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Sibusiso Mkwanazi
3 minute read
15 Oct 2013
6:00 am

No time for games

Sibusiso Mkwanazi

Most children reckon toys just magically pop up at their local store and all they have to do to get their hands on them is to manipulate their parents to become the proud owners of the latest gadgets.

The truth of the matter is that there is a whole team of buyers who have to use their knowledge of trends, television shows and what children generally like, and whose job it is to make sure the right kind of toys are available to the public at the right time.

“I have been in the kiddies and toy business for more than 30 years,” says Wanda Ambrosini, managing director of Prima Toys, a toy and game distributor in southern Africa.

The buzz right now with the little ones ranges from Sofia The First to Slugterra and Ben 10, but Ambrosini’s job entails her being at least a year or two ahead in terms of her planning. How does she get it right?

“By travelling the world to find new ideas and new toys,” she says proudly, before mentioning that she will be jetting off soon in pursuit of the next big thing (and small thing) in the toy world.

“Most of the time I rely on gut feel and experience to tell me what the next winner will be. I also rely on research from international suppliers though, as well as being in touch with the local market and what is working on the store floor.”

Clearly, Ambrosini knows what she’s doing if she has managed to keep her job for more than 30 years, but there must have been a mistake or two along the way? Is there a secret container somewhere filled with hundreds of thousands of toys from 1993 that no one wants, dished out annually as Christmas presents to family and friends?

“Every year I make lots and lots of mistakes,” she smiles.

“I’m only human, and children always know more than we adults do.

“A story to tell is about a product called Roxx, in 2012. When I saw the play pattern, which involved semi-circular round gadgets that boys would trade and exchange, and I saw a boy pounding with his fist on the Roxx to make them spin, I knew I was onto something. In fact, I raved about this toy to a number of distributor companies. But that range did not work in South Africa, or in the rest of the world.”

Talk to any adult and they will tell you stories about how their generation used to play with simpler toys, and how “they just don’t make them like they used to”. How has Ambrosini seen toys evolve and what can she attribute these changes to?

“Toys are constantly changing,” she says.

“We as a toy company change ranges every six months, but conservatively, I would say that trends change at least every 18 to 24 months.

“The advent of TV, YouTube and other channels have all contributed to how toys have changed, But in addition, boys and girls are very different now.

“For instance, girls are more brand loyal, so they will enjoy Disney Princess, or My Little Pony, or Baby Born, while boys are more craze-driven. They channel hop on TV from one series to another and they are more demanding in what toys or brands they like.”

Does Ambrosini think she will ever grow up?

“Not in my industry,” she says.

“I’m constantly looking at kids and what they like and enjoy, and I find myself thinking like a child when I am evaluating a toy. That’s what keeps me young.”