Richard North - This is Wow! Stuff!
This is Wow! Stuff
Our tagline is Great Brands Brought to Life! We partner with licensed brands and we work until our brains hurt to create toys that are really, really, really innovative, on brand and in universe - always! With 2 TOTY award nominations and a TOTY award win in 2020 and a TAGIE nomination in 2015, we are headquartered in the UK. We have excellent reach throughout Europe and while we have direct to retail sales in the USA we are always looking for North American partners to broaden our business. See more here; www.wowstuff.com
From Telescopes to Toys, from the UK to the USA
My time during this pandemic has largely been spent on setting up ToyAid.org in the UK with my co-founder Joel Silverman of digital marketing agency kidsknowbest. ToyAid was set up to help the poorer, disadvantaged children and their families during the economic slowdown resulting from COVID-19. This is my career and life summarised as best i can;
I began my sales and marketing career working for the UK distributor of Tasco, a privately owned American company based in Miami. I repped their products in the UK. It had an enigmatic founder called George Rosenfield. George was as active at 70 as he’d been at 30, and had built a $100m optics business. 30 years later I still think he’s the best sales guy I ever met. But, I felt he also let me down at a time I needed him most. I was 26, enthusiastic and naiive and I just soaked up his teachings - including memorable sales pitches to Walmart, where he owned the mass market for commercial optics such as telescopes and binoculars. Unfortunately he was as competitive as they come and so when he had the chance to work with a bigger company than my own to rep his products in the UK he took it, leaving me a little high and dry. I was made redundant, lost my brother to a sudden death from a brain aneurism and couldn’t pay my rent.
All learnings though and with support from my mum and dad and their tiny savings plus a customer I’d sold to who financed me I soon found myself importing, branding and selling my own sports optics.
With a healthy dose of good luck and being an avid reader of brand and marketing books I built a successful business, so without George’s early teachings I wouldn’t have been able to do that. I sold my company a few years later and went into eCommerce, around 1999. That led to me acquiring thousands of domain names thinking I could corner some great internet real estate. Wrong. Most of them just died and only a handful sold for a meager profit. My favourite though was the URL Gadgets.com. I acquired the domain for £1,000 and sold it just a few weeks later over the phone to a US entrepreneur for exactly $250,000. It turned out we shared the same vision to build an ecommerce business selling big boys toys and gadgets to the lucrative 18-34 male demographic who were early adopters of online shopping. As a small claim to fame my company BoysStuff.co.uk became the biggest importer of La-Z-boy armchairs, although that didn’t mean it was huge business at around 2000 chairs a year. La-Z-Boy had tried and failed to get into the UK market previously but when the TV sitcom Friends was in full swing and featured ‘Joey’s chair' we knew we had the perfect target audience through our BoysStuff website! Ironic to think that 20 years later I will shortly be selling Friends products once more.
(My Keepon - one of our hit toys! )
My eCommerce business wasn’t profitable, just breakeven, but we had tens of thousands of absolute fans and were awarded eSuperbrand status by the global SuperBrands council. The website traffic was in the millions per month and we had accountancy firms, lawyers and Venture Capitalists knocking on the door regularly. Crazy times. Ultimately the eCommerce back office engine we built turned out to be the real value in the business, but again that learning came the hard way. After spending (losing) a few hundred thousand pounds with various IT suppliers who said they could build us a great eCommerce website and back office we realised they couldn’t. In fact we realised no one really could because we were all still learning about eCommerce. You guys in the USA were ahead of us by 3-4 years but your IT professionals had their hands full with the opportunities in the US. So we took it all in house, built a team to build the site. And then I had a pretty horrible car accident which left me on life support. With amazing skill from the paramedics and fire services, support from our National Health Service, I eventually recovered and sold the business in 2 parts; the eCommerce brand and the back office systems.
(2009-2011; Airswimmers -a giant flying Remote Controlled fish!)
And so to toys and what will I hope be my last company for all the right reasons. Just before I sold my eComm business I visited a high class gift fair looking for products for the site. Here I met a couple of young scientists selling an ‘invention’. I quickly realised 2 things; 1 they were a lot smarter than me and 2 they could invent stuff. They showed me their invention, which I’ll disclose later, and I asked how many they'd sold. “1000 pieces” was their reply. I was impressed until I realised they meant over the 3 years they’d been in business and not the 3 days of the show. After 2 years of my company selling their different gift inventions these 2 scientists joined me to form Wow! Stuff. Their initial product invention became a centre piece of an indie film called Made in China with Matthew McConaughey playing a cameo part. It also featured on many TV shows and even had its own room in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney Australia. Nowadays my co-founders, Dr. Graeme Taylor and Kenny McAndrew run our New Product Development team and work intensely on our toy innovation, IP and patents. Our burning big ambition is probably no different to many toy entrepreneurs; we want to have big hits. We love working with licensed brand owners and getting under the skin of their brands. We created the Harry Potter Invisibility Cloak which won a TOTY this year and that kind of exemplifies how we love to work with a license and innovate. We’ve invested in great people and have now really ramped up our connections with tier 1 brands, wether they be brands born from SVOD, movies or books. During my toy years I’ve made lots of great friends, endured an armed robbery, lost mum and dad and had my house almost burn to the ground. Daft as that sounds I’ve been lucky; I survived my car accident, armed robbery and house fire. I have a great wife Karen, 4 lovely kids, great in laws and a really great Wow! Stuff team.
Oh, that first product that Graeme and Kenny invented? In the UK it was called the Arse/Face towel. In North America it was called the Butt/Face towel. Half the towel was white with the word ‘FACE' embroidered on it, the other half brown with the word ‘BUTT'. We went on to sell nearly 3 million pieces over 5 years and then decided to be a toy company, because we realised we needed to grow up.
(Image above; Richard, Kenny and Graeme with their first invention -
the Arse/Face Towel!)
(Dave the Funky Shoulder Monkey