YWOW Brands makes novelty puzzles that stand out thanks to the company’s attention to detail, such as eco-friendly packaging with DIY elements that kids can repurpose and puzzles that come in funky shapes rather than a typical square or rectangle.
The Toy Book spoke with the company’s CEO Michele Rudelli to discuss YWOW Brands’ licensed puzzles, the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the company’s plans for future licensing programs — including an exploration into the inflatables category.
Toy Book: When did YWOW Brands get its start and what are some of the goals for the brand?
Michele Rudelli: YWOW Brands was created in 2018, initially called YWOW Games. I started the company sitting in Starbucks with only a couple of board games to distribute under the company’s name. However, with my experience as General Manager at ZURU, I was confident I could one day revolutionize the toys and games market.
As soon as the company started taking shape, we took risks by locking in license deals with massive family brands, such as Kellogg’s and Pringles. This led to the creation of our successful novelty items: Mini and SuperSized Puzzles. These puzzles are now doing extremely well all around the world, and this gives us confidence that we can reach our goal to become the No. 1 company in the Impulse Puzzles category by 2023.
TB: What types of products does YWOW Brands offer?
MR: During the pandemic when families around the world were looking for activities to do together at home, we quickly came to specialize in the Novelty Puzzles category. These are puzzles unlike any regular puzzles consumers have seen before. We believe a puzzle’s packaging does not have to be limited to a storage box but can also add play value to the product. In our range, you will see products with different brands’ iconic packaging, as well as DIY items with packaging that can be reused to build something else.
Outside of puzzles, we are currently expanding our family games category. We have been launching our contemporary games Go Master and Mad News internationally. For games, we aim to bring generations together while tying in on-trend themes such as YouTube, gaming, and current events. We are also exploring the inflatables toys and games category this year, so customers can expect to see the limitless potential of our licensed products.
TB: What kind of challenges has the company encountered over this past year pandemic and how were you able to overcome them?
MR: Before the pandemic, a large factor influencing a toy company’s success was their attendance at toy fairs all around the world. Once this became impossible, all companies — big or small — were forced to take their businesses online through virtual fairs. Obviously, not being able to meet with potential customers face-to-face was a big loss. However, we soon realized we were now on a level playing field as our competitors, who were also holding meetings and showcases in virtual online rooms.
For us, the past year was all about working our hardest to meet the demands of markets all around the world. As a company born in the midst of the pandemic, this was a great learning experience for us and our team is as optimistic as ever that we will overcome anything else that comes our way.
TB: Puzzles and games were incredibly popular over the past year. How did YWOW take advantage of that boost?
MR: With the majority of the world’s population in lockdown, families definitely did have to find new ways to stay entertained. The puzzles category, which once could have been classified as niche, started gaining a great deal of attention. This boost allowed us to get creative with the puzzles category and we found our place in the novelty puzzles category. We started to offer puzzles in irregular packaging to stand out from the regular box puzzles all relevant retailers had an abundance of. By getting into this category, we found a way to stay relevant all year round with impulse collectible puzzles.
The pandemic period gave us an opportunity to explore different markets and find out current trends. With social interactions limited, our contemporary board games that revolve around the news and the internet experienced a boost in popularity and demand. This is a trend we expect will continue after families regain an appreciation for offline games.
TB: What makes YWOW’s puzzles stand out from other brands?
MR: As you can probably tell from our Mini and SuperSized Puzzles so far, we love creating licensed products that can be recognized right off the shelf. We believe simple, collectible puzzles can bring existing family brands to life when reintroduced as an attractive form of entertainment. Working with brands such as Kellogg’s, Pringles, and Mentos also allows us to play with each product’s packaging so that our puzzles resemble the original product. We are finding that this aspect really helps our puzzles stand out in-store and this makes us very excited to keep developing new lines.
TB: More families are making an effort to be more environmentally conscious. In what ways is YWOW Brands creating more eco-friendly and sustainable products?
MR: We are very much on board with the environmental initiative many families around the world are taking on. Most of our products are made of recyclable materials. Additionally, many of our products, including our Puzzleheadz series and Mini Puzzles Space Mission, have a DIY component. For instance, cardboard ears and a tongue are included with our Puzzleheadz Puppies so kids can build their own puppy using the puzzle’s packaging. This doubles the play value while reducing waste caused by our product. Once the puzzle is completed and the packaging is transformed into a character, there is virtually nothing to throw into the bin. Finally, we are FSC certified, meaning our paper or cardboard items can be traced back to their materials’ forests of origin. We always want to ensure the production of our games and puzzles does not exacerbate any environmental issues.
TB: Does YWOW have any licensing programs in place or any plans for licensed products?
MR: One thing we at YWOW Brands are proud of is the success we are having with our various licensed puzzles. So far, our partnerships with Kellogg’s, Pringles, and Mentos are doing extremely well in markets such as the UK, Germany, and Singapore.
Following the success of our first licenses, we are taking a big leap into the U.S. market having confirmed a license with Kraft Heinz. We are working with the largest retailers to bring licensed puzzles for all ages into the U.S. to revolutionize the puzzle market. We have big plans for our future licensing programs and are in talks with various family brands around the world. On top of this, we will be rolling out YWOW’s original puzzles which will also have exciting packaging styles, as well as never-before-seen components.
TB: What new items can consumers get excited for this year?
MR: The first YWOW products scheduled to launch in the U.S. this year are our Mini and SuperSized Puzzles, [featuring] Heinz sauces, Kool-Aid, and Jell-O. Our collaboration with the Kraft Heinz Co. in the U.S. is all about bringing families together [to offer] vibrancy for kids and a sense of nostalgia for adults. As a result of the success of our Mini and SuperSized Puzzles Pringles in the rest of the world, these puzzles will also be available in the U.S. this year. Our board games will also be launching online shortly, and we are hopeful our contemporary themes will appeal to the American audience.
A new project we are taking on this year is to do with inflatable toys and games. We will be bringing some of our licenses into the Inflatables category with some very exciting ideas. For instance, you can expect inflatable toys and games shaped like the iconic Pringles can … stay tuned!