A song lyric from a misspent youth comes to mind when I consider the role of inventors in the toy industry: “Very much maligned and misunderstood”.
The Shamen may have been referring to something very different, but nevertheless inventors are underappreciated. Running through my own career sales record, over half of all products sold were inventor-originated.
In-house R&D is still a critical function, and sometimes that ‘out of the box’ thinking reaps rewards. Often, we start to follow fixed formulae for successful product. Inventors don’t have that. They create with a pinch of inspiration, an observation of how people play or another creative impulse.
Some professional inventors get very close to what firms are looking for, and begin to blend the best of both internal company perspective and external outlook. This can create powerful product concepts. This leads me to the most common gripe about new inventors: they have no understanding or grounding in commercial reality. As such, their naivety makes them at best difficult to deal with, and at worst a nuisance.
I remember one particular encounter on the last day of Toy Fair one year. An inexperienced inventor caught me at a slow moment, and after asking me what ‘cut’ the inventor of a new product gets, reacted with indignation and anger when he found out most inventors would be lucky to get more than five per cent.
My other favourite was a gentleman who invented a very unimpressive concept. As well as unexciting, it was also exceedingly convoluted. That, combined with the worst presentation style I’ve had the misfortune of being on the receiving end of.
When I struggled to understand a concept that even Stephen Hawking would fail to comprehend, he became at first animated, then very aggressive, suggesting it was my fault I couldn’t get it. It took a considerable amount of effort (threats) to persuade him to move along quietly.
The reality is sometimes such naïve souls have struck gold. So the question becomes: do you have the stamina and inclination to sift through hundreds of concepts, poorly managed presentations and waste hefty amounts of time and emotional energy? If not, then you could always rely on professional inventors, plus inventors’ agents to filter out the misguided and the maniacal.
But where’s the fun in that?
For new inventors reading this, these tips may help. First, be clear on why your product will surmount the two major challenges new products face: why will a retailer put your product on the shelf versus thousands of established, proven products they can choose from? And why will droves of consumers do the same?
If you can’t answer these, you aren’t ready to pitch to toy firms.
Secondly, understand the business model of toy companies. Accounts are published and easy to find.
Firms invest large amounts of money in new products and with considerable risk. They take your concept and commercialise it, which is a much more complicated process than you might perceive, for much lower profit levels than you might expect.
Finally, seek out inventors’ agents. They will take a cut, but your chances of placing a product successfully are vastly higher with their assistance.
About the author
Steve Reece is a leading brand marketing consultant in the toy and games industry.