Cracking the Christmas market with a must-have toy requires two or three years of work and a carefully-nurtured creative team, says one of Australia’s leading toy-makers Moose Enterprise.
If your kids suddenly get interested in taking out the garbage this Christmas, you may have Manny Stul to thank for it. Stul is Chairman of Moose Enterprise, an Australian toy company whose “Trash Pack” range of collectible figures – billed as ‘The gross gang in your garbage’ – is currently the number one product for boys at Toys ‘r’ Us in the USA.
“We’ll sell out at Christmas, which is as hot as it gets. It is a craze,” says Stul. “By February next year at school virtually every kid will know about Trash Packs.”
That’s not just kids in America, where every major retailer wants the products for 2012. Trash Packs will sell in 75 companies and licensing companies are calling to slap Trash Pack characters on all sorts of products.
There’s a certain irony in those licensing deals because Moose tries to avoid licensed products for its own creations.
“A lot of very ordinary product can be sold as a direct result of TV and movies,” Stul says. “We operate on a different basis that the product is a primary focus and must have merit without being a tie in. That is a very big difference.”
That difference means work started on Trash Pack nearly three years ago, with the product’s roots in the 2000 takeover of Moose by Stul and his team.
At that time the company employed just ten people and offered low-priced novelties. Today it develops its own products and turns them into global brands.
Stul’s secret for success is company culture, which he says is everything for a company whose products need a creative spark.
“One of the major differences between Moose and other companies is that we do a lot of genuine innovation,” Stul says, likening the process of innovation for toys as akin to musicians jamming to write a song.
Not anyone, however, can develop a toy.
“Experience is the key,” Stul says. “There is no substitute for experience in terms of what will work, so one of our issues is education. If we were in America we could go and poach very well trained people from other toy companies. There are 30 or 40 of them out there.”
Australia lacks any such talent pool, so Moose trains staff from scratch.
“It can take somebody years to be fully up to speed on what we require,” Stul says, and that has meant that importing workers from elsewhere in the world hasn’t worked because outsiders don’t understand Moose’s culture.
“I try to interview every person we employ as a final interview to judge their personality,” Stul says. “If I do not feel they fit the culture we do not employ them.”
Those that make the grade aren’t over-managed, as Moose has a very flat structure and little hierarchy. The payoff from the combination of careful employment processes and light-touch management is loyalty as workers gel with their colleagues and thrive on the creative work on offer.
|One of the Trash Packs characters|
“We pay exceptionally well, but people who survive here love what they do and really enjoy working with their co-workers,” Stul says. “If you are passionate about it is a great motivator to stay where you are.”
These elements of the company’s culture also help to ensure that the three-year acculturation period pays for itself with loyal employees. “You cannot stop them moving but you can engender an environment they really enjoy being in.”
Common sense is another important trait Stul looks for in staff, as he says there is no substitute for good judgement about what kind of toys will work and the production processes needed to take them from idea to reality.
“Some people have a fantastic ability to pass exams, but no common sense,” he says. Moose therefore hires for talent and practicality, but expects a lot of its people.
“This is a very high powered, pressure cooker environment,” he says. “We pride ourselves on speed to market and you have to be exceptionally good to survive.”
That blend of skills has propelled Trash Packs to the top of the toy charts, although Stul admits there’s no sure-fire recipe for a hit.
“Little collectibles like Trash Packs have been around forever. It is just a matter of what form it takes.”
“We geared it towards boys. Whatever nerve we have struck with this, seems to have lit a fire.”