The Toy Book chats with Josh Loerzel, vice president, sales, Hog Wild Toys about balancing manufacturing and distribution, entering new product categories, and keeping busy throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Toy Book: How do you choose what products are a fit for distribution?
Josh Loerzel: Typically it would be category driven, and then we go and find products that we’re really excited about that will fit the direction that we’re already on.
The two prominent examples of that would be Upside Down Challenge from Vango Toys and distributing the OgoSport brand. We viewed both as opportunities to increase our product offering and footprint in areas that we had already decided as categories we wanted to move into and expand on.
TB: Why is it beneficial for other toy companies to have Hog Wild’s help distributing their products?
JL: We bring long-lasting relationships to the table. We’re a member of ASTRA, we’re close with Learning Express, and we do every single trade show. … Everyone can pitch to the Targets and Walmarts of the world, and everyone can put stuff up on Amazon, but we are really doing the groundwork to get it into the specialty toy channels, which we think is important.
TB: Hog Wild is all about fun and silly toys that produce lots of laughs. How are those core values reflected in the people who work for Hog Wild and your business partners?
JL: Even though it’s a dollars and cents game, we really want to make sure that there’s a passion for toys, and I feel like we’ve done a good job bringing people on the team who reflect that. All the people we bring in are really passionate about toys. You have to have that business sense as well, but keeping that dynamic is important.
TB: How do you make sure your products are keeping up with the most popular trends, including those within the toy industry and general trends around the internet?
JL: [We do] a lot of scouring and keeping track of TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube. We utilize Google trends, and try to see what’s the search velocity of different keywords.
I wish there was a more scientific process I could point to, but it’s really about all of us just watching what’s happening and sharing wacky fun stuff as an entire company. We feel like there’s not one person who has the keys to the castle when it comes to creativity, we all share what we think is funny as a big family. Everyone feels like they have a voice.
TB: Due to COVID-19, the toy retail landscape is shifting more than ever before. How are you working to reach consumers when specialty retailers are closed and online orders are difficult to fulfill?
JL: We’re implementing a drop-ship capability with our warehouse. This was a pivot that we were forced to do from the buyers. Historically, we want to push all of our business through the specialty stores only, so we have not prioritized drop-shipping as a Hog Wild principal. … But, the reality is, we need to have the nimbleness to be able to ship direct-to-consumer and to be able to offer our toys to them in a situation like this when most of the specialty stores are shut down.
TB: How are you staying in touch with your regular buyers without having trade shows to attend?
JL: Even during this time, we’ve kept our customer service staff busy. We are trying to reach every single specialty store every month. There are regions in the country, like Nebraska and other areas, that are still doing great in specialty. So by us staying in touch, it’s our way of showing them we still care and they’re still important, and it keeps us informed about what the situation is on the ground so we can try to make decisions on what next steps to take. A lot of times, it’s not even a sales call, it’s just to vent, give them someone to talk to, and let them know we’re thinking about them.
TB: What advice do you have to others in the industry on getting through this tough time?
JL: I can’t predict what the U.S. is going to look like after this, but what I can tell you is that kids still love toys, they still love innovation, and they still love play. My big belief and what we are sharing internally is that we have to keep investing. At Hog Wild, we are full-on investing. We have exciting new categories for next year that we’re very deep into working on right now. Keep innovating, keep being creative, and keep getting ready. You don’t want to start the innovation process when this is over; you want to keep developing stuff now. Be ready with new products when it ends.
This article was originally published in the June 2020 issue of the Toy Book. Click here to read the full issue!