An Interview with the President at VTech Electronics North America, William To

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As President of VTech Electronic since 2002,  William champions sales, marketing, product development, operations, human resources and information systems for both VTech and LeapFrog brands in North America. William has been employed by VTech since 1983 and is a board member of both the Toy Association in the US and the Canadian Toy Association.   

Richard:    VTech acquired its biggest competitor, Leapfrog, in 2016? Why did VTech make the acquisition and how is it going so far?

William:     LeapFrog is a strong educational toy brand, and its product range complements that of VTech. The acquisition allows VTech to offer the broadest portfolio of products that enhance the education and development of children around the world, and positions VTech for higher growth. LeapFrog’s industry-leading content development, education, product marketing, consumer insight and infrastructure teams have been retained at its office in California, where they continue to develop the curriculum-based educational content for which the company is renowned. Its back-end operations have been integrated into VTech’s global organization. Production has been consolidated, with the majority of LeapFrog products now being manufactured in-house.

Richard:     You are a toy industry veteran. What do you find to be the biggest change you have seen in our business since you entered it?

William:     The biggest change I saw over the last two decades is that children outgrow toys at a much younger age. With the fast advancement in electronic technology, there are so many other entertainment choices that compete for the dollars that moms have for their kids. As a result, we have seen significant age compression in the toy aisles.

Richard:     There have been a startling amount of brick and mortar store closings over the last year. Do you see this as a momentary disruption in the retail business or are we looking at a future that is primarily e-commerce based?

William:     Even though e-commerce is growing at a fast pace at the expense of brick and mortar, as a percentage of total sales, it is still relatively small. I think that there is always a place and need for brick and mortar stores and I do not believe that e-commerce will overtake store sales in the near future.

Richard:     VTech was a pioneer in technology based toys. What do you see as the future for technology based toys and the toy industry as a whole?

William:     One of VTech’s core competencies is our state-of-the-art technology and we were one of the early adaptors of incorporating electronics into toys. Over the last decade, we have seen a vast amount of electronic toys being introduced at a fast pace. I believe that this trend will continue and we will see more innovative toys that will entertain and benefit the development of children.

Richard:     You have retained VTech and LeapFrog as two separate lines. How do you define the difference between them?

William:     We’ve researched the perception of both brands with parents and have found that they already see a clear differentiation. Parents view the LeapFrog brand as a strong educational brand with depth of curriculum, meant for parents when they are prioritizing educational play for their children. Parents see the VTech brand as more tech-forward play, with learning that is more discovery-based.

Richard:     Is VTech making learning enriched toys or play enriched learning and is there really a difference?

William:     Based on the products developed, there certainly can be a difference. A product like our VTech Go!Go! Smart Wheels line could easily be defined as learning enriched toys. In a particular vehicle, you may learn certain letters, colors, etc. But, you are not learning the entire ABCs or a deeper curriculum. Play enriched learning is more education-forward and more appropriately defines the key LeapFrog learning products. For example, LeapStart is very learning-forward, with activities that deliver a specific curriculum in a way that keeps kids engaged.

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