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Wow! Stuff’s Richard North: Warner Bros and Harry Potter deal was “best moment of my career”

Each month, ToyNews catches up with an industry bigwig to ask a series of personal and prying questions. This month, it’s Wow! Stuff founder and CEO Richard North’s turn for a grilling.

What have the past 12 months been like over at Wow! Stuff ?
It’s been… weird. We are bucking the trend with what seems to be this current downturn in the industry, and so significantly, that it’s a bit weird. We were up 50 per cent last year and we will be up over 100 per cent this year. I suppose you can make your own luck.

We went through a difficult period from 2012 to 2014, where we recruited the wrong people from a different industry, with no toy industry experience, and boy did it show. So, we have changed all of that, and we have a great team of people. And it is all about the people.

We now have great brands, working with great licensors and performing brilliantly in innovation. We have a dream team of 60 people in the company, and they all love it.

You’re the industry ‘floating head’, thanks to the Harry Potter Cloak of Invisibility… what’s the health of innovation in the industry?
I like being called a floating head. I am going to agree with Trump for the first time in my life. We have got to stop the counterfeits. We have harked on about it since we came into toys in 2011 and got copied by a lot of factories out of China. A lot of unscrupulous distributors and retailers at the top of the chain just didn’t care, either – as long as they made money.

I’d like to think things are changing and there is groundswell to stop the counterfeiters now. We do need to change, and I think change is coming. I think you are going to see some significant new laws come out over the next 18 months that will have a big impact on our industry, and I’m excited because we live for innovation.

You talk a lot about toys having the ‘wow’ moment for kids. Do you remember having your own ‘wow’ moment growing up?
I do. I remember getting a yellow skateboard called a Fordham skateboard when I was about nine or ten… 40 plus years ago. I’m not skateboarding these days, but I remember it well: red wheels and special bearings that you had to have to be part of the cool crowd. It was in the detail when you were a kid – you learned from your friends what was the right toy to have and you had to have it.

My Christmas Day ‘wow’ moment was the Star Wars Kenner figures and a thing called Cyborgs that fired missiles out of its back. All those feelings stay there with you, at the back of your mind.

What’s the best moment of your career?
Blimey… big question. Being taken seriously by one of the biggest licensors globally to do a global deal, and being entrusted that we could deliver that deal. That was with Warner Bros and Harry Potter. That faith they put in us, we doubled down on our faith back to them and said ‘we are going to absolutely deliver for you if it kills us.’

That kind of trust goes beyond a regular business transaction. This industry is all about people and we connected with the people. In this business, people don’t do deals with corporations; people do deals with people.

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