You’ve just celebrated 10 years of making nostalgic toys. How did it all begin?
Yes, 10 years is quite the milestone! In the year before we started Naomi was busy at home looking after our two small children and working as a freelance editor. I was working in a wholesale business (kids’ fashion accessories), but had no equity in the business. We both decided that it was worth the risk to try and launch a children’s brand in the Australian market. After months of planning, we went on our first sourcing trip to Hong Kong. We discovered lots of interesting products and manufacturers — more than we could afford! We selected our five favourite suppliers and then came home and designed a coordinated range that we presented at the 2007 August Gift Fair in Melbourne. Our first warehouse was a small shop front around the corner from home. And the office was our garage — under the house.
Growing a super successful old-school toy company in the digital age is a feat worthy of mention. Discuss!
There was never a mission statement at the start that specified committing to a retro, old school brand. But as we evolved we noticed our natural tendency towards classic or traditional products — products that evoke memories of our own childhoods and encourage kids to tap into their own creativity and imagination. We quickly discovered that that the thing we loved the most was product development (actual physical product) and the illustration and design work around product creation. When we first started, there was not a lot of digital products for kids. It’s hard to imagine, but the first iPhone was released in the same year that we started (2007). 10 years on we’ve watched a technological revolution in the toy market. And we see the lure and attraction of technology through our own kids (Lucy, 14 and Joel, 12). Demand for electronic and interactive products to entertain and educate kids is strong.
There are an amazing array of apps out there for all ages. But at the same time we’ve had enormous faith in the fact that parents understand the need to unplug kids. And if anything this need is growing stronger. We know that children still enjoy old fashioned activities using paper and pencils, magnets and imagination. There must be alternatives to screen time and that is what we’ve always offered.
Tell us about the design process? Are all Tiger Tribe toys created in-house?
The design process is a combination of both business driven needs and creative ideas. On the business side we need to look at where there are opportunities or alternately where there are gaps in our range — in relation to things such as age, price-points, competition, product category. Once we determine areas of new development — the fun stuff begins. We have regular discussions around the lunch table at work and also set aside time for collaborative design meetings where a large group come together (designers, marketing and sales, customer service). All members of our group either have children or work closely with children.
All Tiger Tribe products are designed in house. We have an amazing team of four designers who work in our Melbourne office. And a handful of Australian based freelancers. Our designers are the heart of our company. They not only create product that generate sales, but they reinforce our brand and what we are all about.
Our design team starts sketching and brainstorming new products about a year out from final product. There are so many steps along the way to getting a new product design delivered. From idea generation, sketching concepts and preliminary designs, prototypes, drafting and testing, sourcing components, manufacture and then shipping! It’s fair to say we feel like proud parents when a new bunch of our products arrive.
How have your own children influenced the direction of Tiger Tribe? They must be stoked to have parents who make toys. Never-ending toys!!
Well, yes! They might not play with the toys much anymore (they are now a little older than our target market) but they still give plenty of opinions during the design process! We realised long ago that they love the design journey as much as we do. Both of them have told us that they want to join the business one day!
We loved watching how their different personalities steered them towards different activities. One of them is a patient detailed person, and the other doesn’t sit still for too long and doesn’t really like instructions. So it was important to us that our products engage kids with differing interests and approaches. Not every product captivates every child but our range is diverse… we hope there is something to suit most kids.
What can we expect from Tiger Tribe in 2018?
Work is already well underway for new products. There will be more compact and creative activity sets, and a lot more for the toddler age group (under 3s). And some brand new craft projects… that are going to excite the 8-12 year olds — who are quite tricky to please!
What makes you most proud of Tiger Tribe?
It always gives us a thrill when retailers tell us customers come into store looking for our brand. It’s wonderful that in 10 years we’ve created something that is available in more than 700 retailers across Australia, including a number of leading retail stores.
We never stop getting a buzz out of spying a kid colouring in with a Tiger Tribe set in a café, playing with a magnetic game on a plane or receiving customer feedback about how our products helped them enjoy a long family road trip! Tiger Tribe recently started exporting and we are proud and excited to be available in over 30 countries around the world. This is very satisfying.
How do you want Tiger Tribe to be remembered?
We all have a favourite toy from our childhood, and we want this generation of kids to remember their Tiger Tribe toy as the one that they loved and that gave them joy. Whether it was a set of flash cards as a toddler or a cherished colouring set as an older kid. We want Tiger Tribe to be remembered as part of a happy childhood, full of wild imaginations and action packed fun.