Mary Couzin is a person with, in her words, big dreams. Her dreams plus twenty years of passion and hard work have led to one of the toy industry’s most significant events, People of Play, also known as P.O.P.
As much drive as Mary has, not even she could overcome Covid (but I bet she tried). So, this year’s event will be the first to occur in person since 2019.
I wanted to know more about the past, present, and future of P.O.P., so I sat down with Mary Couzin to find out. Here is my interview:
Richard: Twenty years ago, you decided that the toy industry needed a closer connection with its inventor community and its consumers. You dream big, and your dreams have become a reality. Can you tell us about your journey with P.O.P.?
Mary: Thank you, Richard; I would love to talk about how I ended up in this wonderful industry.
I was working in real estate when a friend in the toy industry brought a few toys and games to play test. He talked about the inventors, and I was hooked.
I thought that I was smart and creative. After all, I have an MBA, I have kids, I can invent toys and games. I laugh, looking back now. Having an MBA doesn’t help one bit. it was Ignorance and persistence that got me into the industry.
I had a few successes as an inventor and loved helping other inventors. It was a trip to Essen, Germany, however, that inspired me to start the Chicago Toy & Game Fair. I believe it was seeing all of the families playing together that struck that spark that set me on a path to creating one of America’s major toy industry events, P.O.P. (People of Play).
Richard: Why did you change the name of the event from Chicago Toy & Game Week to P.O.P.?
Mary: P.O.P. attracts people form 25 countries so we were much bigger than any one city. So, encouraged by our Executive Committee, we knew it was time to change our name.
We’ve always been about the people and the stories behind the product, so People of Play, POP, was perfect and available! It also was an ideal fit for an idea we developed to create the industry’s most extensive searchable database. by skill, expertise, role, location, and more.
Even the History Channel signed up to search the database for experts for their new show, The Toys that Built America. If you want a PR agency specializing in launches or inventors with specific skills, search for it. Easy!
Richard: This will be your first in-person event since 2019. Fill us in on the different events that attendees can experience. When and where will each event take place?
Mary: We have completely reimagined all the events! New venues and we split out the Inventor and Innovation events from the consumer-facing Fair. The inventor events will travel to new host companies in different cities each fall. This year it is Radio Flyer. Next year, maybe LA! We already have companies placing ‘dibs’ for the next four years! Super exciting!
Richard: I understand that you will have some toy industry legends in attendance. Can you tell us who they are?
Mary: Yes! We have a trio of Legends being honored for the TAGIEs The Hassenfeld and Tomiyama families have been friends through 3 generations. Their companies were started a year apart over 100 years ago in 1920s.
Alan Hassenfeld and Kantaro Tomiyama, both 3rd generations, will share their stories and toast one another. In addition, we are honoring Leslie Scott, inventor of Jenga, and 40 other games. She has passed her company on to her daughter.
Ben Varadi is giving the keynote this year. As you know, Spin Master was founded by three friends. So this year’s TAGIES are about how important friends and family are in the toy industry to us. We are part of a very special industry.
Richard: One of your creations is the TAGie Awards, which celebrate the inventor community. What can we expect from this year’s ceremony?
Mary: We began the TAGIE Awards to celebrate inventors who, at that time, 15 years ago, were not generally recognized or known by anyone. Now that has changed, and we also recognize PR, marketing, retailers, suppliers, designers – anyone who touches the product on its journey and does so innovatively.
Richard: A central theme for this year’s TAGie awards is the role of the family in the toy industry. Please tell us about this unique aspect of the toy industry and how you will explore the theme.
Mary: So many of our companies are multi-generational. I even have a series with aNbmedia. We’ve highlighted 30 families already, and more to come!
Richard: One of your key events is the Young Inventor Challenge. I understand that an 8-year-old girl winner from last year has a hit game on the market. How exciting for her and how aspirational for other children. What is involved if a child wants to enter the contest?
Mary: Cooper Dean invented Chicken Poo Bingo, and Goliath Games licensed it. It is a huge success this year! We have many resources for kids if they wish to get involved – from a Design Guide to videos and more. We are partnering with ASTRA this coming year, and participating store owners will mentor kids wishing to participate. The YIC is growing. www.chitag.com/yic
Richard: How can people learn more about P.O.P. and its events?
Mary: We hope your readers will join us. To learn more they can click on any of the links listed below.