I was really thrilled when Ron Weingartner dropped me an email to say my blog looked interesting. Ron is an experienced toy inventor and developer and co-writer of The Toy and Game inventors Handbook which is a book I had read several years ago. Ron also writes about the toy industry at http://toydreamers.blogspot.com/
Tara: Please could you tell me a little bit about yourself and how you got started in the toy industry?
Ron: My route to the toy business was circuitous and opportunistic. Although not a designer or engineer by training, I was always fortunate to have positions in and around creativity and product development. After graduate school, I entered a management program with Rand McNally in the cartographic area which developed the company’s new products. (So why didn’t I develop GPS for them?) A subsequent position developing new products for schools lead me to join Milton Bradley as Director of Educational Development. It actually evolved into a dual role with product managing the newly acquired E.S. Lowe game line including Yahtzee That dual role let me conceptualize about products from flashcards to bingo cages. Subsequently, an assignment to head Playskool R&D cast my future with mass market toy development and professional inventor relationships.
Tara: What are some of your favourite toys you have worked on and why?
Ron: It hard to single out favorite toys and games I’ve had some creative association with all these years. I was always part of a team within a major company and made contributions in various ways in the process of “find ’em, design ’em, produce ’em, market ’em and sell ’em”. But if choices were put into a timing context, some favorites begin to emerge: GOAL (Game Oriented Activities for Learning – MB educational program), Alphie the Robot (Playskool’s first electronic toy), Shark Attack (board game), Mr. Bucket (preschool game) and Bop-It (electronic handheld). That leads to my own current creation, Quad•doku, a fine playing word game for players tiring of Scrabble. I must add, these are just the tip of all the excellent opportunities inventors brought to Milton Bradley and Hasbro Games.
Tara: What is the best way for a new toy inventor to try and get their toy idea to Market?
Ron: If a new inventor hopes to license an idea to a major toy company, I am a believer of the initial connection being made through an agent. There are agents specializing in the industry who know all the zig zags needed to find a licensee for the novice licensor. (Hasbro, for example, offers a list of such agents to new inventors) In our litigious society, many companies have barriers against “unsolicited ideas”. On the other hand, if the inventor can target potential appropriate marketing partners and has a great representation of the idea and a thoughtful pitch, there is nothing to prevent “cold calls”. The corporate door just might be opened to the new inventor with a very convincing introduction.
Tara: What are the most common mistakes you see novice toy inventors make?
Ron: Here are several key mistakes a novice inventor often makes. One is to falsely conclude that their idea is totally new and never been done before. (Putting lipstick on a pig doesn’t change the fact that it’s a pig.) Best way to avoid this pitfall is to thoroughly know the industry, its products and its marketers. The internet makes it easier to searching for similar existing products complemented by endless scouring of retail shops for what is marketed now. If there is a sense the idea is patentable, there can be a self-search of prior art but it is more complete to do a professional review through an attorney familiar with the toy industry. Often inventors forget that a good idea can be weakened by a poor presentation and execution. A works-like, plays-like model that has gone through rigors of unbiased play testing can only validate a good idea. Ultimately, the potentially licensed idea has to leave the inventor’s womb and navigate through a development process independent of the creator. Ideally when this happens, the idea will elicit WOWs along that path and gain support of the licensee’s development and marketing staff. And lastly, a major mistake is to self-produce. Too often this approach is under capitalized and ignores the reality of reaching mass-market consumers. The inventor is left with and abundance of a replicated good idea that few potential customers know exists!
Tara: You co-wrote The Toy and Game Inventors Handbook with Richard Levy, which was published in 2003. Why did you write the book and do you have any plans to write any more?
Ron: The thought of authoring a book was triggered by the question “Are consumers interested in knowing where toys and games originate?” My product acquisition business relationship with Richard Levy, who is widely published, lead to agreement on the idea of co-authoring our first book, “Inside Santa’s Workshop”. This was followed by more of a “how-to” book, “The Toy and Game inventors Handbook”. Richard’s experiences as an external entrepreneur coupled with my corporate involvement with the internal product development process were key components in the publications. We shined a light on professional toy and game inventors yet tried to be helpful to “newbies” seeking advice about licensing ideas. At this point, any desires for literary extensions will be confined to my blog, www.toydreamers.com where there are no publisher deadlines and my topics can run far afield of my perceptions of the changing toy industry.
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