by Kimberly Mosley, president, American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA)
Maybe this has happened to you: You unearth a long-forgotten board game while cleaning out a corner of your attic or find one buried deep in an old toy box. All the pieces are there and the board is in playable condition — but the rules are missing! What do you do? Call Jeff Pinsker.
Who Is Jeff Pinsker?
Jeff Pinsker knows games, or at least he knows enough about them to have helped create products that have collectively sold more than 41 million units at retail. Currently the CEO of Amigo Games North America, Pinsker is the 2020 recipient of the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association’s (ASTRA) coveted Lifetime Achievement Award. Perhaps this year’s honor should be titled Lifetime Achievement and Most Prolific Game Inventor Award in order to recognize the more than 150 games Pinsker has brought to market during his nearly 30 years in the toy industry.
Arguably, Pinsker’s path to the highest honor given by ASTRA all started with the game Fingers Harry by Topper Toys, circa 1967. Go ahead, Google it. We’ll wait.
Get to Know Jeff Pinsker on the Power Kid Podcast: Listen Now
It Started with Play
When his mom returned home from a garage sale with Fingers Harry, young Jeff and three of his friends were eager to dive into the world of cops and robbers, magnets and popping hats, and get-away cards. There was just one problem: The game was missing the instructions. But remember: This is Jeff Pinsker we’re talking about. He made up rules on the spot and the game was on. The next day, the Pinsker household hosted the same boys playing the same game, but with new instructions — and then again the next day and the next, for at least a week.
Pinsker’s memory is that all the players of Fingers Harry and its many variations had a great time, even as he reimagined the game rules daily. Play research says that early play experiences contribute to who we become as adults. If that’s true, we can easily connect the dots between Mrs. Pinsker’s garage sale treasure and her son’s future as a game inventor. One point of concern: Somewhere out there, three middle-aged men still struggle with buying into rules and understanding authority figures, and they don’t know why.
The Path to Amigo Games
After earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Stanford University, getting some marketing experience, and founding (then selling) a company that set up and delivered practical jokes, Pinsker found his way to the toy industry as the general manager of University Games’ Colorforms brand. He went on to hold general manager, president, and CEO roles at a number of children’s media, toy, and game companies, including JP Kids (which had the No. 1-rated show on the Disney Channel and created a joint venture in publishing with Barnes & Noble), Infinitoy, Klutz/Scholastic, Pressman, Cardinal/Spin Master, and now Amigo Games, which specializes in creating games with five rules or less that players can learn in less than two minutes.
Advice for Toy Professionals
What’s on Jeff Pinsker’s mind as he looks at today’s toy business? Here are his top pieces of advice:
• Prioritize distribution. You can have the greatest product in the world, but if you have not played the long game on the distribution piece, you may not succeed. “The importance of a strong distribution strategy is more in the spotlight now than ever before, given the exit of Toys ‘R’ Us and the COVID-19 retail shutdown,” Pinsker says. “Obviously, you control what you can — manufacturing, packaging, etc. — but you need to address things you cannot control earlier in the life cycle than you might think, or you will be too late.”
• Focus on your most critical metric. “With the explosion of business data, all of us have more inputs than ever before. It’s easy to get overwhelmed or sidetracked if you don’t focus on the most critical number to look at every day.” But remember: Pinsker says that your most important metric may shift over time. If you are launching a product, it may be the number of new customers in your first year, retention or weighted gross margin in your second year, or SKU count in your third year. “Whatever you determine is your most important daily number, stay focused on it,” he says.
• Learn to say “no.” It’s OK to walk away from deals, opportunities, or even people that don’t feel right or fit your plan. “A lot of times, ‘no’ is exactly the right answer,” Pinsker notes. “We have to focus on what’s right for our business, our staff, and ourselves.”
Exemplary Service to ASTRA
Among his many volunteer service activities — including working with the Literacy Coalition of Central Texas, Game Manufacturers Association (GAMA), DASH Robotics, National Education Week, Stanford’s Entrepreneurs Group, Stanford Health Library, and the Tech Museum’s Tech Challenge — Pinsker has been an active supporter of ASTRA through all of his career stops, serving on multiple committees and the Board
“ASTRA members are super smart, motivated, and engaged,” says Pinsker. “Everyone is an entrepreneur. What I love most is that I’m still learning and I still get something out of every connection with a new ASTRA person.” The level of cooperation and helpfulness among ASTRA members is remarkable, continues Pinsker. “The willingness to give, share, and learn with others in the industry is the heart of ASTRA.”
Giving, sharing, and learning — those are rules we can all live by. No instructions needed. Congratulations to Jeff Pinsker on your well-deserved honor, and thank you for your many years of dedicated service. »
This article was originally published in the July/August 2020 edition of the Toy Book. Click here to read the full issue!