WCPO-9 News Cincinnati, Ohio

'Troop on the Stoop' goes to battle to comfort children of parents away serving the country

Veteran's idea came in part from stint in Iraq 

By: Kevin Eigelbach | WCPO contributor

When Erlanger resident Blake Wayman, 31, was serving in Iraq with the Army 4th Infantry Division, he opened packages from home on a door stoop at his base.

It became known as the “troop stoop.”

After his discharge in 2007, Wayman took a job maintaining medical equipment at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. There, he saw many soldiers with sick children. 

In December 2013, he visited a patient whose parents were both serving in the military overseas. At that time, the Elf on the Shelf Christmas dolls were everywhere, he said.

That’s when he conceived of Troop on the Stoop, a toy designed to comfort children whose parents are serving overseas.

Packaged in a green box with “Your battle buddy is there for you” written on the front, it includes a smiling, stuffed toy soldier dressed in camouflage, a picture frame for a photo of the absent parent and an illustrated book written by Wayman.

The book is about a father who leaves home on military service and sends his children the Troop on the Stoop to keep him in their thoughts, Wayman said.

Is anyone buying the product?

Wayman launched the website www.trooponthestoop.com July 25, and in the first 10 days, he sold 143. They retail for $31.99.

Five percent of the proceeds go to the Yellow Ribbon Support Center, a Cincinnati-based nonprofit that supports soldiers.

There are roughly 1.3 million serving in the military overseas.

Wayman would like to see the toy in the hands of every service-person’s child, and possibly also those of parents whose children are entering the service.

Are there investors?

So far, just Wayman, but he’s made a big bet, putting up his $40,000 in savings. That’s paid for attorney’s fees, trademarking, T-shirts, the website and an initial production run of 1,000.

Has he owned a business before?

No, but he’s sought help from fellow veterans who own similar businesses: Menifee, Calif.-based Juan Hernandez, creator of Ghoul on a Stool; and Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Justin Baum, creator of ZZZ Bears.

Ghoul on a Stool is basically a Halloween version of Elf on the Shelf. Wal-Mart plans to stock it starting Aug. 31, Hernandez said.

Hernandez has encouraged Wayman to use social media to drive demand for Troop on the Stoop, which Wayman has done using a Facebook page. He also encouraged Wayman to use the page not just to push product but to show people his personality.

“You have to entertain people, make them smile and connect with them on an emotional level,” Hernandez said. “If you have that, people will make a sale.”

Baum’s ZZZ Bears is a teddy bear dressed in fatigues that’s intended to help children sleep. He’s starting to sell the product in military exchange stores across the country, an outlet he thinks Wayman should also get into.

“I love talking to (Wayman),” Baum said. “He’s full of that natural enthusiasm of the first-time entrepreneur.”

Wayman is full of ideas on how to expand the product line, Baum said, but he has urged Wayman to focus on first establishing a track record with Troop on the Stoop.

What’s next?

Wayman is having the book reillustrated by a new illustrator, he’s working on reducing the size of the box to cut shipping costs and he’s working on a prototype that will have a female battle buddy.

What has he learned?

Being an entrepreneur can be stressful because there’s so much one can’t control.

“I do my work, but waiting for other people to produce what I’ve paid them for, that’s a source of anxiety,” he said.

Which he said has led him to this resolution: “Don’t pay 100 percent of the money until you have the final product.”