Chief Play Monster Bob Wann | Source: PlayMonster/The Toy Book

Chief Play Monster Bob Wann | Source: PlayMonster/The Toy Book
Chief Play Monster Bob Wann | Source: PlayMonster/The Toy Book

I have never faced as extreme a business challenge as the current COVID-19 pandemic. Protecting the health and safety of our staff and families, re-engineering multiple warehouse safety protocols and productivity guidelines, navigating supply issues and unprecedented retail closures, as well as coming up with creative ways to reach and engage our customers were all unforeseen challenges. Everything we used previously to activate our business had to go out the window and we’ve had to ask ourselves how to navigate our business in new ways.

When the COVID pandemic started, our greatest concern was the health and safety of our employees, their families, and our community. Like many, we mobilized our employees to work remotely and then focused on continuing to perform the right functions to meet the needs of our customers safely, and with the needs of our people first. It wasn’t until we were assured of the health and safety of our staff that we could turn our attention to the health of our business.

It’s easier, of course, for everyone to perform well and be successful in times when there is a lot of natural momentum for everyone to build on. It is during times of uncertainty and challenge however that the opportunity for true talent to stand out & shine through presents itself. In these challenging COVID times it became apparent very quickly that the entire PlayMonster team did just that, rising to the challenge and performing in an exceptional way.

The entire team mobilized and moved quickly. We sought out best practices and used every resource at our disposal to learn from what other people were doing well. We took the steps to ensure we provide staff with the flexibility needed to meet the new demands of their evolving home lives. We quickly pivoted to reallocate resources in product development, distribution, sales, and marketing. We worked on rolling out our operations plans unilaterally across three offices and multiple distribution centers in different locations, all guided by different regional circumstances and timelines. Having just completed the acquisition of Kahootz this past November, we had to escalate and adapt the integration of business, process, people, and function under rather extreme conditions.

We were forced into an accelerated learning curve that nobody could have predicted, but in fact, it’s changing the way we do business for the better. It has required us to focus with clarity on what matters most.

Everything has changed except one thing: Kids will always want to play.

It is no surprise that The NPD Group reported overall toy sales up 22% in April. We are seeing it with our customers, on social media, and in our families. Play is more important than ever and it’s bringing families together in a fundamental way during a time of need.

We are fortunate that our core business, which has always been rooted in classic play, continues to be in high demand. In the beginning, when planning for the worst, we couldn’t have anticipated seeing increases in games, activities, and puzzles up dramatically from last year. Those businesses have slowed slightly since the initial spike, but are still up significantly and look like they will continue to have staying power carrying into the fall and beyond.

Other categories and companies haven’t been so lucky and are facing difficult choices. Retailers are also now confronted with the need to offset declines in other categories. We have been pushed to think outside the box and ask “Where are the opportunities and where are the leverage points? Where do we take this next?” In some cases, that means working with retail partners on expanding shelf space and promotional support in categories that are over-indexing; in others, it may mean looking at new acquisition opportunities.

In all cases, it means paying close attention to what the market and our consumers are telling us and reacting quickly — none of which would be possible without the ingenuity and resilience of a talented team working together in unprecedented ways across the entire organization. That perhaps is one of the most invaluable lessons going forward. I could not be prouder of the talented people both in our company and across the industry that have risen to the occasion of these times.

The Path Forward

As we look out beyond the pandemic to what comes next and how we’ll use what we’ve learned, the goal for PlayMonster is to keep building, not only in revenue growth but also growing stature, visibility, and reputation with both customers and consumers. The agility and commitment with which we’ve led our business over the last 90 days will continue to drive us forward.

Big areas of growth for the company will be global expansion, the development of strong IP around our product, and acquisition integration. We will continue to innovate classic play and focus on adding both internal talent and external partnerships to bring even more industry-best practice and experience to what we do.

In the wake of COVID-19, things will continue to change. I think the business landscape and how we will need to conduct business in the future has changed permanently. For Play Monster, what we take forward is a willingness to lean in to change, remain flexible, adaptable, opportunistic, and positive. Take care of each other. Know what you are good at and double down on that.

Remember what you are capable of — this crisis has shown us a new and hopefully more resilient side to ourselves. Everything may be changing, but the reason we do business hasn’t.

Play matters now more than ever.

About the author

Bob Wann

Bob Wann

Bob Wann is Chief Play Monster at PlayMonster LLC and Board Director, Chairman Emeritus of Toy Industry Association. Under his leadership, PlayMonster (formerly Patch Products ) has grown from a successful single category (games) company into a more diversified and dynamic multi-category toy and game company.