Matt McGhie started Ability Station in 2009 with his friend Josh Batchelor, who helps with the technology that supports the site.
"Special Toys for Special Needs is the slogan," says McGhie. "We like to think of it as a safe zone for parents of kids with special needs. Each toy has some value and can help develop some motor skill or satisfy a need. Each toy is also approved by a licensed therapist as bringing value to a child's development. If it isn't productive, we don't carry it." On the site, shoppers can search for toys by brand, category, disability, price, motor area, age, and type.
McGhie's younger son was diagnosed with seizure disorder at age one and an autism spectrum disorder at age two. "It turned our world upside down at first," he recalls. "Even now, two-and-a-half years later, it still can really shake things up around here. The mood in our home is often determined by the kind of day he's having. He is just all-encompassing." McGhie reports that his son's seizures "are now under control, but he struggles in other areas. He's not verbal. Not potty trained. Not normal. But we love him. He has a humongous personality, and we adore it and him. His smile is crazy contagious."
McGhie says he was inspired to start Ability Station because "I found it difficult to know which toys to trust, and it was just as hard finding them when I did know." To start out, he "found a connection through a business acquaintance of someone who'd done this. I worked out a way to take over his existing store, and built mine up at the same time. Now we point everything from the old store at the new one." It's not yet a full-time job for McGhie, who works for a software company. Ability Station "feels more like community service right now."
Though the business is just starting out, McGhie already feels it has been a success. "We've yet to make money at it, but I expect that will come later. I feel like what we do can help a lot of people who've been down our same road." Comments from parents have been "very appreciative."
Pros and Cons:
What's the best thing about running Ability Station? "We hope the money," says McGhie. "We need it for therapies, etc." The hardest thing is making the time: "I need thirty-six hours in a day, not twenty-four. There is just too much to do." That's part of the reason he wouldn't recommend starting a business to other parents. "It takes a lot of work and some know how. I was lucky enough to have good people around me that took a huge load. It has been hard on our family."
When asked what his plan is for the future of Ability Station, McGhie says, "Grow. Grow fast. Grow big. Help more and more and more people."
McGhie's suggestion for parents of children with special needs is, "Don't give up on them. Our boy can be such a struggle but ultimately I know we're going to be better for this experience."