Hannity Show. Suddenly, online sales went wild, and within two weeks, the pen became the most popular toy on Amazon. Kamhi was able to pay off his debts and recover financially.

New Skills for a New Problem

By the time COVID-19 became a pandemic, Kamhi’s business was completely online. His company experienced a 30% drop in sales within a day. After panicking a moment, he fell back on his usual strategies for managing crises:

Taking the reins. Although he was scared, Kamhi led his team when they needed a leader. Each time he has reminded himself of his leadership role by asking himself what a strong leader would do. Then he acts the part and steps into the role.

Persistence. Kamhi never gives up when a product is not selling. He takes stock of available resources and leads his team forward from there.

Promotion. Kamhi noticed that people had less money but were also willing to buy. So, he doubled the promotion of his products when competitors were standing down and lowered his prices. His vendors and manufacturers also lowered their prices, and they all made sales.

Mixing products. After taking stock of the situation, Kamhi realized that consumers needed certain items and that many people needed work. He asked manufacturers to produce N-95 masks and asked the people around him to sell them. He heard that his vendor friends in New York were suffering, so he sent them masks to sell. Everyone won because he shifted products. Since then, he has recovered from the sales slump.

Entrepreneurship Needed After COVID-19

Unemployment, which has risen by 9.8% since February 2020, is predicted to exceed World War II levels post-pandemic. More people will be forced to become entrepreneurs to survive.

Like Kamhi, they have to take leadership roles, continuously examine the “new normal,” and do whatever they can to persevere.

Kamhi is still responding to the needs of the market, helping everyone both survive and win. At every stage, he looks to his father for inspiration. At 89 years old, his father runs a YouTube channel and has produced eight short movies with 15 million views. Despite increasing challenges, both father and son are fulfilling their dreams and doing their “thing.”

About the Author

Headshot for author Adriaan Brits
As an analyst of global affairs, Adriaan has an MSC from Oxford, with diverse interests in the digital economy, entertainment, and business. He is a specialist trainer in Advanced Analytics & Media.

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