5 Key steps for starting a toy business

Header_Checklist for Start Ups in the toy business

There are several key steps in making a successful start-up toy company. The checklist below helps all movers and shakers planning to start or in the middle of starting a toy company:

1. Research

People wanting to get into the toy business often ask what they should research before they start…and the answer is everything! A really robust research phase is so important. You could argue that many innovators just invented something new or cool, or reworked an existing idea, but you can’t count on hitting the mark with that approach. How can it hurt to understand the retail market place, the current trends, what kids are doing/how they spend their time etc?

2. Feedback and sense check

One fact is that that the vast majority of new product inventors/wannabee toy companies that have already developed a product missed something fundamental about kids, about the toy business or retail etc. Most of new products from toy industry outsiders are obviously flawed in some way which could easily have been addressed if feedback had been obtained before they developed the product!

The most successful toy people are great at getting feedback or sense checking their ideas and product concepts before investing their money in a product. 

3. Innovation and origination

There are many ways to develop ideas and concepts: True originality vs tweaking the formula.

If you are trying to invent something nobody has ever seen anything like before, the chances are you are not inventing something likely to be commercially successful. There are certain formulae for concepts, themes, play patterns etc. The true creatives out there may disagree, but a new twist on an established formula is much more likely to succeed.

• Fun factor: In the end toys are supposed to be fun. Good new concepts enhance the fun factor. Seems like an obvious point, but there are hundreds of very clever product concepts which do something beneficial or clever, but are not fun. Children are driven by simpler need states than adults. The easiest way to make something appeal to kids is to make it fun!

• In built marketing concept: Often the most successful concepts have an in-built marketing mechanism or/word of mouth driver.

4. Sell, sell, sell

Often new toy companies get really perplexed by all the details of the toy business i.e. manufacturing, safety standards etc. The reality is none does matter if you don’t ever sell any product. Everything relies upon the sales process, and while you need to do enough work to have a viable product concept, the reality is that even the biggest toy companies do not fully develop and manufacture products until they have sold it. There are two realities of the sales process in the toy business:

• Successful companies get highly skilled and effective at selling based on a prototype or mock up.  

• Selling is 1% inspiration and 99% grind. It takes constant grinding effort to achieve any sales in the toy business. The annual selling cycle takes an age, and the progress made per cycle is limited, so to succeed in toys you need to be able to grind away day after day, year after year. If your company doesn’t do that you are very unlikely to succeed. There are very few short cuts, and no magic tricks. Even if you use a distributor model you still need to first recruit the distributors and then sell to them… and they see hundreds or even thousands of products per year.

Realistic timelines are important. Sorry for disappointing all those companies who expect everything to happen in a few months or even just one year – it won’t! The minimum time to establish a new toy company in one market would be ca 3 years, even with money to invest & hiring toy industry insiders. If you are an outsider with no experience, why would it be any quicker…?
Expect a 3-5 year journey to get anywhere in the toy business!

5. Nurture & Deliver!

The toy industry is a relatively small industry. Those companies who think they can burn and pillage in order to make a quick buck don’t tend to last very long. You will need to keep selling to the same customers year after year, so your success is completely tied to their success. Don’t for one second make the mistake of thinking therefore that you should give them everything they ask for, but you do need to do enough to ensure they invite you back to pitch your product range for the next selling cycle!

Broader relationships are really important in the toy industry, because you see the same faces year after year, and as you go around each country in the world, there are only so many options for distribution partners or retail in each market. Burning bridges therefore is a silly thing to do!

Focus on the key factor for success

There are of course other factors or areas which are important when seeking to establish a start-up toy company, but these 5 factors are key. The most important factor to focus on is: Sell, Sell, Sell! Since nothing much happens until you persuade someone to buy from you. Even those successful companies developing really cool ‘must have’ products tend to be just as effective at selling as they are at developing the next big thing.

Already subscribed to our newsletter?

Expert knowledge, the newest trends and latest developments of the industry. Stay well-informed with the monthly visitor newsletter of Spielwarenmesse.