Kevin Mower, Adrian Roche and Dave Ciganko's HUGE! Play for Way Better Play
What is your new endeavor and why should anybody care?
Well, HUGE! Play is a newly formed play company. We call it a play company instead of toy company because the word toys just doesn’t wrap its arms all the way around how play itself has changed and how it’s a vibrant and embedded part of the millennial family from kids to teens to parents. Going back to 40 years ago, play was largely considered a fun activity for kids to enjoy. Today, everyone has “permission to play” and each demographic literally uses play to satisfy different needs. ‘Play is deeply useful now along with being fun and there are some very new ways we are working to create it, produce it, market it and get it into the hands of the audience/consumers’.
For IP holders, our model means that there’s a strong alternative for your toy partners across IP that has built a significant audience but aren’t getting any love or placement from the mass market toy companies and retailers.
What is the unique focus of your company?
HUGE! Play is 100% Direct-to-Consumer premium toys that are driven by story!
What exactly do you mean by premium?
For HUGE! Play the shackles are off. Because we’re a true direct-to-consumer company in every way, we aren’t squeezed by the same mass-market constraints of price, size, advertising needs, facings, seasonality, audience size, etc. Due to our business model we’re able to invest the money that would have gone to retail margins into the development of the toy and to better fund the features, depth of play, materials, decoration, and all the elements that make a toy extraordinary. When we create toys for an IP, we bring the “premium glow” to that IP…the toys and play people want to share and talk about. Toys largely aren’t an island anymore either. Most are part of amazing experiences that are driven by a story; something you’d want to pass along to other kids or even your own kids when you grow up.
What do you think is controversial about your new company?
We’re moving past all the middlemen and retailers in the system now and putting the audience/consumer back at the helm. When you have others whom you have to sell to, before you sell to your audience that means all of their particular business needs enter the decision-making room. It’s a natural part of any retail business, to manage the incoming product to maximize your profits and success. Those voices have grown very loud over the years and at the end of the day, there are so few lines that get chosen that it shapes the behaviors of the creators and producers of the IP to try and push the IP to get on shelf. It’s not anything the system intentionally inflicts on the world of IP but it has evolved to that constricted place. We strongly believe that this approach is now only part of the equation going forward. There’s other emerging alternatives and we’re one of them launching soon. This changes how the play product of an IP can get access to an audience and we believe, over time, this will change how IP creators and studios are incentivized to think about creating highly commercial IP. More options plain and simple. In fact, today, there are more worthy IP that have audiences but no love from the present toy system, then there are successful IP that have made it on shelf, a lot more.
What is your team’s claim to fame in the industry?
This management triad of co-founders have over 100 years of combined experience in the toy industry. We’re also all entrepreneurs who have pushed boundaries our whole careers.
Kevin Mowrer – Founded Hasbro’s original entertainment division “The Fantasy Factory,” and Ran Hasbro’s R&D. Kevin Also created the Meta-Story research and IP development system and founded Mowrer Meta-Story. Kevin has Emmy and Gemini awards for his work in creating original IP as well.
Adrian Roche – Started his life in the Toy business in the UK with Kiddicraft Toys. Set up European business for The First Years infant products before moving to the US to head up marketing ‘for 2 years’. Now been here 26! Headed up Preschool, Boys and Licensing for Mega Brands in Montreal before starting the North American business for Alpha, China’s biggest toy company.
Dave Ciganko – With over 40 years in the toy business designing product and play experiences for children 0-7 years across all categories including infant, preschool, boys and girls he infused innovation, technology and new licensed properties for Fisher Price/Mattel, Kiddicraft (UK), Ideal toys and Little Tikes. building new and innovative brands and products.
What’s the guiding star in how you are doing this new endeavor?
The audience/consumer’s stories and toys have become their communication verbs and nouns, parts of their identity, tools of cultural and personal exploration. That is powerful and transformative and our job at HUGE! Play is to listen and use our knowledge and creativity and how they are changing their lives with stories and play and continue to inspire them forward. Sounds lofty, I know, but to us, it’s very real!
Also, meet with us. We laugh! A lot! It’s toys…duh, if you’re not fun people having fun and thinking fun then maybe it’s just a business to you.
How are you setting up to deliver on that focus?
We’ve assembled a truly A-list group of individuals to execute our vision but…We’ve also assembled a remarkable brain trust of experience from across the spectrum of entertainment, play, research and more to act as our ongoing think tank in an advisory board.
Our Senior team and advisers have incredible reach in terms of best-of-the-best resources, inventors, thinkers and technology.
Because we’re starting today, we don’t have any baggage or facilities we need to incorporate in how we execute or build out any part of this. It’s allowing us to challenge every single part of how this is done and, in most cases, we’re finding some unique, lower friction, higher quality ways of doing those things. We’re not trying to be everything to everybody.
What do you believe has changed in the toy industry for good or bad?
That is a big question. There are quite a few things that have changed in the toy and entertainment industries over the years. What’s interesting is that most of the companies living in those spaces and places are still largely hanging onto a business model that was born many decades ago. How you think about designing a toy is still largely driven by brick and mortar placement, what shows up well in a commercial and what looks good on a particular kind of package on shelf with a particular facing. Our question is why? Why design toys that way now when TV commercials are all but irrelevant and we don’t have to design for a shelf. The needs are so different! Even packaging is changing dramatically in this new world. Honestly, we have got to stop making single use landfill with plastic windows and bubbles that are expensive and quite literally go into the garbage once the toy is home. The Millennial family and their Gen-Z kids are yelling loud and clear “Stop it!” We’ve got some interesting new solutions in the works that we’ll announce when they are shipping.
So, here’s what we think is the biggest change. Mass isn’t really mass anymore. Once an audience finds that they love a story and really move into wanting it in their lives, they self-select and aggregate themselves. The business can now be about highly targeted programs for clearly addressable audiences! Mass lives or dies fast and it’s just not a fit for targeted audiences. More importantly, where’s the relationship? That’s where we’re making some big changes. Not low touch brick and mortar isles but high touch community driven contact. There’s some secret sauce in there we’ve been working on and we can’t wait to share it with the world!
What do you believe has changed with the audience/consumer?
Everything. Millennials are now the predominant families on the planet. Their Gen-Z kids are turning 20 and a new generation is about to start being born in 2021. How these families and individuals engage with story, share them, use them, live into them, shop them, and more, is all 100% different. Social, online and socially conscious, and many more descriptors we’ve all heard but the key is seeing them holistically and realizing that it’s all moved into a very, very, new place. I think we can also see where it’s going and that’s what we’re working to do. Meet them there versus trying to call them back.
What advice can you give to inventors who are presenting new toy or game ideas to you?
Forget all the editing you’ve been doing to your ideas in order to sell them into the existing system. We want the crazy ideas, the ones that don’t fit on shelf or need accessories or were too expensive for mass. We’re in the business of delivering premium so we really mean it. Get those ideas out of the files you were madly in love with, but no one wanted, and then think up new ones too without the constraints! We won’t take them all, but that’s the pond we want to fish in.
Does your new endeavor have a mission?
Very simple: Elevate Story Play.