The Toy Book chats with Ross Hyman, director of product development and marketing at Alex Global Products, about the company’s legacy, evolution, and future plans.
Toy Book: Alex Global Products emerged during a tumultuous year. What are the key differences between the former Alex Brands and the new Alex Global Products?
Ross Hyman: Following Alex Brands’ bankruptcy in 2020, Out There First acquired Alex’s iconic brand assets and formed a new company, Alex Global Products (AGP). The similarities between the old and new company are the brands and products. There is no connection to the previous ownership or its management.
From a strategic and operational perspective, a major difference is our focus on rebuilding and innovating, rather than acquiring for growth. We have tremendous respect for the business that Nurit and Rick Amdur built when they founded Alex Toys 35 years ago. They created classic, timeless products and earned the trust of generations of consumers and retailers. Our plan is to introduce into the marketplace a new and improved Alex that is built upon that foundation of trust.
TB: With families rediscovering the joy of play, many retro and legacy brands are returning to the forefront. How is this movement affecting the AGP product mix?
RH: We are fortunate to have a world-class portfolio of classic brands and products that includes Ideal, Poof, Scientific Explorer, Backyard Safari, and Zoob, as well as Alex, Alex Bath, Alex Craft, and Alex Spa.
Within the Ideal brand, Booby Trap is a great example of how our product mix is being affected. The most in-demand version of that item right now is the 1960s style, Booby Trap Classic, which has a wooden playing surface and a metal tension bar. As we look to build assortments and brand statements, the trend of natural materials and retro packaging becomes a focal point in both our product development and merchandising efforts.
And, while we are always focused on trends, our primary goal is always to make every product best-in-class and a great value for consumers. Quality and value endure when trends end.
TB: Without a traditional Toy Fair season this year, how is AGP connecting with buyers and consumers?
RH: Like most businesses that have survived the pandemic economy, we’ve adapted to life without trade shows. Videoconferencing has become our primary means of communication with retailers and vendors. Securing virtual meetings can be challenging at times, but our leadership team is made up of industry veterans for whom relationships have been key to their success. There’s no magic formula. It’s just doing it one call at a time.
AGP brands have good brand recognition, therefore, we don’t need to educate consumers about who we are, but we will be focusing heavily on educating consumers about our new and classic products, especially in the digital space.
TB: What are some of the biggest trends that are driving sales and development for AGP this year?
RH: The trends driving our development are the things that are already in our DNA: art, crafts, games, preschool, and STEAM. It may sound rather simplistic, but we are building on past successes. If we have a category with a strong sales history, we will be maximizing its potential. We will do that with design, innovation, and consistently providing quality and value for the consumer.
TB: What are some of the biggest challenges that are facing AGP today, and how is the company positioned to tackle them?
RH: One of the biggest challenges — not just for us, but the entire industry — is increasing costs for materials, labor, and shipping. To address this, we are laser-focused on developing factory partnerships, consolidating resources, and keeping cost increases to a minimum.
Another challenge we have faced is the need for employees to work remotely. Product development, design, and merchandising require some amount of physical interaction with the product. It’s difficult to assess color, scale, texture, user experience, and more when the product isn’t in front of you. So, we’ve had to reinvent how a traditional toy company would operate.
Because we are essentially a startup, we have been able to structure a remote work process from day one. We now have product and packaging hand-offs that occur inside and outside the office as needed. Line reviews and critiques are done primarily by video. Shared project milestones and calendars are exclusively digital. It’s not perfect, but the more we do it, the more efficient we become.
The added benefit of this new workflow is that we have created an agile organization with low overhead that is well-positioned for the shift to an increasingly digital marketplace.
This article was originally published in the August 2021 edition of the Toy Book. Click here to read the full issue!