Why such long odds? Of course, there’s the evergreen challenge of creating something new and exciting. Industry consolidation has left far fewer manufacturers to sell to. And compared to the days when a single commercial during Saturday-morning cartoons would introduce a toy to millions of kids at once, today’s fractured media world makes it difficult to reach a toy’s target audience. “That has upped our failure rate,” Rosenwinkel explains. “It’s harder to reach the critical mass needed to push a product to the level where it will be a major hit.”
Also, a 12-year-old in the heyday of Saturday-morning cartoons was still likely to play with Hot Wheels or Barbies. No more. “What has happened is that you take the whole toy industry and compress it down to 2- to 5-year olds,” he explains. “They’re now the heart and soul of the industry; it used to be 4- to 14-year-olds.”
Rosenwinkel sees growth in the toys that push the age group up a bit. Think of Nerf guns or Monster High fashion dolls; things that are a little edgier and make it cool for older kids to just play again. “Kids still want to play with toys. They don’t want to do everything on their screen,” he says. “They still want to run Hot Wheels around or play with Barbie or hug Elmo. You can’t hug your screen.”
BMT also has an ace up its sleeve: its inventory. The upstairs storage room is BMT’s version of the Island of Misfit Toys, where thousands of rejected prototypes — all logged and categorized — idle in boxes, waiting for another chance.
It does happen. For last year’s holiday season, a 20-year-old prototype of a plastic ogre was reworked and resurrected as the Imaginext Castle Ogre. It sold so well for Fisher-Price that the toy is back on store shelves again this December — a triumph for BMT and a sight that surely will put a proud smile on Rosenwinkel’s face the next time he walks the toy aisle.
KRISTIN BAIRD RATTINI, a St. Louis–based freelance writer, is a frequent contributor to American Way. Her favorite childhood toys included the Whoopsie! doll, the Magical Musical Thing and Trivial Pursuit.