Bob Wann, CEO (Chief PlayMonster), PlayMonster, discusses the latest trends, industry happenings, and how business strategies are evolving in the specialty toy market.

The Toy Book: How have you done business differently since stay-at-home orders were put into place across most of the U.S.?
Bob Wann: We converted our entire office-based team to a virtual environment within 48 hours of establishing a work-from-home protocol. Our team adapted immediately and has been functioning incredibly efficiently. Checking in daily on video conferencing is one way we keep the team spirit going, so even though employees are physically separated, we all still feel connected to one another.

TB: What do you think the short- and long-term impacts of the global coronavirus pandemic on the toy industry will be?
BW: With families looking for more ways to play at home, we’re seeing a significant surge in classic play, which is what PlayMonster champions and stands for every day. Because of the current situation, people are being reminded of the importance of classic, non-electronic play, such as board games and activities. This is leading to brand loyalty, which will likely cause well-known classic brands or time-proven brands across the industry, including some of our own PlayMonster brands such as 5 Second Rule and Spirograph, to continue to do well for the balance of the year.

TB: With ASTRA’s Marketplace & Academy canceled this year, how do you plan to connect with retailers?
BW: We are finalizing a virtual showroom, not only to reach out to the ASTRA Marketplace, but also the broader customer base.

TB: What major toy trends are you seeing this year?
BW: With COVID-19, 2020 is an atypical year. We think due to the loss of major movie launches and not having many entertainment properties to drive traffic and sales, that consumers will resort to brands they know, as well as look for exciting new innovation in games and toys. For PlayMonster, we are personally experiencing this with our best-known brands driving growth in our core business — games, puzzles, and activities — which are all having a strong year.

On the innovation front, new items like our Drone Home game and our Snap Ships brand have been very well received. Snap Ships, on trend of brands with content, will be supported by an action-packed YouTube animated series, Dawn of Battle, created in partnership with a multimedia entertainment company. Both Snaps Ships and Drone Home are shaping up to be exciting opportunities this fall.

TB: How important is it for toy companies to make an effort to be more eco-friendly?
BW: It is extremely important that we look at all aspects of our products and do what we can to ensure that they are more eco-friendly. It’s a major company initiative to meet the increasing consumer demands and expectations in this regard.

TB: With less consumers out shopping, how are you getting the word out to drive awareness about new product lines and brands?
BW: We use many grassroots methods to get the word out about our products — social media, email marketing, maintaining our website and updating it with information on all of our new items, etc. Digital and TV advertising are still critical, and we’re working with influencers to get the word out as well. With the media constantly talking about what to do at home during COVID-19, people are always searching for ideas, and we’re making it easier for them to find great solutions.

TB: Has your direct-to-consumer distribution strategy changed, and if so, how?
BW: Our strategy is to continue to focus on driving e-commerce sales through our retailer partners. PlayMonster’s website does have a shopping feature, but the focus is to build awareness and visibility on our brands so we can help our retail partners drive even more sales. We support our retail partners first and foremost, and make sure images, videos, and information are easily available to them to create a consumer-friendly e-commerce shopping experience.

TB: How have you kept up with retailer orders for your products?
BW: We have maintained a very solid supply chain throughout the crises, including getting extra inventory to meet the surge in demand and keep our customers in stock.

TB: What are some of your most in-demand items right now?
BW: In demand right now are some of our key party games, such as 5 Second Rule, The Game of Things…, Relative Insanity, and the new Relative Insanity See What I Mean?!, as well as kids’ games, such as the ever-popular Yeti in My Spaghetti. In addition, our activities business anchored by My Fairy Garden and Spirograph have been strong. Specifically for ASTRA member retailers, Colorforms, Y’Art, and Fashion Plates have also been popular.

TB: What innovation in your products are you offering to consumers this year?
BW: Because of consumer insights and the hard work of our dedicated team, we have a couple of outstanding products in innovation. Drone Home brings a whole new type of action to kids’ games with a real flying drone, and Snap Ships brings innovation to a whole new segment for us by combining action play and construction like never before. These two products have been honored as finalists for ASTRA’s 2020 Best Toys for Kids awards, along with four other PlayMonster items: Spirograph, Mirari SkillDillies, TAG, and Face Paintoos. We are thrilled to have six finalists, as this is the first year PlayMonster has had so many products recognized in this way, and that’s a positive for our ASTRA retail partners!

TB: What are the ways in which you maintain relationships with specialty retailers?
BW: We maintain relationships with specialty retailers by continuing to bring great products to the market, including unique and innovative product just for specialty retailers. We create custom brands and product lines for specialty consumers, along with special editions of other brands to give them products that can’t be found anywhere else. This helps them stay relevant and innovative for their customers. We also offer programs and support that is customized to meet the unique needs of the specialty retailer.

TB: What advice would you give to other manufacturers during this time?
BW: Manufacturers should maintain patience and confidence. The toy industry has, is, and will always be resilient. Also, remember to be flexible and adjust to change. With trade shows becoming virtual, we have to think of new ways to get visibility and partner with our customers. We also need to watch how consumer play patterns change, and adjust accordingly. At PlayMonster, we’re communicating with consumers more than we ever have, so that we have even more consumer insight to help bring our key retail partners new products, brands, and programs that have been consumer-approved in order to help our retail partners be more successful.

This Chatting with the Industry Q&A response originally appeared in the June 2020 issue of the Toy Book. Click here to read more!