STORIES and MORE by JACK
This is my recollection of my first job interview in the toy industry…the industry, that unknown to me at the time, was to be my employer for the next forty years. On that summer day back in 1956, I cooled my heels at the headquarter offices of Lionel Trains, located on 26th street, across Madison Park from the Toy Building at 200 fifth Ave., with not the slightest interest in working in the toy business. My sights had been set on "bigger" industries and since no other job interview was available that day, I was taking this one just for the experience. The Lionel offices were both excitingly themed to their business & posh featuring a huge operating train layout display that was in those days a major tourist attraction...but my knowledge, interest, and desire to become a toy man was still yet to be revealed to me...
As I sat in the Lionel office lobby, waiting to be summoned for my interview, I was awed by the nearly life size model of a steam engines front end that appeared to be roaring right out of the wall. Like the huge toy train layout that dominated the gallery just beyond the lobby, these displays very dramatically underscored the theme of the Lionel business...making toy trains that were advertised as "a lifetime's investment in happiness". Tired of thumbing through magazines, I engaged the receptionist in conversation about this most famous of toy companies. My interest tweaked as she told me of the companys colorful history. The Lionel name was premier in the toy industry, tracing back to the early 1900s when Joshua Lionel Cowen founded the company. From that modest beginning, Lionels skillful management of a popular cultural toy icon developed into a big business, and one of Americas best recognized brands. Mid 50s sales volume was 25 million dollars, equivalent in 2000 terms to a 500 million-dollar enterprise! And all of this was accomplished with a sales group of only 14 field salesmen. Not a bad place to be for beginning a career...certainly as compared to the army of look-alike rivals I would have had compete with in a "big" company.
With more interest in this job than when I first arrived at Lionels office, I was finally called into Mr. Sam Belsers office for my interview. He was the National Sales Manager, and very smartly tailored, like all the men and women I had witnessed taking care of business that day. No nonsense managers, scurrying about the office these were the sophisticated and well dressed embodiment of what I thought successful New Yorkers were supposed to look like; particularly impressive to a young guy just recently sprung loose from the world of military uniforms, and casual college attire. I also remember clearly how fashionable the men looked in their colored dress shirts, eschewing the dictum of only white shirts that was still the regimen in stuffier businesses. It was a time before trousers for women were acceptable, but open to glamorous women in tight skirts, very high heels, lots of jewelry, layered make-up, and black tailored blouses and jackets. Fifty years later, I'm still amused how de rigueur is the color black for business attire in NYC, and most major cities around the world.
Mr. Belsers demeanor was pleasant, if a bit detached, and he seemed vaguely uncomfortable with conventional interview banter, removing his rimless glasses frequently to wipe them with a handkerchief. I learned later that that was indeed the case, since Lionel had not hired a new salesman in years, and Mr. B was almost as inexperienced at interviewing as I was at being interviewed.
But we did our best. He asked me clichéd questions for which I supplied clichéd answers. At one point, he surprised me by interrupting in mid-sentence my claim to being the worlds best candidate for this job, with an unexpected inquiry about smoking. I told him that I did indeed smoke, to which he smiled for the first time, and implored me to give him a cigarette. He had quit the habit, you see, or rather he had quit buying cigarettes, and he now needed one badly. In the 5 years I spent at Lionel, Mr. Belser never ceased to borrow cigarettes from me, occasionally balancing the scales when he would call me in to his office to repay me with a carton of Pall-Malls.
Sam Belser ended our discussion when he simply asked me if I wanted the job. I responded by telling him I was flattered, and would like to learn more about Lionel before answering. He seemed agreeable to that idea, and instructed me to wait in the lobby, for another interview with the company Vice President, Mr. Allen Ginsburg. Sam Belsers physical appearance was professorial and mildly comical since he bore a faint resemblance to Burt Lahr, the actor of Cowardly Lion fame in the Wizard of Oz. As National Sales Manager, Mr. Belser was both a professional, and a gentleman. He remains in my memory, as one of my earliest and fondest contacts in the business world.
Mr. Ginsburg, from the first handshake conveyed his in-charge personality and New York urbanity. He looked like a paunchy, elegant owl in stylish horn rimmed glasses, generous girth, and slick black hair. His very broad smile had the effect of zipping his eyes so tightly shut that the silly speculation popped into my youthful noggin that maybe this rendered him sightless. An impeccable pinstripe suit, Churchs English wing-tipped shoes, and fifty dollar tie filled out the picture of a guy who could well have been one of the regulars at the bar of the 21 Club. When he spoke, his ideas came out precise and clear, and he seemed on familiar ground employing the power of language to get things accomplished. Before coming to Lionel, Allen Ginsburg had been a big shot at Macys in NYC, and his extraordinary talents were vital to Lionel in the rapidly changing world that was impacting their business in the late 1950s. More on that later.
Mr. Ginsburg, presumably satisfied by Mr. Belsers support for my candidacy, proceeded quickly to the bottom line. The job as a sales executive (really just a fancy title for a junior salesman for the New England Region) was mine, if I wanted it, and if we could agree on what I should be paid. I was fully prepared to defend with Dale Carnegie persuasiveness my claim to no less than 100 dollars per week, justifying it as the level of pay I recently enjoyed as a First Lieutenant, USMC when Mr. Ginsburg cut me short. He thrust his hand at me and declared, Great. Then we have a deal! I left his office full of anticipation about my new career, but somewhat chastened by the possibility that I had sold myself short in our salary negotiation.
That first year on the road exposed me to the challenge, excitement, and glamour that confirmed the wisdom of joining Lionel. My worry over salary negotiations proved moot, as Mr. G. personally rewarded me with three incremental pay raises that first year. First class hotels, airline travel, expense accounts, company cars, and the money to live a high style bachelors life were heady new experiences for the kid from Kearny. The exhilaration of all this, plus the approval and encouragement of men that I respected, obscured the ominous warnings of a good business about to suffer from the changing landscape of American retailing. Ironically, 1956 proved to be the best year in Lionels history, but from there the toy train business was destined for derailment hidden just round the bend.
Tryon, NC, 2001
CONFESSIONS OF A SALESMAN
It was mid-March 1957, and spring seemed a long way off. After a day of freezing rain the trees and bushes of Manchester, New Hampshire shimmered like crystal chandeliers in nature’s ballroom. Patches of dingy snow, loyal to ol’ man winter, still clung stubbornly to the ground.
Pushing through the revolving door of the Emery Waterhouse Company warehouse, I entered what had been a 19th century shoe factory. An old fortress of a building, it was haunted by the smell of machine oils, leather hides, and the pipe tobacco of men that once labored there. But like many obsolete New England mills, originally built to weave textiles or make shoes, this old plant had been refitted to serve a new business after its original operators abandoned it for cheaper labor in the South, and overseas. Now it was home to the Emery Waterhouse Company, wholesalers of hardware merchandise to hundreds of small stores from Maine to Connecticut. As an adjunct to their nuts & bolts business, EW also distributed my line of Lionel Trains during the Christmas selling season.
But all was not well in Toyland. Hardware retailers, mostly small town Mom & Pop stores, were struggling to compete with the new mass merchandisers who were attracting consumers by cutting prices on famous brands. Unfortunately for my company and me, one of those famous brands was Lionel Trains.
I was 24 years old, with butterflies fluttering in my belly, when I asked the lady at the EW reception desk for direction to the sales meeting being held that evening in the cafeteria. After I found my way to the meeting place, that vaguely resembled a Temperance Hall, I took a seat on a folding chair in the back of the room. In front of me sat 100 gray-haired wrinkled salesmen, in wrinkled gray suits.
They were attending an Emery Waterhouse pep-rally convened to educate field salesmen (no field saleswomen in those days) to new products and gin-up excitement for an upcoming sales campaign. But no whoop’n hollers hyperbole here. No revival tent fireworks tonight. Just an occasional solemn nod of the head, or discreet clapping would be enough to demonstrate their enthusiasm. Yankee decorum ruled.
Presiding over this meeting was EW Sales Manager, 50 year old Peter Cebula. A former “field man” himself, Peter was responsible for buying and selling the merchandise listed in the EW sales catalog. In a piercing Down East accent, tinged with a hint of Cebula’s French-Canadian ancestry, he presented the men with generous new deferred payment deals, and demonstrated the improved packaging for their 12-piece private-label wrench set. He assured the field people that there would indeed be no shortages of electric house fans this coming summer, as had been the case last year, etc, etc. Since he was one of them, the old-timers trusted his promise that if they got the order, he would make certain it got shipped. An important concern for men who only got commission checks based upon what got delivered to their dealers.
At a meeting in Peter’s office, the day before, Peter had rocked me with the news that his company was no longer going to offer Lionel trains for sale to their dealers. Cebula had polled his sales force to see if they thought they should continue selling Lionel products to their dispirited dealers. The old gents said no. They had had it. And so it looked like a rookie salesman, like yours truly, was faced with the disaster of losing a major distributor on my first call!
This is why I wound up at the sales meeting, waiting my turn to speak to the sales force. I had persuaded Cebula to agree that, if I could convince his men to give Lionel another try, EW would continue as a Lionel Trains distributor. A daunting challenge for a young “factory man” in a Brooks Brothers suit and bow tie, coming up from New York to try to talk them out of throwing in the towel. Mr. Cebula had nothing to lose, and maybe feeling a little sorry for my predicament, agreed to let me give it a shot. So here I was, waiting for my 30 minutes to attempt the impossible.
After an hour or so, from behind the draped card table where he had been making his presentation, Peter spotted me in the back and nodded a signal that it was my time to speak. Gathering myself up, I scooted to the front of the room, briefcase in hand, as Mr. Cebula informed his audience that I was the new factory man from Lionel Trains, replacing the retired Mr. Myles J. Walsh. (Actually, Mr. Walsh wasn’t exactly retired—he was out of action having just lost one of his many battles with the Demon Rum)
Laying my briefcase on the table, I clicked open the snaps, took out my shiny new 1957 Lionel catalog, and shouted “Good Evening Gentlemen” in my best baritone voice, hoping I could hide my nervousness with a big, confident smile. I then proceeded in my usual routine of showing the catalog illustrations of our wonderful new line, prattling on about Lionel quality and Lionel’s indisputable popularity with kids. But it soon became clear from 100 empty faces that I might as well be talking to the wall. The terrifying awareness that my message was “bombing” made my knees go wobbly. It was time for something drastic, or I was a goner.
So I plunked down the catalog, and scowling my best “I-mean-business” scowl, strode round to the front of the card table to look the “hostiles” in the eye. “Gentlemen”, I said, “something is wrong here, and I’d like you to give it to me straight. Please feel free to say exactly what’s on your mind.”
After a brief silence, I appealed again. “C’mon, what’s the deal?” This finally got the ball rolling as a grumpy old-timer blurted out “We can’t sell this stuff to our people. There’s too much price-cutting”. After that another guy chimed in, “Yeah, the discounters are killin’ us. We need protection”. For the next few minutes the room came alive with hardware salesmen up in arms over the problem that eventually changed the face of American retailing. But like the weather, complaining about discounting wasn’t going to change it. It was a problem for which there was no easy answer, and certainly not one that could be expected from a rookie peddler like me. That was when despair became the mother of invention. I decided to go for it with an all-or-nothing brainstorm.
“Gentlemen”, I shouted, flirting with a corny imitation of Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” “Hold on a minute. If I’m not mistaken it’s only a few miles from here, to over there in Massachusetts, where those brave fellas at Lexington put it on the line. Did they sacrifice everything just so you could have it easy? What would they think about
hollerin’ for protection? No they did it to be free from protection. To compete, not complain.”
Now, you’ve got to know that I took this bizarre tack because I simply didn’t know what else to say. I had to come up with SOMETHING to save this account and to save my own bacon as well. So I continued to wave the flag, and pound on the wacky notion that it was their patriotic duty to stick with Lionel! Remember the Maine, Tippicanoe, and Pearl Harbor too! With over-the-top rhetoric that only the young and desperate are capable of, I fogged the room in a cloud of chauvinistic hot air--and prayed my Yankee Doodle bamboozle would work.
When I first saw a glimmer of response, a few heads bobbing in agreement, I actually began to think that maybe I was on to something. Good Lord, was I beginning to buy into my own malarkey? Nevermind, the only thing that counted now was NOT LOSING Emery Waterhouse.
And so I continued on to some sort of smarmy finale, which I don’t precisely remember. But the gist of it was, you owe it to yourselves and your families, you owe it to your dealers, you owe it to AMERICA.. to stay in the Lionel game. And it worked!
As an old man looking back on all this, I confess that it makes me blush to think I resorted to such jingoistic shtick. But I must also confess that on that long-ago night in icy New Hampshire, I reveled in my victory. When for the moment I was the MVP of the Lionel sales force. King Kong in an Ivy League suit. Jack the giant killer.
As it turned out, my triumph was short lived. Yes, when I left the meeting that night with order in hand, I felt on top of the world. But 5 months later old fickle fate had the last word when Peter Cebula phoned me his final decision on dropping the line. His guys had indeed gone out, inspired by my bombast, and given it their best. But reality got in the way, and when their dealers persisted in abandoning the Lionel business to the discounters, Emery Waterhouse had to admit it was over for them as well. So in August 1957 they resigned the Lionel line for good. It was the end of an era for Emery Waterhouse. It was the beginning of the end for Lionel. But it was just the beginning for me.
April 23, 2002
Hong Kong… here I come!
(This is copy of letter I penned to my wife & family describing my first trip to Hong Kong in January, 1976. Above picture shows old Kai Tek airport where I landed))
Wed.1/7/76, 12:10 PM, NYC
The trip now begins to become a reality as I board the JAL DC-8 welcomed by smiling Japanese stewards in their naval-like uniforms, and businesslike Oriental hostess girls smartly costumed in modern dark blue suits. Background Muzak features hauntingly relaxing eastern sound…interrupted by a crisp, heavily accented pilot announcement, first in English & followed in Japanese (almost sounds military!) My mind a happy confusion of thoughts concerning my dear family reading this account & the eager anticipation of a new experience. Up, up, & away!! Comfortable in left side window seat, empty all across the aisle to opposite side of cabin. Great view & quiet opportunity to read Centennial.
Wed 1/7 2:38PM Anchorage
Landed in Alaska after flying over Great Lakes area & NW Canadian Territory…saw pipeline, lots of wilderness and some very beautiful & very snowy mountains. During layover attempted phone call to Marino but couldn’t locate. Enjoyed long distance phone check with my family & reported my safe progress. Witnessed many Japanese shoppers at Anchorage Intl. Terminal duty-free stores. First time in a non-Caucasian crowd. Left Alaska @ 4:00PM their time for 7 ½ hr. flight to Tokyo. Map check surprisingly shows Anchorage almost as far west as Honolulu.
Wed 1/7/76 11:30EST
Flying SW across Bering Sea visibility is fair with clearly illuminated horizon. The feeling is one of escape, from darkness to light as we race towards the extended daylight in the west. In approx. 2 more hours the International Date Line will be crossed and a day will be “lost”. I’m trying to accommodate physically & mentally to the idea that in five hours from now I’ll be arriving in Tokyo in time for supper rather than the normal routine of awakening for breakfast!
Thurs 1/8/76 6:00PM Tokyo time
After a nap of 3 hours we are now a half hour from our Tokyo landing. My main thought is that in spite of almost fifteen hours in one seat, the prospect of being half-way round the world is truly amazing! The magical flying carpet is for real!! In an attempt to freshen up had to wait for available bathroom and noticed that Japanese people sure seem to take more time to get the job done than most westerners. Feel surprisingly “with-it” & adjusted to 180 degree time differential. Tokyo weather cloudy & 53degrees announced by captain. Many passengers now sleeping and cabin atmosphere dreamy in near darkness with only soft lights in operation
Friday 1/9/76 10:00AM Tokyo
Departed Japan en route to Hong Kong. Spent last night @ Pacific Hotel & found it very pleasant. Rode bus from busy airport with an American Army sergeant & English engineer who were also booked into the Pacific. Enjoyed a Japanese beer with soldier at airport while awaiting bus, and learned that he was garrisoned at small U.S. installation 500 miles north of Bangkok on Laotian border…and very apprehensive about political/military conditions in the area. English fellow was returning to his assignment in north China & reinforced my understanding of People’s Republic of China today as very suspicious and untrusting of westerners. Had no trouble getting to sleep at 11:00PM Tokyo time while you guys were probably getting ready for lunch…but awoke during night & discovered my “metabolic” clock was a little bit confused! Felt rested in morning, however, and had scrambled eggs & cornflakes w/bananas for breakfast with G.I. from U.S. Tell Spacs’a that Mom’s scrambled eggs are even more superior when compared to Japanese version. Bus ride back to airport revealed a clean, modern & bustling city going to work…probably the most populated city in the world. No skyscraper buildings, but plenty of them. Small cars & small people in left handed, jammed traffic lanes. Clusters of mothers & school children on almost every street corner awaiting school buses. Kids wear colorful, but uniform type caps…probably denoting their school or class…and carry their books in knapsacks. They strike me as being active youngsters eager to get where they are going. Also observed that Japanese children, particularly the toddlers are very cute & usually dressed to look like dolls. Could not help but wish Ellen could see them! Not uncommon to see people on the streets wearing surgical masks & experienced traveler told me purpose was not exclusively preventative but rather a courtesy that a person with a cold extends to others! Met Chicago couple on return bus who are going to stay for 6 months, the husband being involved in camera manufacturing of some sort. JAL plane more crowded than yesterday and take-off was as scheduled for the almost 5 hour trip. Destination weather in the 60degress…Hong Kong Here I Come!
ANOTHER TOY STORY, LAKESIDE CIRCA 1972
In an earlier e-mail you mentioned the "Snoopy" story, which I frankly don't remember...but I do recall while at Lakeside, and shortly after we acquired Power Wheels from Eldon, we got stuck with a boatload of defective PR which we didn't sell, or enjoy profit from...but was not covered in the deal we made with Mr. Silverstein, the Eldon prez...so we were suffering a hit that P. Gise asked me to straighten out with the customer (Sears).
I had Harvey R prepare all the records, conscript a lawyer, and we headed out for Chicago & a meeting with a senior VP of Sears & his battery of lawyers.
At the meeting there was a lot of legalize flying around the office of the Sears big shot...about who held contract, who didn't, etc etc.
It finally occurred to me that Sears had us by the legal gonads, so I decided to take a different tack.
I interrupted the battling lawyers & addressed Mr. Sears Big Shot, saying something to the effect...
Mr. Big Shot, please understand that my boss sent me down here to try to persuade you & your good company, that...legalities notwithstanding...we were getting a raw deal. Being stuck with unfair chargebacks. I think I used the word "screwed" which really got Mr. Big Shot's attention.
The silence was deafening, & I sat awaiting the wrath of our biggest customer...when a smile crossed his face & he said..."No, my friend...you were not screwed...you were Silversteined!!! Whereupon he broke out in laughter, telling me to go back to Minneapolis and tell my boss that all is well. He and his company agreed that we were not at fault, and all chargebacks & locker stocks to that effect were being cancelled immediately.
We won!! But not because I argued like Clarence Darrow, but more like a dead end kid...
A SALESMAN TO REMEMBER
Joe Mariamson was famous for lecturing at Lazarus Dept. Store (Ohio) Executives Christmas party. His zany subject was "How to buy at 40%off, and sell at 40%off" He began in a dead serious, all-business tone, complete with a blackboard to illustrate the magical math that would illustrate and prove his incredulous theory... frantically chalking his nonsensical arithmetic to the blackboard. It reminded me of the frenzied & crazy mathematical calculations of the Aussie actor Russell Crowe, in the recent hit movie about a 1940s Princeton math genius. But in Joe's case, when his numbers obviously didn't add up to prove you can buy & sell at the same price...he would fling his chalk to the ground, and with his characteristic one hand on his hip, bend his upper body aggressively at his august Lazarus audience, bite his lip and bellow out in despair to the wide-eyed executives..."BLEEP it...BLEEP it! Just juggle the books." . He had these big shots actually so fooled into thinking he knew what he was talking about, when he left the stage they saluted his performance with thunderous applause.
That was vintage Joe Mariamson
More Joe Mariamson stories from frind Joel Tasman
Jack...Joe was indeed an actor...i also used to attend a Christmas season dinner at Lazarus' in Columbus, ohio. it was attended by all the midwestern salesmen and sales managers...that night at the restaurant a woman tried to crash the party...we thought she was an older hooker. she caused quite a scene...after a while we were stunned to find out it was...you got it...Joe Mariamson...he sat at my tableand stayed in character for at least an hour...i thought i would piss in my pants...it was one of the funniest evenings i ever spent in my life...by the way, also at our table that night were my good friends...Paul Burg and Fred Reibe...i hope they are at peace...
Joe Mariamson is without a doubt the most extraordinary salesman I ever met in the Biz. I could tell more Joe Mariamson stories than I could about any other single personality I encountered in 40 years, but my last one involves a phone call. It was the early 70's & I was newly with Lakeside when Joe phoned me for advice. In his gruff manner he told me I knew how to put things on paper, and would I help him organize a resume for job interviews...since he was out of a job at the time. Well when I queried him over the phone I got dates & places, but the details of his actual experiences required a little editing...for example he thought it perfectly ok to begin his bio by telling his would be employer , "that I got an idea I wanted ta be a salesmun when i woiked as a runner for a bootlegger up in Niagara Falls..also I hadda get outta there because I had witnessed a stabbin' in a saloon my cousin owned". He was acting then, and undoubtedly acted so well in all that he did that he was the consummate salesman. It's a shame there are so few of still in touch with the toy biz who remember Joe.
A MICHAEL JACKSON STORY
All of the recent hullabaloo surrounding Michael Jackson reminds me of my own "18 inches away from greatness" with the MJ phenomenon. At the height of Jackson's popularity I represented LJN Toys who manufactured a Barbie sized replica of the famous moonwalker.
My major customer was K-Mart, and my main man at K-Mart was the boss of all the toy buyers, Ed Scully. I did very well in those years selling K-Mart tons of LJN products including 63 million bucks worth of ET toys in 1982. But, as luck would have it, ET wasn’t the over-the-counter blockbuster Mr. Scully and I had expected. It wasn't a flop, but it also wasn't the huge hit we planned upon. From then on the K-Mart m.o. regarding LJN toys was trust, but verify.
Not long after the ET disappointment I was peddling a doll made in the image of the ultimate pop culture song and dance celebrity of the day. And like guys at the race track who place huge bets on favorites that fizzle, my buddy Ed Scully and I, hoped to recoup from ET by betting big on Jacko.
With ET still fresh in his mind, Mr. Scully is gung-ho on the Jackson doll, but cautious about our ability to accurately capture a true likeness on a product in this small scale. So, to address this concern, I made frequent visits to K-Mart during the early development stages of the product to review prototypes with the buyer Jim Tyndal to assure them that we were indeed achieving the look of the real Michael Jackson.
Now, you have to keep in mind that here we were, conventional middle aged "squares" attempting to get on the pop culture band wagon that in every way conceivable was foreign to our own way of life...but had great potential for making a buck. And as you might have guessed, making a buck prevailed…
I should mention that Tyndal giving thumbs up or down on this project was very limited, since Mr. Scully had already pretty much called the tune. It was clear, however, that this “approval” charade had to be taken seriously, and so I did. It should also be noted that Mr. Tyndal was the only black man in the toy buying dept, and one of the few, and very few black men in all of K-Mart management in those days: And to complicate these negotiations, Michael Jackson insisted on his personal ok of the product to insure that his likeness agreed with his weird self image, which resulted in a toy true to his bizzare likeness.
So here’s the picture…a fiftyish portly white peddler presenting Michael Jackson prototypes for approval to African-American Mr. Tyndal...which was a comical, if not awkward scenario for the both of us since Jim knew full well that Michael was calling the shots on the product and his boss was the one calling the shots on the buy.
At the point where the prototype was nearly complete, I took it to Jim for his review. I'll remember forever that meeting in his office, as I sat there watching him examine the 11" hand sculpted doll figure, and for the longest time saying nothing.The silence was so unsettling I decided to inject the old salesman's trick of putting words in a customer's mouth. I broke the ice by enthusiastically proclaiming, "Pretty good isn't it Jim? Really looks like Michael, don't you think"? smiling a ridiculous grin to reinforce my claim.
It was then that Mr. Tyndal dismissively put the doll on a shelf near his desk, and said. “So you think this proto is great, do you?...to which I replied "I certainly do, Jim." and then making the mistake of surrendering control of the interview I said, "Why Jim ...don't you like what we've done?" That's when he made me almost fall out of my chair...
Picking the doll off the shelf, and pointing to it Tyndal asked me, "Now you think this is a good likeness, do you. Well I don’t. Look here at his skin color...and tell me you've got it right". He knew that his opinion was irrelevant, but that didn’t stop him from expressing his dissent. He knew the score but defended his own integrity by giving it to me straight; and for that I admired him.
To this question I answered, "I do, Jim...I do"...but now here we were clearly immersed in a wacky conflict of opinion over the look of a toy character figure made all the more awkward by the many cooks in the kitchen and the racial undercurrent. Here we were judging a ten dollar toy modeled on a pop culture giant, a celebrity who had inflicted so much alteration to his appearance that even his Creator wouldn’t recognize him.
JT then plopped the doll down on his desktop and told me that this product wannabee looked too white. And to make his point, it was then that Jim blurted out his unforgettable analogy..."His skin is much too light...much too light…God almighty, your thighs in January (referring to my anatomy) are darker than this!" Well, this analysis caught me so much by surprise, that I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry!
And so the product development visits to Jim Tyndal ended. The actual production dolls, despite Jim's objection reflected a fairly accurate image of the pasty & effeminate character that was its inspiration, but as luck would have it…the Jackson doll went on to be another marketing “near miss”.
As with so many of LJN's great ideas that fell short of expectations, the consumer reaction to the Michael Jackson doll was only luke warm, proving that celebrity status is no guarantee in the toy biz. But since I saved a production sample in the original package I wonder if its collector value has been increased, or diminished by the current tribulations of the greatest flash dancer of them all? I suspect that like my thighs in January, this question will soon be answered by a jury out there in sunny California.
June 9, 2005
1968 TOY SHOW BLOWHARDS
Shes a Real Doll Isnt She?
Im guessing the year was 1968. But it might have been a year earlier, or later. In any case it was when I worked for Mattel in Chicago, selling to National Accounts. What Im about to tell you involved a meeting with our biggest account, Sears Roebuck, when I was tapped to present the new Mattel product line. To lend a little humor to the presentation, I came up with a shtick to which, Paul Burg my boss, gave his smiling, professorial approval.
He shared my notion that humor is sometimes a good lubricant to doing business even though one has to be careful since it can sometimes boomerang. But these were days in the toy business when both sellers & buyers took themselves less seriously; when style and humor were still part of the industrys personality.
My job was to present the new Mattel line to a group of out-of-town Sears store managers who were meeting at Sears Roebuck headquarters in downtown Chicago. I relished the assignment because I love to speechify. And so here I was standing in front of these guys (I dont remember any women), all of whom were eagerly waiting to hear about Whats New from the worlds largest toymaker.
The room was dark, except for a spotlight on me and the lectern where I was doing my speechifying. I felt like Billy Crystal presiding over the Academy Awards. I was in my early thirties, so why not?
Before the presentation, I had surreptitiously hidden a bucket filled with water, outside of view of the audience, inside the base of the lectern. In that bucket I had immersed a naked, nondescript 16 toddler aged doll.
I began by reminding these fellows of Mattels leadership in the toy biz, and particularly in the doll category. I reminded them that the very concept of dolls that did something rather than just stare back at you was innovated by Mattel. It made possible the new toy wonders and huge commercial successes we called live action dolls dolls that talked, walked, rode bicycles, danced, etc: uniqueness that gave excitement and action not only to the product, but to the product when it appeared on television. All of which added up to really big business for both Sears & ourselves.
Blustering on about Mattels leadership in the toy industry, I detailed the modern sophistications that made this possible Mattel research, Mattel product testing, Mattel focus group sessions Mattel technologies, Mattel promotion, etc. Pointing to these and other cutting edge Mattel initiatives, I tried to ratchet up the excitement and interest to set the stage for the climax of my speechifying, which was when I announced it was now time for
The presentation of this years most live action doll ever the doll with realism and play value that would make all other dolls look pale by comparison. (a more appropriate word here would be pail). And with that
I announced in a booming voice, GENTLEMEN
At this point I reached down to grab the doll soaking in the bucket. I put the dripping wet, soggy looking naked plastic figure with waterlogged red hair, smack in the middle of the lectern, the spotlight coming in tight for dramatic effect.
The silence was deafening, and although I couldnt see my audience out there in the darkness, I sensed they were totally taken in maybe even awestruck.
I then barked like a carnival pitchman, And here she is the most looks for real doll ever created. The crowning glory of our new live action dolls category what is bound to be the best selling toy, ever Gentlemen, I give you, the one, the only SWEATY BETTY!
What does she do? Why she is the epitome of the human condition in miniature she does what every REAL PERSON does she SWEATS, and she SWEATS like no doll has ever done before! And to understand the lengths Mattel went to produce this miracle, we put hundreds of names before kids in focus groups before finally settling on SWEATY BETTY. You might be interested to know that the name POLLY PERSPIRATION also tested well, but was a distant second
And so there you have it. Gentlemen, Whaddayathink?
For a moment there was absolute silence, and then when it was obvious this was all a spoof, these guys exploded in laughter and applause.
When the gag was over, I then went on to demo the REAL headline doll for that year. I can remember clearly Sweaty Betty, but the nonfiction new doll I cant. Possibly Dancerina?
For me it was it was a real kick one that Ill never forget because it reminds me of a time when our jobs as well as our products were fun a time when what we did for a living was worth remembering.
April 17, 2005
A TOY SHOW TALE
It was New York Toy Show, 1967 and I was beginning my first week as regional sales manager for Mattels Midwest National Accounts. Our Mattel regional offices were in the Chicago Merchandise Mart, but the entire industry was gathering in the Big Apple for the annual introduction of new product lines, commonly referred to as Toy Fair. And so here I was in New York City, along with everyone else associated with the toy biz in those days.
The Mattel line was displayed in Mattels new Manhattan digs located in the recently constructed Penn Plaza office building atop Madison Square Garden. For our VIP National Accounts, a special display room was separate from the main toy display gallery. In this detached environment we were able to make solo presentations to major customers, providing a private confidential room intended to reflect our appreciation and respect for their business. They included giant Chicago accounts like Sears, Montgomery Ward, Aldens, John Plain, Spiegels, Walgreens, Ben Franklin, Jewel Tea, and out-of town customers like K-Mart (Detroit), Western Auto (Kansas City), Coast-to-Coast Stores (Minneapolis), and Gamble-Skogmo (Minneapolis)
It so happened that my last minute decision to leave my Minneapolis employer, Topper Toys, to accept a Mattel job in Chicago had left no time to advise my customers of my new affiliation. Which meant our meetings at Toy Show would be my first chance to explain that I was no longer their Topper Toy representative, but their new Mattel guy.
One of these gentlemen was Mr. Chet Armstrong, buyer for hundreds of Midwest hardware stores organized under the chain store name of Gamble-Skogmo. In those days G-S was a formidable distribution venue for our products in small Midwest towns. Chet had most recently been a customer of mine for Topper Toys, and in that connection I had sold hard against the many Mattel toys that were competitors to my Topper products. Since Topper was a newcomer and not as established as Mattel, I was proud to have persuaded Chet to choose some of my Topper products over comparable Mattel toys. One of those Mattel toys that I displaced was a baby doll, Cheerful Tearful. It was a very successful TV promoted doll that cried when you pulled down her arms, & that returned to a smile when you pulled them back up. In its place Mr. A. bought my Topper knock-off, whose name Ive forgotten. But, in any case, it was quite a coup.
Now, Chet Armstrong was a big buyer, literally & figuratively. He knew he had purchase power that suppliers would bend over backwards for, and at 300+ pounds, with his bald head, taciturn face & manner to match; he inspired fear & drove hard bargains with all his suppliers. But somehow, Chet never struck me as being the ogre others stood in fear of or maybe I was just too dense to recognize and ogre when I see one. In any case, we seemed to get along pretty good. Not bosom buddies, mind you, but I was lucky enough that he gave this 34 year old peddler more business than grief.
So, when I went to the lobby to collect him for the private room showing, he was quite surprised. And as his face flushed when he was angry, his crimson countenance was not a good sign for the presentation I had planned. So we began with some small talk with which I clumsily tried to put him at ease, explain my new Mattel assignment & my haste to move my family to Chicago and to get to NYC for Toy Show, etc.-- all of which I hoped would explain why I didnt call or visit him to announce my new affiliation. As I think back, I believe I did try to get in touch, but it was the Holiday Season & Mr. Armstrong was out of town. At least that was the excuse I used, and as I remember it worked, sort of, but with Chet hinting that maybe I could have tried harder
The private room arrangement was perfect for a guarded guy like Chet, and I assured him with just the two of us, he could be free to react as he chose, without playing political games because big shots were not looking over our shoulders. I also told him, I would keep codified notes about any technical questions he might have, for which I had no answer, with the assurance that those questions would in time be promptly responded to by our technical people. Knowing Chet, he was likely to have plenty of arcane questions early in my presentation, to establish how he was on top of things, and which he would soon become weary of asking. They were usually questions like, are the tires on that toy truck fully dimensional, or half/dimensional? Is hair for that doll rooted, or just glued? These and other boilerplate questions came out of the playbook of old-time buyers, and Chet was certainly in that old-timer tradition.
And so, I told him I would note these questions on my legal pad to save time, and organize a proper written answer & reply to Chets office so it would be waiting for him when he returned home from Toy Show. In actuality, my notes were doodles not unlike the ones I made in grade school, because I knew the game we were playing, and that Chet had much more interest in asking questions than in actually ever getting answers; that he would forget his questions the moment he left our office, just as I would forget sending him a report.
Presentation procedure called for reviewing continuing toys, or items still in the line from previous years, and then demonstrating the brand new products as finale. And so it was that Cheerful Tearful, the crying-smiling little dolly that had been a huge success for Mattel was one of the first toys I presented to Mr. Armstrong.
Just a few weeks ago this product was the enemy. But now I had to reverse course & persuade Chet that his purchase of the Topper knockoff was a mistake, even though I was the culprit who sold him that mistake. And to correct this, I had to try to get Cheerful Tearful back on the shelves of the Gamble-Skogmo stores. Lots of luck!
But, since the irascible Mr. Armstrong was not suffering amnesia, he bellowed Hold it hold it! Stop the music! and with this I knew I had my work cut out for me.
It wasnt but a few weeks ago, YOU yes YOU told me that that doll, looking derisively at the Cheerful-Tearful doll in my hand was a PIECE of JUNK! AND NOW you want me to believe its better than sliced bread YOU, actually want me to buy it?
Well, as you might expect this was indeed a challenge for which I had neither logic nor God on my side. So, I took a deep breath, bent towards Chet as if to pass on a national security secret, and said almost in a whisper, the only thing I could think of Chet, yes I did say that a few weeks ago, and you know what?.....A few weeks ago it WAS A PIECE OF JUNK? .
Im, sure he was fully expecting that I was going to reveal some incredible new design improvements for the teary-cheery doll, but since there werent any, all I could offer was this stupid frozen smile on my face, hoping that it could outlast the interminable silence that followed
It was then that the ridiculousness of all this suddenly hit the big guy from Minneapolis in his funny bone, and it transformed him into a belly-laughing Buddah in a pin striped suit wryly smiling & chuckling, he stammered why Ill be Gol-danged Ill be Gol-danged... YOU did it again...YOU got me again! (Chet cussed like a Minnesotan, but it was no less pointed than had he been a Brooklyn longshoreman). This relieved me of my idiotic smirk, but instinct told me I had better not join in with the yuk-yuking, and so I adopted a slightly sheepish look and kept my mouth shut, avoiding like the plague any hint of triumph in pulling one over on the big fella.
Mindful of Scripture that threatens those who live by the sword will die, etc my mind raced to the conclusion that this was to be the end of my career as the Mattel salesman to Gamble-Skogmo. But no, that isnt how the story ends
From that never-to-be-forgotten gotcha in the Mattel presentation room with Chet Armstrong, we moved on. He and I never spoke again of transitory loyalties to products or toy companies, and actually Chet Armstrong gave me very respectable support in my new job, even though that didnt include re-listing Cheerful Tearful.
I have to suspect that he understood, and probably even enjoyed being part of a zany business where selling is the art of trying to change buyers minds, practiced by sales people who were willing to sometimes abandon sanity to get the order providing that after the fun n games, and the buyer signed on the dotted line, these sales pros worked as hard to protect their customers interests, as they did to sell them merchandise. A comedic quid pro quo you might call it
At least thats how it was in those days if I remember them correctly
DEATH OF A SALESMAN
Paul Burg was a good man. But now he was a good dead man, lying in a closed casket with his smiling photo on top of a shiny copper coffin.
It was 1969, at a downtown Chicago funeral parlor where I had gone to pay my respects to this much-admired professional, who had been my friend and teacher. Mr. Burg had been my boss since 1966 when I joined Mattel Toys as his assistant for National Accounts Sales. His assignment was the sales management of the major Mattel customers in the Midwest, and I was his understudy. Our job was to optimize business from the big guys like Sears & Roebuck, Montgomery Ward, John Plain, Spiegels, Aldens, K-Mart, Target Stores, Walgreens, Ben Franklin, Jewel Tea, Gamble-Skogmo, and Western Auto. It was a great, high visibility position for a young guy in a company going places. And Paul was a prince of a boss who did all he could to help me make the best of it. Although he was 20+ years older and a veteran toy man, he always made me feel comfortable and confident that I would be a success. Of my many business associations, this was one of my most inspiring.
Since he had taken his own life, lying in that casket didnt square with what I thought I knew about him. Like everyone else that encountered Paul he had always impressed me with his love of life, love of people, love of learning, and his love of the toy business. He was a graceful, wise gentleman to whom just getting up in the morning was an exciting adventure. So, how could this be? How could this make sense?
Paul had been hospitalized for exhaustion, but was well enough that his doctor Okd his off campus request for dinner & a movie with his wife. After their date, the unsuspecting Mrs. Burg taxied home, and Paul returned to his hospital room, giving no hint of the horror that was to follow.
Paul Burg had been a member of the small group of men and women who pioneered Mattel into the post WWII market when the founders, Ruth and Elliot Handler, first made toys in a small factory in Colorado. In those days, he and his partner Joel Alexander had been independent manufacturers representative for the fledgling toymaker, and other toy factories. When, in the sixties, Mattel had outgrown outside sales reps, Joel and Pauls people were folded into the Mattel organization. From that point on, they became Mattel employees, making the rare transition from being independent representatives to housemen.
It was only two years before his death that Paul and I had been invited to a dinner party at the Handlers opulent digs in Century City, a Los Angeles penthouse for the rich and the very rich. The Handlers were hosting some Sears and Ben Franklin VIPs, and since they were our customers we were also invited. In these glamorous surroundings, Paul Burg was the center of attraction, entertaining the Handlers and the buyers with his worldly insights, his sunny wit, and amusing stories about the old days in the toy biz. This was the Paul Burg I remember so fondly.
But on this night in the Chicago Loop not far from Marina Towers, the silo shaped apartment building where Paul and his wife Muriel had lived, we gathered to say good-bye. The funeral parlor was overflowing with their many friends, and Mattel colleagues. When the Handlers entered, the crowd made way for them to pay their respects. With Elliot close behind, like Prince Philip following Queen Elizabeth, Ruth Handler proceeded directly to the casket, looked painfully at Pauls photograph and muttered, Oh, Paul...Paul.. You poor bastard. The tough as nails President of Mattel was visibly shook as she clasped the hands of the teary widow, and her only son Dr. Fred Burg, a prominent Chicago pediatrician. She murmured Im sorry, Muriel. Im sorry, Fred. Very sorry, and left as quickly as she came.
The rapid pace of the toy business compelled us all to move on, and move on we did. But with hindsight Im a little surprised how little we speculated on why Paul did what he did. It wasnt that we didnt care. It wasnt because it was taboo. And I dont think it was because he was quickly forgotten. I suspect it was because we knew it wasnt our business. He did what he did, and that was that.
At the time, I dont even remember making the connection in my mind, that Paul Burgs leap to his death from a hospital window wasnt my first encounter with suicide. Or more accurately, attempted suicide. Seven years earlier, another boss of mine, at another toy company, had seriously considered going the same route. That good man, crushed by a business that was heading in the wrong direction, also thought life was no longer worth living. He too would have ended it all had another salesman and myself not returned early from our lunch to prevent him from leaping from his office window on the 14th floor of the Chicago Merchandise Mart.
After months of psychotherapy at Michael Reese Hospital, Jack Caffrey was made well enough to limp through his remaining years, and salvage what was left of his life. A widower, Jack married the nurse who had helped him through those rough times. And in their brief marriage I believe he finally found happiness, so long denied by business catastrophes. On a 1977 trip to visit his relatives and friends in New Jersey, Jack Caffrey died suddenly in a motel room. He was in his late sixties.
Witnessing so much tragedy, one might think that a prudent person would run, not walk, to another line of work. But it never entered my mind. You might think that a game that inflicts so many injuries upon its players would drive us off the field. But it didnt. Like so many veterans of the toy business of those days, I just kept moving on. A decision that, oddly enough, I think both Paul & Jack would have fully understood.
May 2, 2002
TOY BIZ BUDDIES (1)
Hi Jack -- I read your email in the Bloom Report with great enjoyment and amusement -- only when I saw your name at the end did I realize a reason to enjoy it even more! I hope that you're well -- Bruce Salkin (remember him) and I have been in business for almost 17 years as a distributor of closeouts -- you were my first boss in sales and I still remember with great fondness some of the lessons that I learned from you.
if you get a chance, write back and let me know how you're doing. Best Regards...Carl.
Carl L. Hyman
Executive Vice President
UniTrade Marketing Group, Inc.
285 Ridge Road Suite 6
Dayton, NJ 08810
Ph: 732 355 1300 x117
Fax: 732 355 1076
Cell: 732 674 13
TOY BIZ BUDDIES (2)
I have just had the opportunity and pleasure of reading you Death of a Salesmen letter in the Bloom Report and want to use it as an opportunity to say "hello" to an old friend.
You write as you speak. I was just about able to picture you facial expression as I read the letter. It was very poignant and captivating.
So how are you feeling. I do remember you are one of my Cardiac Brothers, as are so many of us in the Toy Industry.
It appears retired life is agreeing with you. I must assume you are still living in the south and traveling to see your children.
As you know the industry has changed but as it sounds from your earlier letter to the the Bloom Report, CONFESSIONS OF A SALESMAN, it remains the same.
AJL Associates continues to chug along. We have had some very good years but with one son at the University of Maryland and two more children soon to off to college, I still need another four or five years to work.
The stress of this business has taken it's toll on many. The business continues to lose volume due to several reasons. A key one is the age consolidation factor which eventually transcends to fewer opportunities. As a result there are fewer but more powerful retailers, and fewer suppliers to generate competition.
As you had always said it is becoming a business taken over by, let's see if I remember how it went "....those young men with their shinny handlebar mustaches"----or something to that effect.
Well it was great to hear another one of your stories and please send my warmest regards to Mary Jane, actually she was the one who always kept you in line.
Click on our website and see what we are doing.
AJL Associates Ltd.
214 King George Road
Basking Ridge, N.J. 07920
O-(908) 647-0660 [email protected]
TOY BIZ BUDDIES (3)
A fabulous remembrance! I vaguely remember Chet, so it doesnt have quite the impact as the one I vividly recall when you were faced with the entire Kmart buying crew on the 7th floor of 200 Fifth in that little theater we built, around 1984, trying to make a presentation of the new WWF line, and they flat out told you they would not even allow you to present it because those people (lowlifes) who watch WWF arent Kmart customers, or something to that effect. I clearly recall being impressed with the how hard you tried, and how many approaches you took to try to convince them to, at least, take a look at the presentation, but to no avail. Then a few months later when it blew out at TRU, you got THAT call from them wanting, was it 400K, or 800K figures, yesterday.
As a personal aside, I was still learning that sometimes Jacks (Friedman) self assuredness was, when we dug down a bit, not quite as firm as it appeared. Early on in the line development, I was a bit cautious on WWF because the demographics for the shows were very heavy adult, very light on kids. Jack acted like it simply didnt matter (of course, he had already signed the agreement!), but as the time to cut steel grew closer, we looked hard at options, and when you guys were getting some responses like Kmarts, Jack slowly came around to agree to consider some cheaper options hence we tooled, as I recall, six figures, one cavity each, in aluminum tools. The aluminum tools were fast to make, cheap, but were projected to degrade to the point of uselessness after about 50K pcs. So we got off to a cheap start, and man, did we ever quickly crank out many, many more aluminum cavities over the next few months!
My clumsy language skills couldnt do this story justice, but should you find the interest, I think lots of folks would love to read a more complete recollection in a Mason Essay! After all, its only the retired mates that get to tell the whole truth!
All the best,
PS: Hope youre feeling better.
TOY BIZ BUDDIES (4)
Hi Jack and so nice to hear from you.Unfortunately, it had to be with this sad news.
Yes, Larry did try to keep the news quiet to only a small circle of friends although it started to get out at the end when he had to stop working. He last three months were not great physically for him but he continued to talk and have visits with a lot of the industry people. You would never know he was ill if you were speaking to him on the phone.
I will certainly pass on your thoughts. I had wondered where you were. You were one of the good guys.
Ronald C. Rycek
TOY BIZ BUDDIES (5)
I truly miss your face, your wit and our camaraderie. Stay well.
TOY BIZ BUDDIES (6)
Good story, you were the best toy salesman I ever saw,
Regards, Mike Tinney
TOY BIZ BUDDIES (7)
Good morning Jack...
and thanks for both pieces that were waiting for me when I returned last night from Toy Fair. You didn't miss a thing, believe me.
I respect where you "are" at this point in your life and your perspectives are wonderful. That you guys have found "peace" in the simple pleasures and gifts that we all have been given and are able to enjoy them, is encouraging to me.
I continue to work in this business... but have tailored that part of my life so that it leaves me ample time to enjoy what I truly love... my kids and grandkids... my golf... and my time for myself. For the past 7 years... "post corporate America"... I have deliberately removed myself from having to deal with retailers and now spend my business hours with only school distributors (who have an intense loyalty to their suppliers who support and encourage them) and "special markets" accounts who have no "doors" in the retail market... and I work only with manufacturers (4 of them) who understand and appreciate these marketplaces. It is truly rewarding in all aspects.
Stay well and stay in touch.
TOY BIZ BUDDIES (8)
Jack...never mind what i think of my writing...more important is what i think of yours...i am amazed by your ability to recall the details of a life that was lived so long ago...your memory and your ability to get it down on paper is really quite remarkable...i applaud you...i like your writing and i lived the same life in another New Jersey town...i recall my first drink, also Anisete at an italian affair at the Knights Of Columbus...my first date...my first kiss...just think, she is now a 75 year old woman...probably still living in Bayonne...nobody leaves there.
I worked at the Western Electric plant in S. Kearny during the war...i was 17 at the time.
I shall send you some of my stories soon...i really am having trouble with my Zip drive and it has all my Bayonne Boy files...i hope you enjoy them as much as i enjoy yours.
Just for the record, which Tryon, N.C. do you live in...Gastonia or the other one?
Best Wishes to you and yours...enjoy life...Joel Tasman
TOY BIZ BUDDIES (9)
Hi, Jack. It was a pleasant surprise to hear fom you again after so many years. And I must say that both your"E" mails that I recieved fom you (2/20 Subject: Chet Armstrong & 2/23 Subject: Growing up in Newark)held a great deal of poingancy for me.
It was a great trip down Memory Lane, and made me recall how much I valued both the Toy business in which we both toiled, wth its collection of truly remarkable characters, as well as the venue in which I was raised, and lived for the first two decades of my life.
FYI, Jackson Heights, N.Y. in the Borough of Queens, probably wasn't too different from Newark, neither being very pretty. However, most of the guys that grew up there seemed to have had instilled in them a set of values, which coupled with the great American system, we enjoy, a system which offers its citizens the opportunity for upward moblity, enabled us to live today on tree lined streets with manicured lawns, as you remind us in your "Beauty Is Where You Find It"
Thanks for including me among the recipients of your two messages, and stay in touch.
TOY BIZ BUDDIES (10)
You truly missed your calling.
I love getting these missives, even if I'm a bit remiss in
acknowledgment. The Chet Armstrong piece was great too (I called on
him, briefly, and even worked one of their shows, as I vaguely recall).
Trust you're well, and please send my regards to Maryjane.
TOY BIZ BUDDIES (11)
Congrats on your Bloom Report Article. It is very well written and a difficult subject nicely expressed. If you are around for Toy Fair I would like to see and chat with you. Time allowing could you bring me up to date on Mr. Mason.
TOY BIZ BUDDIES (12)
I read your fabulous memoir in the Bloom Report about your sales call in 1957. I hope this is the first chapter in a book that you are writing about the Toy Business, as you have volumes of experience and an obvious talent with the pen, or should we say laptop.
It was a real treat to run into you and Jimmy in Hong Kong. I will be at Toy Fair (2/16-2/22). I have a minimal amount of appointments as I am all but put to bed with the Mass Market. Let me know if you will be in town. I'd love to visit with you.
J. Morrissey & Assoc., Inc.
735 McArdle Unit D
Crystal Lake, IL 60014
Tel: 815 455-6247
Fax: 815 455-6318
Cell: 815 341-7920
e-mail: [email protected]
DEATH OF A TOY MAN
THIS E-MAIL WAS SENT BY KEN SIMMONDS ON 5/10/06 FROM ENGLAND WISHING US A GOOD RECOVERY FROM OUR MAY 4 AUTO ACCIDENT. ON 9/10/06 POOR KEN DIED. I'LL MISS THE MANY GOOD TIMES WE HAD TOGETHER IN HONG KONG
Jim passed on to me the news of your accident.
I trust that you and Mary Jane are fully recovered, or , at least, well on
the way to that desirable state
Jack, you are a rare and very special commodity, thus you must take care
when driving, drinking, secret smoking or any other dangerous pursuits.
I am, as you know, sort of semi retired. This means I wander in to the
office at about 10.00, work until 1.00 then, once I have studied the form
and placed my bets, wander off home again. An enjoyable and not too taxing
life. Always provided the horses run well.
Why are all our favourite singers dead?
Love you madly, get well.
Letter to Charlie Simmonds
In the last communication I had from Ken on May 17, he ended his brief e-mail expressing his wishes for a speedy recovery from our horrendous May 4 auto crash here in the States...with an intriguing question. He asked, "Why are all our favourite singers dead?" and then he signed off, "Love you madly", Ken.
Well, Charlie I think I know the answer to Ken's query...and it's as simple as this: They've all finished their songs...and so it is, Ken has finished his song, but God Almighty, what a great song it was!
I'll miss him, but I won't forget him...
All the best to you & all his friends and kin...
TOY BIZ BUDDIES (13)
Its Monday morning, time to get to work after a pleasant weekend. I sit down at my desk, coffee in hand, turn on the computer (no, I didnt have it on all weekend although I did check for biz e-mails on BlackBerry, of course). As Im scanning through the e-mails and dumping the 100s of SPAMS received, I had narrowed the weekend e-mails down to a few biz ones, a couple airline updates and of course the Bloom Report. So I clicked onto Bloom ( skipped it last week), went to the e-mail to the editor section, started reading the first one that popped up (not scrolling down to see who wrote it) all the time thinking, wow this person is a story teller.
Anyway got to the end and saw it was you! And then, as a bonus, saw you had another one Confessions of a Salesman!
Jack, keep writing your e-mails, its great reading and initiates great memories .Took a lick in from a chicken, and many, many more.
Looks like things are going well for you! Keep story telling!
(How was my 1st paragraph .captivating!?.....its a start!.....some day!)
TOY BIZ BUDDIES (14)
Great to hear from you! You haven't skipped a beat. I do fondly recall you t the keyboard in bars in some of those towns we visited for Toy Fair In The Field. You were quite the player, singer, and certainly a fine raconteur.
Funny thing is that we have friends that we visit on occasion in Simpsonville (near Greenville), SC. How close is that to you? I spoke to Rita last year after I heard she had moved and pledged that one day we'd get together. Now, there's more of a reason for this reunion.
Your story about Paul and Jack was quite poignant, however I don't know if you knew about, or remembered, that the same fate that happened to Paul also happened to another Mattel salesman.
Dick Levin, who worked out of Columbus, often talked about Paul and what he did. Little did we know that Dick, who was one of the funniest and craziest people I ever worked with, had a hidden deep depression that eventually put him into the hospital from where he jumped out the window and died. When Mattel was having problems he was always talking about his hope to get a phone call from Bernie Loomis at Kenner (see below) and get a job with him. Loomis never called nor returned his calls, Dick said.
Speaking of Loomis, for the past few years there was a Christmas party down here that always drew a really big crowd of retired toy people, mostly NY reps. But we usually had Charles Lazarus, Sy, Loomis (big as a truck, he got so heavy); Phil (Wisconsin Toy) Cohen, who I spoke to last week. Plus a lot of others, many of whom shared mass, visible dislike for some of the opthers in the room. A real interesting party of old men and their wives.
Keep in touch.
Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate
2301 Glades Road
Boca Raton, FL 33431
561/886-9697 Direct Office
800/325-7232 Toll Free
---- Jack Mason <[email protected]> wrote:
Hello old friend! Glad Phil could midwife our reconnect. Since '96 I found
buyers too young & me too old to reasonably expect to make a living, so I
decided to make a retirement. Moved to Tryon to ride horses, play my piano &
compose corny songs, write nattering letters to local newspapers, and try to
capture a few ideas from business & life experiences on paper..largely to
leave for my grandkids. Have enjoyed life here & using computer to hook up
with old buddies, from toy biz & my other life. Learned of Rita & Bob Rao
moving close by, and have since had dinner with them now that they live in
Seneca, SC 45 minutes from here. Every now & then see Bill Walter when he
comes up from Hilton Head, and Dec-Jan we usually spend in HK visiting my
son Eric & his family, where I visit with old friends in town for Jan TS. I
even here from Myron Weinbach every now & then, as well as Murray Bass, Stan
Schwartz, Jim Hesterberg, Peter Olsen, etc. Like y'all, Alex Hughes (Janex)
is retired to Punta Gorda & doing well selling real estate down there in
hurricane country. Attached is a more somber remembrance of Paul Burg that
I'm sending. I don't expect it will amuse you, but then again the toy biz
wasn't always funny, was it? Be good & say hello to missus...
TOY BIZ BUDDIES (15)
You nailed it for me. When it happened and from time to time to this day when something happens to remind me of Paul I wonder... It was just too incomprehensible
and it wasn't our business. He was such an elegant human being and I was always warmed when I was in his presence.
The last time I saw Ruth was in 1996. I asked her if she would meet me in Chicago and sign 35th anniversary Barbie packages at TRU'S downtown store. She agreed and signed and talked to well over a thousand people. I can't count the number of times she teared up. Cancer, her indictment, Ken's death removed that tough veneer and she became what she probably was all the time a smart talented women making it a mans world long before there was a glass ceiling.
I wish you all good things,
TOY BIZ BUDDIES (17)
Good morning Jack...
and thank you for the magnificently thought out, and expressed, piece you shared with me.
I subscribe to the philosophy, as I too age, that what "was" when we were young, is what we are today, with the "modifications" that our own lives have polished us with. The hair may not be the same color it once was... the waistline may be a tad larger... but inside is what remains the same and that's what counts. Lessons learned early don't "die young".
While I am still quite active in "the business" on a daily basis, I have learned how to modify the "corporate routine" that we both were trained in so that I can take advantage of my time for things that I now consider more worthwhile and important. I take advantage too, of the tools available to me... the answering machine, the computer and the vacation message... and I don't get upset if I don't respond for a few days to what others consider "emergencies" at their end.
As my life gets shorter, I've realized that however long it will be, it still will be too short for me to totally enjoy all the people and the things, that I want to enjoy... but I am going to try to fill "my tank" with them all.
Stay well, keep enjoying everything and everyone around you and stay in touch.
PS... Have you ever considered publishing your thoughts?
TOY BIZ BUDDIES (18)
HOPE YOU AND YOURS ARE FEELING WELL !
THANKS FOR SHARING YOUR MEMORIES-
HOW ABOUT THE TIME YOU GAVE A CONCERT AT THE GRAND OLE OPERA NASHVILLE
IN THE BIG HALL
BEST PERSONAL REGARDS
TOY BIZ BUDDIES (19)
Jack always enjoy reading your stories, one thing has not changed over the years is people! Jay Kahn had no personality then and he does not have one now! The toy business was a great way for us to move thru life, where else can one have fun, never grow up, and make money!
All the best!
TOY BIZ BUDDIES (20)
Hi Jack!!! Loved your letter to the Bloom Report, contrary to Jay Kahn's comments.(typical!) You have always been one of my favorite people, and you were so right. We all have people we remember like Chet, and we should never forget them.
I hope all is well with you.
TOY BIZ BUDDIES (21)
I wish that one day in my life I could spin a story 1/2 as colorful as any of yours. I enjoy reading all of them immensely and my only criticism is you don't write enough of them. C'mon man-you're retired. What the hell else do you have to do!
I'm curious how well you knew my Father Jerry Fineman? I'm sure all you old timers crossed paths and everyone seemed to know him.(and those who admired him to no end)
66 Rolling Way
New Rochelle, NY 10804
GET A LIFE, JAY!
Emails to the Editor...
Tell us what's on your mind about the Toy Industry or "the Bloom Report"...
Let us know what you think about the issues facing us all...
e-mail us at: email.to.[email protected]
We will only publish "Emails to the Editor" that contain the name of the writer (full email addresses will be witheld if requested)
posted January 30, 2006: Keep 'em coming, Jack Mason! ...In response to Jay Kahans rather acrid email, I would like to say that I not only read Jack Masons entries with great fondness, but Ill bet lots of other folks do too. Sure, times change and some things may not be fully relevant to life in the toy biz today, but knowing Jack Mason as one of the all-time standout sales guys of our industry (not to mention a great teller of tales), makes me think we could all learn from his particular take on the way it used to be. A good tale needs a little meat on the bone, and Jacks wordsmithing is among the best. So keep em coming, Jack! PS: I do agree with Jay that Jack Mason should also write a book. Harry Moorhouse [email protected]
posted January 28, 2006: Fond memories of "what used to be"...We all have our fond memories of "what used to be" in the Toy Business, however, if Jack Mason (see "Email to the Editor" below) continues his long drawn out recollections of "what used to be" maybe he should write a book instead of these extra long reports on ancient history. Jay Kahan [email protected]
posted January 28, 2006: A remembrance of the way the Toy Biz used to be...It was New York Toy Show, 1967 and I was beginning my first week as regional sales manager for Mattel's Midwest National Accounts. Our Mattel regional offices were in the Chicago Merchandise Mart, but the entire industry was gathering in the Big Apple for the annual introduction of new product lines, commonly referred to as Toy Fair. And so here I was in New York City, along with everyone else associated with the toy biz in those days.
The Mattel line was displayed in Mattel's new Manhattan digs located in the recently constructed Penn Plaza office building atop Madison Square Garden. For our VIP National Accounts, a special display room was separate from the main toy display gallery. In this detached environment we were able to make solo presentations to major customers, providing a private "confidential room" intended to reflect our appreciation and respect for their business. They included giant Chicago accounts like Sears, Montgomery Ward, Aldens, John Plain, Spiegels, Walgreens, Ben Franklin, Jewel Tea, and out-of town customers like K-Mart (Detroit), Western Auto (Kansas City), Coast-to-Coast Stores (Minneapolis), and Gamble-Skogmo (Minneapolis)
It so happened that my last minute decision to leave my Minneapolis employer, Topper Toys, to accept a Mattel job in Chicago had left no time to advise my customers of my new affiliation. Which meant our meetings at Toy Show would be my first chance to explain that I was no longer their Topper Toy representative, but their new Mattel guy.
One of these gentlemen was Mr. Chet Armstrong, buyer for hundreds of Midwest hardware stores organized under the chain store name of Gamble-Skogmo. In those days G-S was a formidable distribution venue for our products in small Midwest towns. Chet had most recently been a customer of mine for Topper Toys, and in that connection I had sold hard against the many Mattel toys that were competitors to my Topper products. Since Topper was a newcomer and not as established as Mattel, I was proud to have persuaded Chet to choose some of my Topper products over comparable Mattel toys. One of those Mattel toys that I displaced was a baby doll, Cheerful Tearful. It was a very successful TV promoted doll that cried when you pulled down her arms, & that returned to a smile when you pulled them back up. In its place Mr. A. bought my Topper "knock-off", whose name I've forgotten. But, in any case, it was quite a coup.
Now, Chet Armstrong was a big buyer, literally & figuratively. He knew he had purchase power that suppliers would bend over backwards for, and at 300+ pounds, with his bald head, taciturn face & manner to match; he inspired fear & drove hard bargains with all his suppliers. But somehow, Chet never struck me as being the ogre others stood in fear of or maybe I was just too dense to recognize and ogre when I see one. In any case, we seemed to get along pretty good. Not bosom buddies, mind you, but I was lucky enough that he gave this 34 year old peddler more business than grief.
So, when I went to the lobby to collect him for the private room showing, he was quite surprised. And as his face flushed when he was angry, his crimson countenance was not a good sign for the presentation I had planned. So we began with some small talk with which I clumsily tried to put him at ease, explain my new Mattel assignment & my haste to move my family to Chicago and to get to NYC for Toy Show, etc.-- all of which I hoped would explain why I didn't call or visit him to announce my new affiliation. As I think back, I believe I did try to get in touch, but it was the Holiday Season & Mr. Armstrong was out of town. At least that was the excuse I used, and as I remember it worked, sort of, but with Chet hinting that maybe I could have tried harder
The private room arrangement was perfect for a guarded guy like Chet, and I assured him with just the two of us, he could be free to react as he chose, without playing political games because "big shots" were not looking over our shoulders. I also told him, I would keep codified notes about any technical questions he might have, for which I had no answer, with the assurance that those questions would in time be promptly responded to by our technical people. Knowing Chet, he was likely to have plenty of arcane questions early in my presentation, to establish how he was on top of things, and which he would soon become weary of asking. They were usually questions like, are the tires on that toy truck fully dimensional, or half/dimensional? Is hair for that doll rooted, or just glued? These and other boilerplate questions came out of the playbook of old-time buyers, and Chet was certainly in that old-timer tradition.
And so, I told him I would note these questions on my legal pad to save time, and organize a proper written answer & reply to Chet's office so it would be waiting for him when he returned home from Toy Show. In actuality, my notes were doodles not unlike the ones I made in grade school, because I knew the game we were playing, and that Chet had much more interest in asking questions than in actually ever getting answers; that he would forget his questions the moment he left our office, just as I would forget sending him a report.
Presentation procedure called for reviewing "continuing" toys, or items still in the line from previous years, and then demonstrating the brand new products as finale. And so it was that Cheerful Tearful, the crying-smiling little dolly that had been a huge success for Mattel was one of the first toys I presented to Mr. Armstrong.
Just a few weeks ago this product was the "enemy". But now I had to reverse course & persuade Chet that his purchase of the Topper "knockoff" was a mistake, even though I was the culprit who sold him that "mistake". And to correct this, I had to try to get Cheerful Tearful back on the shelves of the Gamble-Skogmo stores. Lots of luck!
But, since the irascible Mr. Armstrong was not suffering amnesia, he bellowed "Hold it hold it! Stop the music!" and with this I knew I had my work cut out for me.
"It wasn't but a few weeks ago, YOU yes YOU told me that that doll," looking derisively at the Cheerful-Tearful doll in my hand "was a PIECE of JUNK! AND NOW you want me to believe its better than sliced bread YOU, actually want me to buy it?"
Well, as you might expect this was indeed a challenge for which I had neither logic nor God on my side. So, I took a deep breath, bent towards Chet as if to pass on a national security secret, and said almost in a whisper, the only thing I could think of "Chet, yes I did say that a few weeks ago, and you know what?.....A few weeks ago it WAS A PIECE OF JUNK?" .
I'm, sure he was fully expecting that I was going to reveal some incredible new design improvements for the teary-cheery doll, but since there weren't any, all I could offer was this stupid frozen smile on my face, hoping that it could outlast the interminable silence that followed
It was then that the ridiculousness of all this suddenly hit the big guy from Minneapolis in his funny bone, and it transformed him into a belly-laughing Buddah in a pin striped suit wryly smiling & chuckling, he stammered "why I'll be Gol-danged" I'll be Gol-danged... YOU did it again...YOU got me again!" (Chet cussed like a Minnesotan, but it was no less pointed than had he been a Brooklyn longshoreman). This relieved me of my idiotic smirk, but instinct told me I had better not join in with the yuk-yuking, and so I adopted a slightly sheepish look and kept my mouth shut, avoiding like the plague any hint of triumph in pulling one over on the big fella.
Mindful of Scripture that threatens those who live by the sword will die, etc my mind raced to the conclusion that this was to be the end of my career as the Mattel salesman to Gamble-Skogmo. But no, that isn't how the story ends
From that never-to-be-forgotten gotcha in the Mattel presentation room with Chet Armstrong, we moved on. He and I never spoke again of transitory loyalties to products or toy companies, and actually Chet Armstrong gave me very respectable support in my new job, even though that didn't include re-listing Cheerful Tearful.
I have to suspect that he understood, and probably even enjoyed being part of a zany business where selling is the art of trying to change buyers minds, practiced by sales people who were willing to sometimes abandon sanity to get the order providing that after the fun 'n games, and the buyer signed on the dotted line, these sales "pros" worked as hard to protect their customers interests, as they did to sell them merchandise. A comedic quid pro quo you might call it
At least that's how it was in those days if I remember them correctly Jack Mason-Retired [email protected]
TOY BIZ BUDDIES (22)
Like Deep-Throat coming out of the garage, Jack Mason steps back into my little piece of this tranquil world. Your journalistic skills make the New Jersey school system proud. Cheerful Tearful reminds me of your introduction of Sweaty Betty. Remembering good times is a wonderful thing but is trumped by creating new ones.....Have a great New Year
Robert (Bob) Kurek
TOY BIZ BUDDIES (23)
Jack, this is wonderful, thank you for sharing. It was great to catch up with you in HK after so many years and share a few stories. Unfortunately in todays toy world there arent too many Jack Armstrongs left in the business. The toy business today is more sophisticated and cut throat. There is still the possibility however that new bright people come along to help bring creativity and excitement like the old days such as the people from Spin Master. Unfortunately there arent enough companies out there with the financial muscle that is willing to take on risk to drive innovation and creativity and the industry is suffering. Wall Street is managing the business today, not the entrepreneurs. Take care Jack, stay well and I hope we catch up again soon.
TOY BIZ BUDDIES (24)
I have printed this off and will enjoy reading this I am sure. I appreciate your thoughts and remembering me. Best wishes for happy days. Hope that you are enjoying life to the fullest. Let me know how you feel about retirement.
Nancy E. Beard
31192 La Baya Drive, Suite H
Westlake Village, California 91362
Phone: 818 889-3660
Fax: 818 889-7671
1965 WESTERN UNION
ONE OF MY ZANY TOY IDEAS CIRCA 1980
OFF HONG KONG ISLANDS
THESE ARE REFUGEE SHIPS THAT FLED VIETNAM IN MID 1970S TO BE SCUTTLED OFF REPULSE BAY SEEKING SANCTUARY. ON SIDE OF ONE SHIP IS PAINTED THE SIGN, "DON'T FORGET US PLEASE WE ONLY WANT TO LAND".
TANDEM CREATA BUSINESS PLAN 1989
TANDEM/CREATA BUSINESS PLAN COMMENTARY
PREPARED BY JACK MASON JULY 17, 1989
This document has been prepared by Jack Mason for the purpose of providing a Preliminary understanding of the past, current and future achievements and aspirations of TANDEM/CREATA.... A Hong Kong incorporated toy marketing company that distributes construction, doll, and bicycle accessory toys worldwide
Because this Plan was drafted in a very short time, it will lack sophistication in both form and substance that will be assembled and made available at a later date. In the meantime, I will strive to provide a general outline of the main evidence supporting our contention that we are a toy company with a unique potential for success in todays toy market environment.
It should also be understood that this hurried plan reflects mostly my interpretations and since time did not permit the collaboration of my partners, their views are assumed to be the same or nearly the same.... but not guaranteed.
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY, TANDEM TOYS
Our company began shipping Lego compatible toys in July, 1987, a date that represents our Birthday.... but the seminal idea regarding the companys reason for being traces to an earlier time. This idea was and is the cornerstone of TANDEM and is best expressed on our products hang tag that asks the question, WHY PAY MORE?
Why Pay More, if TANDEM BRICKS are of equivalent (LEGO) quality and cost far less...., and particularly if all of this can be achieved on an FOB Orient basis, with attendant LC program advantages?? The Toy Trade answer to that question seems affirmative when you consider that in the 24 months since we began shipping TANDEM, the Toy Trade has ordered over $11,000,000, we have shipped approximately $8,000,000, and if the new 1989 orders and shipments (another $2.5 million ) develop as planned, and when we ship these along with current back orders .... our total shipping for the period from July 1987 through December 1989 will be over $13,000,000!
As of July, 1989, the TANDEM order position ($4.5 million) is 65% of 1989 goal ($7.0 million). The difference of 2.5 million can probably still be achieved as far as writing shippable 1989 new orders.... but it must be observed, that getting these new orders actually shipped is more questionable than in the past, because we are only recently moved to Thailand from Taiwan
The Construction Toy Market that TANDEM competes in is approximately $190 million at manufacturers selling price, with LEGO and LEGO compatibles accounting for close to 90% of market share. In that connection, LEGOs 1989 share could be as high as 75%, with TYCO blocks at 12%, and a growing TANDEM at over 3%. So it seems that the LEGO compatible business is very dominant and potentially, long term.... there is evidence that TANDEM can reasonably be expected to widen both its share of this segment, and with LEGOs leadership, it can also be expected that the market itself will enlarge. As a backdrop for the future, this is very encouraging since our Toy Industry has very few constants and much of what we see in product today, is gone tomorrow.
In point of fact, TYCO was the first company to challenge Lego in 1985, with a product that fit Lego. The subsequent legal challenges, although expensive for TYCO, had the happy consequence of opening up the competition to Lego for both TYCO and TANDEM.... only at far less legal expense to TANDEM
Although unhappy with the new competition, LEGO has continued to market their products aggressively and the result is that TYCO is caught by downward pressure from LEGO and upward pressure from TANDEM. The statistics seem to now indicate that as both LEGO and TANDEM increase market share, it is at TYCOs expense.
TANDEMs near term ambition, therefore, is to become the worldwide alternative to LEGO, not necessarily the usurper of LEGO. In this role we propose to demonstrate superior values in the bulk or the by the pound end of the business.... while at the same time bringing to market evolutionary (not revolutionary) new product ideas like SPINNERS, TANDEM TOWN, HOT BLOCKS, PANELS & GIRDER BUILDINGS, BASE PLATE BUCKET LIDS, ETC. Furthermore, the TANDEM plan is to continue our tactic of Orient manufacturing, evolutionary product development, LC selling and low overhead ... so as to achieve a modest but steady market share increase. Our current 1990 projection (U.S. & Canada) amounts to $8.5 million and reflects no other off shore sales and no Mattel sub-contracting, both of which could be major pluses to our volume and profit next year. On the low side the Mattel volume should add another $2.0 million to 1990 (@ 25% m.u.) and off shore business will respond in direct proportion to our aggressive selling and the wise selection of European and Asian distributors.
In time, one could speculate that this portion of Tandems future growth could be the most dramatic because of the unique acceptance and appetite for Lego type merchandise outside of America.
The potential position of TANDEM in 1991 and the years beyond, is obviously going to be subject to many influences, some of which are not yet in view.... but I think there exists for us the opportunity to comfortably reach a $20 million plateau in 1991 and $25 million in 1992, assuming an environment similar to 1989 and without a major increase in TANDEMs current physical or people resources. Beyond the $25 million level, however, would require not only a more expanded effort, but also a new philosophic and strategic approach. In my opinion, we have the good luck of being in a situation where.... the choice is ours and time is on our side.
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY, CREATA TOYS
CREATA became available to TANDEM in the fall of 1987, and from Jan. 1988 CREATA was managed and directed by TANDEM ... with the ultimate intention of buying CREATA for $750,000 (U.S.) and thereupon changing our identity to CREATA/TANDEM TOYS LTD. This joining together is now an official consequence of borrowing money from PEREGRINE, a loan that was just recently completed. In 1988, the first full year that CREATA came under our control the company enjoyed sales of $4.7 million and made a small profit of $40,000. Before our involvement, Creata had been in existence for four years and had a stuttering performance in the ll fashion doll business. The CREATA product theme was built mostly around a fairy tale expression in Barbie size dolls, called Flower Princess and their up and down sales averaged annually less than $3.0 million from 1984-1987. The prime mover of CREATA, Ms. Rita Fire, decided in late 1986 to leave the company for a big Barbie job at Mattel, and so we inherited an excellent quality fashion doll line with a dubious market approach. Since then, by introducing more topical dolls, unique feature like dolls that tan in the sun, dolls with bathing suits that change color in the water, doll: that are simply more glamorous and contemporary.... plus.... a very steady bike accessory business, all of this has added more volume and profit. Earlier administration costs that ran close to 25% are now enjoying the economy of being together with TANDEM and in 1989 will be reduced to 15% or less.... and along with other economies will make CREATA a respectable profit performer. The 1990 line is also much extended and developed to what we think are broader tastes and includes fashion dolls that are packed with real flower seeds for little girls to have flower growing fun, fashion size ballerina dolls that really dance, high styled costumed Show Girls dolls, as well as extensions of best sellers.
As with TANDEM, we are attempting to market dolls that resemble very popular toys like Barbie, but at much lower prices, at retail points not covered by Barbie.... and with the profitable advantage to the trade of being available on LC.
Our CREATA customers include K-Mart, Toys-R-Us, Wal-Mart, Kay Bee, F.W.Woolworth, Child World, Target, Lionel Leisure and most of the other major U.S. retailers. They look upon CREATA as an important non-Barbie, high profit supplier of ll fashion dolls, and fashion doll clothes.
Our 1989 goal of $6,000,000 is within sight. Five million dollars are currently on order, including a recent K-Mart reorder for 150,000 pieces of Todays Girl. Indeed there is a distinct chance we might go beyond our $6.0 million plan and be very well positioned for 1990.
To exploit this reception, CREATA will offer nearly 30 new products along with many current line extensions in 1990.... and to insure that we have chosen wisely, all our major customers will personally see these products within the next month. This gives us an opportunity to pre-sell the wise choices and drop the not so wise selections.
The anticipated business from this 1990 line is reflected on the enclosed 1990 Total Line Projection (TLP) and totals $8,000,000 for next year.
Bicycle accessories account for $1.6 million of the $8.0 million or
20% of CREATA volume, but the business significance of these toys is that they average 40% in gross margin compared with 30% for dolls. The bad news is that
the bicycle and the bicycle accessory business have both been depressed
by the Nintendo success, but since we are unique and profitable.... we intend to ride out the storm and look for a revived business in this category in the very near future.
The future of CREATAs product line is very dependent upon the doll business in general and the fashion (Barbie) doll business in particular. And with both categories growing, we expect to increase our presence in fashion dolls (40% of total doll volume) and enter the Baby Doll category in late 1990 (15% of total doll volume). Our entry gimmick for Baby Dolls will be a 3-4 item Collectors Line made in concert with a famous name doll designer .. where the end product will provide Collector doll quality and charm, at .. mass market prices. This means that by 1991 we expect to cross the $10,000,000 threshold with CREATA dolls.
PEOPLE & ORGANIZATION, TANDEM/CREATA TOYS
JACK MASON, C.E.O.
Main duty is to decide Company growth objectives and strategies. Thereafter, assign to Managers necessary tasks relevant to these objectives, supervise their execution and be responsible for their accomplishment. Create budget requests for all departments in conjunction with individual managers and monitor budget adherence. J.M. is also personally responsible for contributing product ideas and reviewing outside inventor offerings. After choosing new product, he works with Cosgrove, Underhill and Leung to insure profitable and timely introduction. Cosgrove concentrates on developing items for CREATA, Underhill the items for TANDEM and Leung coordinates that all of this is properly executed in the Orient. J.M. institutes and watch dogs Milestone Chart progress of all new toys, signs off on new tooling and insures that all expenditures have reasonable and predictable benefits.
Additionally, Mason is also CREATA/TANDEM sales contact for K-Mart and other major accounts and is available to help Cosgrove and Taylor meet Sales Projections by utilizing his many customer contacts and relationships. J.M. chairs the Management Committee that meets every few months to review development of new products and general corporate management considerations.
JERRY COSGROVE, V.P. SALES & MARKETING
Oversees product development of all CREATA products, contributes his own product ideas and personally calls on all major customers. Jerry is in constant contact with Rick Irons, CREATAs outside vendor, to provide direction in all areas of CREATA product and package development. He has a major responsibility in developing and delivering the Sales Plan for both CREATA and TANDEM products, and in this capacity he gives guidance to our Sales Manager, and our field Sales Reps. In this regard, Jerry and Frank Taylor are working towards a sales organization that will, in time, be. entirely house. More and more our major customers are shrinking in numbers and the surviving accounts need and demand sales coverage from company executives, and we intend to react to that need. Achieving this goal will not only reduce our sales expenses, it will improve the quality of our customer relations and our business. It also deserves to be noted that Jerry Cosgrove possesses the unusual combination of sales ability and product marketing skill.
EDMUND LEUNG, V.P. OPERATION
Edmund is based in Hong Kong and serves as V.P.Orient Operations.
He and his excellent staff of twenty people handle all administration of factory vendors and manage all shipping for CREATA/TANDEM. Mr. Leung sees to the manufacturing of our goods, quality controls, and on-time shipping. Because of his considerable experience in meeting the needs of both our customers and our vendors, Mr. Leung has a very important assignment. He is in a position to give counsel when a new product is considered, as to whether the manufacturing expertise is available and what are the relevant cost and packaging problems that may be involved. Edmund and his staff maintain a very good showroom in Hong Kong. For Toy Show and other road exhibitions, his people make CREATA/TANDEM displays look professional. Indeed, Edmund Leung and his staff are very key to CREATA/TANDEM and our successful future. Clothing for CREATA dolls is made practical for manufacturing from designs sent from the U.S. In this and other product areas, the Leung staff provides the common sense that makes practical many of our heady new toy ideas
NICK UNDERHILL, EXECUTIVE V.P. OPERATIONS & INTL SALES
Nick is an original partner in TANDEM TOYS. He is also the current V.P. of TANDEM TOYS product development. In that important role, Nick works very closely with Emil Von Winkelman, an outstanding engineering vendor, to identify and develop product extensions for TANDEM. At the moment they are engineering the development of SPINNERS, a line of moveable Pre-School block size figures and vehicles for our TANDEM Pre-School Bricks line. They have created a line of carded, pre-assembled Pre-School block models, Railroad toys for Standard size bricks, 4x4 motorized vehicles from standard size bricks, and a very unique girder and panel feature that when applied with standard size bricks will make unique buildings and become the nucleus of a larger concept called.... TANDEM TOWN. These are elements of our evolutionary concept and approach to designing in the LEGO idiom that combines with our by the pound piece count and cost advantages.... to earn the right to be the LEGO Alternative. Nick also handles all TANDEM/CREATA off shore sales. He selects and negotiates all our non U.S. arrangements for distribution and licensin
FINANCIAL AND PROFIT COMMENTARY As part of this Business Plan, I am including exhibits of Dec.31, 1987 dated Dec. 31, 1988 Profit & Loss Accounts. I am also including a 1989 combined TANDEM and CREATA sales and P & L Analysis. The 1987 and 1988 documents display the accounting numbers in a manner that reflects unusual interpretation of our profit performance. I believe these exhibits include liabilities and other detractions from sales that under new financing might be much more flattering. For example, I think we should be able to short term operate a business that pays out 72C of every sales dollar for cost of goods (including sales expenses) and l3c for Administration and Trading expenses .... so as to comfortably deliver a pre-tax profit of 15%, while at the same time paying for tooling and other early development expenses .... and down the road, TANDEM could be depended upon to perform to a 20% pre-tax or better.... standard, at a time when we begin to enjoy the benefits of size and scale. It is this area of financial history and explanation that will be more completely and fully detailed.... in the later Business Plan presentation, so until then please accept my abbreviated comments and exhibits.