Julien Sharp - Focused on Entertaining on Board and off Board!

by The Bloom Report | 18 Apr 2022

Biographies and Interviews

 

Hi Julien! Thank you for taking a few minutes to chat about what you do in our industry. Can you share what your roles and responsibilities are in our industry?

Currently I lead US Marketing for Spin Master’s Games & Puzzles product category– including the Rubik’s brand; Plush product category – including the Gund brand; and Outdoor product category – including the SwimWays brand. I have a team of seven, including Brand Managers who work on specific businesses within these groups, as well as a Shopper Marketing team. Overall, the US Marketing teams are responsible for managing the commercial success of products sold in the US.

 

Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry?

My first career was in the cruise/travel industry, and I am proud to have been in leadership as a Cruise Director for most of it. On-board entertainment for the guests was not just stage shows, but also activities that included games as a major component. If you are having a day at sea on a Caribbean cruise where it rains all day, eliminating laying by the pool with a tropical beverage – you’d better have something fun for the guests to do INSIDE. Pulling a standard board game out of a closet won’t cut it, so we had to get creative and make our own games! It was so rewarding to see notes in the end-of-trip guest reviews that said – “I’m so glad it rained…we loved playing those games!”. When my time at sea came to an end, I became a game inventor and that’s how I got into the industry.

 

What has been your biggest achievement?

My answer would have been very different a year ago, but in my current position (which I have held about 6 months), I have a team of seven. While in my previous career I had teams of up to 70 reporting into me (12+ direct reports), this is my first time to manage a team for a single function in the toy industry. Because I oversee 3 business units, the Brand Marketing Managers on my team specifically run a single area of business, so they really have to deep dive into their product lines to spot and fix issues and ensure marketing activations and plans are doing their jobs. My job is to be their support system so they can succeed in these tasks. Guiding the team, helping them learn and understand their products, and gain confidence as they make an impact on their books of business has truly been a career highlight for me.

 

What are you working on now?

In my current role, my tasks are very much in the present – I’m monitoring sales to check effectiveness of Spring 22 marketing activations, I’m gearing the teams up for Fall 22, which is where most of the planned marketing efforts for my portfolios really kick in, and I’m laying the groundwork for Spring 23. This has been a big shift for me professionally, as I have been used to working 2-3 years ahead in other roles in this industry. I do really like watching sales data in real time and working with my team to make changes to marketing plans that can literally impact sales the next week.

 

What advice can you give to inventors who are presenting new toy or game ideas to you?

Most companies with Inventor Relations teams will have specific items they are looking for at any given time, and for the most part, if you can provide something that is a good fit for one of those slots, you will greatly improve your chances of getting your item picked up. But – there is always room for surprises! New trends – both short or long lasting – pop up every single day, and an inventor who consistently presents items that are on-trend and complete enough that a company can jump in quickly to ride the trends while they’re hot, will certainly become a valued inventor partner.

Also – look for white space! When I entered this industry, I spent an entire day walking the floors of New York Toy Fair with a co-inventor, and visiting the Games aisles, all the games looked alike. We thought there might be a market for games that focused on cool package design along with good game design. We created The Art of Card Games series, and when it launched at Toy Fair, it turns out that Barnes & Noble had been seeking games with that type of “look”, and they put the games into all their stores that spring!

 

 

What do you read every day, and why?

NEWS! I subscribe digitally to The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal…and Ad Age. I also read Fast Company almost daily.  I also read my local NYC NBC affiliate news each morning. These outlets give me an aggregate of what’s happening in the world, nation and locally that can inform decisions I make at work. Oh – another thing I’ve done is curate who I follow on LinkedIn – and the news I get from my feed rounds out what I read on my own – such a great resource to catch things I may miss otherwise.

 

What is the last time you did something for the first time?

This year!  In February I signed up for a month “intro” at a rock-climbing gym. I was NOT expecting to like it…but I was so wrong!  It was amazing and now I have all my own gear and try to go at least twice a week. What I love about rock climbing is the complete wiping away of any other thoughts during the climb. It is impossible to think about work, world issues, or anything but solving the problem in front of me – what is the next place I must put a hand or a foot to move up and eventually complete the climb. I think it’s vital to be able to completely escape in this way to reset the brain. Oftentimes, resting in the lounge area after a rough 4-5 climbs, I think of something that can be a breakthrough in a challenging work issue!

 

The toy and game industry clearly has….

….shown yet again that the products we produce are vital ALL THE TIME. We were all so busy during the pandemic, getting games and puzzles and activity toys into the hands of consumers stuck at home during the winter months of the pandemic. Our Outdoor toys flew off the physical (and virtual) shelves the summers of 2020 and 2021 as people stayed home and needed outside distractions. During this time, there were any number articles published noting the power of play during times of crisis. 

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