What do you do in the industry?
I am the CEO for Magformers LLC, based in Canton, MI.
What do I do?
Name it. I work with each of my departments. We have to be a team, with all parts working together for the best we can deliver to the customer.
What is your claim to fame in the industry?
I think if you asked others it would be my high energy, passion, and can do attitude. For me I have enjoyed opening doors for my companies in this toy industry with retailers. Partnership is key, and finding the reasons for both parties to say yes is a win-win.
Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry?
I could have been in this industry about 6-months longer than I have been. In early 1987 I turned LEGO’s job offer down and went to work in the architectural structure business. I called Jim O’Connell, head of LEGO’s sales operation those months later and not only went through the complete interview process again but this time more grueling. I had told them it felt like I had a girlfriend and that we had broken up. It felt like that type pain. So after nearly 12 years of LEGO I was hooked. Our industry is fashion, strategy, and finding what excites the child and the parent, then every 365 days or sooner 60% of it is new. To think in 1987 I believe we had less than 50 Lego items, the highest price point was $49.99. When I joined Magformers in 2012 we had 14 sku’s, now we have 170 items in this brand, plus four other lines combining for nearly 500 items.
What are you working on now?
We have several key projects happening. Key of course to ensure we have proper forecasts with our retail partners. The fact that Toys R Us is no longer here leaves a void. Many companies are just not sure of what market share they will pick up. And despite Amazon being a trigger for discussion everywhere, all the void will not go there. On this topic, we are continually monitoring Amazon for takedown of counterfeit or infringing products. There is a lot of time and effort spent trying to keep the site cleaner. I could currently write a book on these difficulties that also effect MAPP policy (since they don’t adhere), plus all of the last 14 months of changes with their processes.
Marketing plans are key, as we are finalizing our TV plans. We have a hit in the making; SKY TRACK. It truly combines our STEM strength as a toy and brings in the fun. So to put it on TV, you-tube, and other social media is key. Our other new brands, gaining distribution for them is still daily work. Ask Felicia Watson in our office. She is on the phone almost all day, every week day, telling people about the new CLICFORMERS line, or TOTY plush finalist dolce and the 28 plush items, Tile Blox, or kidsme our new baby products line up.
What trends do you see in toys or games that excite or worry you?
Collectibles have a strong hold currently, they have before, they will again. Finding what kids love to collect, the balance to repeat purchase, and build your brand. Of course, LOL comes to mind as key example. Spinners were a different type version of this is 2017, albeit shorter lived. STEM is a surging topic and it should be. Kids should benefit from there play. There was a saying over the years, “get to the fun faster.” I am not in agreement with this. It must be a balance. Kids want fun to start or they easily get bored. I believe it is build upon the fun, the more you play the more exciting it becomes, the more you create the more you desire to achieve. I love our tag line, Magnetic Construction for Brain Development. The concern I have is the amount of real estate for toys lost with Toys R Us exit. No other retailer has nearly the devoted space to toys. Major toy companies will keep majority share at retailers, which may mean smaller toy companies have more difficult time getting opportunities.
What advice can you give to inventors who are presenting new toy or game ideas to you?
Understand the category of the toy you are presenting, who is your competition and what is the trend. What price points are you targeting? Is it gender neutral or focused toward boy or girl. Color of toys matters, quality matters, along with tooling cost is safety testing, packaging needs to communicate the right message to what is inside the box. And if you believe in what you have created, don’t take NO and give up. We are all conditioned to say no. First instincts for some. Take the shot, try again.
What advice would you give a young adult graduating from high school or college today?
Find a passion for work, love what you do. If you don’t find it. Invest into your career, work hard, play hard, sacrifice sleep for the first decade or two. Communicate to your management. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, learn from them. Absolutely do not lie. I have adapted these principles to my entire career. And when you get to become a manager remember what got you there and help others.
What does your typical day look like?
More of a typical week or month or quarter. Our industry has a number of time lined events; Toy Fairs, Licensing shows, meetings with our retail partners to develop the next season’s shelf space, planning and forecasting with our factories, etc.
Add into our world of communication, emails take hours per day. Financial review with the accounting team is critical, meeting with customer service to ensure shipping is flawless and chargebacks are next to nonexistent are key. Marketing generally is the happiest time as it is always strategies of driving consumer awareness towards our products. A typical day is 8:30-6:00 at the office, then phone calls with our parent company in South Korea several times per week around 9pm, until.
What’s your workspace setup like?
We built a new office in Canton a little over a year ago. I designed it from scratch. It was months of work, but the finished product is colorful, modern and organized (OCD’ish.) We have teams place in pretty much POD type areas. We also have a company store that is dual purpose currently, for retail sales, and to have our reps and our retail buyer come and work with us.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Several rewarding parts. First, our product is very educational (STEM worthy, we had 34 items receive STEM.org certification recently) We are working with UCLA on curriculum building for Mathematics k12, and we are in most every retailer. It feels good when you absolutely know what you are providing makes a difference. When we hear from parents about their child’s successful play experience with our toy or as educators say, manipulative, is very rewarding.
What is the worst job you’ve ever had and what did you learn from it? Working for a Veterinary in high school. The doctor had me help with surgery, holding a pet a few times, I about passed out. Plus, changing cages and letting pets out, especially those that seemed to want to bite me was always a little dicey. But it was high school date money, so I did it for 2 years.
What’s a problem you’re still trying to solve?
Walmart USA. We had good sales number with them on a few items. They stopped, it didn’t make sense, still doesn’t. So it is working to find the right items and opportunity for their customers. I think the family that shops there should get the opportunity to buy and experience our brands.
What and/or who inspires you?
Music inspires me. Certain artists such as Coldplay, JayZ, Lindsey Sterling, and Needtobreath are top of the long list. Communication with friends that leads to google searches or you tube research teaches me. I love to learn. Lately, I have been reading and researching more. I would say it is never to late to learn, to make improvements in who we are. Add in exercise.
How do you recharge or take a break?
Lately an hour walk early in the morning is a good recharge to the body and mind. Watching TV is not really my thing, it puts me to sleep. Naps are excellent, especially if I were at a beach.
What was your favorite toy or game as a child?