Tag Archives: toy innovation

I Is For Innovation & Inventors – A To Z Of The Toy Business

I Is For Innovation  & Inventors – A To Z of The Toy Business

INNOVATION

If you look back at old toy catalogues or watch old toy adverts on YouTube, there is an awful lot of similarities between today’s toys and the toys of yesteryear. So much so in fact, that some people in the toy business focus more on sales and marketing spend than they do on innovation and genuinely trying to find something that hasn’t been done before.

What innovation does though is to create more compelling play experiences, and incremental sales opportunities.

Thinking about how innovation applies to the toy business, the most obvious example appears to be Furby. Your very own electronic furry pal, capable of interacting with children and of seemingly coming to life. But innovation is not always about whizzy technology.

An area of the toy business which was once unfashionable for major companies but which now drives the industry overall is pocket money and collectable toys. Before the global financial crisis of the late noughties, major toy companies tended to pooh-pooh selling toys at such low-price points, as it is so much harder to justify product development and marketing against lower priced products…that is unless the lower priced products sell in ridiculous quantities, which is what has been happening for some time now in this category. As such, the ability to deliver great play based on a much more limited spec has led to wave after wave of innovation from Shopkins through to L.O.L. Surprise!

 

INVENTORS

We can’t discuss innovation in the toy & game business without also talking about the mighty role of Inventors in our industry. Those outside the toy business don’t realise the critical role that independent inventors play. The fact that major toy & game companies have teams of Inventor Liaison staff shows just how important external concepts & ideas are in terms of feeding the everlasting churn of product development. With more than two thirds of toys being new on shelf each year, there is a huge volume of concepts needed. Inventing though isn’t a career path for the light-hearted, with many great concepts not finding their way to market, and royalty payments coming a long time after the original work was done by the inventors. We estimate though that there are around 100-200 full time toy & game inventors globally making a full time living from creating toy & game concepts…and after all there are certainly worse ways to earn a living!

 

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Have you listened to our Playing At Business podcast? We talk about selling toys & games, interview successful people from across the toy business & we look at key trends in the toy & game business: https://playingatbusiness.libsyn.com/

Where Is The Innovation In Toys?

I recently posted on ‘What the Toy business can teach you about innovation’. What is interesting after coming back from the International Toy-fair in Nuremberg, were comments I heard that there wasn’t much innovation on show…

Now we all have our own perspectives and even in the toy business tend to look to the areas we know most about. If you are exhibiting, you won’t get much chance to wander the halls and if you do you will likely be looking at your direct competitors.

Of course with that narrow lens you and your competitors are likely seeing the same inventors, working with similar suppliers, manufacturing in similar factories. So it is no big surprise that their perception is there is not much innovation. It is the same for pretty much any business.

Even when I was at Hasbro, I always made a point of wandering the halls for inspiration. You need to dig, different ways materials are being used, formed, printed. Interesting pack structures, novel electronic widgets. They are all there but they often don’t shout out. All the guys in the costume hall probably think there isn’t much innovation but to my eyes, there was plenty of little gems I could use in a new way on the toys and game areas I am currently working on, and plenty of innovations I could bring to the world of dress up! ( in the works! ). The hobby hall always amazes me with the level of detail and precision on display. Each hall has it’s own little treasures if you look hard enough.

It’s a very simple reason many businesses don’t innovate. They don’t look out side of their day to day business. You MUST THINK differently to innovate, you MUST DO things differently and you MUST be prepared to walk out of the safe world you know all about into a world where you can feel exposed. It’s no different to school. We all left junior school where we were top dog and into the world of senior school. We were the smallest, everything was different, but slowly we learnt new things, met new people and grew as a person. Imagine if we had stayed at Junior school and never moved on!

For me once you embrace that simple truth you can start to innovate. It is a journey of course. There will be many people telling you it isn’t a good idea. Your sales team might react negatively to finding new partners, your manufacturing team might react badly to new processes and systems. But take them on that journey to the world outside of the day to day and I am sure they will see the light.

I am working with a great European games company right now. We are exploring a range of really cool technology, materials and ideas that I am sure will make a big impact to their bottom line in the years to come. When I mentioned their name to others at the fair there was plenty of praise for their innovation strategy!

Thanks for reading, I post on design, design culture, play thinking and innovation. Follow me on Twitter: @richheayes

 

Richard Heayes is founder of Heayes Design, a design and invention consultancy
with a playful spirit, helping the Play business innovate.
As a Designer & Design Director at Hasbro for over eighteen years Richard led creative
product development on dozens of brands from Monopoly, Scrabble, MB, Trivial Pursuit,
PlayDoh to name a few. He brings an insight and passion for blending design vision
with business insight to create breakthrough products that deliver.