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The stakes are high. The competition is fierce. And the customers? They're as discerning and fickle as they can get.
I'm referring, of course, to the toy industry during the holiday season. Parents have been known to spend gobs of money or even risk physical harm to obtain the season's hottest gift, from the infamous Cabbage Patch doll riots of 1983 to the Hatchimal craze just a few years ago. This past Thursday, The Conversation published a look at what goes into developing each year's viral toy. And I'll say this: if you think you need to be innovative to succeed in your business, spend a few minutes checking out the ingenuity that sustains the toy industry year after year.
Like every industry, the toy world has its giants, like Mattel, Hasbro, and Lego. They have the standard advantages, most notably massive scale and high-profile partnerships. If you're looking for something Frozen 2-themed, for example, you're probably not going to find it in a smaller toy maker's catalogue.
Much like internet virality, however, toy virality is very difficult to predict--even for the Goliaths in the industry. The Conversation's story notes just how much science goes into a toy's design: psychology, early childhood development studies, linguistics, physics, and even computer modeling. Yet, for each toy that makes it to shelves, "hundreds of ideas are generated, prototyped, and ultimately canned."
And even getting to shelves doesn't guarantee success. Small children are arguably the world's most selectively enthusiastic customer demographic. The internet is full of videos featuring kids freaking out in happiness over receiving their gift of choice--and wallowing in disappointment if they don't. The latter has been well-documented in Jimmy Kimmel's popular prank video compilations of parents intentionally giving their children "terrible presents."
The good news is, independent toy makers certainly can find a gap in this market. Earlier this year, Inc.com editorial assistant Talib Visram stopped by the New York Toy Fair trade show to spotlight five of 2019's hottest offerings created by entrepreneurs. Their numbers are impressive: One toy startup, New York City-based Squishable, recently had a three-tailed fox plush toy sell out in less than a week, thanks to the more than 1 million fans who follow the brand on social media.
So, when you're doing your last-minute holiday shopping, take a moment to think about how those toys came about. And if you're still looking around frantically for a Baby Yoda, I'm sorry--it's not happening this year.