The Playground Podcast
By Chris Byrne
As they say, if it concerns toys and play, we’ll be kicking it around in The Playground.
The Playground PodcastMay 10, 2021
Towards More Effective Communication: Matt Abrahams
Listen in on this great conversation as Chris talks to Matt Abrahams, author of Think Faster, Talk Smarter. Abrahams discusses the book and how people can be more effective communicators, whether as managers, colleagues...or pitching a product.
Matt Abrahams is a leading expert in communication with decades of experience as an educator, author, podcast host, and coach. He teaches at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, and he has his own podcast Think Fast, Talk Smart: The Podcast.
Enjoy this lively conversation.
Remembering Richard Gottlieb
Richard Gottlieb's death on October 26 from ALS was a blow for the people who knew and loved him, the toy industry, and, of course, this podcast.
In this short segment, Chris remembers and honors Richard and all his contributions, his amazing spirit and kindness, and much more.
We also talk a bit about continuing this show both to serve the industry and to honor Richard's memory.
John Tong: Hong Kong, Opportunities and the Future
Chris talks to John Tong, chairman of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council Toys Advisory committee. (Just one element of his diverse career.) They talk about Toy Fairs, opportunities in Hong Kong and how Hong Kong is coming back as a business center and gateway to Asia coming out of the pandemic.
The conversation was recorded at New York Toy Fair, and Richard and Chris divided and conquered to see as much of the show as possible...and find new guests for the rest of the season.
A Change in the Era: A Chat with Litzky PR
Richard and Chris talk with Michele Litzky and Josslynne Welch about the history of Litzky Public Relations, the evolution of PR over the past quarter century, and the transition as Josslynne takes over the reins of the company.
It's a great conversation about toy industry history, succession planning, and much more. Listen in as we talk to two major players in the toy industry.
(Apologies for the cellphone going off. We didn't want to edit that out. Just pretend you're at a Broadway theater and annoyed. That's what Chris would do.)
Mary Couzin: Creating Community in the Toy Biz
It's an energetic conversation, and you'll see why from her passion for play and the business to all she does why she's joining the Toy Industry Hall of Fame this year.
Listen in...and get as excited as we are about Mary and her work.
Eric Poses: 25 Years of Winning
Chris talked with Eric Poses of All Things Equal Games about the 25th Anniversary of Leading Questions and his repeat of the cross-country car trip he did to launch the game in 1997. We caught up with him just as he was leaving. for 22 cities, with a stop at New York Toy Fair.
Gaming the Industry: Elan Lee of Exploding Kittens
Richard and Chris talk with game inventor Elan Lee about his hugely successful game Exploding Kittens, developing great games, and his new line of Kitten Games, which Elan developed with his 4-year-old daughter.
This high-energy conversation will have you thinking about what makes a good game in the current market. Elan is also hugely entertaining and thoughtful about the role of games in our lives.
Innovation & The Playful Life: Brendan Boyle
Serial inventor, professor, inveterate innovator and advocate of play Brendan Boyle of Fuse London joins us for a lively and wide-ranging conversation.
From his early career to his current gig with Fuse, Brendan has been a joyful advocate of play for kids, for organizations and for enhancing life overall.
Join us for a super fun episode.
Toy Zone: Alex Prieto, Director of Fun on The Company, The Future of Play...And More
Chris and Richard talk to Alex Prieto, who calls himself director of fun for Toy. Zone. Of course, he does much more than that. Listen in as the wide-ranging conversation covers current issues, running a global company, AI, and what may be ahead for this company as we come out of the pandemic.
Toy Zone defines itself as a 360° Toy & Entertainment Agency… we truly cover all areas of creative, design, development and sourcing a Toy Company or Entertaiment Brand needs to bring their products or IP to market. In just 4 years Toy Zone has grown from 3 including Alex, to a team of 35 creative minds, app game developers, product engineering, 3D animators, motion graphics and marketing specialists. Check them out here.
Tik Tok, Innovation, and a Millennial-run Company: Jessica Kalichman of WowWee
Chris and Richard, with Richard on the keys, have a conversation with Jessica Kalichman, director of marketing for WowWee about her career, the company's use of Tik Tok both to market and create community. They talk about why it works, what social media reveals, how a company run by Milliennials is different, and how engaging consumers with the real folks behind the scenes at a toy company (and behind some very popular toys) has been a winning strategy.
AI, Invention & More Dan Klitsner, Inventor of Bop-It
Join Richard (on the keys) and Chris as they talk with inventor Dan Klitsner, creator of Bop-It about his newest puzzle Free Fall from ThinkFun. They talk about this new innovation, the challenges and rewards of inventing and delve into the topic of AI and what it might mean for creatives and everyone in the toy business. You wont' want to miss this lively conversation.
Madame Alexander Turns 100! A Chat with David Morgenstern
We kick of season five of The Playground Podcast with Madame Alexander's VP of sales, David Morgenstern. Richard, Chris, and guest host Chris Bensch from The Strong Museum of Play chat about this history, the legend, and what's new for the next chapter in the life of this iconic brand.
Report from Hong Kong: Direct from the Toys & Games Fair
Chris was back in Hong Kong for the 49th annual Toys & Games Fair… for the first time since 2020.
Listen to what’s going on at the Fair—and hear the folks who are making the most of this transitional edition.
The Playground is sponsored by Global Toy Experts, The Toy Guy, Beacon Media Group and the Hong Kong Trade Development Council.
Getting Ready for Nuremberg: Christian Ulrich of Spielwarenmesse
Richard and Chris talk to Christian Ulrich from Spielwarenmesse about the upcoming Nuremberg Show. What’s new, what to expect, and the general excitement of gathering once again at the world’s largest Toy Fair.
2022 In Review: Our 4th Annual Discussion
Richard and Chris talk with John Baulch from Toy World UK and James Zahn from The Toy Book for our 4th Annual year-end conversation. From inventory levels to new challenges, to the potential for the revitalized Toys "R" Us, to, of course, the issue of Toy Fairs, the panel looks back at 2022 and ahead to 2023 and beyond.
Slaying Social Media: Josh Loerzel & Sky Castle Toys
Richard and Chris talk to Josh Loerzel of Sky Castle Toys about his career and his ongoing success in using social media to create hits. From his early days at Zing where he made a monster hit out of Stikbot, Josh talks about how he did it and the three important elements of building a social media strategy. Moreover, how has social media changed the landscape for the trade? Josh will clue you in.
100 Years of Fun: Jim & Donna Pressman on Their New Book
Richard and Chris talk with Jim and Donna Pressman about their new book, A Century of American Toys & Games: The Story of Pressman. They talk about the company's colorful history over the past century. It was a labor of love, and it's an important book for anyone who loves toys...the process all started with an elephant.
After you listen, you'll want to buy the book. It makes a great holiday gift for anyone who loves toys. Find it at Amazon!
Price Protection in a Competitive Environment: Ron Solomon of Mapptrap
Richard and Chris talk to Ron Solomon, creator and CEO of MAPPTrap, an online software service that allows manufacturers to monitor compliance with minimum advertised pricing policies across all distribution channels (even ones they may not know about.) They discuss how it works, why it's important, and why the "race to the bottom" on pricing hurts manufacturers and retailers.
It's an important conversation that can help everyone in the merchandising area and an intriguing look at how Solomon and his team have effectively countered price cutting...and where everyone wins.
Isaac Larian: The Interview. Building a Life and a Business with a Passion for Play
Richard and Chris talk to Isaac Larian, founder and CEO of MGA. From his earliest days to having unprecedented success in the industry, Isaac talks about his vision, how he's built the company, worked with his team, and what the toy industry means to him. In this exclusive conversation, Isaac shares what it takes to make it in the toy industry, how it's a non-stop challenge, and why it's actually good to be paranoid. (It's a business strategy that drives non-stop innovation.)
ASTRA: Toy Boats and the State of Specialty
Richard and Chris talk to Sue Warfield, president of ASTRA and board members Tom Rushton and Cassidy Smith about ASTRA's Toy Boat next February. Find out why this actually is a great opportunity to cost-effectively reach the specialty trade. Also, they talk about the state of specialty, particularly coming out of COVID, what specialty means today and the terrific opportunities for both retailers and manufacturers.
More than a Blip: Building a Business on Classic Play
Richard and Chris talk to Bill Nichols and Peter Cmiel co-presidents of Blip Toys about their careers, their strategies, the benefits and challenges of just being a "Blip" on the radar of the toy industry (despite major successes) and how they manage to keep the company lean, creative, and successful. Plus, they chat about Chris's favorite active play toy of 2022.
Update on Toy Fairs: Kim Carcone of the Toy Association
Richard and Chris have a lively chat with Kim Carcone, EVP of the Toy Association about the current state of Toy Fair, the upcoming Dallas show, what's ahead for 2023, and new initiatives to make the show more useful and relevant than ever.
Validating STEM & STEAM: A Chat with The Good Play Guide
Amanda Gummer and Frances Cain from The Good Play Guide talk with Richard and Chris about their scientifically based accreditation program for evaluating toys for their potential to support STEM and STEAM learning. Beyond marketing buzzwords, this insightful conversation talks about the value of play, its role in learning...and why fun is an essential element of any toy that they validate.
With sound methodology and a dedication to children, they talk about what this can mean to parents, children, and manufacturers, including a new storefront on Amazon.com that will help consumers find toys that are appropriate for their kids.
Didier Pietri, CEO of Luki Lab & Strottman
Chris and Richard talk to Didier Pietri about how he built a toy business from a business-to-business operation, their entry into the market, how they’ve developed unique products, and marketing. From creating their own animation studio, to managing current supply chain issues, to the decision to sell exclusively direct-to-consumer; Pietri talks about navigating the market…and answers the question he always gets: “You want to start a toy company. Are you insane?”
Showcase Comes to the U.S.: Samir Kulkarni, CEO
After a successful 10-store pilot, the Canadian trend retailer Showcase is coming to the U.S., and that is big news for the toy industry. Richard and Chris talk to the retailer's CEO Samir Kulkarni about the store, their growth, their U.S. strategy and the unique and powerful combination of high tech systems and a deep understanding of trends to create a retail destination in malls across the U.S. Twenty-seven stores are planned for 2022 alone, with more to come.
It's a dynamic conversation that you won't want to miss.
Jeffrey Breslow: A Gamemaker's Life
Richard and Chris talk with Toy Industry Hall of Fame designer Jeffrey Breslow about his career, his time with Marvin Glass and associates, the inspirations and tragedies that shaped his career. "Brez," as he's known, entered the toy industry when he was hired by Glass on the spot and spent the next 41 years developing games, and ultimately leading the company.
The conversation covers all that and more, as well as advice for young toy designers looking to enter the business. Breslow's book telling the full story A Gamemaker's Life will be out in August, and The Playground Podcast has an exclusive first look. Listen in!
Private Label, New Materials Inside Boley
Richard and Chris talk with Chad Gharring of Boley about the dramatic rise of the company as a private label, brand building company and as an innovator in sustainability--and increasingly hot and important topic in the toy industry. They also talk about the advantages of being a Chinese/American hybrid company. You'll want to know more about this big and competitive company that, till now, has largely flown under the radar.
Action Face CEO Kenny Davis on a New, Interactive Virtual and Real World Platform
Richard and Chris talk to Kenny Davis, CEO of the start-up Action Face about the new platform that allows users to create avatars, action figures and much more using advanced scanning technology, right on the phone. They discuss the evolution of the concept, Kenny's background, and how managers can maximize the new virtual world of work.
Aaron Muderick of the Toy Association on Toy Fair & More
Richard and Chris talk with Aaron Muderick, executive chairman of the Toy Association, about Toy Fair in New York in 2023, Dallas in 2022, and related issues. They also talk about the Association's efforts on lobbying and challenges and opportunities for the industry as it moves into a new era. Muderick's thoughtful and insightful comments make this a must-hear interview for this dynamic industry.
In The Endcap, Chris and Richard talk about a recent survey about price increases in the toy industry and what that may mean for the rest of the year ahead.
Building a Global Brand: Star Stable Gallops Into the Toy World
CEO of Star Stable Entertainment Johan Sjöberg calls his game "World of Warcraft...for girls." The hugely successful game is now making its move into toys under a licensing agreement with Just Play. In this episode, Richard and Chris talk with Sjöberg about the development of the brand, how they engage with kids and the expansion onto iOS and Android platforms as well as the strategy that has made the game a hit in more than 180 countries.
In The Endcap, Chris and Richard have a serious talk about animated characters...and have a bit of fun as well.
Toy Industry History: Barry Schwartz on 50 Years of Making Hits
Richard and Chris talk to Barry Schwartz of Schwartz PR about his incredible career. From his start as a kid in vaudeville, Barry moved into PR (another kind of showbiz, he notes) and was the creative and PR force behind many hits of the mid-20th Century. From introducing LEGO and the Othello game to the United States, to launching Hello Kitty in America to the recent TOTY winner Create-A-Castle, Barry shares stories of how this happened and how the world of PR has evolved over nearly half a century. This is must-listen industry history, direct from someone who lived it and created it.
In The Endcap, Chris and Richard talk about the potential demise of The Star Ferry in Hong Kong. It's a lighthearted, but heartfelt, conversation about a fixture of Hong Kong, which may be going away.
From Fad to Brand: Rainbow Loom 10 Years In
Richard and Chris talk to Choon Ng, inventor of the Rainbow Loom and new CEO Chris Tidwell about the history of this phenomenon, how the company has grown, strategies for keeping kids engaged and the always-present challenge of fighting infringements and knock-offs. It's a great story, and Choon's management philosophy: "I want to have fun." is an inspiration for everyone.
In The Endcap Chris and Richard talk about advertising to children. Though it comes under a lot of fire from consumer groups, there are benefits in teaching kids to be intelligent consumers in a consumer society. It's a lighthearted conversation with some memories of comic book purchases and much more.
What Disney's Current Situation Teaches Managers: Eric Pliner of YSC Consulting
In this important and insightful episode, Richard and Chris talk with Eric Pliner, CEO of YSC Consulting about what today's managers can learn from the current political, employee and public image crisis at Disney. Pliner's insights on the changing nature of ethics and employment are essential for anyone who wants to function effectively in the contemporary market. Pliner previously appeared on The Playground Podcast to talk about DEI programs. Now, he takes all of that information to the next level to help managers understand what's coming...and be prepared.
In The Endcap, Chris and Richard have some fun with a recent article posted on Global Toy News about the Top Retro Toys in the U.S. It's a lighthearted conversation in this serious time, and it reminds us of the joy of play.
Next Gen Genius: Yanofsky & Wiseman of WowWee
Richard and Chris talk to Andrew Yanofsky and Syndey Wiseman of WowWee, both second generation toy people. More than just a legacy, however, these dynamic professionals are at the forefront of product development, research, consumer knowledge and leveraging new media platforms to develop enthusiastic communities of consumers. Their great perspectives and insights and their passion for toys as a new generation of toy industry professionals make this a lively and informative conversation. You won't want to miss it.
In The Endcap, Chris and Richard talk about the implications for the global toy industry from the ongoing war in Ukraine. Over and above the human tragedy of this war, which of course is the main story, businesses are facing challenges that will last for years.
Jumping into the Toy Biz: Producer Brian Volk-Weiss
Producer Brian Volk-Weiss joins Richard and Chris for a second time. This time to talk about the launch of his new toy company--Nacelle Toys. Brian is the producer of the successful Netflix series The Toys that Made Us and A Toy Store Near You, now entering its fourth season. In this lively conversation, Brian talks about the decision to roll out toys based on The Great Garloo, Robo Force and others...and the old schools "let's put on a show" passion that's driven this new venture. From trusting his gut to building a network of distributors, Brian is a classic toy impresario who's just going for it. Listen into this fun and fast-paced chat.
In The Endcap, Chris and Richard talk about the implication for Russia deciding to suspend IP rights for properties such as Peppa Pig and others and what that means for the global IP and toy markets.
Jay Foreman: The Case for September Toy Fair
In this special episode, Richard and Chris largely turn over the mic to Jay Foreman, chairman of the Toy Association Trade Show Committee. He lays out the case for the September Toy Fair in New York in light of the changing dynamics of the industry, the needs of manufacturers, buyers, and more, and the historic shift in the show that this move represents.
Foreman makes compelling cases and digs into the the benefits to the industry from the date and the venue. He adds that the change has been many years in the making as production and purchasing schedules shift along with the role of the show in the industry.
It's must-listening for people in the toy business.
The Power of Collecting: Christian Braun of HobbyDB
Richard and Chris speak with Christian Braun of HobbyDB, the global hobby and collectibles database about collecting, what creates value, and best practices for companies that want to be in the collectible or limited edition business. They talk about what makes this sector different from traditional toy development and marketing, and such issues as "completion" and the reality that sometimes building long-term value means leaving money on the table.
In The Endcap, Chris and Richard discuss recent news that the UN may limit petroleum-based plastic production, what that might mean, and a Spielwarenmesse survey of consumers in the EU about what is important to them in toys, particularly as the next generation of toy buyers confront and deal with the climate impact of plastics.
September Toy Fair: What It May Mean. Take 10
This conversation about the recently announced move of New York Toy Fair to September 2023 looks at the challenges, opportunities and the industry-wide implications of this move. Richard and Chris talk about what it might mean for companies of all sizes and how the move reflects the dynamic toy business.
Thomas Kaeppeler of Ravensburger: Puzzling Out the Business
Richard and Chris talk with Thomas Kaeppeler, president of Ravensburger North America about the puzzle business and hot it all fits together in this dynamic environment. From puzzler personas to the hit (non-puzzle) toy Gravitrax, Thomas provides insight, perspective and thoughts for the toy industry on the company's success.
In the Endcap, Chris and Richard talk about the move of Toy Fair to September in 2023, what that means for the industry, the show, and companies of all sizes.
Steve Markey of Hog Wild: Toy Fairs, Retail & More
Richard and Chris talk to Steve Markey, newly named VP Sales and Marketing for Hog Wild Toys about the return of a Toy Fair in London, and what it means for the business, the emergence of alternative channels of retail, and the challenges and opportunities ahead in 2022.
In The Endcap, Chris and Richard talk about the ongoing issue of the fate of New York Toy Fair. Will it stay in NYC? When will it be?
The Strong Museum: Game On
In the second of their conversations recorded last November at the Strong Museum of Play in Rochesters, NY, Richard and Chris talk with games curator Nicolas Ricketts. Listen in as they talk about the histories of some of the games in the collection. From great stories about how the games were acquired to their impact on the culture, this lively conversation is a must-listen for anyone interested in game history.
In The Endcap, Chris and Richard discuss the 13 percent increase in retail sales recently reported for 2021 by the NPD Group...and what that really means in the context of the industry and inflation overall.
Making Music, Making Toys: Sarah Baskin of Far Out Toys
Richard and Chris talk with Sarah Baskin, Vice President of Marketing Communications for Far Out Toys. She talks about the evolution of this "new type of toy company," their major investment in content and music, and has great tips fo companies looking to implement a content strategy in the current marketplace. Her insights and advice are invaluable, and you'll want to listen in.
In The Endcap, Chris and Richard talk about the five-year decline in China's birthrate, the aging of the Chinese population, and what that means for the toy industry...and the world.
Strong Museum: The Doll Collections & The Power of American Girl
The Playground Podcast begins its fourth season with the first of a series of conversations with curators at the Strong Museum of Play, Richard and Chris talk with Michelle Parnett-Dwyer who oversees the doll collection. From the Edison talking doll to the newly inducted American Girl dolls, they discuss the history, significance and evolution of dolls in the culture and the collection.
In The Endcap, Chris and Richard discuss the new CEO at Hasbro, Chris Cocks, and how his arrival from the Pacific Northwest may impact Hasbro's culture and why his experience with Wizards of the Coast may be the ideal springboard for moving Hasbro ahead in a dynamic toy/entertainment environment.
2021 Year in Review: Second Annual Thought Leader Panel Discussion
In this lively conversation, four of the toy industry's top thought leaders share their perspectives and insights on one of the most challenging years the toy industry has face and their outlook for what's ahead in 2022.
Dan Yaccarino: Drawing on a Great Career
Richard and Chris talk with Dan Yaccarino, author, artist and creator of such shows as Oswald the Octopus and the Backyardigans. They talk about Dan's career, the state of kids' content and much more.
In The Endcap, Chris and Richard talk about the new Toys "R" Us, its potential and what success could mean for the business and invite CEO Yehuda Shmidman to come on the show and talk about his vision for reviving the iconic brand.
Spielwarenmesse Update: A Conversation with Christian Ulrich
Richard and Chris talk with Christian Ulrich, one of the directors of the Spielwarenmesse, aka The Nuremberg Toy Fair, about the fair, what's ahead, what's new, outlook for attendance and, of course, safety protocols.
In the Endcap, Chris has another One-Minute Toy Story. He tells how the classic game Twister almost didn't happen.
Making Amazon Work for You: Ryan Rollo of Channel Key
Listen in as Richard and Chris talk with Ryan Rollo, COO of Channel Key as they discuss the evolution of Amazon as a merchandising and advertising program and the ways in which toy companies can maximize their Amazon selling and promotion strategies. Channel Key has helped companies of all sizes grow their businesses exponentially on the platform (and Walmart.com, too), and Rollo shares insights, information, and his views on how online retailing has transformed the toy business.
In The Endcap, Chris and Richard talk about California's new law mandating gender neutral toy departments. What might that mean not just for California but for merchandising nationwide?
Take 10: Remembering Brian Goldner
Jennifer Caveza: Otis College Prepares the Next Generation of Toy People
Richard and Chris talk with industry veteran Jennifer Caveza who has just taken over as chair of the toy design department at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles. In this lively and entertaining conversation, Jennifer talks about her career, the school's success rate, the dynamic internship program and much more. This is must-listening for anyone interested in hearing about the most comprehensive undergraduate toy design program in the U.S., and the only one offering a BFA in toy design.
In The Endcap, Chris and Richard talk about the new deal between Amazon and LEGO, and what it might mean for the future of entertainment properties.
Funko Games & Remembering Reuben Klamer
Richard and Chris talk with Deirdre Cross, VP Funko Games, about the growth of the company, game development, licensing, and much more. In this spirited conversation, Deirdre talks about the hits, the misses and life in a game studio, now a part of Funko.
In The Endcap, Chris and Richard remember industry icon Reuben Klamer, all he contributed to the toy industry over the better part of a century, and a great story about his involvement with Star Trek from the earliest days.