To invent or copy?

That is the question. Here, Richard Heayes reveals what toy firms need to bear in mind when striving for the innovation that keeps the industry moving forward.
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Let’s be honest, a huge amount of what we see on the shelves of toy stores isn’t that original, different or innovative; and that is just fine, because it’s pretty much the same for many consumer goods industries.

It is perfectly fine to run a business with a low price, low innovation model. The problem - of course - comes when your competitor changes the rules of engagement by offering something standout that consumers love.

We are seeing this happen faster and be more disruptive than ever before across the spectrum of global products and services. Developing new products isn’t easy and it usually isn’t cheap so it’s tempting to look at what your competitor is doing and copy them or distribute someone else's innovation and hope you can hold onto the rights.

So if you do want to develop your own product, where do you start? 

Creating an in-house team can take time and for a small or medium sized business can be quite a commitment. A design consultancy is the obvious next step but there are not that many who really understand the world of toys and games so you need to choose wisely.

For the toy business there is a third way and that is to work with professional inventors.

There is always a need for continual innovation by the big players, and so the toy invention community has been pivotal to many of the major toy and games successes over the last 60 years. Many companies however are still unsure how to engage and work with inventors.

 Toy inventors know the business, they know the brands and they know the consumer.

Since they are not tied to in-house structures, they are free to think, cross-pollinate ideas from other industries and experiment without the need to rush into the brand review meeting. They don’t need to think outside the box, because there is no box, just a blank sheet, screen, bench and a fired up curiosity.

If you want to work with inventors then you need to be someone who is open to new ideas, is trusting and respectful of others IP, wants to be creatively engaged (I certainly like being challenged) and has a desire to launch and support something that could rapidly expand your business.

The best inventors are true partners, they want your product to be successful because they have a stake in it being so.

As the world gets smaller and the competitive landscape gets, well, more competitive, then there is one certain way to stand out - have something no-one else has. A product you can own, license out and grow.


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