Christine Blumberg - Do What You Love!
My life has been surrounded by toys and children’s product.
My Dad, for most of his career, was in the toy industry. He started out as an importer of toys from Europe. And, it was cool to think that your parent was in the toy business. He even named items after me and my brothers like the “Christine and Scott and Jeff” paper dolls. So, I think this was my first introduction to the world of toys.
I am from the Boston area and had just graduated from the University of New Hampshire. My best friend in college was from LA and convinced me to move out there after graduation. I immediately started working odd jobs to make a living but then decided that my dream job was to work at Disney. After many interviews, I got in! I began working there as a Marketing Coordinator at Walt Disney Records (remember records??) I worked on the launch of The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas and many other soundtrack releases. I learned a tremendous amount from my mentor, Judy Cross, who was an executive at Clorox/Proctor & Gamble and came to Disney at the same time as me. One of the key strategies that Disney worked on was synergy…..everyone working on the same thing at the same time in conjunction and cooperation with every division. Of course, Disney has a lot of divisions to execute this strategy. But, it has carried with me throughout my career. Having a unified and cooperative approach has been a mantra of mine in all aspects of my career.
After 8 years with Disney, I left CA and moved to New York City and took a job with Jim Henson Records as Director of Marketing with their soundtrack division for two years.
But, I was pulled back to Walt Disney Records to take a position as East Coast Regional Sales Manager….now I was in Sales. This is where I got my feet wet on the sales side. I called on Tower Records, Strawberries Records, HMV, Lechmere, Ames, Hill, Bradlees, Caldor – remember these names? Anyway, within 3 years, Napster came on the scene and the entire record industry changed. The product ‘turned into’ technology! So, different than the toy industry where product can be sold over technology, the product (music) turned into technology. No one needs a record, tape or, god forbid – 8 track!
From there, I took a job at Ravensburger USA. This was my first foray into the world of Specialty after years of mass market sales. I worked on Licensing of Star Wars, StarTrek, Madeline, Thomas the Tank and other licenses. And, I started to figure out the world of Specialty – product knowledge, modes of distribution, promotions, which licensed items worked in Specialty – and the world of reps!
At this stage, I had five members of the Roberts family in the toy business – me, my father (Rich Roberts), my uncle (Ron Roberts), my cousin (Craig Roberts) and my brother (Jeff Roberts). Both my Uncle and cousin were sales reps and my brother worked at Playmobil in sales. My husband, Alan Blumberg, worked in the record industry. We decided in 2000, that we (Jeff, Alan and I) would start a new rep group in New England, Roberts Blumberg.
Jeff left the group to become a manufacturer and Alan and I carried on! We have now owned our rep group for 20 years! So, what does a rep do you ask? Huh – do you have more time than this interview?
I know it sounds self-serving but the reps are some of the hardest working individuals in this industry. I recently hired a sales rep for our group and within six months he said “This is the hardest job I have ever had”. And, I believe that’s true.
There is so much to say but if I had to encapsulate the highlights:
Develop and maintain strong relationships with their accounts.
Understand products – maintain a strong understanding of all you sell.
Help retailers manage their business
Act as an almost “backroom” manager to help them as if the business was theirs – their success is our success
Keep them informed about promotions, deals and opportunities from vendor to help save them money.
Solve problems, solve problems, solve problems.
Selling toys and helping our customers has become a passion! We absolutely love what we do. But, more than that, we love the people. I have made so many great friends in this industry. Going to a trade show does not feel like work – it feels like fun! It feels like a big party. Yes, you are working but you are seeing all of your business partner and peers – your friends!
Even though I love what I do, my greatest joy comes from my family, my husband, Alan, and my two boys. I have two teenage boys who are the light of my life – Camden and Justin. Camden is a Senior in high school and finalizing his plans for college. Justin is a Sophomore in high school and a huge basketball fan – both playing it and watching it!
I think our favorite thing to do as a family is travel and to experience different cultures, different people, different foods, different language and realizing that we are all inhabitants of this planet. I think it is important for children to be exposed to all peoples so that they realize that we are ‘one’. I hope that we will be able to travel again after the COVID-19 crisis is over.
Currently, I am the ASTRA Chair. We have been working diligently to work through our new budget (without an ASTRA show in June) and come out the other side with ideas and thoughts for what we will delivering to our members for the remainder of the year. We want to continue to be the information hub for all toy industry and COVID-19 information. We are investigating the idea of a virtual show and what that would look like and when it could be launched. And, we want to further our incredible sense of community. We rely on the show for so much more than a business transaction. We rely on the comradery and networking that sets us apart from other trade shows in the industry. But, more than that, we are researching and postulating the idea of the ‘new normal’ in the toy industry after COVID-19. What does it look like…for retailers, vendors and sales reps? And, what can we do to innovate and reconstruct a toy industry with new ideas and new best business practices to create an even stronger and more dynamic toy industry! Unfortunately, we don’t have a blueprint or map to guide us. But, I certainly know that our ASTRA members are scrappy, resourceful and incredibly creative. We will pull through and come out the other side stronger and wiser!
Would I tell my kids to get in the toy business? If they felt passionate about it, I would. But, I always tell my kids “do what you love”. If you love what you do, it is not work; it’s enjoyable; it’s fun. You love doing it. And, being in the toy industry is what I love to do.