What do Furby, Trivial Pursuit and Cabbage Patch Kids have in common? Well, besides being some of the last century’s biggest toy hits, they were all conceived by independent inventors, who are still responsible for many of today’s toy innovations. And that’s why R&D execs from bigwig toycos including Hasbro, Fisher-Price, Spin Master, Ravensburger and MGA Entertainment are making the trek to Las Vegas this month for the seventh annual Toy & Game Inventors Forum.
TGIF was originally geared to first-time inventors looking for practical tips on how to better their chances of selling their concepts. But it has since expanded its focus to bring in toy players and, more recently, retailers. For the first time this year, the Forum will welcome execs from Shopko and QVC, as well as scheduling a keynote speech from Wal-Mart’s director of supplier development, Excell La Fayette.
Networking has become a major focus for the low-key TGIF’s participants, says Lisa Salvucci, executive director of The Toy & Game Industry Foundation, which puts on the event.
According to Keith Meyers, a Santa Barbara, California-based inventor, the great thing about the TGIF is that there are a lot of big players there that, ‘as a small or medium-sized designer, you wouldn’t normally have access to unless you had an agent.’
Meyers, who also teaches an adult education class on toy inventing, has managed to sell at least one game concept each of the three years he has attended the Forum. Two of those concepts – the card games Over and Out (Jax) and Fast Figure (Playroom Entertainment) – were released this year. Meyers will be pitching eight to 10 new game and toy concepts at this month’s Forum, and he’s most hopeful about the prospects for Mystic Picture. Targeting kids four and up, the activity toy comes with a collection of plastic templates that kids can trace into a picture and then color in with crayons or magic markers. Meyers thinks the item could have serious licensing potential, and has developed prototypes using Bob the Builder and Dora the Explorer.
Invariably, Meyers licenses his concepts to toy companies to market. That way, he can reclaim the game or toy once the agreement expires if he’s unhappy with how his partner is selling it. For game titles not based on a licensed brand or entertainment property, Meyers receives an advance (usually between US$2,500 to US$5,000) against the royalty, which ranges from 5% to 7% on the wholesale price of every game.
While TGIF draws a good number of veteran toy entrepreneurs, it’s also a place where first-time inventors can get a reality check on their creations. ‘You wouldn’t believe it, but there are people out there who will sink thousands of dollars into their game without play-testing it first,’ says Mary Couzin, president of Discover Games, a Lincolnwood, Illinois-based firm that promotes products on behalf of inventors at key trade shows. ‘TGIF gives the small guys a chance to meet one-on-one with big toycos to find out what mistakes not to make,’ she adds.
One of the small guys hoping for some frank advice is Princeton, Illinois-based Ann Weisbroad, who will be attending her first Forum. An artist by trade, Weisbroad will be shopping her toy-book concept Pick Your Nose & Make A Face. Essentially a book with magnetic pages, the product allows kids to create their own visage using an array of noses, lips and eyes. Weisbroad began marketing the book on her website (www.awisebroad.com) in July, but is hoping to license it to a manufacturer at TGIF.
Even inventors who don’t make a sale may not go home empty-handed. This year, TGIF will poll industry players to single out the most innovative ideas at the show. For a grand prize, TGIF founder Rehtmeyer Design & Licensing is donating eight hours of development time to help the inventor advance a concept or prototype to the next stage.