I’ve been having fun in the Toy Industry since June of 2005! Before toys, the first 20 years of my career were in the software industry. I was in corporate strategy and operations for a global enterprise software company. I learned so much in that role, but it never really ignited my passion. Starting in toys was a big change for me. Right away, I felt the energy and the connection. I loved playing with real toys and not just vaporware (the term we used to describe new version of code).
And I learned there were some really interesting parallels between the two industries. Both toys and software support very strong entrepreneurial communities. The barriers to entry for a toy startup and for a software startup are similarly low. If you have a passion, an interest, or a problem to solve, you can jump right in. In both industries, innovation requires hard work, hours of development time, and often many iterations. I noted that in the toy industry, however, there were no ongoing maintenance fees to collect and the average toy price point was only 20 bucks. I also learned quickly, that evergreen toys, while they do exist, are not the norm. Even if you spent more than two years developing it, the lifecycle of a toy was usually only a few years. And the toy industry was subject to swings in trends and fashion – not something we typically worried about when writing code.
I asked one of the Co-CEO’s of a large and very successful toy company what kept him up at night. His answer? “Worrying about where to find new toys for next year’s catalog. We’re working with over 20 inventors right now trying to come up with concepts.” That was a pivotal moment for me. In software we suffered from the “not invented here” syndrome. If it wasn’t our code, it obviously wasn’t GOOD code. In the toy industry, companies actually sought out and wanted worked with inventors. Sourcing ideas from these creators, thinkers and designers in the inventor community was key for success. It’s a lesson I never forgot.
Today, almost 15 years after jumping into toys, I’m still playing at work. I’m currently Vice President, Marketing US for HAPE International. Thru June 2019, I’m serving as Chair of the Board of Directors of the American Specialty Toy Retail Association (ASTRA). ASTRA’s mission is to “Change the world with the power of play.”
(Dee with Erik Quam of Fat Brain Toys, also on ASTRA Board of Director's )
Since it was founded in 1992, ASTRA’s membership has included Independent Toy Retailers, Sales Reps, and Toy Manufacturers. I’m so happy to say, that starting in 2019, we’re welcoming Inventors and Affiliate members as well. Inventor members will finally be invited to serve on ASTRA’s Board of Directors. If you’re an inventor please consider joining. Working together with ASTRA you’ll find ways to connect with manufacturers you many not be reaching today. Turning even more ideas into products - what a great boost for the industry as a whole. While there are big changes to how and where toys are bought and sold, the process of creating toys from idea to production remains the same. It still starts with an idea. A great big THANK YOU to all of the Toy Inventors for working so hard to bring new and fun ideas to all of us. None of us would be here without you!