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U Is For Unicorns, Upwords, Uncle Milton & Uno – Toy Business A To Z


The same perennial themes for toys have been resurfacing time after time for decades in the toy business. Unicorns is one of those perennial themes. After all, what is a unicorn but a super cutesy magical pony, and we all know how popular they are when turned into toys!


Upwords has been a very successful board game since it first came on the scene in the early 1980s. By adding a 3d dimension to a Scrabble-esque word game, renowned games inventor Elliot Rudel brought a whole new twist to playing word games.


Uncle Milton toys is perhaps best known for their original ant farm toy product which was a massive hit back in the 1950s and 1960s. The company is also credited with introducing the spud gun to the market. The company has had a long influence on the toy business, and in 2017 the assets were purchased by The Bridge Direct & Tech 4 Kids. One other notable thing to note is that co-founder E. Joseph Cossman later wrote a best-selling book entitled ‘How I Made $1,000,000 Via Mail Order & You Can Too’.


UNO is a best-selling classic card game, which has been on sale since the early 1970s and has sold more than 150 million copies worldwide. The game was invented by a Barber from Ohio called Merle Robbins, who fairly quickly sold his rights to International Games in return for $50,000 and a royalty on each game sold.

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T Is For Takara Tomy, Transformers, Target, Toys R Us, Twister & Teddy Bear


Takara Tomy (known outside of Japan primarily as Tomy) is a powerhouse toy and entertainment company. Takara & Tomy were once competitors before a merger in the noughties brought them together. Tomy dates back to 1924, and Takara was founded in 1955. The company has a long-term relationship with Hasbro, helping to bring many Hasbro brands to the Japanese market. The company is also responsible for bringing some huge toy brands to market, including Bakugan, Beyblade & Transformers. Both within Japan and internationally, Takara Tomy is one of the global powerhouses of the toy business.

TRANSFORMERS Transformers has been WOWing new generations of kids ever since 1984 when it first appeared. The franchise is both a massive toy brand, as well as an entertainment behemoth. The Transformers movies have been gigantic, with 2 movies in the series grossing over $1bn, and with total box office takings in excess of $4.8bn, making it the 13th highest grossing movie franchise of all time. The characters are inspiring, intriguing and have the hugely toyetic feature of transforming from a robotic character into a car, a truck or some other vehicle or item. Transformers is not too far away from enjoying a 40th anniversary celebration, and the signs are that this mega brand will still be entertaining kids in another 40 years’ time.


Target is one of the big 2 U.S. based mass market retailers who play a huge role in the toy business selling massive quantities of toys every year. Target began life back in the 1960s and has in the region of 1900 stores today. With total revenues (all product categories, not just toys!) in excess of $90 billion, Target’s importance to the toy business can’t be under-estimated. In recent years, has come to the fore as a major e-commerce player in the USA, ranking 60th most visited website in the USA at the time of writing this article.


Toys ‘R’ Us was the biggest and most iconic toy specialist retailer in the latter half of the 20th century after being founded in 1957. The company failed to keep up with the times in major markets like the USA & UK, and as such exited the numerous markets in 2018. There are still hundreds of TRU stores around the world though, with particular strength in Canada & Asia. Company mascot Geoffrey the Giraffe first appeared way back in the 1950s, and has fronted many an advertising campaign, with the most famous featuring the quote “There’s millions (of toys) says Geoffrey, all under one roof”.

TWISTER This classic active game reportedly sold more than 3m copies in the first year of launch back in 1966 and remains a top seller to this day. The game caused quite a stir when it was featured on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, when the host and Eva Gabor played the game in such a way that the game was labelled by some as “sex in a box”!


The Teddy Bear is one of the most iconic but yet generic toys out there on the market. Named after the 26th U.S. President Theodore ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt, the President was on a hunting trip when members of his party trapped a bear, beat it & tied it to a tree before inviting Roosevelt to kill it. Teddy deemed this to be unsportsmanlike and refused leading to highly prominent political cartoons to feature the bear and Teddy, and from this a bright spark decided to produce a soft toy based on an ursine character called ‘Teddy’s bear’, and the rest as they say is history.

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S Is For Stan (Lee), (FAO) Schwarz, Star Wars, Scrabble, Spin Master & Slinky


Has there been a single person who has had as much influence on the toy business as Stan Lee? Aside from Walt Disney & George Lucas perhaps there aren’t many obvious objections to declaring Stan Lee to be the single most influential person in the history of toys. Stan created (or co-created) Spider Man, the Hulk, Iron Man and The Fantastic Four, X-Men, Ant-Man, Black Panther, Dr. Strange and Black Widow. These comic book superheroes have yielded some of the best-selling toys of all time. Hats off to Stan Lee for his monumental impact on the world of family entertainment and toys especially.


This iconic toy store started out in Baltimore in 1862 before moving to New York City. The company was founded by a German immigrant whose name was Frederick August Otto Schwarz. The company expanded through the 1990s, building up a store portfolio of around 40 stores. The company then hit some hard times and there were multiple changes in ownership (including famous toy retailer Toys R Us). The FAO Schwarz brand is still operating today, with the flagship store now based in the Rockefeller building in Manhattan.


Star Wars was the first movie to create a merchandising and toy licensing phenomena. The depth and breadth of the movie and the broader Star Wars ‘universe’ have supported a massive cross category toy program ever since the first movie came out way back in 1977. The total franchise has thus far grossed more than $10bn USD at the global box office, with more than 300 million Star Wars action figures sold during the first cinematic trilogy wave from 1977 to 1985. Even when there were no movies for years, Star Wars still remained a top toy property throughout.


Scrabble is one of THE classic board games of all time, with more than 150 million games sold to date and with more than 1 million games selling each year still in North America. The game was originally invented by American architect Alfred Mosher Butts in 1938. The game was originally titled ‘Lexiko’ before Busts changed the name to ‘Criss Cross Words’. Butts struggled to make a commercial success of the game though and sold the rights to entrepreneur James Brunot. Scrabble’s timeless appeal lies in its softly educational topic and format, alongside the competition to win by laying down the highest scoring words.


Spin Master is now one of the world’s biggest toy companies with offices around the world and a full portfolio of brands including newer entertainment properties such as Paw Patrol, alongside an ever growing portfolio of classic toys & games – including Rubiks Cube and Meccano. Original started in 1994 by two childhood friends – Ronnen Harary and Anton Rabie, with 3rd co-founder Ben Varadi joining not that long after, the company has seen meteoric growth over time.


The Slinky was invented by a Naval Engineer in the USA – Richard T. James – way back in 1943. The Slinky has sold in excess of 300 million units, and even had a supporting role in the Toy Story movie franchise! Generations of children have wowed at Slinky moving down the stairs in a controlled way all on its own. The simplicity of play combined with the cleverness of the technical design make Slinky an iconic, classic and timeless toy!

Our Managing Director, Steve Reece, works with a limited number of companies as a non-executive director, independent board director and as a board adviser. If you are interested in finding out more about this, just click here:

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