The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, NY has to be the greatest museum in the world. It is truly a national treasure.
On a recent trip to the far east reaches of North America (where they have time zones I have never heard of before) I stopped in Rochester to visit the Museum of Play. I had met with some of their people in the past, and even contributed some of our products to a recent display, but I never had the pleasure of actually seeing the place.
The museum takes your breath away from the moment you enter past the actual working Merry-Go-Round and the authentic, fully functioning, old-time, shiny aluminum diner. You will continue to be amazed as you pass from gallery to gallery, past exhibits celebrating play of all kinds and toys of every description. There is far too much to see in a single afternoon. I would need at least a week to soak it all in.
While the museum has almost every toy ever made and collects every new toy that comes to market every year, year after year, it is no mere toy museum. It is the documentation, display, description, the living and breathing celebration of play - from dress up, to sticks, stones, and cardboard boxes. It also publishes The American Journal of Play, an academic journal on play, its meaning, and importance - possibly the only such publication of its kind.
Now, I may be biased, but my instinctive response, once I stopped hyperventilating, was that this is the greatest museum I have ever seen - perhaps the greatest museum on Earth. It is not just a collection, or a display. It is an attempt to delve into and present an explanation of all the dimensions of play so that we can begin to understand what play is in the human experience and in the context of culture and humanity.
Go there. See it. You won’t be disappointed.
I like to read the People’s Daily, the official news organization of the Chinese Communist Party. You can find little tidbits of information that give you some insight on what the government is doing and its potential impact on the toy industry.
I was reading an article entitled "RMB reform restarts, to aid China and world” when my eye caught the following words:
Now fairly ensured the global economic recovery is on a solid footing and its exports had rebounded since April, Beijing finally decided to enhance the RMB exchange rate flexibility, to help squeeze out low-value labor-intensive production, and to soothe rising outside cries that the RMB must be revalued.
“Low-value labor-intensive production”??? That’s us.
The Chinese government does not want to make those inexpensive plastic toys anymore. Just more proof that the end of the China era of toy production is, if not coming to a close, is likely entering the last act.
I worked with Kim to find a media outlet for her game reviews. There should be game reviews next to movie, music, book and theater reviews – all entertainment and all creative products. If anyone has ideas and can help, let us know.
Kim, what was it like working for a professional design studio and why start a game review site?
"I feel so lucky that I started at Meyer/Glass Design; the experience really gave me a solid foundation to build upon. My education started the first day I walked into the studio when I was pointed to a room filled from floor to ceiling with old manufacturer catalogs from the early 1900s on and told to review ALL of them. The following days I buried myself in the books. It was such a learning experience to see huge brands built from one strong concept. It really opened my eyes to this whole unsung inventor community that I didn’t know existed before my first interview two months prior. It also meant that I had enormous shoes to fill being a part of a new generation of designers. I had to compete with the classics invented by industry legends, but also work within the changing landscape of the toy/game industry. Still at times it’s kind of daunting, but I like challenges.
Starting a game review website was a natural transition for me. I have to keep up with new products and I’m happy to dole out game suggestions to anyone who asks. One experience that jumpstarted the site’s development was a chance interaction at Target. I was surveying the game aisle and a woman was shopping with her son who badly wanted this card game. Mulling it over, she said "but I don’t know if it’s going to be any fun." I told her it was a great game and after looking at me like I had four heads, she tossed it in her cart, thanked me and walked away.
Unlike books, movies and even video games, which are regularly reviewed, people are left to judge games by their boxes. Consumers often stick with brands they’re loyal to – which isn’t always a bad thing -- but there are so many great games to choose from! Yet, I completely understood the woman’s hesitation. Games are played over and over, thus it makes sense to know that you’re buying something you’re going to enjoy. So I started The Game Aisle.
On the site I only review games I like. (Who wants to read a bad review?) People want to know which games to buy and I try to provide a mix of mass market and specialty titles. I aim for games that can be played in less than 30 minutes and appeal to the general public, not necessarily die-hard gamers. I also think it’s important to talk about the inventor community, not only because I’m one of them but because I think people don’t realize that the odds their favorite game was invented in someone’s basement and not in the conference room of some manufacturer’s corporate office are pretty high. Telling the stories behind the games really humanizes the product – and the industry. And I hope it encourages a couple people to try something new. So as you say Mary, ARTFAB."
Charles Dickens’ ninth novel, Bleak House, was the story of a civil trial that lasted for 100 years. The Mattel v. MGA Bratz trial may just go that long. At least that’s what it feels like.
Last week, the Ninth Circuit Court Judge handed down, what the Wall Street Journal referred to as a “stunning ruling… essentially reversing much of the December 2008 ruling that gave Mattel the rights to much of MGA’s Bratz products.” As a result, we are probably going to see a retrial.
You will recall that Mattel had earlier won a major victory in the case which awarded Judge them $100 million and the Bratz line. The court stated as its rationale for the reversal by stating: “It is not equitable to transfer this billion-dollar brand, the value of which is overwhelmingly the result of MGA’s legitimate efforts, because it may have started with two misappropriated names,” the appellate panel said in its ruling today.”
Wall Street Journal writer Ashby Jones saw this as a major development stating: “This is a breathtaking opinion by a unanimous panel of the Ninth Circuit. The panel endorsed all of the arguments that MGA has been advancing throughout this protracted litigation,”
But is it? Gerrick Johnson, who covers the toy industry for BMO Capital and has closely follows Mattel, does not agree. He wrote in his newsletter:
While the market may react to the headline, the real impact should be minimal. The transfer of Bratz ownership was stayed during the appeals process; therefore ,MAT was not selling Bratz dolls, nor did we have any Bratz revenue in our model. We do not believe the Street was modeling any Bratz revenue, either. Conversely, we doubt retailers will be willing to purchase Bratz inventory until the situation is resolved; therefore, we doubt MAT's Barbie will face much in the way of new Bratz competition from MGA.
Stay tuned. This could go on for a while.
There could be a whole new era coming for “battery operated” toys. They could become “radio wave operated” toys.
That is what came to mind as I read a New York Times article entitled: "Bye-Bye Batteries; Radio Waves as a Power-Source." The article is about a safety helmet called “SmartHat” that has a microprocessor and a beeper which use so little electricity that they actually run off of radio waves.
As the article puts it: “The waves come from wireless network transmitters … installed to keep track of their locations. The microprocessor monitors the strength and direction of the radio signal…to determine if the hat’s wearer is too close.”
As the article concludes: “Many electronic devices are limited by batteries that fade away or can’t survive temperature extremes…‘we are on the cusp of an explosion in small wireless devices” that can run on alternatives to battery power.’”
Think of what this could do for toys and the toy industry?
Andrew Dobbie, the owner and managing director of Gameplan Europe LTD, is an expert on the European market. Gameplan Europe consults, conducts executive searches and publishes industry directories.
Tokyo toy fair opened on 15th July. The unusual timing illustrates how different the dynamics of the Japanese toy market are from those with which readers are familiar. Walking around Tokyo Toy Fair is a disconcerting experience for Westerners. Some familiar toys can be seen, but most look strange, and even the familiar ones look alien in Japanese packaging with its extremely busy graphics.
There is probably only a 10% overlap in toys sold in the US and Japan. Around half the Japanese toy market is made up of character figures derived from Manga comics and Animé cartoons. Large bulky toys are almost entirely absent from Japanese toy shops because the tiny apartments, lacking backyards, have no space to store big toys. Also pre-school is a small category in Japan, because even toddlers are given character figurines to play with.
US toy companies have struggled in Japan and wasted a lot of money trying to import and sell their own products and trying to transplant their business model. Mattel has failed to persuade the Japanese to buy Barbie dolls. Bandai and Tomy Takara have by contrast been quite successful in western markets. Transformers and Beyblades are Tomy Takara properties, and Tamagotchi and Power Rangers from Bandai have sold well in the West.
Japanese toy inventors have an outstanding skill at creating toys of both mechanical and electronic ingenuity, as exemplified by Transformers, Tamagotchi, Micropets and many robots. Perhaps necessity (in the shape of very limited household space) has been the mother of invention.
To succeed better in Japan would require US companies to study the idiosyncrasies of the market and develop corresponding toys. This is unlikely to happen when you take into account that the total toy market value in Japan is US $ 7 billion, which is little more than the sales of toys in Walmart’s US stores alone. I would however recommend that toy industry executives visit Tokyo toy fair, if only to see the unusual toys on display, some of which may have application in the US.
Back in 1984 my cross-country bike trip buddy Rob knew one of the authors of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, when it was just a black and white comic, unknown and undiscovered. After dinner at Peter Laird's home, Rob, Peter, and his comic writing partner were all washing dishes and trying to invent bad guys - villains that would become the enemies of the four Ninja Turtles.
Someone raised up a cheese grater and suggested a villain, ‘The Grater’. Someone else changed that to 'Shredder’ and an iconic comic book villain was born. Rob was later presented with one of the first 500 printed copies of the first TMNT comic and asked to read and comment. It just wasn’t his cup of tea.
By 1988 it was a growing sensation.
About that time we too came across this still obscure black and white comic featuring the crime-fighting heroes in a half-shell. We considered contacting them to get the license for toys but worried it might cost $5000 or more to do so. It was more moolah than we could scrape together. So instead we created a line of toys inspired by the comic, but different. We showed it a couple times and got a ‘cease and desist’ letter in the mail. It seemed Playmates Toys was already working on it.
You probably haven't heard of Mackenzie Cameron, also known as The Author M, just yet. He writes comic strips featuring 4 friends who play board games and we see them in the roles they play (pieces they choose). His site launches today and his work will bring a smile to your face!
Mackenzie, please tell us how you came up this idea and show us some of your work.
"When my friends and I play board games, the whole night is a laugh riot. Whether it’s the puns, the innuendos, or fighting over who gets to be the Professor Plum in Clue, the jokes flow like water. To quote a friend, who quoted Plato "You can learn more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation." The communities that board games form have greatly influenced my life, and they’re something that has been boiling at my core for some time. The decision to create OverBoard came from attending a convention known as PAX, the Penny Arcade Expo. The convention was established by Penny Arcade, a video game webcomic, and seeing the incredible impact it has had on the video game community has made me intent on doing the same for board games. To show people the comedy and magic that comes inherent with cardboard, dice, and rule books."
Thanks, Mack! You can see more of his work at OverBoard, the Board Game Webcomic.
Would you like to attend this year’s Building Our Future Girls and Toys Conference? This year’s topic is “Do the toys girls play with as children have an impact on the professional, academic and personal choices they make as adult women?”
We have sent out invitations to a select group of industry thought leaders. We only have 20 seats at the table so there are many great people we were not able to attend. We do, however, always like to have a place at the table for someone who has a passion for the topic. So, if you would like to attend, you can reach me by clicking here and pressing on the contact tab.
Some very serious people feel that one of the reasons women do not go into the sciences or engineering is because girl’s toys are too much about nurturance and not enough about challenge. We are going to consider that question as well as the basis for (and the need for) gender identification in packaging and product placement, the use of color as a gender designator, the roll of dolls and actions figures and much more.
This year’s conference, which I am putting on in conjunction with Women and Toys, is sponsored by the Spielwarenmesse Nuremberg Toy Fair, the Toy Industry Association, the Strong National Museum of Play, Hit Entertainment’s Angelina Ballerina, Highlights Magazine and Think Fun.
If you would like to attend this historic conference, please email us and let us know why you would like to take part. Simply click here and then click on the contact tab.
Ruth Synowic is a Senior Creative Director at The Marketing Store who has created, designed and directed toy and game development for retail, premium, and specialty gift markets. Ruth has led the design and development of over 200 Happy Meal toy programs for McDonald’s North America, Latin America, Europe, and Global promotions. Her singular life’s focus, to work for the benefit of children, has led her to a career in the Toy Industry which has spanned over 20 years.
Generating great ideas is the goal of any brainstorm, but how do you avoid having your "storm" pass with the net result of "cloudy with no chance of showers"? How do you run the most engaging brainstorms with the greatest results? There are several basic steps you can take to ensure you have a productive session. Here are a few ideas that have worked for developing hundreds, even thousands, of concepts for Happy Meal toys.
Prep and Research. Prep the team ahead of time by providing research, background information, and images participants can review prior to the "storm". Research the competition. Make everyone aware of what already exists or how similar problems have been resolved before. Share style guide images, video clips, etc. You'll spend more time generating ideas and solutions in your brainstorm if basic questions have been answered ahead of time.
Setting the stage. Optimize the potential for new ideas by creating or providing an exciting environment. Go to a park, brainstorm on a rooftop, build a snow fort and hold your meeting there. Or, have individuals bring in visual and tactile stimuli to generate inspiration. Include stimuli from other market categories to expand thinking beyond the area you're concepting and with which you're comfortable. Stimuli should appeal to your creative senses, relate to your general topic, and provide a springboard for lively discussion.
Selecting a facilitator. Keeping your brainstorm lively and productive is the responsibility of everyone involved but you'll want to select a facilitator to keep you on track and capture all of the ideas. Choose an enthusiastic facilitator or, if possible, take turns leading the brainstorm. Sharing the responsibility increases the level of participation and often the creative output.
Stating the objective. State the objective or purpose of your brainstorm; what are you trying to accomplish? In the first few minutes of the meeting jot down the objective on a large easel pad and occasionally refer to it throughout the session. For example: "We need three electronic active indoor sports ideas for boys. We need to create a unique girls' dress-up category. We need to develop a business relationship with Mr. X." The more concise your objective is, the more focused your brainstorm will be.
Getting the entire team involved. Keeping team members interested increases the chances you'll have active participants. Use games like charades, toss a ball and have individuals shout an idea, or spin an object and shout an idea when it points to you. These are all engaging brainstorm methods that keep individuals on their toes and generate a lot of ideas in a short amount of time. The use of word, image, or object associations can help to combine seemingly unrelated ideas and generate concepts that go beyond the obvious. Role play in the voice of a cartoon character, dress up as characters, pretend you're the end consumer and think about their expectations; or, put yourself in the shoes of your Client and ask the questions they'll ask - all exercises that will get you to think outside of your boundaries. Mixing and matching objects and visuals gets the group to merge existing ideas and create new concepts from products that are proven. If ideas are difficult to articulate or you need to generate thumbnail drawings of the team's concepts, a "sketch storm" is the perfect way to generate ideas and supporting sketches quickly. Sketches are more dynamic representations of an idea and can quickly spark additional concept generation and solicit builds to others’ concepts.
When you kick off your brainstorm, you may have little or no indication of the unique results that will be generated – you shouldn’t have! The most exciting part of brainstorming is not knowing which solution you will arrive at, but knowing that you will, and that you will have fun getting there. Millions of solutions surround you just waiting to be recognized and brought to life. Every brainstorm can provide its own unique approach to generating and gathering ideas. The real satisfaction comes in being open to and tuning in on inventive new thinking, then turning that thinking into innovative, inspired, relevant answers to the challenge.
Moore’s Echo is a law that states that whatever is cutting edge technology today will be a toy in 20 years (I am told by those who know that that figure is down to 7 years). Well, if you want to see the future of toys, check out this video of a new robot from Hanson Robotics.
Freaky, don’t you think but think of the toys…
As most of you know, I love libraries and am an advocate of play and games in schools (Games for Educators) and in libraries (working with the American Library Association).
Brian Mayer and Christopher Harris are advocates as well and just published a book: Libraries Got Game: Aligned Learning Through Modern Board Games.
Brian and Chris, love your book, tell us about the importance of play in the classroom and in libraries.
Over the last few years we have learned so much about the possibilities that modern board games provide as a resource for the classroom and libraries. Now these are not the traditional games typically found on the shelves of toy stores. They have come about from a renaissance in board games that started in Europe in the mid to late 80's, where game designers began exploring more complex, engaging mechanics and themes. What we have found is that in addition to being fun, these games address the learning needs of students, serving as differentiated instructional tools and providing context and meaning for the skills and content necessary for success in the classroom.
Why do these modern board games work so well? Well, students are gamers. Pew Internet Research let us know that 97% of teens in the U.S. play games. This means a common shared experience and reference point for educators and students. Add to this the built in learning structures that these games have refined and the authenticity of the experience itself and you are left with a powerful learning tool that can help students make meaningful connections with the curriculum.
Traditional American board games generally work by player elimination which can spell trouble from a classroom management standpoint. Today's modern board games feature game mechanics that will often keep all of the players engaged until game's end. They also tend to run much shorter than the marathon games of Risk and Monopoly that we know, so they are easier to implement within the constraints of an educator's schedule.
But what I love best is how board games work across both grade and ability levels. We use titles that range from HABA's Orchard that helps develop color recognition, sharing and teamwork in the very youngest of students to more intricate and sophisticated games such as Rio Grande's Power Grid that present the inseparable connections that economics and energy choice have with each other. Many games are also language independent and while language may be absent, the level of engagement and challenge is still exceedingly high. This allows ESL students and others building their language skills to participate with their peers and interact with the curriculum with the same level of challenge and reward.
Thank you, Brian and Chris. I look forward to the day that our kids bring home games for homework!
I therefore want to give you a guide to the event so that when you attend you will feel right at home. So here goes:As you can see above, there are an astonishing 17 Exhibition Halls. Each Hall has a theme so if you are looking for a particular type of product, you can put your energy into a specific area rather than ranging across all buildings.
Guest blogger Richard Gill is a former owner and developer of Pictionary. Born in the United Kingdom, he was responsible for overseeing the phenomenal successes’ of both Trivial Pursuit and Pictionary internationally for over 15 years before the successful sale of the Pictionary company to Mattel Inc. in 2001. Richard now provides international sales and marketing consultancy services to multiple toy and game clients via his company, NH Contract Management.
The simple answer is a resounding “yes”. Now the truth behind the headlines is a little more complicated……..
When I see an article proclaiming an item is $20 here and in Europe it is $35 my, and I am sure everyone else’s reaction, is disbelief. Well myth #1 - they are not comparing ‘apples to apples’ – European prices by law - include the sales tax, which in many markets, is 20%!!
The retail landscape in Europe is not the same as here. Europe has more department stores, independents and smaller chains that generally operate in smaller footprint stores, with significantly higher real estate costs. European consumers demand better staffing levels in stores. Retail margins are by necessity therefore higher than our “big box” discounters here in the U.S.
Safety testing requirements add yet another cost. Unlike many industries that have one standard that the world generally adheres to we, the ‘Toy Industry’, have allowed, and in many cases caused, the fragmentation. With historically poor QC, ‘price at any expense’ attitude and constant recalls leading to “knee jerk” regulatory and government reaction region by region or even market by market. Further expensive market specific (or even retailer specific) testing on smaller production runs increase costs dramatically.
Gas and diesel cost anywhere from $6 - $10 per gallon in Europe. Multiple distribution centers in different markets, fragmented retail and congested roads all add to the ultimate cost of delivery.
Selling to the consumer – be it via TV advertising (if it is even allowed), print or even on-line/social media is significantly more expensive in Europe – this is a cost that ultimately the consumer has to bear as part of the price. Making a TV commercial to sell, may be 75,000 units of a product, versus 500,000+ units here in the US is a material expense.
Lastly, and not always applicable, designing and manufacturing the product specifically for individual markets. These costs can include translating packaging and rules, game content, language/sound chips for toys, different material requirements, box sizes, drop tests additional European law markings – the list is endless. Multi-lingual packs abound to try to hold down costs but no Italian child wants to hear his or her favorite Star Wars character speak in German.
So, am I defending this completely? Absolutely not! There are cases where the prices charged are not fully reflective of the costs incurred but at the end of the day we operate in a free economy – we charge what the market will bear and toy prices are comparable to other consumer goods.
Take toys out of Happy Meals? What is the benefit of that? Seriously. Toys are not trivial objects of entertainment. Toys entertain, inspire, educate and invite thinking and doing. Toys inspire the choices children later make in their adult lives. Toys change the world. Unfortunately, this is little known and seldom unacknowledged.
Frank Lloyd Wright's toy blocks inspired him to become an architect. What if those blocks had come in a Happy Meal? More importantly, what if they hadn't?
The Wright Brothers credit a toy airplane they received as a birthday gift as inspiring their fascination with flight, without which powered flight would never have been born. What if that airplane had come in a Happy Meal? Or not? How might the world be different? Toys entertain and inspire children, and children alter the world as adults.
Toys matter. Read Inventing Kindergarten by Norman Brosterman to see clearly how the toys, or ‘gifts’ of the original kindergarten educational program influenced some of the 20th century’s greatest minds.
Ask yourself and ask others, "What was the influence of toys in your life?" One Nobel Prize winning scientist was quoted as saying that one of the greatest losses to our culture has been the relative simplicity of the modern building blocks that have replaced the far more versatile, challenging, and complex Erector sets made up of motors, belts, and gears. What he was saying was, "Toys matter. They really do matter."
Please don’t take the toys away.
Among the reasons given was one that really stuck out at me. It was the notion that teens are content doing their socializing and shopping on line. Who needs to go to the trouble of getting a drivers license and driving to a friend’s house or the mall when you can sit in front of your computer and have what passes for (at least by today’s standards) “a life.”
So what does this have to do with Wal-Mart? Well, a population that does not get excited about driving is a population that drives less. A population that drives less does not want to drive to a bricks and mortar store. That’s good for Amazon. That’s terrible for Wal-Mart.
Rear-view-mirror Keep an eye on these drivers’ license statistics. They could mean that the romance of the road is coming to an end and with it many of our traditional, automobile based patterns of behavior. Look in the rear view mirror Wal-Mart, Target and Toys R Us. Some day you may look and find that no one is there.
I was interviewed the other day for a Wall Street Journal story on the current Silly Bandz craze. The reporter and I discussed the difference between a “craze” and a “fad.” My online dictionary defines a craze as, “an enthusiasm for a particular activity or object that typically appears suddenly and achieves widespread but short-lived popularity.” The same dictionary defines a fad as, “an intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something, esp. one that is short-lived and without basis in the object's qualities.” Although the two definitions are somewhat interchangeable, the word fad brings baggage with it.
There’s more than a hint of negativity to a fad. Got swept up in a craze? There’s no way anyone could resist. Got swept up in a fad? “There’s a sucker born every minute,” as the showman PT Barnum used to say. BCP Imports, the makers of Silly Bandz have two main concerns: Keeping their current craze from becoming a fad and not over producing should the latter label stick and the spigot of Silly Bandz suddenly turn off and stay off.
A fad eventually disappears, while a craze drops dramatically in popularity but stays at a level of success that is sustainable over time. By this distinction, anything that sells like mad can be defined as a craze when you’re in the middle of it. It’s only after the dust settles that history is determined.Pet Rock was a fad.
I've been curious about design trends as there seems to be a shift, so I went to the industry expert - Matt Nuccio of Design Edge. Matt is a toy industry baby. His father, Mark, who looks like Robert de Niro, picture to the right, started the business. One of the funniest people I know, Matt is an expert on design, printing, marketing, the mafia and music. Yes, music. He co-wrote some songs with his sister-in-law "Melissa R" (Melissa Reyes), the runner-up on CW's Search for the Next Pussycat Doll. One song, "I'll Pedal To Your House" was featured on the premiere episode of the new Melrose Place, and another one, "Warmest Smile" is going to be the new jingle for the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line in Spain. And, yes, the mafia. His family was connected (over 100 years ago), and he used those connections to promote the Godfather game he wrote. Endless Games publishes it.
Matt, do you see a shift in toy and game packaging design?
"There has definetly been a major shift in toy and game package design since this recession hit. As little as five years ago everyone wanted their packaging to look "mass market". Toy and game companies wanted that adrenaline-packed, high-polished, we've-got-mucho-bucks look.
I often had requests to make products look like a multi-million dollar conglomerate pumped them out. Package design back then was all about making the logo as big as you possibly could and photoshopping the hell out of each and every image. I made things look shinier than mother nature would ever had permitted. It was unholy. The emphasis was on showing the high quality in an attempt to justify a high retail cost. Everyone was courting the big retail chains and needed to look the part. People knew that the Walmarts of the world only wanted to buy from stable big companies; companies that can afford their allowances, ad dollars, and margins. And even if they couldn't financially play with the big boys, companies wanted to look the part. This way they would be prepared for when those doors eventually opened.
Today the tides have turned dramatically. It's now all about showing the value the consumer will get for their buck. Gone are power fueled boxes with all their bells and whistles. Packaging has become subtle to convey a more family values orientation. The big companies have shifted their attention to "family values" that were traditionally associated with the specialty market. In an era of corporate bailouts, no one wants to look like a powerful corporation, and I don't blame them. But the reality is that big corporate companies will always fall just short of pulling off that true specialty look, eventually allowing both sides to redefine themselves once again."
Thanks, Matt, great information! I look forward to downloading your tunes.
Some time ago, my wife and I looked into the possibility of getting a "tandem" bike - the type of bicycle with two seats, where the front person steers but both riders peddle. We thought it would be a great way to get out and exercise, while the teamwork element would enhance our marriage. Or so we think...
We haven't gotten one yet, but a recent conversation with inventor Tim Walsh reminded me of the "tandem" notion, and why it's so great.
We have worked with Tim on a number of projects as the Sales liaison, bringing together his ideas with our clients' distribution channels. Tim called me recently, and said "Hey - I talked to one of your buyers about this project. I hope you don't mind." I absolutely don't mind! And here's why:
First of all, these are not "our buyers". Any of the buyers we contact are an integral part of the toy & game industry as a whole, and as such are partners and resources to all of us in a sense.
Second, I view the whole notion of getting business done today as a series of events, connections, influences, and discoveries. I told Tim that the best effort is like that old commercial with the twin blade razor: the first blade "lifts", while the second "cuts". Nowadays, of course, we have 4- and 5-blade razors. I think the first lubricates, the second lifts, the third cuts, and the fourth soothes. The job of the fifth blade is to keep all the advertising execs in business...
In my view, this is the way we should be working our accounts - in tandem, with each individual bringing his or her own strengths to bear in an effort to reach the desired result. At Revenew Sales, we always tell our clients that we are not "Account Collectors". By this, we mean that we are open to working on as many or as few accounts as make sense for the client. If we have a greater chance at success by partnering up with other sales agents, or by presenting to a retailer with the client, we will absolutely do so. Two blades are better than one; so are two heads. As long as the end goal is identified up front, and egos are in check, things won't get bogged down by committee.
Going back to the bicycle analogy, a side benefit to working in tandem is that one partner can rest while the other works, and vice-versa. Thus keeping each rider sharp and strong along the way.
So think about some of the projects you're working on alone. Who would make a good tandem? Is there someone you know who has the skills, knowledge, or contacts to get things to the next level? If so, pick up the phone and ask them to come along for the ride!
Guest blogger Carol Spieckerman is President of newmarketbuilders. Carol and her company serve as an out-of-enterprise resource to licensors, licensees and agencies as they seek to optimize their direct-to-retail positioning. Carol utilizes her over 20 years of retail experience and her unique grasp of directional developments at retail to keep newmarketbuilders’ clients ahead of the curve and relevant with major retailers. She is a speaker, retail and branding thought leader and regular contributor to national news and industry publications.
Direct-to-retail licensing is on the rise
as brand brokers like Iconix and even sourcing powerhouse Li & Fung pursue direct deals with major retailers such as Walmart, Target, and Kmart. However, the traditional model, a brand owner/licensor granting the rights to a supplier/licensee to market products to retailers under a brand, is still prevalent. We call this the licensing triangle, and one thing’s for sure, it isn’t always a love triangle! As challenging as it can be to keep the fires burning between suppliers and retailers, licensing is inherently a riskier proposition . . . particularly when rationalization comes calling.
Here’s where licensors can miss the connection: Most licensors tell us that they are worried about BRAND rationalization. They see retailers eliminating national brands in favor of private labels and know that it is heading their way. However, they should be just as worried about SUPPLIER rationalization because retailers are also looking for any excuse to reduce their supplier base . . . and the suppliers on the chopping block may be your licensees.In my experience; however, licensors often leave the licensee out of the equation when they lose ground with a retailer; instead they blame the retailer: “They just don’t get our brand.” “I knew that marketing guy was trouble.” Retailers, on the other hand, tell us that licensees can be a licensor’s weakest link and when that is the case, you have to know that retailers place responsibility squarely on the licensor. Bottom line: There are some terrific licensees out there; ones that provide expertise and retail access that would otherwise prove elusive; however, your brand at retail is only as strong as your weakest licensee.
Here are a few tips on how to keep retailers from getting the wandering eye:
1. Constantly assess, not only on your own portfolio of brands, but also on those of your licensees. If their brand portfolios aren’t important to the retailers that drive your business, your brand may not be enough to make up for it.
2. Accompany your licensees to significant meetings with retailers. Some licensees discourage licensor presence, portraying their retail relationships as fragile and tenuous. In my experience, that alone can be a trouble sign. On the other hand, many licensees tell us that they welcome licensor presence and they don't feel as though they are getting enough support. When your brand is on the table, and on the line, you owe it to yourself to be present.
3. Increase the frequency and intensity of licensing summits and collaborative sessions. In order to have a compelling retail proposition, you and your partners must be in complete alignment, not just with your brand messaging, but also with your retail partners' brand visions. Your licensees will need to have more than a style book in order to make that happen.
4. Be more than a brand-centric cheerleader (or dictator) for your licensees; be a resource. Licensees tell us that they are hungry for information, tools and tactics and our post-presentation Q&A sessions certainly bear that out -- Q&A has been running as long or longer than our presentations at licensor summits lately. Many of our clients are getting ahead of the curve by cutting back on big brand launch events in favor of more focused and retail-relevant programming that makes their teams, and those of their brand partners, smarter.
Licensees are more than middlemen, they are a marketing arm for your brands. Choose wisely, support vigorously and tend to the triangle!
Last night Kim Vandenbroucke, inventor and author of The Game Aisle as well as subject of an upcoming blog, was the guest speaker at the Indian Trails Library in Wheeling, IL. She spoke with enthusiastic kids interested in learning about her new game and how the "real" game inventing world works.
The Game Inventor Series at Indian Trails is a spin-off of 2009 Operation Game Creation: a game design camp (electronic and board) hosted by Indian Trails which I helped kick off. A few dozen eager young faces actually listened to what I had to say about inventors and the history of toy and game invention. Some of those kids went on to be a part of our Young Inventor Challenge. There were some really great ideas.
Due to the smashing success, the brainchild and director of the program, Lauren Rizzo, wanted to host a series of toy and game inventor speakers over the following year. She had some names in mind and I gave her more and she ran with it. This woman has energy and passion. Her top notch speakers included Bruce Lund, Steve Rehkemper, David L. Hoyt, Catherine and Graeme Thomson.
Through my work with the American Library Association, I know libraries have hosted game design camps, although I have not heard the level of success that Lauren has achieved. Currently, the Indian Trails Library’s Summer Reading Program is game-themed, and the second annual gaming camp will be held in August.
In the hope some of you readers find this interesting and wish to work with your local library on a similar program, I've asked Lauren to tell us her secret.
"I’ve always loved to play and wanted to bring that to the kids – but playing involves learning even if the kids don’t know it. Combining my two passions – playing and information literacy – I discovered that hanging out with kids and encouraging them to play works wonders! And the kids just keep coming back," she says.
Operation Game Creation, the original Boot Camp in 2009, started out as a grant from the ALA and Verizon Wireless. An awesome committee of library staff at Indian Trails put their heads together and masterminded one of the most fun projects the library has worked on. The program reaches all ages of kids, and appeals to all types of gamers.
Four experts – Akira Barnes, Nate Schneider, Dan Sabato, and Alex Damarjian – worked to teach kids how to create different types of games. Through a 6-week process, teams worked to make their games, ending with a Game Fair. Judging was difficult, but fun.
OGC 2.0 will feature more speakers and will focus on different aspects of game creation – from getting ideas, to designing, to marketing. Games will be judged by category, and prizes awarded. Applications for the August 14th, 2010 Boot camp can be obtained through emailing Lauren (email@example.com).
Thank you, Lauren! I'm sure she would welcome your questions about how to help your local library start such a program - she has a template for success.
Well, Porsche is not the only auto company to try its hand at toys. Here are some images of what Audi is doing with toys in Europe. What do you think of these?
Once Playskool had a run of bad years. This brand has not always been managed as well as it might - one year they lost 30 million smackarollies. A friend who worked with the Playskool group said that looking at the new product line-up back then was disheartening, the product was so mediocre.
My friend at Playskool had often seen teams get together to undertake new projects or initiatives, but without personal accountability or clear leadership, the teams would fail. Only if the responsibility is given to just one person (if they are the right person), would the jobs get done. That is how organizations like the military find out who the best people are. Individuals are given tasks and the means to complete them. They either succeed or fail, and they are held accountable in any event. That is how they maintain such an excellent organization full of capable men and women. Personal accountability.
This new manager at Playskool proved to be very good at managing and getting the best out of her people. She was modest, unassuming, hard working, and they loved her. The year after Playskool lost $30 million, they had a $30 million samolians profit under her deft hand. Wow. She brought energy, enthusiasm, and vision to a dispirited brand.
A few years later Meg told them she had accepted a position with a little known company on the West Coast as its CEO. The company was eBay, just a twinkle in the founder's eye at the time, but that was to change. Back at the Playskool office, they would track her rapidly growing net worth based on eBay's quickly growing share value. Now she is one of the wealthiest women in America and posed to become governor of one of the largest states in the Union. Meg, I take my hat off to you for what you have accomplished.