Consumer Products

FAO searches for show-stopping toys

Getting a new toy idea off the ground can make for a difficult task, but FAO Schwarz is providing aspiring toymakers a chance to break into the big time with its open auditions. Inventors, artisans, manufacturers and even distributors will get the opportunity to sit in front of a panel of judges at the flagship New York store and make pitches to get their products on-shelf.
April 1, 2006

Getting a new toy idea off the ground can make for a difficult task, but FAO Schwarz is providing aspiring toymakers a chance to break into the big time with its open auditions. Inventors, artisans, manufacturers and even distributors will get the opportunity to sit in front of a panel of judges at the flagship New York store and make pitches to get their products on-shelf.

Hopefuls are encouraged to show up with a prototype and be prepared to demonstrate their product during a five-minute pitch. Design, quality, originality, fun quotient, safety and environmental impact are the key criteria under consideration. After the last audition, the panel, which includes CEO Ed Schmults and president and chief merchandising officer David Niggli, goes off to decide which products get the thumbs up or down. Winners earn in-store (and possibly on-line and catalogue) placement with FAO.

While anyone can audition, the retailer prefers to see more established products on the big day. ‘We really like to get people at a point where they are about to go into production, or already are in production,’ Niggli says. If someone shows up with a great idea but no manufacturer lined up, FAO’s employees will give guidance on getting the product made and courting potential retail buyers. If the idea really wows the panel, the store might pick up distribution rights.

The auditions were held for the first time last year, and more than 100 people showed up from all over the U.S. with dreams of achieving toy glory. Four items made the cut, including the Hammerhead sled from Ferrisburg, Vermont-based CherryMax Sleds, and Lawsuit!, a board game invented by Tina Nelson from Lakeville, Connecticut. FAO has reordered the game more than four times since it first appeared on shelf, Nelson says.

Toymakers use this opportunity to get their businesses going, but Schmults says the benefits are definitely mutual. He sees the auditions as a way of discovering cool new products that his buyers would otherwise have searched far and wide to find. ‘We’re not just messing around here,’ Schmults says. ‘We expect to get products from this and to generate sales.’

Participants can register in advance or merely show up at the store on one of the audition days slated for May 11th, July 13th and September 14th of this year. DW

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