Company-of-the-Week: Chris Tidwell on Magformers
As I write to provide some explanation of what the Magformers company is about, it would be a miss to not recognize and thank Phil Bloom for over two decades of devoted support, stories, insight, stock prices (ugh!) and features of the industry that provides us our livelihood. Thank you, Mr. Bloom! Thank you to Mary Couzin, her board, and staff at CHITAG for the opportunity to tell some good news, to talk about toys and how children’s lives can be shaped through the power of play. We also appreciate the opportunity to be part of the Spring 2020 Young Inventor’s Challenge currently going on. It is great to be along side Mattel, Scholastic, Astra during a time when many school children have been out much earlier than expected.
Hard to believe that eight years are coming up on bringing the Magformers company to the Metro Detroit area. From the kitchen table of a home in Medford, Oregon where the company was truly a mom and pop operation, run by a single mother of two daughter, Stephanie Hunts. In 2012, at the time her business partner in North and South America was a very energized, forward thinking South Korean gentleman that had fallen in love with the brand and was seeing growth in the markets he owned in Europe and Asia. Kee Young Park, was clearly on a mission to develop a global brand. One thing was also clear, he also had great pride for his country of South Korea. In building the company, we often discussed the importance of education, and how the Magformers geometric shapes were useful in teaching children mathematics. Just several years ago the South Korean Educational Ministry bestowed award and recognition for the efforts of teaching upon Magformers. The company has been on a rapid trajectory of growth in terms of developing educational content. As examples, just eight years ago we had seven geometric shapes, compared to over 40 shapes we have now. Our color variations have also grown from single digits to over 40. Our eye is on a 64 pack of colors eventually. Well maybe 65. Ensuring this is IP correct! We have created well into the hundreds plus of accessory pieces, which allows one to take the pure creativity of building and add, MAG BUDDIES, windows, doors, motors, trees (very shiny, Thanks Regina Kang!), wheels, you name it. Dinosaurs, Robots, Aliens, Blond Hair, Blue Eyes, African America figures, Asian, brown eyes, green eyes, etc. These are things we talk about in building our toys. In fact, last August, in Seoul, in our boardroom where there was only blued eyed person (me) dominated by brown eyes, we discussed then the inclusion of all colors of our world. How true this resonates today.
As we built our team in the metro Detroit area, we settle on Plymouth and grew into a larger facility for the North America office on a busy Ford Road in Canton, MI. Although a relatively small team of people for our North America staff, hovering around 20, I believe we have a top-notch group of individuals. We truly have one of the best customer service teams, headed by Marianne Turner, who manages a team of six. Often during Toy Fairs, I am provided confirmation of their care, communication and follow up. Marketing with an accent or attitude, actually both. Freddie Jordan came to Magformers over five years ago. With his young spirit and at the time age he brought energy, passion, excellence in design, that great English accent, that says like no other can, this is what the Queen’s English sounds like. He also brought a professional chip on his shoulder, that says, only the best is really what the strive should be towards. Now as a father of his first child, Grace he gets to practice what his believe system is directly. If Grace is like her father, look out for the future projects we bring into marketing.
Joe Shin, our CFO moved from Miami, where he with Samsung and their medical division to metro Detroit. Furthermore, his fiancée that move from Colombia (yes, the country) was able to experience her first snows, and yes cold weather. But what makes me even more excited is how much work he says he now must do, in comparison to other past jobs. You are welcome Joe. How can I not appreciate pivot tables, spreadsheets, and analysis after analysis that dig deep into net income? Plus a true mind of a financial professional he is able to now yell the sky is falling and I can look over, (ok on ZOOM) and roll my eyes and make my notes to find a way to keep things moving forward.
Merle Saddick is our only out of state employee, that was in Michigan monthly prior to the pandemic. She brings knowledge of so many areas that it is hard for her to shut down, even when in New Jersey, over ten hours from the office. Whether Amazon USA, Canada, Costco, QVC and its portfolio, and so many others she is a go getter. And to think she used to be at Tiffany’s. Testing, warehousing issues, on the Toy Association IP committee, getting into Senator Bill Cassidy’s ear about counterfeit products on Capitol Hill, she is someone without a doubt you would put in your foxhole. She is complimented by Scott Head. Scott is our National Sales manager that works closely with specialty, and has a heart of gold, a passion to provide data to his re groups, and since he can’t work with them currently, talk on the phone. He also has a beard like Santa (except black).
This team, this product and the focus we have towards our future has been built with so many incredible moments. No, we have not had Shaquille O’Neal walk into the Toy Fair representing the tallest man ever to attend a New York Toy Fair. However, Jay Foreman and Basic Fun, thank you for that life experience. I am sure many of us wish you great success with Tonka. Nevertheless, we have had some amazing moments and major learning experiences. STEM.org the oldest accredited STEM platform in the world authenticated some of our items. UCLA reached out to us several years ago, based on the head of mathematic, Heather Dallas, realizing the capability of using our brand to teach. We have 13 lesson plans written and ready to create sets. These sets were developed in the Sequoia National Park by a bunch of PHD, professors, teachers (like the California teacher of the year finalist), and me. I told them at the beginning of the think tanks session, I would stay quiet. I did a good job of that.
Our involvement with being a Toy Association member. The TOTY finalist several times in our brief stint in times gives us encouragement that our toys for children is on the right track. To be recognized for Educational, STEM, Construction, Preschool, and even plush (dolce, we are distributors for the USA and South America.) The support we received initially from the Toy Association on IP rights and concerns of counterfeit. This led to the Wall Street Journal visiting our office and publishing a video to increase awareness of this issue online. Certainly, I feel well versed on this area of business. It is much bigger than anyone can imagine at present. It is sickening because it hurts all of us. Not just financially. In our industry, we have children that expect us to provide safe toys for play experience and parents that buy with the assumption that what is being purchased is genuine. Then add our government together to create new rules and regulations, policy for change and I don’t think we have a person reading that would say, no I don’t think it takes to long to make the correct decisions on things.
I wish it wasn’t, but I am certain I am going to fight for what’s right with the spirit that in our Toy industry we are a team. Like the MLB, expect we have many more teams. And we can play the game if we are properly distanced. We all have a ton of toys to chose from.
Certainly having attended Makers Faire, we hope they come back. ChiTAG has provided great experiences attending over the years. The Toy Foundation provided a way to make a difference in city’s that needed toys. We were glad to participate as needed. There is nothing like a smile from a child receiving a toy present. Our product offering has gone from 14 items in 2012 to over 600. I will not say we need 600 items yet, but it has been good experiences in building brands, finding what works, tweaking, rethinking, and developing for success. I cannot wait to see what eight more years in our industry brings and to continued development of Magformers. For those not knowing, we use neodymium magnets. These are the strongest of four magnet grades. It is what allows for building three dimensional shapes. Our plastic is HQ ABS, yep the best a toy has to offer! We sonic weld all our geometric shapes. Quality is of the highest concern for all of us involved. I was so pleased to hear from my youngest son, Daniel, who has worked in the factory in Dongguan, China the last two years during college break. He came home with an entire spiral notebook, with details of how each machine worked, the process in which evaluating perfection of toy parts was identified and how to ensure safety. He brought a few examples of the work. He also called several times at the crack of dawn to tell me of his experiences. China Inspiration (our factory) and its leadership, Henry Chung has been a great success factor. As his two daughters continue the company into the 2020’s it is with great hopes they see a continued world that provides opportunity for success.
The retail community around our world has seen the most tumultuous time in a century. Yes, we learned of being essential or nonessential. I think we all need to be essential. Kids depend on us. I am glad our modern computer age has allowed for being able to stay in touch with our contacts. I have been on Zoom calls with several of the biggest retailers in the world. I have seen cats jump on top of home desks, I have heard a share of dogs barking, children seem happy at play in some backgrounds. We have seen each other at home. Work continues to get done.
Many on my staff say they are working longer hours than ever. This is without having to come to the office. I must say I have left my home in the mornings, gone three ways away to the office, parked in the back, walked in, turned on my office light or not, opened the computer, put in the ear pods, dialed the numbers and spoke business. On an occasional day, my financial team would come in to prepare checks for me to sign and pay our bills, they would go over mail in hopes we would receive some checks to deposit. Masks, hand sanitizers, gloves all set up for the return to work. Our state opens back the 12th of June. We really feel as a team we never left. We know changes are in the making. We know you only have one opportunity to be a child. It is our commitment to provide toys that allow for this.
In closing I have been greeted by a grandmother and her two-year-old granddaughter, Olivia a few times lately as I was going into my office. Along with a huge smile, Olivia had a twig in her hand, she offered it to me. Seemed she was making music with it. So, with this gift of a music making twig, I opened the back are of the office where we have toys and traded her for a Magformers toy and a dolce plush Zebra. Now she waves, provides a huge smile, and carries toys and sometimes a new musical making twig. I hope when she is 10 years old, eight years from now, these experiences were part of a good childhood, one where play and imagination made a difference.