Interview with Deb de Sherbinin on Unique Ideas and More...
How and why did you get into the Toy and Game industry?
After a stint selling advertising for newspapers, I pursued my MBA in Marketing at Boston College Carroll School of Management based upon the advice of 2 female advertising account supervisors. I was interested in marketing and sought a product management position in a consumer goods company. As luck would have it, General Mills-owned Parker Brothers was hiring a class of MBA’s since the company was growing at a fast pace with video games, books, music, Nerf and traditional games. I was thrilled to be hired as one of the six, new Parker Brothers marketing assistants. I was trained in classic product management and had the opportunity to work closely with our sister company, Kenner, on many licensed properties and market research. My first 2 projects as a marketing assistant were to oversee the development of a Star Wars role-playing game system, and define a product and marketing strategy and launch an advertising campaign for the recently acquired Pente game line.
We all know life is a game of luck and skill and I luckily avoided many lay-offs at Parker, growing my career and being promoted through all four changes of ownership. Once you work in the toy and game business it is hard to leave it since it’s all about fun and games! When I finally left Parker I launched KidSmart, a product and marketing consultancy.
What trends do you see in toys or games that excite or worry you?
The emergence of the physical meets digital toys, robots, 3D printers and other STEAM toys are all exciting as they engage while educating kids. Being an outdoor enthusiast, I love the current emphasis on promoting unstructured play especially outdoor play. I love that the industry now recognizes the need for gender-neutral products and am watching with interest as companies design and introduce new products in the ever-changing marketplace. I am especially interested in supporting women to grow their careers and businesses in the toy industry and hope to see more women at the helm of toy companies in the near future.
What makes your new idea unique?
Do your homework before presenting and investing in your new product concept. Define your key users and purchasers and review your idea to insure your product is designed with them in mind. Analyze your competitive set – no matter how unique a product it is, there is always competition to get it placed on shelf! Go into the stores where you envision your product being sold and look at the product on the shelves for your category. Evaluate product features, packaging and pricing to learn where your product might be merchandised and determine a target for the price point. Prepare a pitch with a product name, tag line and state the product category. Provide a clear description of the product concept including how it works, product features, price estimates if any and unique positioning. Create a video showing a works-like, looks-like model in action if feasible. Depict how the item is used in a clear product demonstration showcasing the product’s features and what the target users like about the item.
What was your favorite toy or game as a child?
A red wagon that my sister and I rode in together down a grassy hill, squealing in delight as we tried to reach the bottom in one piece. Inevitably we rolled over on the way down.
Playing Miss Scarlet as Clue was my favorite game and Yahtzee was our ski house favorite game.
Where did you grow up and how did that influence who you are today?
I grew up in the countryside on a horse farm In Pennsylvania, where I had my own pony and played cowboys and Indians in the woods on horseback with my sister and another friend. My Mom’s parenting style was to get us kids outside playing when we weren’t in school. I spent weekends foxhunting, skiing or toboganning down steep hills. My sisters and I were often on the ‘loose’, We had responsibility for our pets which included all types from a raccoon to baby lambs. Sadly, many kids today don’t experience the freedom of this type of unstructured, unsupervised play.
I lost my father when I was young and my mom believed in the importance of living life to its fullest everyday and we did a great job at that. She had many sayings to live by. There was no such word as ‘can’t. If you fell off your horse, you needed to get right back in the saddle. ‘Where there is a will there is a way’ was also a favorite phrase of hers. These sayings are always in the back of my mind, even today. I have spent my career developing and launching hundreds of new products. Some didn’t make it to product shelves, others made it and under-performed and many others were quite successful. This is what makes the toy industry so exciting. What toys will fly off the shelf this year?
What do you read every day, and why?
My in-box is always over-flowing with things to read! So much to read and so little time!
My goal is to keep apprised of the latest trends in product innovation, marketing and women empowerment initiatives. I read the WSJ and the Boston Globe daily along with all of the toy and licensing trade newsletters and magazines, KidScreen, YPulse, Pew report, Media Post, Forbes Entrepreneur, HuffPost Parents and countless more business and marketing articles. Plus, I am active in social media- Linked-In, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.
How do you jumpstart your creativity when you find yourself stalled on a project?
I love being outside so a walk, bike ride, or gardening can provide time for reflection and inspiration.
Do you have any pets?
Pablo is my green parakeet and brings a smile to my face as he entertains me daily rocking out and harmonizing to all kinds of music, especially jazz.
What are your hobbies?
I am always up for fun and adventures. I especially enjoy traveling and engaging in all types of outdoor activities. I love hiking, especially in the Tetons with my family, skiing both downhill and nordic, biking, canoeing, tennis, boating, gardening and swing dancing. I am a long-time member of a stimulating book club and active volunteer for numerous non-profits, with focuses on empowering women (WIT), fighting obesity and promoting physical activities among kids (Women in Action), and mentoring startups destined to make a social or economic impact in our society (Boston-based Mass Challenge startup accelerator).
What do you want to be when you grow up?
Who needs to grow up?
I love helping people think through all aspects of developing and launching new product concepts. I especially love working with startups to take their idea to the next level. I love co-chairing Women in Toys, Licensing and Entertainment’s (WIT) Empowerment Initiatives with Nancy Zwiers (pictured to the right), as we seek to provide resources, programs and connections to help women grow both their careers and businesses in the toy industry. This is an area where I love focusing my time. Recently, I launched Perk Consulting (www.PerkIt.com) to offer innovative thinking, marketplace savvy and strategic direction to entrepreneurs and growing businesses to accelerate the journey from a new idea to a successful product. It is always amazing to me how the world of toys and games evolves and I am excited to see where new product innovations including VR, drones and robotics will take us.