This quarter, ToyNews is catching up with Tim Ives, the new general manager for the UK and ROI at Basic Fun to learn what the role means to him, his ‘best of’ career highlights, and the serendipitous nature of launching Lincoln Logs to the UK
Hello Tim, congratulations on the latest news and the new role with Basic Fun! What does that move mean to you, how will you help shape Basic Fun!’s future from here?
This new role means so much to me! I was one of the original members of K’NEX UK and I’ve been with the company for more than eight years. In that time, there have been so many exciting developments (not least the Basic Fun! acquisition in 2018), and the company has seen significant growth.
We’re now a top 40 toy company in the UK, and with the double-digit growth we’re currently looking at this year, we’re well on the way to achieving our longer-term goal of becoming a top 20 company.
We’re moving into such an exciting phase for the business, with many positive changes being implemented at present. We’re adding some incredible IPs to the portfolio and our brands such as K’NEX, Tonka, Care Bears, Lite Brite and Cutetitos continue to blow our expectations out of the water. So, to be able to take on wider responsibility for the business at this time is a great opportunity – I see so much potential, and I can’t wait to build on the incredible success that we’ve seen.
Of course, I’m also delighted that I’ll be able to carry on working closely with Holly and Lynne. With their help and with the valued support of our retail partners, I’m confident that the business will continue to go from strength to strength.
You’ve been with the company from the get-go. What do you enjoy most about working for Basic Fun!?
It is all about the people first. We have a small, close-knit, super effective team working closely with our US colleagues and of course fantastic product. Basic Fun! is renowned for exciting product development and the company works hard to keep up with and create new trends… as well as reignite brands too – Fisher Price Classic, Care Bears, Tonka, K’NEX all continue to grab headlines!
Going into 2021 and beyond we have an exciting portfolio that taps into most core categories. The toys we bring to the market appeal to all ages and are recognised throughout all age groups. And I think the most exciting thing for me is that we’re only at the start of our journey with so many brands: Care Bears celebrates its 40th anniversary next year and consumers can’t seem to get enough of our Master Toy plush range. Then, hot off the heels of sell-through success for the Steel Classics collection, there’s Tonka’s 75th Anniversary. And not forgetting K’NEX which unbelievably enjoys its 30th anniversary next year – so perfect timing for lots of exciting brand developments!
We’re bringing back old favourites such as the best-selling Amazing 8 Roller Coaster in the new K’NEX Thrill Rides collection. We’re also introducing a new multi-build sub-segment, K’NEX Classics; each set comes with a colour-coded instruction manual to make various models. Plus, we’ll also be unveiling our vibrant, eye-catching waterfall packaging. But there are opportunities for growth, too.
We’re only at the cusp of seeing the real potential with Lite Brite, where over 1.4m units were sold in the US last year. Plus, there are so many new waves arriving of our award-winning Cutetitos. Plus, we’ve got some great new IPs for 2021, too.
There’s our Monopoly Surprise Collectables– our multi-purpose collectables that kids must peel’n reveal to discover the surprises hidden within.
These surprises include heavy-weighted, exclusive tokens, unique coins, new Mr. Monopoly expressions, and chase tokens, which can be used while playing Monopoly!
This September, we’re also launching Bitty Boomers, the miniature, wireless Bluetooth speakers that are shaped as popular characters, including Spider-Man, Venom, Darth Vader and The Child. Already hugely successful in the US, these speakers can be synced for extra boom. And I can’t say too much at this stage, but there’s an extra special helping of innovation for the pop culture aisle in the second half.
You’ve had a long career within the toy industry to date, working across TOMY, MGA, K’NEX, and Basic Fun! What is it about the industry that has kept you passionate about it for that time?
In the toy industry, there is always so much going on, so much is continuously changing, and there is always so much to do… it’s impossible to get bored! Of course, I also love the people and I can’t wait for a bit of normality to return so that the industry can come together once again for customer facing meetings, toy fairs and socials.
What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in the industry over that time? How do you think they have influenced your approach to the market/industry today?
Undoubtedly the shift from bricks and mortar to rising demand for online which has been accelerated even more with the pandemic. For this reason, Basic Fun! is also changing its approach to provide improved richer content and SEO copy for retailers and we have had to be nimble, taking a 360-degree approach to PR/marketing which includes significant digital activity.
However, nothing can beat in-store theatre, branding, product in kids’ hands, events and character experiences and this will continue to be on our agenda when the time is right!
Can you tell us Tim, do you have a memory of a favourite toy? Did your relationship with toys growing up influence where your career has taken you to date?
Growing up in the US, one of my favourite toys was Lincoln Logs. It’s funny that 45 years later we are about to introduce this classic American toy, with over 100 years of heritage, into the UK. Like all the classic toys we manufacture, Basic Fun! takes exceptional care in reproducing them “just as they were” which evokes great childhood memories but also appeals to an entirely new generation. You can’t beat a classic!
With the greatest respect to your current role, what is/was your dream job or the proudest moment of your career?
I couldn’t think of a better industry than toys. It’s fast-paced, constantly changing and there are some great people. So, I have the dream job! With the help from my team, my proudest moment is the way we all faced the challenges over the past year, adapted to the way we worked, and went on to achieve exceptional growth.
What has been the single funniest moment of your career to date?
It would have to be dressing up every year at the Toymaster Show. Everyone makes a huge effort and some of the costumes are pretty special. Usually taking place in May, it is a good time to relax after the busy AW period and catch up with colleagues in the industry.
What has the past year taught you?
In spite of the challenges, you’ve always got to try and remain positive.
Do you think the toy industry is headed in the right direction?
I’d argue that it’s not so much about the “right” direction – it’s just an exciting direction. For Basic Fun! we’re not only starting to see the blending of categories like Cutetitos and Care Bears being plush and collectables, Tonka combing vehicles and compounds, but also of whole sectors (e.g. youth electronics). This has huge scope for collaborative opportunities that would never have really been seen in toys previously. The positive implications that this has for innovation, pop culture and cross generational appeal, as well as new product development is immense!
And we are really starting to scratch the surface of that potential with Bitty Boomers and some other exiting new launches, which I can’t yet talk about!