by Hog Wild Toys | 24 Mar 2022
Biographies and Interviews
Hi Steve! What are your roles and responsibilities in our industry?
As VP of Sales and Marketing at Hog Wild Toys, I get to be involved in so many aspects of our business. The thing I really love about the sales side of my job is that I get to be involved in all three legs of what I consider to be the toy sales “stool” – mass/key accounts, specialty, and international, all of which I enjoy equally.
On the marketing side, obviously the growing importance of social media is becoming a bigger and bigger focus; the way it seems to evolve and change on almost a weekly basis keeps things fresh and means I am constantly learning something new.
What is your claim to fame in the industry?
I would say that the fact I have sold toys into over 100 countries is something I am very proud of.
What has been your biggest achievement?
I have been lucky enough to be a part of the creation and growth of some truly global brands. And I get to continue that with Hog Wild and our evergreen line of Poppers (over 25 years!), which is known across the globe.
What was your biggest failure?
There have been a lot of failures, but I prefer to think of them as opportunities to learn how not to do things. Anyone who says they have never failed is in denial; it’s what you do with that failure that counts.
Do you have a mantra that you live by?
“No drama.” There are so many times during the week when something seemingly disastrous happens, but after a little reflection, conversation, and email with some very smart colleagues, pretty much anything can be resolved.
Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry?
I studied several languages in college with a goal of someday getting into sales in any export or international business; I just got really lucky that it happened to be the toy industry! And that good fortune has allowed me to travel to around 100 countries and develop friendships with some amazing people along the way.
What are you working on now?
I always feel like I should be focused on short-term, medium-term and long-term strategy, so I’m working on ways to grow our business tomorrow, in six months and in three years.
Retail is an ever-changing landscape, so we keep a very close eye on trends and spend a lot of time visiting stores, and not just looking at the toy aisle.
Marketing has obviously changed massively over the past few years; having a TV commercial used to be an essential component of the marketing mix a few years ago, now it’s becoming increasingly rare. Look at some of the very biggest players in the industry who have reached the pinnacle with zero TV advertising! It’s now so fragmented that the biggest challenge is using all the different marketing/social media tools to greatest effect and trying to be at the forefront of how people are learning about product.
What has kept you motivated to stay in the toy industry?
As a father of three (now grown-up) kids, I have come to realize the importance of play in a child’s life. That has been a constant motivation to be involved with great products. My personal passion in the toy industry is products that get kids outside and active, on their feet and away from screens for as long as possible. That’s my favorite thing about what we are doing at Hog Wild!
If you look back at yourself 10 years ago is this where you thought you’d be? Where did you think you’d be? What changed? What went right?
I don’t know if it’s where I thought I would be, but I’m exactly where I want to be. What went right? I worked hard and I got very lucky! (Not necessarily in that order.) I also had the support and friendship of so many great people along the way.
What trends do you see in toys or games that excite or worry you?
The fact that so many kids would rather play sports on the screen than in the park really bothers me. That’s why, when I look at our Hog Wild products, I’m proud of how we contribute to making kids more active every single day.
What advice do you have for people starting in the industry?
Every single person you will ever meet knows something that you don’t. Try and discover what that is.
Try to engage with people as much as possible. One of my favorite stories happened in Nuremberg when I was with Green Toys, just a couple of years old. We had a tiny 10-foot booth, and an older gentleman stopped by, picked up one of our trucks. He told us how much he admired what we were doing, especially the way we were experimenting with new materials. We saw his badge, which said that he was from Lego. “And what do you do at Lego?” we asked him. “I own it,” he answered, and we proceeded to have a fascinating conversation with a man who has no doubt forgotten more about the toy industry than most of us will ever know.
Do you have a typical workday and how does it play out for you?
No two days are ever the same, as I’m sure everyone in this industry would agree! And that’s why we love it.
What’s your workspace setup like?
Some of my favorite things about my office are that I am surrounded by books, which I find very soothing. I also have a number of clocks on my wall showing different time zones around the world as a constant reminder that this is a global business. I have family photos on my desk to remind myself of what is most important, a few of my favorite toys (including my Manchester City Subbuteo soccer team!) and a muted TV showing CNN, because I’m a news junkie!
What is the worst job you’ve ever had and what did you learn from it?
I left the toy industry for one year to take a job as VP at a major movie studio. What did I learn? As much as I love flying in a corporate jet with famous people, I love being in the toy industry with fun people a whole lot more.
What’s a problem you’re still trying to solve?
Finding enough time in the day to do all the things I want to do, because as much as I enjoy my work, I enjoy lots of other things too, and living in Colorado, I want to enjoy all that life has to offer.
What and/or who inspires you?
I’m always inspired by people who have musical ability because I have zero.
How do you define creativity?
The ability in other people to come up with something that makes me think “now why didn’t I think of that?”
How do you recharge or take a break?
Exercise. The working day has become so sedentary nowadays, I seriously can’t remember what life was like before email, before we spent most of our day staring at a computer screen. My wife and my sister are both heavily involved in corporate wellness, and they encourage people to get up from their desks and stretch every hour, to take lunchtime walks with the dogs, and my favorite of all, do walking meetings rather than sitting in a conference room.
What words describe how you think or how your brain works?
I sometimes have this strange phenomenon where my brain goes into creative overdrive for a very short period of time, I come up with lots of ideas and have no idea where they came from, and then I go back to my normal, less creative resting state again. I only wish it happened more often.
What was your favorite toy or game as a child?
Subbuteo, a British table soccer game, and Scrabble.
Where were you born?
Manchester, England. I’m fortunate that I still get to go back fairly often and mix business with family and friend visits.
What do you read every day, and why?
Even during times of war and other crises, the first thing I read every single morning is the latest soccer news in The Guardian, my favorite UK newspaper. Why? Because, as they say in Ted Lasso, “football is life.”
Who might be role models for the work you do?
Early in my career I worked for a couple of people who really taught me the value of ethics in business (and life) and I still consider them two of my closest friends and mentors to this day.
What is your favorite gadget, app or piece of software that helps you every day?
I’m a total gadget geek and early adopter, but two evergreens right now are Alexa and my Apple Watch.
When is the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
Last night, playing the game Confident with family. I love how games can stimulate such great conversations and so much laughter, we’re fortunate that so many of our friends and family are huge game players. Having said that, one of our close friends is an Emmy-winning artist and designer, and it sucks playing Pictionary against him.
Do you have a nickname?
Skid. (Skid Markey – Manchester kids could be cruel back in the day)
What’s the first thing you usually notice about people?
Their shoes. You can tell a lot about people just by looking at their shoes. I may write a book about the subject one day. So now, if you see me at a trade show and I’m not making eye contact, it’s because I’m judging you by your footwear.
What are your favorite books?
I set myself an annual reading goal on Goodreads of 52 books per year, mostly biographies and history, but I read somewhere that people don’t read enough fiction as it’s considered frivolous, but is in fact great for enhancing creativity, so I try to do at least one fiction book a month as well.
What are your favorite websites?
The Guardian and all the various toy industry websites.
What are your favorite sports and sports teams?
Soccer (football) – Manchester City.
Who are your favorite athletes?
Anyone who plays for Manchester City
What is your favorite night out?
Sushi and a Broadway musical. I have simple but expensive tastes.
Favorite movie of all time?
The Blues Brothers – seen it over 50 times and annoy everyone who watches it with me by saying every single line out loud. It’s not the deepest, most philosophical movie of all time, but it always brings a smile.
What’s the furthest you’ve ever been from home?
Melbourne, Australia for Australian Toy Fair.
Do you have any special talents?
I can stick my tongue up my nose.
What’s your beverage of choice?
I’m a big fan of Earl Grey tea, and I also enjoy an occasional glass of wine.
Summer or Winter?
Summer, but I do appreciate having all four seasons here in Colorado, often on the same day.
Everything would have been different if… I hadn’t met my future wife Kristin at an Ertl sales meeting in Dyersville, Iowa in 1995. I’d probably still be in the UK, wouldn’t have been married 25 years, and wouldn’t have three incredible kids and a Colorado mountain lifestyle. I’m a lucky man!
The toy and game industry clearly has….a lot of challenges ahead, but fortunately has brilliant, creative people who will overcome them.
Really looking forward to launching our exciting range of new Hog Wild toys, including our wacky Handy Grabs line, Squeeze Poppers (pictured) and new games at Distoy and Astra; I’ve missed trade shows so much, and then a vacation in Scandinavia.
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