SPONSORED POST | Brought to you by Alpha International
The Toy Book caught up with Jody L. Keener, president of Alpha International Inc., about how the company has grown over the years, successfully managing multiple brands under one roof, and more.
The Toy Book: What kind of growth has Alpha International Toys seen since its inception?
Jody Keener: We grew from selling small items from the back of a pickup truck to more than $175 million per year in peak sales. The business initially had no real estate or tooling, and now we control approximately 150,000 square feet of manufacturing capabilities in the U.S. with more than 4,000 tools and molds between the U.S. and China. Given tariffs and now the coronavirus, having the ability to manufacture in the U.S. is a big competitive advantage.
TB: What are the different strategies in managing more than 25 brands under one company?
JK: Toys tend to go in cycles, and you need to constantly innovate and understand where the market is going. At various points in my career, I have controlled brands [including] Klondike Bars, Mr. Bubbles, Big Wheel, and many others. One of my proudest moments was when the Big Wheel made it into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2009. More than 250 million Big Wheels have been sold since 1969, and we still own it today.
TB: How and where do you get information on current and upcoming trends? How do you decide which trends to incorporate into your products?
JK: I spend a lot of time on due diligence and traveling to retailers to understand what is selling and why. I have three young kids, and watching them helps to guide my thinking. In the end, you need to be passionate about your career, and I can tell you that despite some hiccups, I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in the toy industry. I have traveled the world many times over and met some amazing people who I have been friends with for decades. I find myself constantly thinking of new ideas to make something old appear new again. It could be a slight redesign or color combination. Let’s take the Big Wheel, for example. Something that is selling now is the Army, Fire, and Police product, and we just came out with the Pirate version with treasure in the back toolbox. It is an interesting take on a toy that has been around for 50 years!
TB: What advice would you give to people just starting out in the toy industry?
JK: I would strongly advise that the business is a marathon, not a sprint. Take a long-term view of your business, and be sure your customers, employees, and clients are treated well. We pride ourselves on the quality of our products and partners. I have been in the industry for more than 50 years and feel fortunate that I have seen ups and downs and been able to take care of my family.
TB: What are your plans and goals for Alpha International Toys moving forward?
JK: We are now in the process of selling or licensing our brands. I am at a different stage of life now, and it is time to pass the torch to someone to take over the assets and make another splash. I feel I have amassed many amazing brands, including the Big Wheel, TimMee Toys, Tootsie Toys (America’s oldest toy company), Crocodile Mile, Grand Champions, Strombecker, Snow Works, and many others. Although I would consider staying involved part time, I feel a fresh set of eyes and ideas could really take the brands to another level. I love the joy that my toys have brought to so many children and families over the years. I am confident that my brands will live on for many years to come and am working on finding new partners/owners at this time. I am looking forward to spending more time with my family and watching them grow up and become successful in something for which they have passion.