We’re thrilled to chat with Bill Nichols and Peter Cmiel of Blip’s Toys, who have won NAPPA Awards several times.
Thank you for sharing your story with us and our readers.
1. Please tell us a little about your company’s mission.
Our mission is to offer innovative toys at reasonable prices. We think of ourselves as a speedboat among cruises ships as compared to the large toy companies, bringing new products into the market in a matter of months versus years. One example of this was the Zoom-o disc launcher. Back in the mid 2000’s we showed Target stores a working prototype in February and they loved it. The challenge was they wanted it in stores for summer that year! We challenged our operations team and we were able to build the tooling, complete production and ship it in under 90 days, making it in store by June. That item has sold millions to date and is still being sold today.
2. What made you want to start this company?
Bill: While working in the toy industry as a frustrated salesperson I saw many opportunities left unanswered. Very few companies actually listened to retailers’ needs so I thought what a great opportunity to actually listen and develop for actual opportunities on shelf. So, starting Blip allowed me to pursue new products and categories in the marketplace with instant support.
Peter: Prior to forming Blip, I worked as a toy inventor and became frustrated in getting manufacturers to bring my ideas to market. With the creation of Blip, I was able bring those ideas from concept to production and into the hands of consumers. Part of that process is not only seeing that item make it to the market, but being in control of the process to ensure that its outcomes match my original vision.
3. Did you have a mentor growing up? And what role did that person play in your life and your career?
Bill: I’ve been very Lucky. I had many mentors, in all areas, toy sales, design, retail merchandising, product development. It’s important to listen and play out of your comfort zone.
Peter: One of my key mentors was my first employer out of college. He was an ex-Tonka toys executive and introduced me to the complex toy world. When I first started, I asked him what my job description was and he said, “anything I don’t want to do”. Our main focus was toy inventors and were able to successfully license various products. My time spent with him was invaluable as he included me in all steps of the process. One of my favorite memories during that time was when we travelled to the London Toy show. It was my first toy show and trip overseas.
4. Best life advice you received growing up?
Bill: you get to choose every day, good day, or bad day when you start, choose good!
Peter: As it relates to one’s professional career, I was told people want to work with people they like. While simplistic, it helped me keep understand the benefit of working in a team and staying out of the politics and drama as much as possible.
5. How has parenthood changed you?
Bill: I have three adult children and one grandchild. The benefits of having children and being in the toy industry is invaluable. It forces you to use your own experiences when developing products. My 3 kids would give a very different answer, they would talk about how many of their toys went missing and never came back. “dad” was always watching how they played with them and then the ones they played with the most would disappear. Later they realized I was like “Sid” from Toy story and was always recreating / designing new toys from old.
Peter: I have two teens (16 & 18) and they provided a tremendous amount of insight into toy design at their various stages of their development. We spent a lot of time together playing with our new toys learning what works and what doesn’t. It was interesting to see what they gravitated towards and as a toy maker I tried not to influence them with things I brought home as I really wanted genuine feedback. In my experience kids want to please you and will tell you they like something if they think you do as well. My children were at a great age, 3 &5 when our big hit toy brand Squinkies came to market, and they were an instant hit with them! The industry had never seen a toy IN a capsule, so Squinkies was a pretty big innovation in the market. They loved the collectability aspect and their squishy tactile feel. And having all of our kids be able to play test it and give us feedback on the tiny characters was just invaluable.
6. When not working, where will we find you?
Bill: sadly, at retail walking thru ALL the aisles looking for new and innovative ways to merchandise. For total relaxation, boating with family on the lake.
Peter: I’m often in my shop tinkering with new ideas. My day is filled with meetings or emails leaving me with a desire to use my hands. I find it satisfying to build something tangible that has a purpose. Sometimes it’s a simple shelf system for the home or a crude mockup of a new toy idea that helps define a designs shape or scale. My background as an industrial designer laid the foundation of the various steps of product development, ideating, drawing, prototyping, etc. that I enjoy to this day with all my projects.