April 20 2016 01:52 PM

We Love Kids N Dogs / Tinkrlab

With the international maker movement in full swing, Metro Lansing tinkerers, inventors and “toy hackers” have no shortage of outlets for their creativity. Last October marked the second annual Lansing Maker Week, featuring its signature How-To Halloween event. In December, the nonprofit Lansing Makers Network moved from its temporary headquarters in the Old Town Temple Building to a permanent home at 2400 W. St. Joseph St. This week, We Love Kids N Dogs, inside Meridian Mall, made perhaps the biggest splash yet when it announced its partnership with the Michigan Historical Center.

“We were extremely excited when they reached out to us to help with their events,” said Chris Allen, co-owner of We Love Kids n Dogs. “We’re currently undergoing a rebranding effort to focus on the expanded classroom and workshop space inside our store, and this partnership will really raise the visibility (of the maker movement).”

That rebranding will include a renaming of Mini Maker, the classroom space inside the store. Starting next month, it will be known as TinkrLAB, and May 14 will be the first of the Second Saturday events that Allen’s team will participate in at the museum.

“The Michigan Historical Center and TinkrLAB both believe in learning through experience,” said Michigan Historic Center Director Sandra Clark. “This partnership combines the inspiration of our state’s past inventors and tinkerers with TinkrLAB’s focus on making the future. Each month we will collaborate to provide children and their families with a new, unusual experience.”

We Love Kids n Dogs, launched in 2014, is an offshoot of store founder — and Allen’s father-in-law — Joe Rabideau’s invention, the Poochie Bowl. It’s a pet food dish originally designed to keep dogs like basset hounds and Irish setters from getting their ears dirty as they ate. But thanks to its tight-fitting top, it caught on with pet owners as a travel-friendly bowl, and sales took off. The Lansing-manufactured item was recently picked up by national big box store Camping World and is carried in all 160 of its stores.

Now Allen is hoping to share that entrepreneurial spirit with the next generation of inventors.

“Our passion is to help people start their own business,” Allen said. “The maker movement is good for that in that it encourages getting things done, turning ideas into reality.”

All of the merchandise in We Love Kids n Dogs is made in the U.S., mostly by small start-ups. Items include balance bikes, laser-cut wooden car kits and designer dog collars.

“We’ve gone from half-and-half kids and pets to about 60 percent kids and 40 percent pets,” Allen said. “As we’ve added events like Take It Apart Tuesday, toy hacks and created a birthday party area, we’ve been inspired to focus on education. It’s a natural progression for us — and definitely not one we initially planned for.”

The Michigan Historical Center partnership seems odd at first blush — why would a museum focused on the past be so interested in a forward-thinking movement? —but it ties into Now It’s Your Turn, a new theme the center is launching. Now It’s Your Turn focuses on showcasing Michigan’s manufacturing history and exploring how that history has shaped our culture.

“This is two community resources coming together to achieve a common goal,” Allen said. “We’re providing a hands-on experience that ties to history but is still relevant today.”

TinkrLAB will provide all supplies for the May 14 Now It’s Your Turn program and will host an open, drop-in session from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. The first event will be a toy hack class, which consists of disassembling things like Barbie dolls, dinosaur models and robots and Frankenstein-ing them back together.

“If you’ve seen ‘Toy Story,’ it’s very similar to what Sid does,” Allen said. “I don’t know why they made him (an antagonist) in that movie. Hacking toys is fun and very creative.”

Allen said Take It Apart Tuesdays have been a big draw for the store, bringing out kids — and parents — who get to disassemble everyday objects like hair driers and power tools to see what’s inside. The shop’s Build A Bot activity has also been a big hit. Both activities will make an appearance at the Michigan Historical Center in upcoming events. TinkrLAB has committed to five months of activities at the Michigan Historical Center.

“As a business, we’re in a unique position,” Allen said. “We don’t go around saying we’re an educational facility or an after-school program, but we’re education focused. This partnership has opened up so many ways we can grow, the Michigan Historical Center can grow and (the maker movement) can grow. We don’t want to relive history, we want to make history.”

We Love Kids n Dogs/TinkrLAB (inside Meridian Mall) 1982 W. Grand River Ave., Suite 321, Okemos 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday; noon-6 p.m.

Sunday (517) 233-1524, welovekidsndogs.com