How long have you been in the toy industry?
Virtually a working lifetime - around 45 years all up.
Where did it all start and where are you now?
It started by accident. I was a buyer for Venture stores in Australia (no relation to the U.S. Venture) in the general merchandise area. The business was taken over and they decided to change direction. They went out of the categories I was purchasing to concentrate on clothing (womens, mens and kidswear) and toys. They asked me to be the toy buyer and thats where it all started.
Later I was approached by Big W in the mid 80"s. I packed up and moved to Sydney as their Merchandise Manager (Big W are very much like Walmart). ToysRUs then approached me in 1992 when they were coming to Australia. I started with TRU in December '92 as the Merchandise Director after being interviewed by none other than Phil Bloom!
I stayed there for 12 years and moved on to Myer, and eventually Toyworld. Big W approached me to return for a three month contract 8 1/2 years ago and I'm still there! You can't do this job without good people and I have been blessed over the years to have worked with great staff.
What are your memories of the toy business?
I was lucky. I grew up in the golden age of toys where year after year there was something hot and in short supply. I'm talking about Trivial Pursuit, Cabbage Patch Kids, Transformers, Masters of the Universe, Bratz, Simon, Atari, Nintendo, Alf (the creature that ate cats!), Teddy Ruxpin, Tickle Me Elmo, Lazer Tag, Game Boy, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Tamagotchi, Power Rangers, Toy Story, Furby, Pokemon, Razor scooters, Beyblades, Rainbow Loom, and Zhu Zhu Pets.
Management would just shake their heads and ask how is this done? How do you know?
The secret was always read reports (particularly from the U.S.) and stay informed, in touch, network well and store visits overseas (you can check stock weights and markdowns).
As long as you punted on getting 90 to 95% of them right you were in good shape.
Apart from product what are the other memories?
The people in the toy business are great people, with some real personalities. The Fairs were fantastic as well. My favourite was the New York Toy Fair and Dallas as that's where most of the new fresh action started. Nuremberg was also a favourite.
One I looked forward to every year was the Las Vegas Licensing Show. You were able to gain 18 months worth of knowledge in three days!
I enjoyed my time at TRU. When we opened TRU, a rival chain commenced in the same year and within three years there were 40 stores between us, making it very difficult for TRU as our plan was to open 40 stores ourselves.
They and TRU lost a lot of money in those early years. However the U.S. said to stay the path and they will be gone, as they had seen it before in other countries. The competitor closed after eight years or so, and we were left as the only big box toy retailer.
Are you married? Any children?
I'm married to my wonderful wife, Carol, who without hesitation joined me on the adventure. We have been married 36 years and she has been very supportive. We have two children, Lauren and Katie. Both appeared in a few TRU catalogues and all we paid them was fairy bread! They were great toy testers as kids and used to regularly come to the office on weekends to cause mayhem!
They have presented us with three grandchildren. They are a lot of fun with sleepovers and the like (and you can give them back!).
What was your favourite toy growing up?
There was a product called "Give a Show" projector where you inserted the equivalent of slides and projected the stories on to your wall. My other favourite was Batman. You attached him to a door by a piece of string and sailed him towards you. Little did I suspect that this was my introduction to the licensing business!
What was your greatest failure?
Tyco had a doll that sat on a potty called "Magic Potty Baby". It was distributed here by Croner-Tyco. We had it in a catalog and I think it sold a dozen or so. I called the vendor and said to pull your TV - we have a stiff. Cancel the TV spend and put it into markdown money. That was the worst one.
The other one was when Masters of the Universe was released with only a backstory and no TV series (initially). I wasn't so sure and only put a handful in a store. Mattel punished me for that and loaded up the competition! I struggled for a couple of years after that.
Any changes in marketing trends?
We in Australia are a little like the U.S. with too many streaming services. This has changed the promotional dynamic. YouTube has become an important resource for content and marketing. Netflix is also changing the way we promote toys. There is far less free to air TV advertising these days and its a challenge for the vendor to understand where to shift their TV spend. There is facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok, etc. all vying for the consumer dollar. And there are social influencers getting a pice of the action, too.
A couple of my granddaughters' favorite shows are kids acting out their play patterns with subjects such as Gabby's Dollhouse and Frozen! They are fixated on kids playing with toys!
Many awards over the years...
Whilst you don't set out to win awards, it's gratifying if they come your team's way. In the TRU days we picked up three Retailer of the Year local awards and one international award. Disney presented us with a Mousecar Award. Razor presented us with International Retailer of the Year (three times in a row). This year was my favourite ...induction into the Australian Toy Hall of Fame. I personally dealt with most of the past Hall of Fame recipients. That was a great honour!
Any advice for newbies?
Your reputation is all you really have at the end of the day. Be courtious, not arrogant.
Reply to emails and phone calls. Unfortunately, its a bit of a trend not to do so.
Always let the vendor know where they stand (is it in or out... don't fluff around with maybes). All they want at the end of the day are answers so that they can move on. Be honest, have a moral compass and deal with integrity and humility.