Life of a Toy Designer & Inventor

An inside look at the creative process.

by Peter Wachtel, chief creative kid, Kidtoyology

PrintI always loved toys—in fact, I still play with toys today. However, when I became a toy designer and inventor, I learned that designing toys is a bit like eating a box of chocolates. Sometimes, you don’t know what you’re going to get. You may have a specific idea in mind when you start out, but as the process continues, new information, technology, and needs come into play, requiring you to adapt your design or invention.

No matter what direction you started out in, the world and your own experiences will start to mold the toy in a new direction, as if it has a life of its own. The results of this may vary: Sometimes your design will work out even better than expected, like finding gold in the river, and sometimes you’ll find out that your idea was nothing more than a mirage, and that following some dreams can turn into nightmares. However, I guarantee that the journey will always be an exciting one. [Read more...]

WIT Stories: November 2016

Wi-Stories_Logo-1Every month, Women in Toys, Licensing, and Entertainment (WIT) turns the spotlight on members who are making an impact in toys, licensing, and entertainment and within the organization. These members exemplify leadership, commitment to the industry and the mission of WIT, and it are proud to recognize and celebrate their diverse talents and contributions through their WIT Stories.

L-arocho-picLourdes Arocho
Vice President Toys and Hardlines at Universal

Member of the WIT Southern California Chapter since 2009.

What is the single best piece of business advice that helped shape who you are as a businesswoman today and why?
The best advice I have ever received was the importance of having great mentors. A big part of my success is because of that advice; and through mentors, I have had so many opportunities in my career. I now make it a priority in my own career to mentor others and pay it forward.

What’s the biggest challenge you have faced in business, and how did you overcome it?
At the start of my career, my biggest challenge was not having an undergraduate degree. I felt that was something that would limit my growth, and so I went back to school part-time as a mom of two with a full-time job. It was one of the toughest things I had ever done, but continues to be one of my biggest accomplishments. With growth and success comes different challenges and obstacles, which I continue to face. My advice would be to decide which ones mean the most to you, and tackle those head on.

What advice would you offer women wishing to break into the toy/licensing/entertainment industry?
It would be the one piece of advice that has made the difference in my career, which is the importance of having mentors and being active in the industry.

What is one of your most memorable career accomplishments?
I believe many more memorable moments are yet to come, but the one that I’m most proud of at this point in my career is the launch of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in toys. It was the most collaborative and educational experience working with Playmates Toys on research, strategy, creative development, marketing and analysis. It was such an incredible opportunity, and I couldn’t be more excited about our portfolio at Universal and the fantastic partners we will be working with to bring these franchises to life in toys.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Seeing a young boy or girl carrying their favorite doll, plush or action figure. Knowing that we are developing product that is creating happy memories for kids is what I love most.

What’s the ONE thing you recommend ALL businesswomen do right now to take their business or career to the next level?
Don’t get caught up in what other people are doing, keep your eye on the prize and let your work speak for itself.

What advice would you offer working moms?
Never miss the big moments with your kids – NO MATTER WHAT!

What do you do during the first hour of your business day and why?
During my first hour of the business day I try to stop for a 5- or 10-minute chat with each member of my team. It gives me the opportunity for an informal check-in before getting tied up in meetings. I don’t do this every day, but definitely at the start of the week and then mid-week. Then I pick up voicemail, go through my schedule for the day and check my to-do list from the night before.

How do you recharge/reboot?
Vacation is the best way, and I’m hoping to go on one soon!

What’s your favorite mobile app?
Since moving to Los Angeles from NY my favorite app is Waze. It’s been a lifesaver and helped me learn more about the area and how to get around.

What is your favorite productivity tip?
Do the thing you want to do least first, so it motivates you to keep going and get to the fun stuff!

What is the one thing you couldn’t live without?
No question, the one thing I could not live without is my family.

Who is your hero (in business, life or both)?
I have too many to name, there are so many people both personally and professionally who have inspired me.

What does WIT membership mean to you? How has it impacted your career?
It has given me the opportunity to meet such a diverse group of professionals beyond the licensor/licensee relationship. Having participated on committees and now on the board helps me not only have a voice but have the opportunity to listen and learn from incredibly talented and strategic professionals.

What has surprised you most about WIT?
Less surprised and more impressed by how much the organization has grown and the continued level of commitment by the volunteers to create a forum that educates and inspires not only women but the toy industry as a whole.

What do you wish other people knew about WIT?
I wish they knew just how dedicated the team at WIT is; not only about the programming, education and value they strive to bring to their members, but how they challenge themselves to raise the bar each time. This is a passionate team that does not settle for what worked last time, and that is inspiring.

GennaGenna Rosenberg
Principal At GennComm

Member of the WIT Southern California Chapter since 2009.

What is the single best piece of business advice that helped shape who you are as a businesswoman today and why?
Someone once told me “Genna, you should just do PR… ” That advice shaped GennComm. I knew instinctively that we should do the opposite! Together with the most incredible team of smart, passionate and seasoned marketing communications executives, we have grown GennComm, both opportunistically and strategically, using the latest cutting edge tools and tactics. Our strategy is deeply rooted in GennComm’s powerful connections. In today’s fast-changing world, people absorb information on every screen and on demand. We stay ahead of the mega-trends, harness the power of influencers, and cultivate programs that will help our clients make an impact in a crowded marketplace, wherever their customers may be. People come to GennComm because we use an innovative approach.

What’s the biggest challenge you have faced in business, and how did you overcome it?
Time management! As a business owner, entrepreneur, mother, wife and amateur philanthropist, I am really strapped for time! I’ve committed to streamlining processes using technology, and working smarter…it’s a work in progress.

What advice would you offer women wishing to break into the toy/licensing/entertainment industry?
Think about what you’re really great at doing, and find a job doing it in the toy, entertainment or licensing industry. If you love fashion for example, you can do PR or marketing, develop apps for fashion-oriented brands, toycos and more. If you like to design or engineer, you can work for a toy maker bringing your fashion expertise there. You could be the cost accountant, or look for fashion licenses for toycos. It’s endless. Be true to your interests… it will pay off if you love what you do!

What is the most rewarding part of your job?
I have so much pride in the work we do at GennComm. Every day I pinch myself that we get to work on such incredible brands with the most amazing IP owners in the world!

What’s the ONE thing you recommend ALL businesswomen do right now to take their business or career to the next level?
Don’t work in a silo! Look out for mega trends and design your business around where things are going, not where they are today. Be open to new things and ideas!

What advice would you offer working moms?
Take a deep breath. My first baby was born during Toy Fair – the biggest week of each year for me work-wise. It’s not easy being a working mom, for me or the kids. But I care very much to be a strong role model for my children, and make sure they know our love comes first. Unplug when you can. Embrace apps when you need a break or time for that important conference call. It’s OK!

What do you do during the first hour of your business day and why?
I wake up in the morning and work on email on my phone for 30-60 minutes in bed before I get the family up. It’s not ideal but it really helps me get a jump on my day and not walk into 100 emails at 8:30 a.m.!

What one thing helps you prepare (and relax) in the minutes leading up to a big pitch/presentation?
Honestly – we tell ourselves to have fun with it!

What’s your favorite mobile app?
I’ve been obsessed with our client Zoobe’s new Hello Kitty StoryGIF app! Hello Kitty sliding down the rainbow makes me smile.

What is your favorite productivity tip?
I am now a believer in Google docs! I absolutely love the collaborating tool it provides for multiple users in real time. Also Google slides, sheets, etc. It took me awhile but I’m hooked! I also get an insane amount of email each day. I like to spend time re-sorting my email between name and subject on Outlook. It allows me to catch up quickly on fast-paced email conversations and hopefully reply to the latest ones for the most up to date input!

What is the one thing you couldn’t live without?
My husband Daniel is really amazing. He is my business partner, baby daddy and biggest fan. I’m very lucky because he’s extremely supportive of our crazy life and always the best wing man!

Who is your hero (in business, life or both)?
I’ve been pretty moved lately by Jeremy Gutsche, the Trendhunter. His method for accomplishing growth Better and Faster has really been resonating with me!

What does WIT membership mean to you? How has it impacted your career?
I have made hundreds of connections through WIT that have been meaningful both personally and to our agency, while making genuine friendships with some of the smartest and forward-thinking colleagues in the industry. I have worked hard on the Executive Board with our president Ashley Mady and countless others to help grow WIT’s programs and make sure we have benefits that will appeal to folks in all aspects of the industries we touch. Also, I am honored to co-chair our annual Wonder Women Awards Gala with Janice Ross from American Greetings. We’re excited to present a special event for the industry.

And most recently I formalized a relationship with my new business partner Betty Wilkinson who I met through WIT, and we are working on several new exciting ventures in the craft space. With WIT and an open mind, the possibilities are endless!

What has surprised you most about WIT?
I love seeing all the openness to ideation and collaboration. Whether it be conceptualizing and executing on events, speaking on panels, presenting opportunities to share ideas, giving mentorship and advice, or to just socialize – our membership largely wants to work with others. I’m always amazed at what can happen when we infuse new ideas into the mix and magic happens! In fact, one of our board members, Jennifer Caveza from Nickelodeon, recently looked at the WIT logo and thought W-I-T – We Inspire Together…. She thought, surely someone must have thought of that over WIT’s 25 years… but she actually looked at WIT with a fresh pair of eyes, recognized a way to encapsulate what it’s all about, and just nailed it!

What do you wish other people knew about WIT?
You can get out of WIT as much as you put into it! Just come to something, be present, be open to endless possibilities, make connections and enjoy the ride!

AmandaGummer_HeadshotDr. Amanda Gummer
Founder and CEO of Fundamentally Children

Member of the WIT UK Chapter since 2014, and WIT UK Chapter Co-Chair.

What is the single best piece of business advice that helped shape who you are as a businesswoman today and why?
Nice guys don’t finish last. I don’t believe you should have to choose between doing good and making money. I am passionate about helping to improve the lives of families and children around the world, but I don’t apologise for enjoying the commercial aspect of the business. I think by being kind, authentic and smart, you can be a ‘nice guy’ and be successful.

What’s the biggest challenge you have faced in business, and how did you overcome it?
Moving from essentially a ‘stay at home mum’ doing some part time consultancy when my girls were very young to being taken seriously as a businesswoman. Overcoming it has taken time, but I’ve just let my work speak for itself. When McDonald’s is using my name and video as one of their ‘experts’ for the Happy Studio app that we helped develop, it’s much easier to convince people that I know what I’m doing!

What advice would you offer women wishing to break into the toy/licensing/entertainment industry?
Network, network, network – but do it authentically. Look out for things you can do to help others and ask for help when you need it. In the industry, and especially in WIT, there are lots of people who will help you if you ask.

What is one of your most memorable career accomplishments?
Being approached by Random House to write a book on Play. Seeing it published was amazing too, but I found the fact that a publisher wanted me to write a book to be incredibly flattering (writing the book itself was a whole different ball game).

What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Personally, seeing people take my advice and put it into action to make great products is very rewarding, but you can’t beat the look on kids’ faces when we turn up to settings, especially in deprived areas, with a load of new toys and watch them play in ways the manufacturers never imagined. It gives me hope that these kids have the imagination and tenacity to solve whatever problems the future throws at the world.

What’s the ONE thing you recommend ALL businesswomen do right now to take their business or career to the next level?
Set measurable goals. For today, next week, next month and next year. You can drift along for ages and never really understand if what you’re doing is having the impact you want. But if you know what you’re trying to achieve, you can reflect on it afterwards and decide if you need to change anything going forward.

What advice would you offer working moms?
Look after yourself first. I developed a model of family life called Parent-centred Parenting. The best analogy is the airplane safety card. You’re no use to ANYONE if you can’t breath, so secure your own oxygen mask first and then help everyone else with theirs. Get rid of the guilt and believe that the best thing you can give your children is a happy, relaxed, confident, fulfilled role model for them to copy from.

What do you do during the first hour of your business day and why?
Put the kettle on (I’m British – can’t start the day without my cuppa). Then check emails and plan the day using the ‘do’, ‘delegate’ ‘defer’ or ‘ditch’ technique for prioritization. I try to do this before 9am so that I feel that I’ve got a head start on the day and ideally have 3-5 things that I focus on each day.

How do you recharge/reboot?
I love being in my garden and I’m a sucker for a spa trip, but a glass of wine and a chat with friends is the best antidote to a challenging week.

What does WIT membership mean to you? How has it impacted your career?
I’ve loved being involved in WIT and was flattered to be asked to co-chair the UK chapter. I’ve met so many people, some of whom have gone on to be clients. The biggest impact has been the profile raising by being involved in panel discussions at events such as Digital Kids and the Nuremberg Toy Fair.

What has surprised you most about WIT?
The generosity of everyone with their time and connections – it’s lovely to be part of something so collaborative. The Female Entrepreneur Association had a quote on their Facebook page recently saying ‘I’m not interested in competing, I hope we all make it’ and I think that attitude sums up WIT.

What do you wish other people knew about WIT?
That’s it’s not just for women and it’s not a bra-burning feminist movement. It’s a supportive network of like-minded individuals who recognise that networking doesn’t have to always be on a golf course!

Liz-Grampp-Headshot-1Liz Grampp
Senior Director Brand Management at Bandai America

Member of the WIT Southern California Chapter since 2011.

What is the single best piece of business advice that helped shape who you are as a businesswoman today and why?
I once worked for a person who kept a neutral face and nodded a lot in meetings. I knew this person did not always agree with the speaker, but they had a very calm, encouraging manner. This showed me how to speak less, listen more and be impactful when making a key point.

What advice would you offer women wishing to break into the toy/licensing/entertainment industry?

The toy and licensing business if full of creative female leaders, and is a great industry to join! I would recommend to line up your passion with your talent. Recently, I hired a woman who did not have prior toy experience, but she was very knowledgeable about Bandai and our brands. It’s a one-year position for her to try out the industry, and she can leverage this experience into her next step. Try setting up quick coffees with women at companies you admire. While there may not be an opening at the time, when a position is available you’ll be top of mind.

What advice would you offer women wishing to break into the toy/licensing/entertainment industry?
The toy and licensing business if full of creative female leaders, and is a great industry to join! I would recommend to line up your passion with your talent. Recently, I hired a woman who did not have prior toy experience, but she was very knowledgeable about Bandai and our brands. It’s a one-year position for her to try out the industry, and she can leverage this experience into her next step. Try setting up quick coffees with women at companies you admire. While there may not be an opening at the time, when a position is available you’ll be top of mind.

What’s the ONE thing you recommend ALL businesswomen do right now to take their business or career to the next level?
Stay relevant! It’s so important to stay on top of consumer trends and follow thought leaders in your career field. When you are knowledgeable, you are prepared to lead the next great idea for your organization, whether you are in marketing, R&D or another field.

What advice would you offer working moms?
As a working Mom, my family has influenced my career choices but never limited my opportunity. I’ve learned to be very disciplined about my schedule and very efficient with prioritizing projects and planning my work day. Be open with your executives, peers and employees about the level of flexibility you need to make your life add up. You may need to set specific hours to allow for morning carpool or childcare pick up. You may need to work from home when caring for a sick child. I’ve found most teams can accommodate flexibility as long as you have clear communication. My whole life is texting – babysitter, playdates, husband and even my middle-schooler! A work laptop is a lifesaver when not on site, and conference calls can be taken in the car or in a locked bathroom at home with back-to-back episodes of Doc McStuffins on TV! My toddler once “pee pee’d on the potty” to great applause, only to realize I was NOT on mute with Europe. We all have lives. The most important thing is to meet work commitments and be a trust worthy teammate, while balancing your family needs.

What do you do during the first hour of your business day and why?
The first hour of my day, I review and prepare for the tasks I need to accomplish. I usually come in around 8:30, grab a coffee and greet my team. I set aside the first 45 minutes to respond to emails. Then I review projects that must get done, and look ahead to my schedule for the following day. Taking the first hour to organize is key to keeping my schedule on track.

What one thing helps you prepare (and relax) in the minutes leading up to a big pitch/presentation?
Before a big pitch or presentation, I practice my opening line in quiet moments. I may be in the car or on a run. With a clear, quiet mind I picture the room and the audience and think about my first few moments. I don’t usually plan exactly what I’m going to say beyond the opening, I just know my key points and speak extemporaneously from there. Once I know my opening, I feel calm and confident!

What does WIT membership mean to you? How has it impacted your career?
WIT Membership has been a wonderful part of my career. I was lucky enough to be nominated as “Rising Star” in 2014. That was a really special night at the Wonder Woman Awards dinner. I received so many kind words and congratulations on the nomination, from colleagues and buyers. It showed me how connected we are in the industry, and what incredible talent is all around us! That exposure has helped me network, creating relationships and business opportunities.

What has surprised you most about WIT?
WIT is more than just women; it’s supported by leaders of both genders at so many companies in our industry. Seeing the many leaders who support this growing organization is a hallmark of WIT’s significance, and as we grow we can impact even greater change on issues that we all care about.

What do you wish other people knew about WIT?
Everyone should be a member! Women have a special strength in building relationships and working collaboratively. This organization connects women from every level across competitive lines and global territories. It’s only a WIN to be WIT!

The Five Mistakes You’re Making with Your Product Packaging

By Richard Carlow and Eugenia Chen, founding directors, C2C Studio

You have a cool brand, an innovative toy, and a great logo—but is that enough? Packaging, when done right, is what draws the consumer’s attention. It makes an emotional connection with a child or parent and motivates them to buy.

During our 20 years of combined service, we have seen a lot of mistakes made by companies in their product packaging. It is easy to eliminate these common errors, which can have detrimental effects on the launch of a new product. Here are five common mistakes to look out for:

1. Following a Basic Packaging Template

Manufacturers often produce packaging that follows a basic template. Rarely is there a custom design behind the package matching the brand’s identity, which would enhance the value of the product. These generic packaging templates don’t allow the uniqueness of the company to be represented in the market, rendering the products indistinguishable from other products on-shelf.

Manufacturers use basic templates because they are a fast and cost-effective way to get products out the door and into stores, but a basic package design will not sell your product. It will cause your item to fade into the background of mass products in any major retailer.

Image 1 Star Wars

2. Not Thinking About Your Audience

Do not forget this golden rule: Always think about whom you are talking to. Think about your audience as you are choosing a design for your product. Design for your consumer. You need to tug at their emotions. You need to stand out and keep your customers coming back. A clear but eye-catching design is paramount.

Language also matters. Keep your message simple and use a clean, legible font to get your message across to the consumer.

When we created a series of boxes for Star Wars: Episode I for KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut, we carefully considered who the fans of the film were and what they expected from the product. We spent eight weeks building packaging that could stand alone for the average consumer, or combine to create a poster for serious Star Wars collectors. We understood that both collectors and children would have a desire to keep the packaging—rather than unwrap and throw away—and we sought to create a design that spoke to their fandom.

Think back to the last time you bought a product for a child in your life. Chances are you bought it because the box made the product stand out to you.

3. Not Seeing the Packaging as Part of Your Product

How you choose to package the merchandise you are selling will have an impact on the consumer’s decision to buy the product. The amount of attention you put into your product should be mirrored in the product’s package design. We are told not to judge a book by its cover; however, when it comes to a product, we do just that. The package is the first thing people notice and must reflect the product itself. The packaging is just as much a part of the brand as your product and should not be compromised.

We once created a multipurpose case that served as both the packaging and a high-quality display stand for a football. The box had gloss varnish coating that gave the product a more premium feel. We also added a transparent sheet with the stamped college logo to reflect the pride of the college alumni.

This layered packaging allowed fans to feel as though they were getting a more premium product that not only had play value but added to their collection. The packaging design adds to the consumers overall experience opening the box to reveal what’s inside.

Image 2 Star Wars

4. Forgetting the Unboxing Experience

Be user-friendly. If the product is too hard to get out of the package or the design is overly complicated you can create unnecessary frustration in your consumer’s unboxing experience. If the package is too big or the product is too difficult to get out, it could deter customers from purchasing your products again.

When we create a new package, we think about the excitement a child will have when opening the box. Opening a package is an emotional experience that engages the consumer. It should be about the excitement of getting the prize that’s inside. It should not be a lengthy experience that leaves the child frustrated. The feel, the smell, cutting the tape—it’s all a part of the fun!

5. Staying In-House

Whenever you work on a project, it is easy to get tunnel vision. Bringing in an outsider will help provide fresh eyes and new insights. Manufacturers specialize in manufacturing, not packaging design. A company specializing in package design can deliver high-quality packaging that is in-tune with the needs and wants of your audience. With effective product packaging you are creating an ad for your company, not just your product.

C2C Studio Inc. is a creative design agency built on makers, creators, and storytellers that take concept to creation. Offering creative solutions for design and production for consumer products and entertainment and gaming experiences. Delivering one-of-a-kind creative solutions for each unique product, C2C Studio Inc. turns every client’s dreams into reality.  To learn more about C2C Studios, please visit:

A Time for Thanksgiving

by Richard C. Levy, president, Richard C. Levy & Associates, LLC

As Thanksgiving approaches, I am motivated to compose an open letter to the toy industry, including all of my past and present partners, especially my wife, Sheryl, associates, and corporate and trade executives, with whom I have had the pleasure to work during 38 years in an industry and country that I love.

I have been fortunate to have worked with unselfish and creative co-inventors, men and women willing to face the frustrations, rejections, and open-ended time frames that are part of every ideation, development, manufacturing, sales, and licensing exercise. I have been equally fortunate to have met many creative, understanding, fair, honest and courageous corporate executives willing to believe in me, gamble on our ideas, honor the deals and, most importantly, enhance our concepts.

It is the cross-pollination and synergism of these forces that result in the success and accomplishments in which all parties share. For if any link in this complex and serpentine chain breaks, an entire project can flag.

America was born with a dream. We are privileged to live and work in this land of opportunity. Nowhere in the world do people have more freedom and encouragement to innovate, be different, individual, and to succeed.

Alexis de Tocqueville, a French writer that visited America in 1831, wrote: “America is a land of wonders in which everything is in constant motion and every change seems an improvement. The idea of novelty is there indissolubly connected with the idea of amelioration. No natural boundary seems to be set to the efforts of man; and in his eyes what is not yet done is only what he has not yet attempted to do.”

The toy industry, like America, is a restless, ever-changing, volatile atmosphere that encourages and rewards innovation. The industry’s front line is strong and its bench deep with men and women up and stirring, night and day, to clear the way and sow the seed of new ideas.

The most successful inventors and executives do not permit themselves to be deterred by poor odds, because their minds have calculated the opposition is too great. They are not afraid to make mistakes. They do not simply follow where the path leads. They go where there is no path and leave a trail.

In most industries, non-conformity is unacceptable. Our industry is fired by non-conformity. If you conform, your competition can easily anticipate your strategy. One of the keys to getting attention and achieving success is to be different. You will be remembered for the rules you break and not for those to which you conform.

It is our birthright to be different. It is our birthright to chase opportunity. It is our birthright to make mistakes. It is our birthright to fill blank pages with ideas, catch the imagination, build, fail and build again.  There is no greater high than to see dreams materialize. This is proof of ultimate freedom.

Our industry is rich in examples of people that dared to be uncommon and refused to trade incentive for security. These are people that faced challenge, resisted the status quo, introduced change to the skeptical, and crossed thresholds. They possessed the “dare to go.”

There is not enough space here to mention these people by name and product, but we all know who they are and what they contributed to our industry.

There is no future in believing something cannot be accomplished. The future is in making it happen. The most inventive people do what others have not done. They make people fall in love with their concepts before they exist. They fan burning ideas into flames that illuminate. They speak to the human capacity for amusement and amazement.

The toy business grows through the efforts of entrepreneurial inventors and intrapreneural executives to whom the elves still whisper.  They operate in a never-never land where pumpkins turn into coaches, and mice into horses, where cows jump over the moon and dishes run away with spoons.

The industry and its brightest stars continue to inspire me. My family has given me the heart to fight, the will to survive and even after the fight has been won, the ability to remain unsatisfied. I give thanks for all of the aforementioned.

Richard_LevyRichard C. Levy, president, Richard C. Levy & Associates, LLC, specializes in collaborative invention, product development, and licensing. A 38-year industry veteran, his licensed products include Furby (Hasbro), one of the most successful toys of all time. Richard and Ron Weingartner co-authored the critically-acclaimed “Toy and Game Inventor’s Handbook,” now in its third edition exclusive to Amazon as an e-Book.

WIT Member Spotlight: Anne Marie Kehoe

by Genna Rosenberg, Principal at GennComm & WIT Executive Board Member

Anne_Marie_KehoeWhether you call them wonder women, girl heroes, girls action stars, or girls with power, each corner of the toy industry is filled with powerful women knocking down barriers, pushing through walls, and empowering those around them. They support, promote, and inspire each other through connections, purpose, and empowerment. Providing opportunities to women economically is smart business, and no one knows that better than this industry’s own superhero, Anne Marie Kehoe, vice president, toys at Walmart and recipient of the 2016 Women in Toys Retailer of the Year Award. She is a real-life action hero in the toy world, committed to providing opportunities for women-owned businesses at Walmart. The Toy Book recently had the opportunity to sit down with Kehoe and discuss the role women are playing in the toy industry, Walmart’s commitment to source from women-owned companies, and what it’s like to be a bonafide Wonder Woman.

Why is it important for Walmart to source from women-owned businesses?

The short answer is that empowering women economically is smart business. Our women’s empowerment work is a step forward in our commitment to help people live better and a defining issue for our business and the world. For Walmart, empowering women helps us better understand and serve our customers, find the best talent, and promote economic growth in the communities we serve. Walmart’s Women’s Economic Empowerment program has the potential to be a game-changer for women and for economic growth. By tapping its core competencies as a global retailer, Walmart will empower more women to access markets and develop careers in the global supply chain, transforming their lives and the lives of their families.


Two of WIT’s youngest members and co-creators of Poketti pitch their plush toys to Walmart.

Through its Women’s Economic Empowerment Initiative, Walmart is paving the way for women-owned companies. How do toys and WIT fit into the overall mission?

Through Walmart’s Global Women’s Economic Empowerment Initiative, we’ve set goals and we are taking practical steps to help change the lives of countless women around the world. We are committed to sourcing $20 billion from women-owned businesses for our U.S. business and double sourcing from women suppliers in international countries where we do business. Additionally, we have set goals to empower nearly 1 million women through training and promote diversity and inclusion representation within our suppliers.

Through its annual Empowerment Day held each year at the Dallas Toy Fair, WIT has been an incredible pipeline to women-owned business leaders. Our buyers are able to network with companies they may not have access to, and manufacturers can pitch their products to Walmart, participate in learning sessions and panels, and empower women to reach their goals. WIT is an important partner in this endeavor, and the event works as a two-way street. WIT members provide us with a robust pipeline to mine for new and innovative products we can provide to our consumers, and we provide WIT members an opportunity to meet with buying teams to which they may not normally have access.

What does it mean to be recognized as a WIT Wonder Woman?

It was really an honor to be recognized. But with the honor comes great responsibility, which I take very seriously. Throughout my career, I’ve strived to create pathways for women from all areas and WIT gives me an opportunity to do just that. I strongly believe in WIT’s objective—and am a member of the Empowerment Committee and advisory board. I am committed to the organization’s mission of providing a collaborative, supportive environment and unparalleled opportunities that foster relationship building and innovation, all designed to help them advance women in their careers and succeed in business.

Kehoe accepts her Wonder Woman 2016 Retailer of the Year award.

Kehoe accepts her Wonder Woman 2016 Retailer of the Year award.

What is the story behind the “Women Owned” logo that Walmart helped develop?

Women are our biggest customer base by far, and when given the opportunity, many women will buy from women-owned companies. In partnership with the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) and WEConnect International, we developed the “Women Owned” logo to help customers easily identify products made by women-owned businesses sold through any retailer, not just Walmart. All women-owned businesses that are WBENC and/or WEConnect certified are eligible to display the logo on their product packaging.

Can you give an example of a success story that came as a result of Walmart’s Women Economic Empowerment initiative?

During the very first WIT Women Empowerment Day, our buyers met Jodi Norgaard from Dream Big Toys. She had a line of dolls, books, and apps called Go, Go Sports Girls that promote self-appreciation and healthy life skills. When our team met with Norgaard, we saw something unique and wanted more, so we gave her some suggestions and agreed to a test in 50 stores. Within two years, her product was in 162 stores and we are proud to provide her products, which support creative play and social-emotional growth through sport, and encourage girls to dream big.

In another example, we are currently selling doll clothes made by apparel merchandising students from the University of Arkansas. A few years ago, through our Women’s Empowerment Initiative, we reached out to students at Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences at the University of Arkansas to design a doll clothing line for My Life As dolls in Walmart. The program allows students to interact directly with professionals in the apparel industry, build their resumes and portfolios with hands-on experiences, and showcase their work in a national retail arena.

What’s next for Walmart and its Women’s Economic Empowerment Initiative?

As a company, we don’t believe that we have to choose between being a successful business and a responsible one. We have a model for making a difference that works. And when we combine the Walmart model with women’s empowerment, we have an incredible opportunity to make a difference on the big challenges facing our world.

Talkin’ Toys: Schleich


The Toy Book chats with Michael Keaton, president, Schleich North America, about how the company thrives in a tech-focused world.

Tell me about Schleich’s history and how the company was founded.

Schleich was founded in Germany by Friedrich Schleich in 1935. One of the first important milestones was when Schleich brought its first toy (Jopo, a series-produced flexible doll with long legs, a pointed nose, and a hat) to market, which became extremely popular. When the world-famous Schleich figurines first came on the market in the 1950s, few people realized that the toys’ realistic design and exquisite hand-painting process would make them a favorite of both children and collectors in more than 50 countries around the world.

How has the company changed in recent years?

Schleich’s core mission—creating the best figurines—remains at the center of the company’s value proposition. Furthermore, investing to create new playworlds that give our natural and realistic figures an environment, creates a unique and inspiring play experience for children of all age groups. It sparks their imagination and makes our figurines really come to life. The most impactful change however, was the decision to place Dirk Engehausen as CEO in January 2015. With more than 20 years of experience as a senior executive in the toy industry, Dirk brought to Schleich a new energy and vision for how to improve our product offerings, optimize our business, and grow the brand.


In a world of tech-savvy kids, how do you explain Schleich’s success?

Today’s children have more play options, and this includes a vast array of tech offerings. And while it’s important that kids grow up tech-savvy, there is still a great demand from parents and children for traditional toys and the rich, imaginative play patterns that can evolve from simple materials. Furthermore, kids need and call for haptic experiences for their development. This is a tangible sensation that no digital device can provide. Schleich’s realistic figurines provide the basis for this kind of play—no instructions necessary. As I’ve heard it said, “play is a trick of nature for learning” and it is integral for children across cultures and geographic boundaries. Parents appreciate when traditional toy manufacturers find ways to provide a “balanced diet of play” for their kids, and Schleich’s simple but rich offering hits the spot.

What is Horse Club?

Horse Club is Schleich’s new theme that expands upon the success of our realistic horse figurines, and adds new environments to expand children’s imaginations. Whether practicing for a horse show at the riding center, transporting horses to a show in the horse trailer, or just showing care by washing and feeding, children can imagine caring for their horses and at the same time learn about the different horse breeds and what makes them unique. Horse Club by Schleich is our fastest-growing franchise and is a great example of creating a play world for children.


What are Schleich’s plans for growth and expansion in the future?

Our research has shown that parents and kids love figurines, both for collecting and for imaginative play. We plan to continue our core business of creating the highest quality and most realistic figurines in this space, and also expanding our franchise offerings with relevant story starters. To add relevance, we are planning more story content for the franchises, both to educate and to inspire children around the world. In North America, we also intend to significantly increase our share of voice through traditional and digital media to ensure our value proposition is more well-known. This includes, simply enough, teaching people how to pronounce our brand name. Remember, “I like Schleich!”  »

Talkin’ Toys: Yvolution

The Toy Book caught up with Thomas O’Connell, Global CEO, Yvolution.

Tell us about Yvolution’s background and how the company was founded.

I began selling scooters all around Ireland when I was 21 and, in the 10 years after that, I had the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of the toy industry. When I first spotted the Fliker, our three-wheeled scooter, I knew it was radically different from anything else in the marketplace and looked insanely cool. I got in touch with the maker and it wasn’t long before they gave me global distribution rights. Then, in 2012, I co-founded Yvolution with Shane Connaughton and soon after, the Fliker hit shelves at Toys “R” Us in the U.S. and sold out.

These days, we’re continuing to design and manufacture cutting-edge products to keep families active and healthy. From balance bikes to performance scooters, we’re leading the pack in innovative outdoor toys that benefit overall well-being.

What kind of growth has Yvolution seen since its inception?

In 2013, we had a 4-foot space in Toys “R” Us and this year we are up to 32 feet, and we’re also in all major retailers. In fact, we are in more than 12,000 stores in the U.S. market, and our products are available in more than 50 countries worldwide. We are growing at an accelerated rate rarely seen in the industry. Customer satisfaction is at an all-time high and demand for new Yvolution products increases annually.

Yvolution_Y Flyer_lifestyle

How has the wheeled goods category changed over the years? And how has Yvolution kept up with the changes?

Other than character licensing, I feel there wasn’t much change for many years. A scooter was a scooter; a bike was a bike. Yvolution changed that, and in three short years it has become one of the leading brands in the wheeled goods category. We’ve pushed this category to new heights in innovation with the likes of our patented lean-to-steer scooters, Fliker scooters, and balance bikes.

What are your plans for later this year and next year?

We plan to continue the innovation that consumers have come to expect from Yvolution with a terrific fall line. Our Strolly brand will lead us into the baby category with strollers that convert to trikes and balance bikes, offering a tremendous value to parents as the product line grows with the child from baby to toddler.

New for older kids, we will introduce the Flyer, a stepper scooter that propels riders forward as they step up and down. Our Neon line of light-up scooters and skateboards will also showcase the diversity and talents of our designers and engineers.

Yvolution has been known for its balance bikes and self-propelling scooters, but you mentioned expanding into other categories. What prompted the change and what types of products will you offer in this line?

We are constantly reviewing trends and looking for gaps in the marketplace that we feel we can fill, as innovation is at the core of Yvolution. Our strength comes in being able to move quickly to bring new high-quality and innovative items to our retail partners. They trust us and know that we provide excellent product and value to their consumers.

What trends are you seeing in the wheeled goods category? How does Yvolution fit in with those trends?

The trend is moving away from regular two-wheeled scooters and moving more toward the lean-to-steer type scooters like our Y Gliders. Since 2013, our lean-to-steer scooters have seen an increase in market share. The light-up category is also trending, and we are on point with our plans to launch Neon light-up scooters and skateboards. »

Talkin’ Toys: Auldey North America


The Toy Book caught up with Adiran Roche, president, Auldey Toys North America.

Tell us about The Alpha Group and how it has grown over the last 10 years.

The Alpha Group originated as a toy company under the Auldey brand name in 1993. At the time, Auldey toys were distributed solely in the China market and quickly became a top toy brand known for its high-quality, innovative toys. With the chairman’s foresight and understanding of the relationship between entertainment and toys, Auldey established the animation side of the business and the company was renamed Alpha Animation and Toys.

Today, operating as The Alpha Group, we are one of the largest animation companies in the world and a multi-dimensional entertainment enterprise. Our animation capabilities paired with our toy design and manufacturing expertise have allowed us to become a one-stop shop for the creation of content and corresponding toys. Our toy division still operates under the Auldey brand and is a wholly owned subsidiary of The Alpha Group, which has a global presence and a diverse portfolio of brands. In the North American market, we recently launched our Super Wings toy line based on the animated preschool series on NBC’s Sprout network, and we continue to innovate in the boys’ space with our Sky Rover and Wave Racers brands.

Can you share an example of how this business model of creating entertainment and toys in a synergistic way is working in the North American market?

We’ve seen great success with this model in North America with the Super Wings brand. Super Wings has been a top-rated show since its 2015 North American premiere and the toy sales have since exceeded expectations. We believe the success comes from an understanding that “play” is often an expression of story-telling and vice versa. Toys that feature characters and settings from popular TV shows or video games enable children to re-enact their favorite scenes from the programming or use their imagination and creativity to develop new adventures of their own. Similarly, children’s beloved toys can be crafted into storylines and come to life through original animated content, which is something we’re also exploring for future toy lines.

SuperWings group logo

The link between the entertainment business and toys seems to be something many major toy companies are building on. Can you talk more about how Alpha has immersed itself in the entertainment category?

Alpha is a mega-producer of content across all mediums, such as comics, animation, TV, and film, which provides a solid foundation for entertainment-based products spanning mass media, toys, education, and theme parks. We own more than 10 animation studios, allowing us to develop our brands with a multi-dimensional approach. Beyond our episodic properties such as Super Wings, Alpha has also entered into a strategic partnership with New Regency Productions, investing in movies such as Assassin’s Creed, The Revenant, and Splinter Cell. Additionally, Alpha has made a significant investment in director Michael Bay’s 451 Media Group in order to continue its growth as an entertainment enterprise. We continue to explore new ways to strengthen our position in the entertainment business.

The recent acquisition of Baby Trend opens up an entirly new category for Alpha in North America and beyond. How does this factor into Alpha’s growth strategy?

Acquiring Baby Trend extends the relationship lifecycle with our core consumer—parents. With our acquisition of Baby Trend, a leading juvenile and baby gear company, we can start engaging with the prenatal mom and have a conversation that will last through the first decade of her toy-buying years. It has been the catalyst for Alpha’s global development plan for our juvenile business and allows us to extend beyond toys and bring our innovative technologies and existing creative properties to a wider array of products.

Alpha recently established a presence in the Los Angeles (LA) area. What are your plans for this new location?

The new LA location will serve as Alpha’s international design headquarters. It’s the perfect hub as it’s at the crossroads of the entertainment and toy industries. We’ve been lucky enough to enlist some of the top design talent in our industry, who are already having an incredible impact on our product lines after just a few months and ensuring we continue to deliver superior play experiences and innovation in everything we create.

What can we expect to see from Auldey in the future?

In 2017, you will see new innovations in all of our signature brands. In the flight category, you can expect breakthrough new products in our Sky Rover line, taking R/C helicopters and drones in a whole new direction. For preschoolers, we’ll be expanding our Super Wings toy line, building on its current strong momentum in the marketplace. We’ve recently partnered with Rainbow, one of the most sophisticated animation companies with worldwide presence, on its new girl-focused animated TV series Regal Academy, which begins airing in the U.S. this summer on Nickelodeon. Stay tuned for a few more surprises to come in 2017 and beyond. »

Board Games Continue Down a Winning Path

by Mary Couzin, founder, SMG Leisure

Many game industry experts consider this the golden age of board games. History will decide if the moniker sticks, but one thing is for sure: Games and puzzles were the fastest-growing toy category last year, climbing 11 percent to $1.6 billion, according to The NPD Group. This year, game sales continue to grow at 24 percent, more than three times the growth of the toy industry overall. And that number could be even higher if you consider all the crowdsourced board games, a category that has become a major player (pun intended) in the publication and manufacturing of board games. Platforms such as Kickstarter allow independent game designers to reach thousands of consumers, and retailers are tuned in to this trend, which will only continue to rise.

Though lots of games sell at retail for less than $20, and some fall into the impulse category at less than $10, other more complicated games are selling for more than $50, contributing to the overall rise in game sales. During a recent trip to Target, I spotted 10 games selling for more than $50 each. has 67 titles selling for more than $50, including multiple strategy games.


North Star Games’ Happy Salmon

There is a perfect storm of many trends contributing to strong game sales. Below are the top trends from my research. We could meet over signature cocktails at one of the growing number of board game cafes and enjoy a long discussion on this topic, but it’s tough find an open table!

Getting Social

One of the best things about board games is that they allow for face-to-face social interaction, and many small business owners are seeing the value in this. Game cafes are opening worldwide, bringing people together over cocktails and board games. Specialty game stores have increased their game nights, where friends and strangers can come together to play, and some stores have added workshops to teach people how to play new games. Some local businesses will even send people to your home to teach you and your family how to play games you want to learn. Even larger retailers, such as Barnes and Noble, are getting in on board game events. The specialty retailer recently expanded their game events to all 640 of their stores. This trend is spilling over into corporate lunch hours and after-hours work events. If I had a dollar for every time someone outside our industry mentioned this, I could buy more of those $50 games.

Crowdsourcing Continues

The crowdfunded trend continues to be strong. More than $500 million has been pledged on all types of games (digital, video, projects, board, etc.) on Kickstarter since the platform’s inception, and of that, $265 million went to board games alone, outpacing video and digital projects.

Both independent companies and inventors use Kickstarter to launch their new products, and larger companies use the platform to find products to add to their lines. Looney Lab’s successful launch of Pyramid Arcade decreased many risks for the company. On a larger scale, Hasbro partnered with Indiegogo last year to source new games from independent game designers, and it was so successful that the company will repeat the effort this year. Of all the trends in games over the past few years, crowdfunding has probably had the biggest impact.


Looney Labs’ Pyramid Arcade

Silly and Simple

While complicated strategy games for adults are populating the shelves, games that require almost no instructions for silly and simple fun are also selling out at retail. The incredible success of Hasbro’s Pie Face last year proves that easy-to-learn, laughter-inducing games are popular with consumers. And this year, North Star Games’ Happy Salmon will be a sure hit in this category. At ASTRA Marketplace & Academy, the fast-paced action card game drew a huge crowd. Goliath Games also has a wide range of products in this genre, which has contributed to the company’s growth in North America.

Adult Party Games

Games aren’t just for kids. Adult party games that gather lots of people together for a good laugh have been gaining traction in the past few years, thanks to mega hits like Cards Against Humanity. And by “adult” I mean “cheeky,” and by “cheeky” I mean “kinda dirty.” This not-so-family-friendly trend continues this year with games such as Galactic Sneeze’s recent release Spank the Yeti, No Kidding’s Rotten Apples, PlayMonster’s Game of Nasty Things, and more.

Going Green

Game companies are jumping on the conservation train this year by using smaller boxes, pouches instead of boxes, and less internal packaging. This not only helps the environment, but it also helps cut costs and allows retailers to expand their offerings since smaller packaging means more products fit on a shelf. Hasbro recently earned Newsweek’s 2016 Green Rankings at No. 1 out of the 500 largest publicly traded companies in the U.S. on overall environmental performance.

Galactic Sneeze_SpanktheYeti

Galactic Sneezes’ Spank the Yeti

The Importance of STREAM

Hot on the heels of the familiar STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and STEAM (which adds art to the mix) trends, is STREAM (which includes reading and writing). Games are a great way to help kids learn these important educational concepts, and demand for these products is at a high. This year, ThinkFun’s Circuit Maze, Foxmind’s Pack’n Go!, Griddly Games’ Rocket Lander, Pressman’s Pass the Pen, and Blue Orange’s Dr. Eureka are great options for STREAM learning.

Screen Fatigue

Peggy Brown, game inventor and producer of the upcoming documentary film OPERATION Operation: The Power of Play, believes the rise in the popularity of board games across all genres is because people are unconsciously longing to connect with more meaningful story-based experiences, and desperate to connect with each other. She says, “While board games can be perceived as old-fashioned, there’s no doubt that they bring us together and force us to interact with each other in ways nothing else does. Playing board games, for players of any age, can reconnect us, compel us to discover and invent new and different ways to communicate and solve problems, and refresh our basic social skills which, for most of us, get rusty in the fast and often lonely connections of the interwebs. In an era where we’ve become connected to everybody and are subsequently close to nobody, board games plug us in to each other as we unplug from our devices, even if it’s only for a short time.”

I don’t see an end in sight to the continued rise of board games. At London, Nuremberg, and New York Toy Fairs, as well as ASTRA Marketplace recently, I heard many times from retailers that they were increasing their board game selection and allocated space, all of which is golden news, contributing to a burgeoning golden age.

MaryHeadMary Couzin is CEO and founder of the Chicago Toy & Game Group, with a mission of promoting the importance of play through hosting consumer, fashion, inventor, and media events. Events include Chicago Toy & Game Fair, Inventor and Innovation Conferences, Toy & Game Innovation Awards, PlayCHIC Fashion Show, Young Inventor Challenge, and more.

Construction Toys Build Up Success

by Sean McGowan, founder, SMG Leisure

The construction category accounted for about 10.5 percent of total U.S. toy industry retail sales in 2015, according to The NPD Group. The category rose 9 percent in 2015, on top of a rise of 11 percent in 2014. Over the past 15 years or so, construction toys have been the most consistent growth segment of the U.S. toy industry. Growth has been so strong and so consistent that if you were to exclude construction toys from total industry sales, there would have been essentially no growth in U.S. toy industry sales from 2003 through 2014 (prior to the massive surge in action figure sales last year), especially excluding the effects of inflation. It is the only one of the NPD toy industry super categories not to show at least one year-on-year annual decline during this period.

It is notable that not only does the category not owe its strong and steady growth during this period to the increased use of technology (electronics, Wi-Fi connections, apps, etc.), but also that the growth is actually in spite of an explosion in consumer interest in video games and smart gadgets. The category’s best years actually came after the introduction of the iPhone. (A side corollary here is that the biggest gains in Lego’s profitability came at a time when its main raw material—plastic resins—were undergoing a dramatic increase in costs, although recent years have offered some relief. Lego may be the most “plastic” of all toys, and yet wild gyrations in the cost of the feedstock did nothing to disrupt its growth, even as other toy makers were blaming rising resin costs for their own dips in profitability.)


Lego Friends Adventure Camp Treehouse

Lego’s category market share, which we estimate at greater than 80 percent, suggests that Lego did not simply ride the strength of the category—it created it. In my view, the company’s success has been based on several key components operating both separately and together. First, it changed its corporate culture (with astonishing speed, given its size, age, and prior success) to become more attentive to feedback from both retailers and consumers. Second, it stepped up its already impressive research and development efforts, developing a team of designers with an uncanny ability to discern what consumers worldwide would be interested in seeing in the way of new themes. Third, it expanded its licensing efforts to incorporate a broad range of topical as well as timeless licenses. However, it is crucial to note that Lego’s growth over the past decade has not simply been the result of a significant increase in licensed toys. This is not all about Marvel and Star Wars. The company’s City line sets have seen growth that keeps pace with licensed categories. Fourth, it introduced Lego Friends, by far its most successful effort to attract girls to the play pattern that for so many years was considered one for boys.

And, in a sense, it is this success that leads to what I consider the fifth reason for Lego’s striking and consistent growth: It effectively expanded the construction category to incorporate elements of play that had previously been associated with other, non-construction toys. The rising popularity of its movie-licensed play sets and figures effectively put Lego in the action figure category, since kids would be playing with the Lego figures and play sets in much the same way that they might play with other licensed action figures. The Friends line tapped into young girls’ desire for dollhouse play, for collectibles, and for mini-dolls. Original themed sets, such as Ninjago and Chima, feature extensive vehicle play. The company even branched out into “board games” (although with less success than some of its other efforts). The Dimensions and Fusion lines are strong entrants in the toys-to-life and smart toy categories. In other words, much of Lego’s growth came as a result of taking the brand into new toy categories. In doing so, it effectively grew the construction toy category by taking over some of the play patterns previously held by non-construction toys.


Spin Master’s Meccano Micronoid

Looking at the category more broadly than just its bigger player, what is interesting lately is that Lego is not the only construction toy maker that is seeing growth. For most of the years between 2005 and 2015, Lego essentially got more than 100 percent of the category’s growth, while many of its construction toy rivals were seeing declines in sales. More recently, these other brands have seen growth.

• Since its acquisition by Mattel, Mega Bloks sales have stabilized and resumed growth (following a period of forced contraction after the acquisition).
• The Bridge Direct has picked up some share with its C3 line of construction sets (featuring licenses from the NBA, WWE, and Shopkins).
• K’nex may be a fraction of its peak size, but it has resumed rapid growth, benefitting from a shift back to domestic manufacturing, use of key licenses, and expansion of the brand into other play patterns. In other words, following a similar playbook as Lego.
• Meccano, acquired by Spin Master in 2013, has enjoyed a strong surge in shelf space, sales, and innovation.

It is worth noting again that with the exception of some of the Lego and Meccano lines, none of these toys are tech toys. Indeed, I believe a big part of their appeal is that they are not screen-based; they appeal to parents’ nostalgia for their own toys and their desire to keep their kids from staring at screens all day. In this sense, perhaps the future of construction toys has never been brighter.

I’ve learned you can never say never—and that you can never say always—in the toy industry, but it certainly feels like this is a category with a promising future. Construction toys offer boundless hours of open ended-play (even if they are based on licensed themes), a play pattern that is inherently good for a developing young mind, an option that millennial parents see as part of the highly coveted STEM movement, and incredible durability. (My parents’ basement was flooded during Hurricane Sandy, and the only toys that survived were Lego bricks.) I believe Lego is likely to continue to be the dominant player in this category, but the fact that it is no longer the only player that is doing well is a very good sign for the whole segment. »

SeanMcGowanSean McGowan is the founder of SMG Leisure. He has been closely following the toy industry for 30 years, analyzing product trends, cost changes, marketing practices, and other aspects of how products and companies succeed (or don’t). He also follows digital gaming, sporting goods, and juvenile products. McGowan started SMG Leisure in January 2016 to continue this work beyond the parameters of Wall Street.