In the recent interview to Market Watch, Todd Richards, President of Wham-O, shared his take on how the toy industry might change and why being nostalgic is so important.
Original post by: Malito, Alessandra. “The Creator of the Hula Hoop Wants to Make Retro Toys Cool Again.” Market Watch. Dec 17, 2016. Web. Dec 17, 2016.
President of Frisbee maker Wham-O says there needs to be a balance between tech and toy
Gone are the days when kids would run around outside with a Frisbee or Hacky Sack for entertainment — but the president of the company behind those toys plans to bring them back.
A balance must be struck between recreational activities and technology, said Todd Richards, president of Emeryville, Calif.-based Wham-O, the creator of the Frisbee, Hula Hoop and Slip ‘N Slide, among other toys. Smartphone apps are great at grabbing kids’ attentions, but kids should be getting out of the house to play too. Richards was vice president of sales and marketing at Wham-O between 2002 and 2006, but came back last year to take the reins of the company. This happened when his company, Carson, Calif.-based InterSport Corp., along with Hong Kong-based Stallion Sport, acquired Wham-O.
Parents seem receptive to the low-tech message. Sales of traditional toys grew to 56% market share last year, and only 29% of parents planned to get their kids a tablet. Nostalgia may push that number even farther, as retro toys catch the hearts of those who once played with them.
MarketWatch spoke with Richards about how the toy industry may change:
MarketWatch: How would you describe the state of the toy business today?
Todd Richards:Being an outsider for the last 10 years looking in at the toy industry, it seems to me it is a market declining. A lot of it has been eroded by hand-held devices, computers, laptops, and even just interaction with phones and iPads that are coming at a much, much younger age. Going outside, staying active, being imaginative and creative and designing your own play patterns has been replaced by staring at a screen and playing in an imaginary world.
MarketWatch: How can you change that?
Richards: One of the things we will try to capture is the nostalgic part of our games and products. There is a generation right now of younger adults who don’t know Wham-O but may have played with a Frisbee or played Hula Hoop or Slip ‘N Slide and we have to reach out and say, we’re still here. Young moms and young dads will say, ‘I had a Frisbee, I had a Slip ‘N Slide, I want my kids to enjoy that as well.’ Maybe you remember it and it’ll bring it to the forefront of memories. In the old days, Wham-O did that by Saturday morning TV commercials. That was a different era, kids sitting in front of TVs and seeing Wham-O commercials that ended with an exciting flash of our logo. Well kids today aren’t watching Saturday morning cartoons, so we’re focusing on YouTube and social media campaigns, particularly to millennial moms.
MarketWatch: Why is being nostalgic so important?
Richards: For millennial adults, they grew up as kids with parents wanting to give them the newest, greatest technology. I look at my own daughter, who is 27, and when she was 13 to 14 she had the latest phone, had the latest computer, then as soon as the iPad came out, and we just lost touch with some of those simple things like a Hacky Sack and knocking it around or going out and throwing a Frisbee. People of that age group will be saying, ‘I have a kid or I’m about to have a kid, I want them to experience this as a kid and I don’t want them to miss it.’
“I want products you can’t hack. You can’t hack a Frisbee.”– Todd Richards, president of Wham-O
MarketWatch: What do you see the future of Wham-O and kid recreation?
Richards: I am looking for those crazy ideas. What I’m really pushing for is how to get activity going again. Kids want to interact. We will push it back outside by creating products that have to interact, not on a competitive level but in team building and working together, solving problems. The best way to do that is to provide products that don’t have a set bunch of rules. It’s fun to watch kids on the playground make up 10 different rules that’s been played on the same playground for 20 years. Kids can make their own rules, that’s what will be a difference maker. But as much as I want to go back to old school, I do recognize the technology part of it. We can take advantage of this new social media. It’s a balancing act.
MarketWatch: Are digital toys squashing creativity, or not?
Richards: Minecraft [a digital puzzle game] is a perfect example of [fostering creativity], with what kids create with a new world. We have to find ways to connect those things but the creativity side has to be the driver, not the technology side. We are not anti-tech but want them thinking in terms of un-hackability. I want products you can’t hack. you can’t hack a Frisbee, you can’t hack a Slip ‘N Slide. I want to be able to take creativity and pull them into uploading that onto our website and challenging new ways to play these games.
MarketWatch: Pokémon Go was incredibly popular, and not just for the generation that grew up with Pokémon, but for younger kids. What do you make of its success?
Richards: I think there is a combination of the existing technology with that old nostalgic flare, but also having the challenge part of it there. The big thing with Pokémon Go was getting people back outside again. They did a great job of that, but people were still staring at their screens. I want to get people back outside again. Like the Frisbee app, you can sit at your desk and manipulate and throw the Frisbee, but in the next version, we’ll take it outside and be able to interact by throwing it between trees or at the other end of the parking lot. It gets back into interaction…not just looking at the screen.
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