Kenji Yoshinari is zulily’s resident Toy Expert. One of his jobs is picking which toys are going to be great gifts for the holidays. How does someone become a toy expert and what goes into deciding which toys make the cut . Let's find out:
I am interested in your journey to becoming a toy expert. Can you tell us a bit about how you came to be the resident toy expert at zulily? Was that always your plan?
I always knew, deep down, that the toy industry was the perfect fit for me. After a few years working in the banking, consulting, and educational space, I finally made the leap into the world of toys about 8 years ago. I was fortunate to start off my toy career working for Uglydoll where I learned a great deal about the specialty channel through sales and marketing. Then, I became a product marketing manager at Techno Source, coming up with original toy concepts, developing licensed lines, and marketing award-winning brands in various categories such as electronic toys and board games.
After my wife and I moved to Seattle from NYC a few years ago, I ran my own toy blog and recommendation site before joining zulily as a toy buyer. At zulily, I really love working with both top-tier and startup toy companies. My goal is to help introduce these innovative brands to zulily’s millions of moms, who come to the site every day to discover fun, unique, and educational toys for their children.
What qualities do you look for in a toy when deciding on what will be a breakout toy?
When looking at a new brand or breakout toy specifically I always ask the following questions: Is it on trend? How does it solve a problem? Additionally, does it solve this problem through an innovative feature or use of break-through technology?
Secondly, I always ask does this toy have High Play Value? I love toys that are easy to learn, playable for all ages, but take a lifetime to master.
If a new toy hits on most or all of these points, it’s sure to resonate with zulily’s daily assortment of new, unexpected product and therefore be a hit with our Mom!
I am sure you look at a lot of toys in making your decisions. Can you tell us about any toys you reviewed that you ended up keeping for yourself?
Makey Makey: An innovative invention kit where you’re only limited by your imagination…it’s really the perfect toy for all ages, since it’s a simple device that has millions of ways to use it.
K’NEX K-Force: K’NEX is an iconic, Made in America brand that is known for its classic building kits. Their new K-Force line bridges the two exciting categories of building & blasters and offers kids a whole new way to learn and play.
Do you see any trends coming that we might not yet know about?
As technology continues to drive most innovation in the toy space, we’re seeing some amazing “next-gen” toys that are revolutionizing toy categories.
On the topic of technology, Virtual Reality is really on the cusp of becoming huge in the toy space, right in alignment with the launch of several new products, movies and TV shows that are all catering to this trend. This is especially true with the launch of Oculus Rift in 2016. Virtual Reality gear is going to quickly become one of the hottest consumer electronics products. As toys often follow tech trends, I believe we’ll see a lot more toy lines that utilize this technology directly, or offer similar toy-etic experiences, for younger consumers.
When you were growing up did you have any really memorable toys? Also, what toy do you have on your desk (if any)?
Every Christmas as a kid, my relatives in Japan would send me the coolest toys that didn’t exist in the United States yet. So, the characters in my pretend battles would generally involve Japanese heroes like Ultra-Man and Bandai super-robots, alongside my Transformers, He-Man and G.I. Joes figures.
These days, I’m still into Nerf Guns (I actually have a few at my desk) and the latest RC drones that I need to test with my colleagues. At zulily, we work in a fast-paced, creative and fun environment, which is a winning combination when testing new toys. We want to make sure our Mom can shop not only the classic toys she loved as a kid, but also discover a collection of emerging, unique new toys – at the very best prices.