The X-tails: Action-Packed Children’s Books with a Message
The tail of a great Canadian storyteller
Larry Fielding and his family, who are based in Prince George, British Columbia, often enjoyed escaping to a nearby ski hill to enjoy the Canadian wilderness. To pass the time during the 2-hour drive, Larry would tell stories along the way to his 2-year-old son, Colton. As Larry is an avid skateboarder, snowboarder and BMX racer, he would often focus his stories on extreme sports. His son couldn’t get enough of these tales: “That’s all Colton wanted to hear every time we went to the ski hill – stories, stories, stories,” says Larry.
His wife, Corrie soon recognized how talented her husband was, and encouraged the father of two to think seriously about writing children's books.
“The reason that I knew his stories were really good is that all his stories had a message. No matter what characters Colton wanted, Larry would create this story with an action sport, plus a message. And then Colton would say, ‘Mom, how about you tell me a story?’ My stories didn’t come close, and I would have a chuckle. Larry has a gift - telling a good story is very difficult,” says Corrie.
After initially laughing at the idea of becoming a children’s book author, Larry reflected and realized that he had always enjoyed writing.
“As a kid, I remember one of my teachers pulling me up in front of the class to read one of the stories I wrote. After I was done, she told us that it was the first story by a student that made her cry. When Corrie suggested that I write children’s books I thought, she could be onto something,” says Larry.
Starting a 100% Canadian made business
Once he committed to the idea, Larry saw an opportunity to create a unique product for kids in Canada. He found there were two gaps in the children’s book market. Firstly, there weren’t any cool illustrated children’s book series with positive values and role models. And second, there aren’t very many children’s books about action sports like surfing, snowboarding, skiing, and skateboarding.
“When I tried to find books to read to my children about these sports, I could tell right away that the author hadn’t done the sport as they were pretty cheesy. One of my goals is to reflect these sports in a realistic light, but also to appeal to kids at the same time, and their parents with a positive message in each book. It’s pretty subtle but I think that’s important,” says Larry.
Larry wanted to bring more exposure to these sports as they don’t always get the right attention.
“For the longest time, action sports such as skateboarding, BMX, snowboarding, and skiing had a stigma and maybe they still do. This year, for the first time, we saw skateboarding and surfing in the Olympics – it’s good to see they are becoming more accepted,” he says.
And so, the X-tails was born. Since 2013, Larry has released eight books for ages 5-9, all centered around an action sport, with a moral to the story. The series features six main characters that navigate issues like bullying, inclusion, sportsmanship, and the environment. He works with an illustrator to bring his stories to life – somebody who understands how unique these sports are, and who was on board right away. The books are made and printed in Canada!
When Larry first established his business in 2013, he purchased two domains right away - thextails.ca and xtails.ca. He also purchased a .com as he wanted to ensure that they protected their brand online and their domain portfolio. They have a redirect strategy which is very common for businesses. 34% of Canadian small business owners with a website have registered their domain on more than one TLD. Why? Many companies get both their .CA and .com, and easily redirect one to the other. This way they have all of their bases covered and don't lose out on any direct web traffic.
“The .CA is important as customers realize that we are Canadian and it’s something that we’re very proud of. We have a unique product – it's pretty cool that we’re Canadian and the .CA really shows that. Customers realize that purchases may be safer as they know they won’t be charged import fees or duties and shipping will be less costly as it comes from Canada,” says Larry.
Larry registered his domain through GoDaddy and added on email and web hosting for a simple way to manage everything under one umbrella.
“We went with GoDaddy as it is a secure, well-known and trusted business. The support has been amazing during the time we have used GoDaddy. My wife Corrie has started another business and there was no hesitation in going through GoDaddy. She designed her own website from scratch with them and it’s been a great experience the whole time,” says Larry.
Growing a business and a community from coast, to coast, to coast
Since taking the business online, the X-tails has seen a lot of growth. They’ve sold over 20,000 books to date. Their primary customers are parents, grandparents, and teachers.
“It’s great to see that sports like skateboarding and BMX don’t scare them off. A lot of parents reach out to us with reluctant readers that are surprisingly into the books so that has been rewarding. That’s been neat to see – kids that haven’t enjoyed reading but when they find my books, that changes for them,” says Larry.
Facing the Dragons
In 2018, Corrie decided to apply to Season 13 of Dragons’ Den on Larry’s behalf. When Larry found out they had been accepted onto the show, he was hesitant about it. As somebody who is on the shy side, Larry wasn’t initially motivated to go onto the show, but after some thought realized that he would likely be uncomfortable during the pitch, but it would be worthwhile.
“No regrets. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done and I’m really proud of myself. I was shy so had to gain a lot of courage but being on Dragons’ Den with my family certainly helped,” says Larry.
Even though the X-tails didn’t land a deal with one of the Dragons, they landed some great advice. The Dragons loved their creativity and the messages of inclusiveness the books have. One of the Dragons offered to spend a few hours with Corrie and Larry to advise them on the next steps of their business.
“We saw a huge growth when we were on Dragons’ Den. Even though we didn’t get a deal, our sales still skyrocketed and the feedback we got was super positive. It’s not all about getting a deal, we had awesome benefits regardless. “
Before presenting on Dragons’ Den, Larry had sold over 10,000 books. After the family’s appearance, they doubled their book sales!
Sharing words of wisdom to entrepreneurs
After Corrie and Larry imagined the X-tails, it took 2 years to brainstorm, focus on the product and launch the business but it came with hard-learned lessons. “My message to others is to keep with it – take one step at a time. You can accomplish anything you put your mind to,” says Larry.
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