“The Future of Play”

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Our Guest

Richard Gottlieb is the CEO of “Global Toy Experts,” a global consultancy. He is an internationally known consultantwriter, speaker and commentator on the business of play.

He is highly valued for his ability to visualize how to survive and thrive in the 21st-century play economy.  He is the Publisher of Global Toy News, the industry resource for toy news, toy trends, and analysis of the business of play.

Richard, who holds an MBA in Global Management from Phoenix University and a Bachelors in English Literature from the University of Richmond

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Show Transcript

Hello and welcome back to the Dr. Nilda Business Foresight Show. Today I have with me again my co-host Rachel Calderon. Say hello Rachel.

Good morning everyone.

I have a very interesting guest his name is Richard Gottlieb. He is the CEO of “Global Toy Experts,” a global consultancy. He is an internationally known consultant, writer, speaker and commentator on the business of play. He is highly valued for his ability to visualize how to survive and thrive in the 21st-century play economy. He is the Publisher of Global Toy News, the industry resource for toy news, toy trends, and analysis of the business of play. Richard, holds an MBA in Global Management from Phoenix University and a Bachelors in English Literature from the University of Richmond. Welcome Richard, how are you?

Good it’s nice to be talking to you today.

It is such an honor. I want to start with what attracted you to the business of play?

I think all of us have some kid in us. I think that just the whole topic of play and toys is a kind of fun and attractive product segment. Then I was just really interested in the fact of it seems toys are just so relevant to our lives. They helped shape who we become as adults and for that reason, they helped shape the future. So, it’s an interesting and most of the time enjoyable business to be in not all the time but most of the time.

I mean every business has its drawbacks. But the business of play I think is such a phenomenal idea and such a phenomenal thought. What do you look for when you’re choosing a toy for your business? Are you looking for educational toys, entertainment or creativity? What exactly do you look for today in toys?

We’re pretty agnostic when it comes to choosing who we work with. It doesn’t have to be a particular class, category or classification of toy. What we look for are products that seem to provide a lot of play value and uniqueness. It’s very challenging to try to bring a me-too product to market. So, we look for the unique in the new and the fun.

So, when you are looking for toys for your company I know that you go through an array of different companies. How do you know what’s cutting-edge because I know toys today, that’s one of my pet peeves, these toys today are not the same toys that we played with as kids? Toys are so progressive they’ve really come such a long way. What exactly are you looking for when shaping a child’s future, when shaping an adult’s future or shaping that child into an adult? What exactly are you looking to bring to the forefront for them to get from a toy?

Well it has to be relevant to their lives and into the future we’re going to live in. First of all, let’s not forget that just those regular blocks and physical toys that we play with are still extremely relevant. I know a lot of parents see their kids as having a lot of screen time but they also like to play with just traditional physical toys. And very frankly that’s where we learn the physics of our world. You watch a child build a tower of bricks of blocks it’ll fall down and then they’ll build it back up again. It falls down and they’ll keep building it until it stays up. They’re playing but they’re also learning the physics of gravity and the laws of gravity and balance and what stays up and what falls down. Then in their world, screens are very important in the world they’re going to live in and they’re going to work in. This is how people communicate. So, parents who want to take screens away I think are making a mistake because you’re not preparing them for the world as it is. You are kind of trying to bring back your childhood which is frankly just not relevant to their childhood.

Or their future for that matter is that accurate?

Right. Then finally we try to remember that it’s a tough world. It’s a hard world so there’s a lot of fun out there particularly with soft toys. So, one of the reasons that figgitals, which was this cute plush robot worm that goes around your finger, was so popular this year I think is because of its desire for not just high tech but high touch. To be able to touch and feel and have some softness because kids really want that.

We all saw the fidget spinners so, for something like that to be produced how far in advance do you choose your toys? I know fashion is usually like five and ten seasons away but for toys how does that work? I was really surprised when I saw that little interesting toy. Everyone had it for a short season.

And it was all the rage.

That was a bit of an outlier. Let me answer your question and then let me just talk about that product for a minute. Typically, we start showing new products about ten months to a year in advance. When we take a look at products by inventors this is going to probably be at least eighteen months between someone getting the approval for the toy invention and it finally hit the shelves. There is a process involved and part of that is you have a lot of design work and approvals that have to be done. Then, of course, you’ve got to make them. We make most of our toys roughly eighty-six percent in China on the other side of the world so it takes a little time to just physically get the product made and to market. So, it takes time. The fidget spinner that you were talking about which was an interesting story and in which that product had been around for years. It had been a toy designed really for kids who struggled with autism and suddenly it went mainstream. Sadly, the woman who invented it originally let her patent go like a couple months before it took off so she’s never gotten any advantage from that. So, anybody could make it. Why did it suddenly become so popular? Like with any big fad we really don’t know. I mean any fad that starts with the public is a phenomenon that if we understood it we would have fads all the time. There was just something about a product at a certain place in a certain time that it catches hold. In the case of the spinner I would imagine that some cool kid influencer on some playground somewhere brought it to school and it just traveled from what I call the schoolyard social network. It works from the school yard to the city and eventually around the world.

How difficult is it to market some of these toy ideas? A new toy to market?

Well technically, first of all, you’ve got to get in front of a toy company just for them to even look at it.

Such as a Toys R Us?

Yeah or like a Hasbro’s, MGA, or Spin Master. They have people whose job it is to look at outside inventions from outside inventors. And if you could get it an appointment, typically you need an agent to be able to do that, you get a chance to make your pitch. They have to decide if they think it’s a viable product and if they can make it at an affordable price. I have the coolest product in the world but if you can’t make it at a price that people will pay for it they just won’t do it. So, if you’re fortunate enough to be approved then they will license the rights or buy the rights to your product and begin their own styling and design of it. Then once they’ve done that they’ll show it to retail buyers like Toys R US, Walmart, or a local toy store and hopefully people want it. They make it, they ship it and then a consumer gets to vote as to whether it’s a good product or not. They vote with their wallets.

What direction do you see the toy industry going because you’re not just involved with global toys but also a futurist?

From a retail standpoint, the toy industry and our retailers are no less affected than other retailers by the rise of the internet and e-commerce. When I was a kid and maybe when you were a kid the most exciting thing that could happen to us was to get our driver’s license. It meant we were emancipated. Now through 16-year-olds really don’t care. The number of 16-year-olds who started getting their drivers licenses has just plummeted over the last five-six years. These kids don’t care about driving. Their rite of passage is a cell phone a mobile device or a computer and getting access to the Internet. So, for them, they shop online and they have no qualms about shopping online. As a matter of fact, I just saw some statistics that it’s the younger edge of the millennial generation that’s doing most of the shopping online. I think like close to a third of them do most of their shopping online. So, this is having a huge impact on what we call the bricks and mortar retailer. That traditional retailer that has a store and has a warehouse have to make enough business to support their physical infrastructure. The internet doesn’t have to take all your business they just need to take away enough so that you can’t support that anymore. I think as a result what we’re going to see is a reduction in the number of physical stores. We’re going to see a continual proliferation of digital play and of digital purchasing.

That’s interesting that you say that because I was just thinking back in the day, a company like Toys R Us, I would just sometimes take the kids there and it was an experience. They were able to touch the Legos, to look at them, even ride a bike. For you to say that most of the Millennials are doing online purchases that’s interesting because I feel that the experience to me would have never gone away. And you’re saying that most of them are purchasing online that’s really interesting.

And taking that a few steps back what you said earlier that kids are desiring more high touch. On that note, I find they’re seeking more high touch yet a lot of these companies like FAO Shorts that worked 50 plus years or Toys R Us which is really taking a dive and closing a lot of stores. So, that’s what I find interesting like how will that play out in the future when they can’t actually see or touch the toy until they get it in their hands?

Well FAO Shorts is actually coming back they were sold to another company and they’re going to open a store near Rockefeller Center right next to the skating rink. Toys R Us sadly today announced their closing 182 stores and that is an example of a retailer who again is just really struggling with a lot of competition. But, mostly a lot of debt which has prevented them from really modernizing their stores and in their parking lots frankly. Hopefully, they’ll get it back together.

I want to bring it closer to you. What kind of services does global toy experts provide?

We work as agents for people who invent toys. So, if you’re a toy maker out there and you’d like to contact us you can contact me at richard@globaltoyexperts.com. We’ll take a look at what you have and see if we can help you. We also work with toy companies that want to increase their business both in the United States and globally. We work with startups. We do some expert witness work. We do mergers and acquisitions. So, we stay very busy.

Is there a change between the United States, as far as toys, and global since you’re global toy expert? Is there a massive change in the way our children and others play?

I think there’s a difference in consumption pattern. In the United States we buy a lot of plastic and we throw it away pretty quickly because we are very focused on the lowest price. In Europe, particularly in Central Europe, France and Germany they’re really into toys as an investment. They’re more interested in wood and more durable materials. They want products they can pass down from sibling to sibling and generation to generation. So, I like to say that whereas for Europe toys are a legacy purchase and for us it’s a landfill purchase.

Huge difference.

To continue with your point, I just want to mention that China is predicted to be the biggest toy market in the world by 2022. Their pattern is they really don’t give toys as a reward. They really like educational products. They see toys as a tool for learning. So, there are differences between the countries. But if you’ve got a great brand that’s Star Wars or Iron Man it crosses borders.

That’s for those specialty toys?

Right. Europeans really, I think to have a healthier outlook on what a toy represents.

Does Europe buy less toys because if they’re inherited from family member to generations do they buy more or do they buy less than they do in the United States?

We actually spend more dollars. We buy a lot of toys.

Then they’ll go to the landfill.

Yeah. When you to someone’s house you’ll see a lot plastic. I’m just saying that it tends to be more of an impulse purchase here.

And Asia is more educational?


That really changes the whole global perspective on toys.

I also know that you have a newsletter a very interesting newsletter actually. I was up late last night looking through it. It was really fascinating. Who is this for? Who looks at this?

Mostly people involved in the toy industry and the play industry. I like to use the term play industry because that is for people who are into video games and apps. Also, frankly play encompasses anything from play centers you go and you play video games to bowling. We reach people who are in the business of play. Also, people who are in intellectual property like licensing companies. Also, media but, primarily children’s media.

WII has a phenomenal concept. They were the ones that were able to break through a pretty monopolized industry which was the video industry. That was because they found a way of making play intergenerational which I think is fascinating. Children, teens, adults, and seniors. They were able to break that. How much of that do you see in the future?

Everybody wants to play and adults want to play too. I think that we’ve had a real shift in that over the last few generations where it was really seen as unseemly almost for an adult to play maybe thirty forty years ago. Now it’s very much a part of life for adults. I think where the toy industry makes a mistake and toy retailers make a mistake is we present toys as a product for children if you’re looking how we merchandize and advertise. But really, we should be selling play as a family experience. One of the wonderful things about board games is that they are designed for families. A child gets to sit down with their parents and everybody’s got to play by the same rules. I think that’s democratizing and I think it’s very liberating for children.

And its collaboration. It teaches them teamwork within a family structure. Which again when you work it really becomes a family structure. So, there’s teamwork in the yard. Kids that are playing sports. But for those kids that don’t play sports where do they get that experience?

One of the things that we don’t have as much anymore and I think it’s dearly missed is pre-play without adults around. I did a back-of-the-envelope little analysis the other day and I found that the average child works a 60-hour week. That’s between going to school and homework and doing anything that’s an adult-supervised experience like playing soccer or piano lessons or whatever. These kids do not have that experience of being able to go outside and play with their friends. They have to settle their own disputes. To me one of the keys to a democratic nation is for children to learn on their own how to make laws and how to enforce them. So, what seems so innocent when we were kids who was going outside and choosing up teams and playing baseball. But, if you think about it you’re making the law what’s in bounds and what’s out of bounds and then you’re policing it. You were out of the bounds and then you’re judging it no you weren’t. I really would like to see us give kids a break a little bit and leave them alone. And let them settle some of their own disputes and have fun by themselves.

I’m just going to take it back a little bit to before the experience. You were saying that adults don’t really experience playtime anymore. You’re so right. I just recently came back from Disney with my kids and I must say that my kids would look at me like mom I cannot believe you’re behaving the way you are. This businesswoman has turned into the Hulk of play. You’re screaming. You’re yelling on these rollercoasters. We went on the Pandora ride which was a three-hour wait and I must say I must have been the only adult that came out of there like oh my gosh that was so worth it oh my gosh. I had so much fun so I think even we adults really need to have that moment and see where we can have that playtime ourselves because it brings laughter. It just releases all these stress toxins that we develop on our own.

I love that. That’s so true Rachel.

I think adults will find that in board games which are a little more static but it’s also fun to run around the yard. And there’s plenty of products out there that remind us to do that. But, mostly I think just getting down on the floor with your child or your spouse and engaging in something that makes you both laugh. Maybe it’s a little bit competitive that’s alright it’s fun to do.

In my household we get very competitive when it comes to these board games especially Monopoly.

Something I want to say to your grandparents out there a lot of people come to me and ask me how they decide what to buy their grandchild? What I like to say is get them what you love don’t give them what they love. That’s their parents job you give them your enthusiasm. Shoot if you love stamp collecting or coin collecting get them started doing that. Worse that will happen is they won’t particularly find it interesting but they’ll know that that was your passion. They’ll remember it and the best thing is you’ll create an enthusiasm with them that you could share. Don’t be so concerned about buying them the hottest toys. Get a product that you really enjoy.

I agree.

My cousin’s children what their grandmother has given them is that she bakes with them. She loves to bake and she’s teaching them how to bake. But, she’s teaching the measurements, she’s teaching them color and she’s teaching them so much with what she loves to do. The kids love it absolutely love it so you are right. Grandparents should be teaching them or giving them what they love and what they enjoy because you’ll see over time that they really do enjoy it. Even if it takes them some time to get into it. Initially they are like what on earth is this but over time they’ll start getting an appreciation even if it’s when they’re older. My grandparents gave me this I should look into this and see how it applies to their life as they grow.

Richard let me ask you this where do you see the future of toys and play?

I think what you’re going to be seeing is a continuation of screen play. Kids are now playing with five screens. You got your TV, your computer and your iPhone. Then other forms of screens. Then I think you’re going to see more virtual play. We also have to remember that for those of us who are older there’s a very bright line between what’s virtual and what’s real. But for kids there’s not. I always like to say kids live in a bigger room than we do. You’ll go to McDonald’s and you see some kid in there and he’s with his family and but he’s looking into his mobile device. You think what’s wrong with that kid? Why isn’t he with his family? Why is he in his screen? The reality is he thinks his family is in there with him because he is I a bigger room then they are. Expect that to continue don’t expect the death of traditional toys. Don’t worry they’re still going to be around for a long time to come. We love to touch things. Remember at least for now you can’t taste something on the computer and you can’t smell it so there’s a long future for that. I’m pretty optimistic on play I just think we’re going to play in surprising new ways. I just hope someday I’m not going to see some kid hooked up with something plugged into his head but don’t bet against it.

My take away from all of this is that the though the future of play is going to be highly tech bringing families together through play is really important and I love that. I love that concept that’s excellent.

What’s very virtuous about this is that the digital play if grandma and grandpa live in Seattle and the grandchildren live in Miami they can play together through the digital play. So, it does have the ability to bring families together.

I think that we have to just kind of learn how to play together. So, they necessarily may not play with a physical toy and like you say they’re more with a visual on their phone. Sometimes when my mom comes and the kids are playing they’ll play with her on Instagram and they’ll just make those funny faces. They sit there sometimes laughing for hours because they have the little guy with the little ears and they just sit there laughing for hours. But although she’s 85 she’s laughing with her 15-year-old.

By the way for any of your viewers who are concerned about screens and children getting bad ideas and going where they shouldn’t be going online let me just say that in the 19th century when the novel became extremely popular parents became very upset that their kids were staying in the room and reading all the time. So, they were antisocial and they were getting bad ideas and somehow, we survived that. We now consider reading a novel to be really a pretty high point of refinement. So, it’s just another way for us to interact with each other in the world and to take in information. It’s not a bad thing it’s just a thing.

Well, Richard, I want to thank you for this information. This has been excellent. I know the audience and everybody can relate to play. I’m very fascinated and really excited that you came on the show. I’m so glad you were in town because I know you travel globally a lot. Thank you so much for your information. I would love to have you back to the show possibly by the end of the year so you can tell us about the latest and greatest toys. To my audience, I say thank you so much for coming back and listening today. We will see you next week with another futurist. Bye guys.

Interview With Richard Gottlieb- “How Global Toy Expert Analyzes The Future Of Play”

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