A Tour of the Toymaker's Workshop
For Richard C. Levy, All Work and No Play Is Impossible
Listen to Liane Hansen's interview with independent toy inventor Richard C. Levy.
June 18, 2002 -- Some of the biggest hit toys -- Cabbage Patch Dolls, Super Soakers, and board games such as Uno, Trivial Pursuit and Candyland -- weren't created by in-house thinkers at the big toy companies. They were created by independent inventors, who later sold or licensed their ideas.
In 1998, one toy caused near riots at Christmas time -- an interactive, animatronic creature called the Furby. You can blame Richard C. Levy and his colleagues for the panic. He licensed and co-developed the Furby. More than 40 million have been sold in 57 countries, and the Furby can interact with humans in seven languages.
All Things Considered guest host Liane Hansen visited Levy's workshop, a showroom full of his many inventions. It's located in the basement of his home in a leafy and quiet Washington, D.C., suburb he calls "Neverland."
"Welcome to the North Pole!" he says. The room is full of toys -- games, big-wheeled bikes, a pinball machine, and a complete floor-to-ceiling wall full of the entire collection of Furbies.
Levy has been inventing, developing, designing and licensing original concepts for toys and games for more than 20 years. His greatest hits include hot sellers like Uncle Milton's Ant Farm Game, the Hot Lixx guitar and Oops and Downs. His ideas have generated more than $1 billion in worldwide sales. He works extensively with toy makers Hasbro, Mattel and Tyco.
Toy companies get thousands of unsolicited ideas every year, but usually rely on a small cadre of people like Levy. "It's like a fraternity," he says. "The men and women in it just work together, so most of these products have many mothers and fathers."
What's the secret of success in the toy industry? A toy idea is only "about 10 percent of this exercise," he says. "Ninety percent is the marketing of it -- getting it together, getting it out." Word-of-mouth can be more important than any ad campaign, and the landscape can change quickly. Levy says he keeps a close watch on popular culture, and uses social trends for inspiration.
Levy is also interested in helping other inventors. He recently published The Complete Idiot's Guide to Cashing In on Your Inventions. But he's not all about business. "Yes, he handles patents, has meetings with lawyers, holds conference calls with company executives, and makes big money," Hansen says. "But Levy says all that pales when compared to the heart of his work as a toy inventor -- the chance to play."
Promotional Web site for Levy's book, The Complete Idiot's Guide To Cashing In On Your Inventions, featuring chapter-by-chapter previews.
Official Furby fan club Web site.
The Toy Industry Association, Inc. is a New York-based trade association for U.S. producers and importers of toys.