Toy companies receive thousands of ideas from inventors every year, and accept only a fraction of them. So how can you increase your chances of success? We got some advice from Scott Masline, senior vice president of marketing for Wham-O in Emeryville, California. Wham-O receives nearly 2,400 ideas from inventors each year, but it usually accepts fewer than 10. Here are his tips:
- Don't reinvent the wheel. Don't say you'll re-do Slip-N-Slide-or any other classic toy-to make it even better. A lot of inventors make this mistake, Masline says, or submit a "new" idea that's already on the market. Do your research, and leave product updates to a company's internal R&D staff.
- Target the right companies. Wham-O doesn't manufacture board games, but inventors send their ideas, anyway. Target toy companies that produce products most similar to your idea. You may find more success with small and mid-sized toy companies. An agent can be helpful in opening doors.
- Show proof of your concept. "The inventor has to bring more to the table than just an idea," Masline says. "Show me that it works." This means developing a prototype and working out the bugs. Aim for simplicity in presentation. "If it takes the inventor 20 minutes to explain how something works, there's not a chance I can explain it in 15 words or less."
- Understand the review process. In disclosing an idea, things often come down to who had the idea first. "There are times that we have to tell people that we had the idea before you [submitted it] or we thought of it before you did," Masline says.
Wham-O documents every interaction with an inventor. "You can steal an idea once, but then no one's going to work with you again," he says. "We have to depend on our integrity and honesty." The company creates a few co-inventor relationship each year, in which two ideas are combined to create one product and the co-inventors share royalties. Professional inventors document every interaction they have with toy companies.
- Figure out your production costs. Surprisingly, many fledgling inventors do not. The lower your cost per unit, the better. "There are a lot of magic price points in this industry," Masline says. "$20 is a big, magic price point." Cost control will also help you achieve your overall point: selling someone on your idea.
Hot Toys of 2001
Here were the 15 top-selling toys introduced in 2001 heading into the holiday season (ranked by dollar sales):
2. E-Kara Karaoke (Hasbro)
3. Barbie Karaoke Machine (Kid Designs)
4. Tony Hawk Skateboard (Mattel)
5. LeapPad--new model (LeapFrog)
6. Barbie Nutcracker Princess (Mattel)
7. Imagination Desk (LeapFrog)
8. Holiday Barbie (Mattel)
9. Sesame Street Tickle Elmo Surprise (Fisher-Price Characters)
10. Monsters Inc. Babblin Boo Doll (Hasbro)
11. Rumble Robots (Trendmasters)
12. Basic Harry Potter Hogwarts Castle (LEGO Systems)
13. Screamin Serpent Coaster (K'NEX)
14. Rescue Heroes Aqua Command Center (Fisher-Price)
15. Diva Starz 2001 (Mattel)
Source: Toy Industry Association, Inc.
Chris Penttila is a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist who covers workplace issues on her blog, Workplacediva.blogspot.com.