Keri Wilmot - ToyQueen!
What was your favorite toy or game as a child?
Who can pick just one? My favorite toys that I can remember were definitely dolls and stuffed animals. Being a child in the 1980’s I had quite a collection of Cabbage Patch dolls, Koosa’s and Pound Puppies. Garbage Pail Kids and plastic charm necklaces were my favorite collectibles. Apparently driving your parents crazy over collecting cards and toys is not a new trend!
Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry?
Well there is no easy answer to this question!
As a pediatric occupational therapist, my first year working with children and their families I had clients that ranged in age from premature newborns to 20-years-old. I lived in Connecticut and drove around the state to family’s homes, different schools and programs (including a juvenile detention center!) where an occupational therapist was needed. My job was to teach kids with developmental delays and disabilities to learn new skills to play, dress themselves or hold a pencil to color and write, by building their strength and eye-hand coordination.
I was required to buy all of my own supplies and in my first year, in 1999-2000, I bought almost $3000 worth of new and used toys and games. As a 22-year-old, I had a packed trunk and an entire room in my apartment, full of toys and games. Some were toys children loved, but many I absolutely wasted my money purchasing.
Many parents of my clients were willing to quickly purchase any toy I brought into the home that their children showed interest in, especially when they watched them use it to demonstrate a new skill. This gave me an idea.
I remember calling or emailing Fisher-Price back in 2000, asking if they would send me toys so I could bring them on home visits for my clients. In repayment I would give them feedback. Many of the skills I was teaching children in therapy, were activities parents could do at home, with the right tools, they just did not know which tools to buy!
Fisher-Price said “No” since I didn’t live in Buffalo and couldn’t be part of their internal focus groups. Shortly after I moved back to Massachusetts, bringing all my favorite toys with me to my next job.
Fast forward to 2004. I got married and continued working as an OT. My husband began to notice that the toys and games I bought for gifts for nieces, nephews and friend’s children were always a hit. Holidays and birthdays would come, friends and clients would call me to ask for my suggestions.
In 2008 my husband started attending networking events to market his own photography business, and began meeting social media pioneers in Boston, who had begun to develop personal brands materials through writing content and using video. One day he came home with the idea that we pair his technology skills with content, and give parents information to help their children.
I thought he was crazy. I fought back hard, adamant that no one would care what I had to say and doing this from behind a camera was not something I was comfortable with. The few people I told about said it was a terrible idea and many tried to discourage us.
We started ToyQueen.com in January of 2009, which initially featured in the first posts, links to our YouTube video product reviews. We shared those posts on Twitter. The goal was to help all parents find toys and games that could be helpful to their child’s development.
9 months later, my son was born. And 9 years later, a website, millions of page views, hundreds of product reviews, engagement across several social channels, expert roles at 2 other websites, here we are today! Don’t worry, I still have both a trunk and a room full of toys.
What advice would you give a young adult graduating from high school or college today?
You absolutely never know where your degree will lead you, because of the people who you allow into your life. I have a Bachelors of Science degree in Occupational Therapy. I was committed and happy to do this job for my lifetime until someone challenged me to do something different, outside of the box and my comfort zone.
The world is constantly evolving with new jobs and careers as our technology changes. Your career may not even be invented yet. Be open to reinvention and new ideas.
I would have absolutely never guessed being part of the toy and game industry would be part of my resume, though I guess it was something I had always pursued but didn’t know how, because I gave up to quickly when someone told me “No.”
I’m absolutely thankful I have an additional career to fall back on. I may always have a job as an OT, but the healthcare industry is not aging gracefully, as they make it harder for our children to receive the services they need, while they cut the salaries of the professionals who are committed to helping them.
If you do not know your strengths and talents, find someone who can help you identify them. Think about having a side hustle and a back-up plan for when the life a professor or a career tries to guarantee you, hands you a reality check. That way, when you need to be accountable to yourself or a family of your own, that you have something to fall back on that you can reinvent within your control.
What does your typical day look like?
I still work part-time as an occupational therapist, and I provide therapy services to children in Texas, ages newborn to 21 in their homes. If I’m not on visits, during the day I’m on social media, answering emails or connecting to wifi in a local Starbucks trying to get an article written. After school I’m joining Gavin at his sports activities, and at night after he’s in bed, I’m hard at work writing articles and editing videos to keep up with all these great new toys and games.
Are you named after anyone?
I was not named after a family member, but I am named after the song, “Hey Carrie Anne” by the Hollies. My parents decided to use their own unique spelling though, which is a spelling “game” not many people can win on their first try.
Do you have any kiddos?
I do! I have an almost 8-year-old, active, boy named Gavin, and despite living in Texas he embraces his North Eastern roots with a love of hockey, The New England Patriots, Beyblades and Pokemon Cards. Gavin wanted to be involved in social media, but we waited for a long time until we could find an avenue we were all comfortable with. That opportunity presented itself when he won a StormTrooper helmet signed by the inventor at ChiTAG. StormTrooperGavin is now spreading humor and love, searching for the Bright Side of Life on Instagram.
What’s the furthest you’ve ever been from home?
On vacation, the furthest place I have visited is probably Venice, Italy. But I currently live 2000 miles from home. In 2015 we moved from Massachusetts to the Dallas, Texas area. While my parents and extended family are not here, there is no doubt Texas is home. It’s an amazing place to raise a family with people who are full of fun, friendship, kindness and faith. Even though we traded snowstorms for thunderstorms and tornadoes, the fact that we no longer have to wear a winter coat and shovel snow is pretty awesome.
The online space is constantly evolving. It’s full of potential and frustration, as we continue to evolve into new social platforms, and learn more about the kinds of information our readers and customers want to watch, learn from and share about toys and games. My son and other kids are beginning to get involved in the social media landscape which brings a whole new set of challenges.
I love teaching children to improve the quality of their life through play using toys and games, and I am committed to helping parents find toys their children will love and sharing those recommendations, so that they do not waste their hard earned money either.
Whether it is sharing new products on ToyQueen.com, creating new content for a brand’s marketing use on their websites or social channels as an expert or spokesperson, or behind the scenes product consultation, I am looking forward to the future. One where I can work directly with brands who are also evolving in their mission to create playful opportunities for kids and families of all ages and abilities.