Aryaball Kickstarts Into Motion

AryaBall HeadshotWith kids today constantly craning their necks down toward their iPhones and tablets, sometimes the perfect pick-me-up is a day at the park. But what parent wants to resemble a gym teacher or clutter up the car with a ton of sporting equipment just to keep their kids busy? Thanks to Babak Forutanpour, they don’t have to.

Forutanpour, owner and head coach of Aryaball, encourages active play through his new toy invention. The Aryaball and Aryabat are foam products made for kids ages 3 to 10. It allows kids to play five sports at once—with just one ball and one bat. The outer shell of the product is a full sized, regulation 5 soccer ball. The ball then opens up to reveal a football and flying disc. The football also twists and opens to uncover a soft baseball with the dimples of a golf ball. Kids can play baseball with the Aryabat or swing the tip out 90 degrees to turn it into a golf putter.

Forutanpour was inspired to create the product one afternoon when he was at the park with his son Arya. The two were throwing a football around when Arya, who the business is named after, asked to play soccer instead. Foruntapour did not have any other sports equipment with him, but after his son insisted, the pair ended up kicking the football to try to use it as a soccer ball.

AryaBall Product“That’s when it dawned on me that I’m not the only dad who forgot to bring all the balls to the park,” Forutanpour said. “I didn’t want to carry a bag with the soccer ball, baseball, football, and golf. I could reinvent the football and soccer ball. It’s about solving a problem I saw.”

The trip to the park was also cut short because Forutanpour’s kids just wanted to go back home and play on their electronic devices. This was precisely the motivation he needed to bring new innovation to the active play category.

“I think it’s time to rethink the active play category a bit and make products that are easier to use, more fun, and more compact,” Forutanpour said. “It seems like a lot of change in active sports has been related to increased volume and decreased pricing, where I haven’t really seen real innovation.”

Forutanpour came up with designs in his garage soon after the trip to the park. The most current result was generated after several rounds of prototyping. One of the initial designs included a football with two removable end caps to turn into a soccer ball. Forutanpour built these different prototypes with soccer balls and footballs that he had bought. Eventually, he purchased a 3-D printer to create new, original models and make them better each time instead of using real soccer balls and footballs. A 3-D printer prints hot, melted plastic into different shapes, which was used to create the two bowls that threaded together to make a soccer ball.

The Aryaball business has evolved from a father-son activity to a full family affair. Forutanpour’s two children have tested each prototype and given feedback. Along with Arya, who inspired the product, Forutanpour’s daughter Darya helped him tie in additional sports. After several models, prototypes, and tests from his children, Foruntanpour feels as though his product is ready for others to enjoy. He launched the AryaBall on Kickstarter on February 11.

The product’s Kickstarter campaign will run through March 28. Kickstarter is a crowd-funding website where consumers can pledge money toward a project before a certain deadline. The creator receives the raised funds only if the project reaches its goal.  Multiple toy companies have used this platform to launch their new products, often exceeding their initial goals, including Goldieblox, Tek Recon, and Ubooly.

Forutanpour heard about Kickstarter from a friend and has kept a close eye on it as his business developed and as crowd-funding became more prevalent. He has donated to 11 other projects on the website prior to launching the AryaBall and decided it would be a useful platform to fund his product and gage consumer interest.

“I think we are very fortunate to live in a time where there is a platform of crowd-funding to put a product out there and see if people like it,” said Forutanpour. “If people like it and are willing to spend their hard-earned money to pre-order this product, then that is the validation I need to press go and move forward.”

The AryaBall’s Kickstarter goal is $35,000. So far, the business has been entirely self-funded by Forutanpour, so the next stage is to make multicavity tools to produce the product. A multicavity tool would allow for multiple AryaBalls and AryaBats to be made at a time. Ultimately, the more money the AryaBall is able to raise, the more efficient it would be to manufacture the product.

“The response has been really positive so far, so I’m hoping we have a successful Kickstarter to get these balls made and shared with people,” said Forutanpour. “We’ve been getting emails from people saying they want one.”

The price point for the AryaBall and AryaBat together is about $45 if the AryaBall reaches its fundraising goal and the minimum amount of tooling is available to manufacture the products. Consumers will also be able to purchase the products separately.

Although all of the engineering aspects of the product are done, Forutanpour would like to incorporate all feedback from consumers as Aryaball is introduced around the world. Once a final round of prototyping is finished, there will be another round of testing. Forutanpour hopes to get the product on shelves on mass and specialty stores in time for the holiday season.

The Aryaball was most recently a featured exhibitor at the American International Toy Fair in New York City from February 16 to 19. Shark Tank investor Daymond John, founder, president, and CEO of the fashion line Fubu, even stopped by the booth and chatted with Foruntanpour. The product was also featured on NBC’s Today Show as a Hot New Toy for this year.

Click on the video below to see the AryaBall in action.

A Letter to the Industry from Björn Jeffery, Co-Founder & CEO, Toca Boca

Toca Boca CEO & Cofounder Bjorn Jeffery Photo[1]Dear Toy Industry,

Hope all is well! I’m writing to you from the App Store, where Toca Boca just had the biggest holiday season ever—we even landed in the Top 10! While the App Store is a space for digital products, so much of what you know about toys can be applied here—and there’s room for you to excel in this space.

Toca Boca started researching your products a little more than three years ago. We looked at play patterns and blockbuster toys—searching for themes that could work for us. Since you were such a key influence, I thought I’d attempt to return the favor. So here are a few things that we’ve learned from the App Store over the past few years that I would like to share with you.

First, think of the App Store as a toy store. If it was Toys “R” Us, you wouldn’t be putting your marketing material on the shelves. Yet that is often what I see in the App Store—an app trying to sell something in the physical world. Put your best toys on the shelves! There’s infinite shelf space in the App Store and many other toys from which to choose. [Read more...]

Q&A with Michael Lillioja, President of Creata

CrocPot for PRCreata recently launched its new brand, Monster 500, exclusively at Toys “R” Us . The line features 10 characters that race for one of five teams in the Monster 500 speed competition. Each character will be sold as a small, 3-inch die-cast vehicle, but customers can also collect select large character feature vehicles standing 4 inches high and 5 inches long. Two play sets are also available.

The Toy Book had the opportunity to speak with Michael Lillioja, president of Creata, about thew new brand, and what launching its own brand meant for the future of Creata.

The Toy Book: Monster 500 is the first line that is produced by Creata as its own brand. What made you decide to launch your own brand after manufacturing for other companies for more than 30 years?

Michael Lillioja: Creata’s passion is toys. And we’re serious about fun. So it just seemed like a natural extension to use all of our expertise to create a line of toys that has the functions and features that kids expect today. We did a lot of research to make sure that Monster 500 provides the best experience possible.  

TBCan you describe the Monster 500 brand? What age groups is it for? Who is the target audience?

ML: Our target age-grading is kids ages 4 and up, with a sweet spot of 6- to10-year-old boys. Our secondary audience is the collectors or “fanboys.”

TB: Why did you decide on a Toys “R” Us exclusive?

ML: Toys “R” Us is the No. 1 specialty toy retailer that focuses exclusively on toys, and they are a great partner when it comes to launching a new product. We were fortunate to work with Toys “R” Us in the past, so it made perfect sense to continue that relationship with Monster 500. Our company history is rich with long-term partnerships. We see that the work we are doing on Monster 500 with Toys “R” Us is beneficial to both companies and has the potential to be a very long-term relationship.

Monster500screenshotTB: How does Monster 500 integrate classic physical play and new digital play? What sets it apart from other toys on the market that do this as well? 

ML: Every toy comes with a Monster Code that unlocks a virtual monster car in the free racing game app. It’s a best-in-class racing game experience, offered for free. And, with our “virtual blind box” unlock experience, you don’t know which Monster 500 character will be unleashed. It’s a surprise every time!

TB: What does the launch of Monster 500 mean for the future of your company? How has it changed the overall goals of the company? 

ML: Play patterns are changing. The Monster 500 launch is our recognition that the future of play will focus on the intersection of physical and digital. The creation of the Monster 500 line is an extension of Creata’s umbrella goal of adding play and fun to people’s lives.

Michael Lillioja is president of Creata, an insights-driven company working to bring brands and consumers together through play. Creata’s global brand activation capabilities include insights on how customers want to play; product design, development, and manufacturing; digital playground creation; and consumer promotion. Creata has 14 offices in 10 countries. www.creata.com.  

The Toy Book Chats with Sherry Gunther-Shugarman, CEO, Popstar Club

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Sherry Gunther-Shugarman, CEO of Popstar Club, which is the manufacturer of the fresh, new doll line, The Beatrix Girls. Sherry gave me an overview of what makes her doll line so unique, and why girls are going to be clamoring for them this holiday season.

SherryGunther.BeatrixCEO

 

Where did you get the idea for Beatrix Girls?

The Beatrix Girls came out of the idea of tying music and dolls together. Ultimately the approach to this was to create a multiplatform brand that really reaches kids everywhere that they are, recognizing that kids are not just watching TV and they’re not just playing with dolls or toys, they’re not just online playing games or being social, they’re doing all of the above. A forward-thinking property really needed to have presence in all of those mediums and to have an integration between all of those formats ingrained in its DNA.

The webisodes are done in a very unique way. How did you come about using that style?

It’s interesting because the natural for me was to go with animation as I spent over 20 years in animation, but there were a lot of things that attracted me to doing it this way, creating webisodes that have the dolls featured interacting in real life. It comes out of the fact that the concept itself has the girls as real. So they’re real and they interact in our world. They’re a real pop star band, we9’re creating real music, not composed music like we would for a toy property or an animated show, but real, credible, pop music written by a platinum-winning writer/producer, mixed by a Grammy-winning engineer, so this is really relevant, today, great music and so we really want to sell them as true pop stars.

Animation oftentimes, especially when doing them based on a product or especially dolls, skews a little bit younger, and we really wanted to have the cool factor and have these be edgier. The medium that we used felt so much more current and fresh and innovative and YouTube generation-like and it felt much more fitting to the brand itself. It gives the dolls the credibility of being real in our world. They have a real human manager, they perform in real venues, so it allows us to play up that real factor for them. And then the scale gives us a lot of humor opportunities for 12-inch dolls interacting in a life-size world.

The really nice side effect that we found is that girls are really responding to the fact that they can relate to the way it was done because it was shot on purpose with hands showing and manipulating the dolls. The idea was that kids could really relate to it and feel like I can do that, I can get four dolls and with my friends create a scene and a scenario.

 

For some reason it reminds me of Mr. Bill, the old SNL skit.

That’s kind of what we were going for. We were going for rather than just sort of just straight, weak, almost too young-skewing animation. We wanted it to be edgier and quirky and fun and hilarious and this medium allowed us to do that, to have that feel to it.

[Read more...]

Musical Toys: An Inspiration to Pursue the Art

by Rachel Matthews, guest blogger

Not too long ago, the Kidz Bop kids found their way performing at venues in New York and New Jersey. Their collection of poppy, top 40 covers has allowed them to produce dozens of compilation albums, launch a U.S. star search, release books, video games, and toys.

The line-up of the group is in constant rotation as each member ages. Because of this rotation, many a child beg their parents for a singing lesson—especially in New York—after seeing a Kidz Bop performance. The chances of becoming a member is hard pressed as detailed by this young musician, but the combination of their U.S. talent search and brand gives hope to many children within the States.

Of course, aiming to sing for a band such as Kidz Bop is only part of what’s driving up sales in music -parents must by music-related toys to help further their children’s ambitions.

[Read more...]

Q&A with Drew Stevenson, Vice President of Sales and Retail Marketing North America, Mega Bloks

The Toy Book spoke with Drew Stevenson, vice president of sales and retail marketing North America at Mega Bloks, about the current state of the construction category and Mega Bloks role in the industry.

TB: Building sets saw a 23 percent increase in sales from 2011 to 2012, according to the NPD Group, and the category is the strongest toy category right now. Why has the construction category taken off over the past couple of years?

DS: Well actually, the category has been consistently growing for the past four years and we believe it represents a desire for more educationally beneficial toys, which absorb children’s imagination from the age of 1. Parents want what is best for their children and they understand more and more the benefits of construction in terms of skill development, creativity, self-expression, and sense of accomplishment. So, we are confident that the construction toy category will only continue to grow.

Mega Bloks will continue to offer more choices for preschoolers, boys, girls, and collectors, allowing all of our fans to continuously immerse themselves in this play pattern and grow with Mega Bloks. [Read more...]

The World Congress of Play Aims to Unite Play Industries of the 21st Century

congressThe play industries—traditional toys and games, video games, digital, and theme parks—have often been seen as four separate industries with little crossover in competition. After all, theme parks aren’t taking over any of the traditional games’ retail shelf space, right?

Not quite. This compartmentalized view of these industries could actually stop industry players from realizing their true competitors. As the concept of play develops and changes, so does the market in which it exists.

“Children do not experience a gap between virtual play and physical play. It’s seamless. So as a result, they live in a much bigger universe than we do,” says Richard Gottlieb, CEO of Global Toy Experts. “They don’t think like that; it’s just play. One of the real secrets to success in the future, I think, is creating seamless play.”

From this idea comes the birth of the World Congress of Play, a new conference co-founded by Gottlieb and Charles Albert, co-founder of Creativity Inc., Inspire Ltd. (HK), Funfare LLC, and Creativity Mobile. The conference, which takes place from September 9 to 11 in San Francisco, brings together leaders from the traditional toy and game, video game, digital, and theme park industries to create one big play industry. [Read more...]

Interview with Lego President Soren Torp Laursen

The Toy Book spoke with Soren Torp Laursen, president of the Lego Group, about the state of the construction toys category and how Lego is adapting to trends.

The Toy Book: Building sets saw a 23 percent increase in sales from 2011 to 2012, according to the NPD Group. And the category is the strongest toy category right now. Why has the construction category taken off over the past couple of years?

LEGO_LogoSoren Torp Laursen: Building is the best and most versatile play experience available to children, and it is our DNA. Our single brand status has given us the focus and discipline to offer the best quality material and grow our business—and the category along with it. Our momentum has been strong over the last eight years, which furthers our ability to invest in expanding the brand to invite new users and drive continued growth. Parents and children alike recognize the lasting value and versatility of a Lego building experience, which is why we strive to meet their evolving needs with Lego solutions. We don’t see that different play patterns need to be discreet experiences, and fortunately, our brand’s versatility allows us to adapt compelling play patterns to the building sets category, such as action figures, dolls and play sets, vehicles, and gaming. By changing the way we approach what constitutes a building experience, without fundamentally changing what makes it a Lego experience, we continue to deliver relevant, yet familiar, Lego products that are driving industry growth.  

TB: What are some of the biggest trends you’ve noticed in the construction category recently?

STL: Perhaps the biggest trend in building sets at the moment is licensing, which seems to be increasing as other players seek to establish or grow their businesses. Building sets is an incredibly tough toy category to enter, establish, and sustain, therefore it is not for dabblers. Being a player requires costly complexities in molding and supply chain operations, plus research and development to be relevant and broad enough to attract a sustainable fan base, which we have found comes not only from single event-based properties, but from a wide variety of original and licensed themes that appeal to any child of any age. [Read more...]

10 Board Games You Shouldn’t Miss Before Stepping to Adulthood

by Pam Johnson

The great journey of adulthood will happen to us all. However, before you get there, it’s time to enjoy these fun and amusing board games.

Candy Land

Don’t even try to get to adulthood without playing Candy Land! This amusing game has been entertaining children of all ages for decades and decades, and you simply cannot miss it.

Monopoly Jr.

While one of the games can still take hours to complete, Monopoly Jr. is more suitable for a younger crowd than the standard version. Youngsters can certainly learn some basic counting skills while having a lot of fun.

Real Monopoly

Before making that final leap into the world of adults, it’s time to get out the board and play some real Monopoly. You’ll get a chance to see what it’s like to own some real estate and handle some seriously large amounts of money in your own hands! [Read more...]

Reshoring Toys

By Howard N. Aronson, Managing Partner, Lackenbach Siegel LLP

Like the proverbial child who runs away from home only to return before nightfall, an American toymaker is bringing most of its manufacturing back to the U.S.—after more than a decade of outsourcing in Asia. The decision of K’NEX Brands, a family-owned maker of plastic building toys, to boost manufacturing at The Rodon Group, its Hatfield, Pa. plant, is only one example of a major trend. Persuasive factors leading to the ultimate decision included quality control, overall costs, timeliness of deliveries, and intellectual property issues. Many are following the lead of K’NEX and rediscovering that home sweet home is the best place to make and distribute products after all.

Manufacturing in the U.S. created many advantages for K’NEX:
• Greater ability to react to shifts in consumer demands for toys because it’s much quicker and easier to retool–thus creating additional sales;
• Delivery times are quicker–as are changes in delivery schedules, for example, to take advantage of unexpected increases in sales at some stores;
• There’s more control over quality–including avoiding toy safety product recalls;
• There’s more control over materials–again, especially important where safety is an issue, as it is with many toys;
• Overseas labor costs are increasing, whereas using robotics in its U.S. plant is boosting productivity–thus lowering per unit labor costs;
• Transportation costs are rising;
• Time zone differences make communication between manufacturers and suppliers difficult. [Read more...]