MINI-MOGUL MOXIE: Summerlin teen turns her passion into a convention for fans across America
Behold the onrushing, entrepreneurial freight train barreling down the tracks — chugging ever closer, looming ever larger as it roars toward a big, bright business future.
Check the conductor’s compartment. Pulling the levers, you find … a charming teen with a farsighted streak.
“In third grade, I had this mud pie business — my classmates would order mud pies. I think I’ve always been a little entrepreneur. I feel like that’s my calling,” says the articulate 15-year-old with lively eyes and a wide smile, radiating an infectious enthusiasm like beams of sunlight, particularly over her current, considerably more complex undertaking.
Odds of success? Just know that doubting Nana Sarfo is a sucker’s bet.
Exhibit A: Creating and operating LPS-CON — as in Littlest Pet Shop Convention — every June. In three years, LPS-CON ballooned from a Summerlin park gathering of 17 fans of the adorable, bobble-headed Hasbro toys (she owns around 600 of the animal figures), to a Henderson Convention Center confab of more than 350 LPS enthusiasts, collectors and traders from around the nation.
So impressive is this achievement, that Nana has been invited to address the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE) Young Leaders Conference Oct. 14 at the Luxor. (See an update on her appearance, here).
Serious validation for a teen with a dream — one who’s had to factor in reverse-age discrimination.
“When I do my advertising online, I don’t tell anybody that I’m a teenager,” says Nana, a student at the Meadows School. “I’m afraid of parents getting the wrong idea, thinking this is not real. I didn’t want them to baby me.” And when her conventioneers finally come face to face with the more-diminutive-than-expected dynamo?
“My parents were helping me collect tickets and I said, ‘You need to go because these people are getting confused, they don’t think it’s me running the convention — they have to see me!’” she recalls. “People are saying, ‘I’m looking for this lady who is running the convention,’ and I say, ‘Uh-huh, you’re looking for me!’”
No offense taken by Mom and Dad. “People keep asking me, ‘Did you train her? Did you give her something special?’” says her mother, Rose Sarfo. “We didn’t do anything. We’re just blessed.” Their daughter’s charitable side is also a point of pride.
“It’s not just the proceeds she’s getting from the convention, but she’s also using it to help people in need,” adds her father, Dr. Kofi Sarfo. “We went to UMC, to the children’s pediatric ward, and we donated. She gave some of the toys to the patients. We are very, very proud of her.”
Though Nana is the vibrant power center of LPS-CON, it’s a family project, from her ticket-taker parents to her charity-supervising sibling. “Initially, it was this whole business class (he was taking),” says her 17-year-old brother, Kobby Sarfo. “I wanted to do something charitable rather than get into an actual entrepreneurial business thing and it just melded with my sister’s idea. … I thought it would be a good idea to start to build a foundation for eventual philanthropy in the future.”
Consider LPS-CON a happy collision of passion, planning and serendipity. Immersed in a global online “community” of fans that has arisen around the cuddly collectibles — which Nana has been amassing (and naming) since age 3 — she conceived of a gathering of like-minded aficionados in 2016, when she was 13, brought to fruition via social media and YouTube videos.
“The first time she organized it we didn’t know what it was, we thought it was a playdate,” says her dad about the inaugural gathering at North Tower Park. “But people were coming from Wisconsin, from L.A., from Phoenix —wow! So we decided to help her.”
By year two in 2017, attendance had leapt from 17 to 60 and trending upward — plus the June heat threatened to become oppressive for a growing outdoor event — so Nana went searching for another home, settling on her dad’s office. But the responses were outpacing the office capacity, even with ticket fees of $30. By adding a $45 late fee, she expected to curb attendance to squeeze in all the attendees. That was her one miscalculation.
“I was saying to myself, parents won’t spend $45 for an LPS convention, it’s not going to happen,” Nana says, a note of astonishment in her voice. “It took us two days to get 362 people.” Next stop: the Henderson Convention Center, where she booked a space for 500 people, though she capped attendance at that 362 count and opened up a wait list, which racked up another 60 fans hoping for cancellations.
Now she’s even attracted several investors (her “board”) for the eight-hour shindig that she says she hopes to build to Comic-Con levels. Expansion aspirations include a planned East Coast convention in Orlando, and eventually, LPS-CONs in Canada, London and Australia. She’s even attracted the attention of Hasbro.
“I’m hoping I can get a sponsorship,” she says. “They do sponsor other conventions of their things, but not by a 15-year-old. We’re trying to work out something. I’m really excited to hear back.”
Mindful of the marketing end — and the added benefit of breaking down societal barriers of age and gender — Nana encourages closet Littlest Pet Shop fans to emerge from the shadows. “I’m trying to get more boys to get over that masculinity thing and start doing what you love. Play with toys, if that’s what you like. … I love having boys in the community,” she says.
Hey grownups — you’re on notice, too, from a preternaturally wise teen. “I dislike when people say you’re too old for this or that,” she says. “You make yourself too old for these things. That doesn’t need to happen. … We have a lot of adults who come to the event and find their inner child. … Adults get so stressed and I’m like, ‘Chill out! Have fun! Find yourself!’”
How, you ask?
Exhibit A: Nana Sarfo.