Your career in the toy industry began at Toys “R” Us Canada in 1990. What initially attracted you to the industry?
I started working in one of the stores after I graduated from university. Toys “R” Us was just opening a new store in my area and I needed a job. That’s how it all started some 30 years ago. I worked in the store for two years before moving into a position in the office. I worked in logistics and then ultimately as a buyer. The toy business is fun — and challenging. It doesn’t matter what side of the desk you sit on in this industry, there are different challenges. It has kept my interest and kept me challenged throughout my career.
You jumped to Funrise as sales director in 2007. How has Funrise evolved since your early days with the company?
It’s evolved by us taking on different brands and growth strategies. We’ve developed a lot of new and innovative products — it’s grown year after year. I was a one-person show when I started with Funrise in Canada — for eight years, it was just me working in my house. In 2015, we decided in order to grow this market, we needed to open a domestic facility and have a domestic warehouse. We opened that successfully and grew the team to six people.
When it comes to marketing at Funrise, we’ve focused on a digital-first approach and developing relationships with influencers to serve as brand ambassadors. We’ve moved into the collectibles market in recent years with our Gla’more and Bright Fairy Friends (BFF) Mermaids lines. We watch the trends in the market and adapt accordingly.
You mentioned the move into the collectibles market. Tell us about the Gla’more and Bright Fairy Friends (BFF) lines of collectable toys.
Collectibles and the unboxing craze have been huge for years. Funrise set out to create a product within this category while incorporating some innovation. Our Gla’more dolls are launching this fall and we recently launched Series Three of our Bright Fairy Friends — the Mermaid series. They are a series of fairy dolls that come in a little jar with lights that twinkle — those lights immediately get the consumer’s attention on the shelf because the lights are motion-activated and twinkle as people walk past the dolls. When the child opens the jar, there’s a cute fairy doll with bright hair and wings. The dolls also come with a stand, a hairbrush, and a BFF barrette that separates so there’s a barrette for both the doll and the child. Each doll comes with a little jar of fairy dust because all fairies have fairy dust, of course. The mermaid series dolls have a mermaid tail and come with a sponge that you dip in ice-cold water and then dab the sponge onto the wings of the doll to change their colour. The dolls can be posed on the stand or used in play. The jars with the twinkle lights can be used as nightlights.
We wanted to offer a product with multiple play patterns and to make the packaging part of the toy so it stands out on the shelf and grabs attention at the store level. Sales have shown we were successful in that.
What drives the demand for collectable toys these days?
The demand is not only for the collectability aspect, it’s also in the way a series is released. There’s always one that consumers are going to chase and they know they have only a certain window of time to collect a series. Once it’s gone, it’s gone, and you move on to the next series. We try to identify the one item in a series that might be the most popular, but what we think may not be what the five-, six-, or seven-year-old thinks. We might like the one with the purple hair but in reality, it may be the one with the pink hair that’s a hit. The packaging is blind — no one knows which doll they’re getting until they take it home and unbox it. If there’s a specific doll they want, they’ll go back until they find it.
What advice can you share with individuals wanting to work in the toy industry today?
I think it’s a great career no matter what side of the desk you’re on, whether you’re a buyer or a vendor.
In my 30-plus years in the industry, I’ve seen a number of next-greatest things — some keep going, some leave, and some come back to the market. Things sometimes come back to the market after 10 years and just seem to recycle themselves. But, collectability has been going strong for five or six years.
It’s an ever-changing market so you must be strong. What a vendor suspects might be the next greatest thing might not be what the buyer thinks. You have to be able to adapt and change on the fly because you never know what the next hot toy will be.
Visit the Funrise website to learn more about its brands, including the much-loved Gazillion Bubbles line of toys.