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Robert Yusim - How Direct To Consumer Launches Lead To Brand Successes!

What do you do in the industry?

Through my company Product Counsel, I work with consumer product companies, including many toy companies, to help launch their new innovations using direct-to-consumer strategies that include TV, Online & Social Media. Product Counsel also works with inventors to help license their inventions out to consumer product companies who then develop & launch those innovations. In many cases, Product Counsel will then assist the Licensee to launch the invention using the Direct-to-Consumer model.

Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry?

Well… it’s really a story about never knowing who you’re going to meet early in your career and how that good fortune can open doors. In the early 90’s I was working with Raymond Kives of K-Tel/Quality fame. We had a very successful toy product known as Grip Ball (Handheld Paddle with Velcro and tennis ball catch game). We sold millions of units around the world and it was Toy of the Year in Australia. Given the success of this outdoor toy, Raymond tasked me with finding more outdoor toys to fill the pipeline. It was 1994 and I saw all these kids in my neighborhood playing with Devil Sticks (2 sticks juggling a 3rd stick). I said to Ray, “this looks like a trend” and Ray said, “Go find it and make a deal”. I did my research and discovered there were two companies competing - One in Toronto and the other in Montreal. I tried to contact both and was able to set an appointment with the Toronto Company. I arrived and met with the three young guys, fresh out of college, Anton Rabie, Ben Varadi & Ronnen Harary, (The founders of Spin Master). During that meeting we shook hands on a deal to distribute Devil Sticks in Australia. I believe that was actually Spin Master’s first International distribution deal. Anton suggested we hire a couple of expert Devil Stick Spinners, including his brother Lawrence. I flew down with Lawrence to Australia, demonstrated the product to retailers and sold it in.

Lawrence stayed behind and worked with our local team Down Under to set up a van tour and demonstrations around the country. The product was pretty successful, but most importantly, how could I know in 1994 that these 3 young entrepreneurs, would eventually grow their company to $200M in 2005, let alone to multi-billions today? Meeting them in 1994 opened the door for me to begin working with them again in 2006. This became the genesis of my current business model and I am forever grateful for that initial meeting and all the eventual opportunities that arose from it.

What is your claim to fame in the industry?

I am best known for pioneering the use of Direct Response Marketing in the toy category in collaboration with Spin Master. An offshoot of that is being known for the amazing string of successful products & brands I have had the privilege to work with.

What are you working on now?

Currently, I am managing Direct Strategies for numerous brands. I am most proud of helping NSI to build Wubble Ball & Laser X into very significant brands. Wubble Ball is in its 7th year and Laser X is in its 3rd year, which is incredible in the toy category. NSI is an amazing partner and they have used Direct Response strategies effectively & efficiently for Wubble & Laser X to become very successful retail brands. I am also managing other brands like Comfy Critters (also in its 3rd year!) and Lunch Pets among others. I am also managing numerous campaigns in Canada and working on licensing a number of invention innovations. Below is a selection of brands that I have worked on.

What trends do you see in toys or games that excite or worry you?

What excites me also worries me. With so many brick & mortar retailers shrinking or closing entirely, Amazon has proven that going Direct-to-Consumer is critically important. As an expert in Direct-to-Consumer marketing, that excites me and should create opportunities. But at the same time, I am worried that as traditional retail is in decline, reducing the number of doors available to sell a product, Amazon is becoming more & more monopolistic, with increasingly difficult terms. I hope that Amazon can find the right balance to allow small and mid-tier companies the opportunity to succeed & profit.

What advice can you give to inventors who are presenting new toy or game ideas to you?

While I look at all types of inventions, I really get excited when I see a great invention that can benefit from Direct-to-Consumer marketing! The best advice I can give is for inventors to take their inventions as far as they can on their own meaning if possible: Invest in a prototype for proof of concept; Shoot a simple video demonstrating your prototype in action; File for patent protection; An inventor who has invested in their invention will generally yield a higher advance and royalty in a License Agreement.

What advice would you give a young adult graduating from high school or college today?

I have 2 pieces of advice… First, find a mentor. I met and then worked with my mentor for 8 years immediately following my graduation from university. Second, if at all possible and if you enjoy the work, stay in the same field and develop an expertise. I started in consumer product marketing in 1989 and while having re-invented myself several times through my career, I have been able to stay on the same critical path my entire career.

What does your typical day look like?

The wonderful thing is there are no typical days. Every day is different. I also travel quite a bit and fortunate to collaborate with many incredibly talented people!

What’s your workspace setup like?

A timely question… For the last 20 years I rented very basic office space - white walls, grey carpet, no improvements or character, located in a sparse area. Over the years, I have visited Google’s offices several times. About a year ago, Google’s offices inspired me to buy a place and create my own mini Google office, which I love!

(Rob and son Adam on a business trip at Google.)

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

The most rewarding part of my job is that I’ve been part of the development and launch of hundreds of products. It’s amazing when they are successful and grow to be become big brands. It’s most gratifying being in a store and seeing someone buying a product you have worked on.

What was your favorite toy or game as a child?

I loved playing with Hot Wheels and Monopoly.

Where were you born?

I was born and still live in Winnipeg, Canada.

What was your life like growing up?

I had a typical middle-class upbringing. I was the youngest of 4 kids… my favorite memories were summertime when my friends and I would have total freedom to ride our bikes wherever we wanted… Totally different than what kids can do today.

What is your favorite gadget, app or piece of software that helps you every day?

My favorite is my iPhone – Unfortunately, I am constantly on it.

How do you jumpstart your creativity when you find yourself stalled on a project?

When I’m stalled on something, I actually leave it for a while and then come back to it later.

Do you have any kiddos?

I have 3 kids… My Oldest Marlee is a Social Worker; My 2nd Lauren is entering the final year of Law School at Robson Hall and my youngest Adam is going into his 2nd year at the Asper School of Business, (the same school I went to). I like bringing my kids on business trips to trade shows and on location to commercial shoots. It gives them a taste of what I do and possibly interest in working with me in the future!

Do you have any pets?

A feisty 15LB Bichon Frise named Moose.

Summer or Winter?

I live in Winnipeg… The summers are amazing there!

What is your favorite night out?

I am a foodie so an evening out with family or friends at a great restaurant.

Favorite movie of all time?

The Godfather.

What’s the furthest you’ve ever been from home?


Have you done anything fun lately?

A couple of months ago I went with a group of friends to the Porsche Track Experience in Birmingham AL. We spent 2 days on the course learning how to race Porsches around the track. At the start of the course they said it will be the most expensive course you ever take… they were right!

People don’t know...

I launched a product from Shark Tank.

I’m lucky….

On so many levels! I am lucky… That I met the right people at the right time; To be doing work that I love; To be working with wonderful people many of whom have become my close friends; And to have a wonderful family with 3 kids who are each on a great path.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I am doing it… Fortunately, I have a business model that allows me to toggle up or down depending on how busy I want to be.

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