Breaking into the US market is no easy task. UK toy company, Wow! Stuff, has made it happen in a big way. I asked their Managing Director, Richard North, to tell us how they did it. Wow! Stuff sees their mission as creating blockbuster toys that have “Wow! factor.” Among the company’s well-known “wow” items are Dave the Funky Shoulder Monkey, Air Swimmers radio controlled helium-filled balloons, and My Keepon, the little, yellow, interactive robotic toy born from autism research and Internet fame.
Recognized for its innovation and growth strategy with a UK National Business Award and HSBC’s prestigious Business Thinking award, Wow! Stuff is one of the fastest growing privately owned British companies with offices in England, Hong Kong, and the U.S. For more information, please visit www.wowstuff.co.uk.
Wow! Stuff got recognized in the UK by being very different from established toy vendors. I guess that because our management team doesn't come from the toy industry, we had no prior knowledge on 'how things are done'. This had its benefits, but also its negatives. The plus side was that we weren't caged into
a particular, and standard, model of doing business. We just thought of a product, a unique way to market it online and offline and just went ahead, ignoring the naysayers along the way – and there were many of those. The negatives were that frequently we got nowhere. And that we were seen as a bit strange. However, persistence paid off.
Five years later, sales in the UK had doubled each year and we had won some really prestigious awards from HSBC, Sunday Times and the National Business Awards for Innovation. This also helped us to get noticed on an international stage and, following an introduction from a friend, we met with Toys“R”Us U.S. They 'got' what we were doing immediately and they were fantastically supportive of our inventions and newness. At Wow! Stuff, our ethos is ‘wow’ or nothing. We’ve built a strategy based on bringing our ‘wow’ products to life in a retail environment using custom video displays and demonstration artists who have graduated from our Demonstration Academy (which now deploys hundreds of demonstration artists across hundreds of retail stores). Our retail partners are committed to working with us to deliver this retail theater.
We’re still in the very early days of being in the U.S., and so we can't take anything for granted. We launch My Keepon very soon and have just launched Air Swimmers Extreme. The Air Swimmers have received a record 3.6m views on YouTube in less than 24 days. My Keepon, which was born from autism research and YouTube fame, has a very engaged built-in fan base, so we expect it to be received very well and the brand's extensions for 2012 are looking fantastic. Both items have made the Toys“R”Us ‘Fabulous 15’ hot list of toys for this holiday season, which is a tremendous honor for us. We certainly haven't 'made it' in America yet. But, I think we are lucky being in a sea of toy manufacturing Goliaths at a time that is ripe for innovation and we think our 2012 releases are as groundbreaking as 2011's.
Here are some mantras that have helped us in the U.S. so far:
1) Dare to do things differently
2) Persistence pays off
3) Partnerships are important
4) Don’t take yourself too seriously. We are in the business of making toys!