HACKENSACK, N.J. - As a child growing up in Clifton, N.J., Michael Rinzler loved visiting the Toys R Us store on Route 46 in nearby Totowa. Now, he heads a company that creates toys to fill more than one aisle of that store.
Rinzler, 39, is president of Creative Designs International Ltd., commonly referred to as CDI, a division of giant toy maker JAKKS. It produces dress-up and role-playing toys such as Cinderella gowns and tiaras, fairy wands, pretend kitchens, cell phones, musical instruments, and other kiddie versions of the real thing.
CDI has the rights to the hottest property for little girls who want to play dress-up, the Disney Princess license. The company is the leading provider of dress-up toys, making private-label products for all the mass marketers, as well as its own licensed products and CDI brand. It has annual sales of more than $200 million and about 150 employees in Trevose, Bucks County, and Hong Kong.
"One of the best things about the toy business is it keeps you young forever," Rinzler said.
He moved to Los Angeles after college with the goal of getting a job in entertainment marketing and got his start working for the MGA toy company on licensed youth electronics, such as Batman and Star Wars walkie-talkies.
He joined JAKKS as the vice president of girls marketing and helped develop the Girl Gourmet line. He became president of CDI at the end of 2008. One of his goals is to bring the company that rules the world of role-play and dress-up for girls to a similar position for boys. He spoke during a visit to the Totowa Toys R Us that was his "mecca" when he was growing up. (Interview condensed for space.)
Question: CDI is a very girl-focused toy company.
Answer: It traditionally has been very girl-oriented. That was something we began looking at strategically when I came in and brought what I call my key crew with me. My No. 2 guy, running sales and operations, is somebody I worked with at Playmates who grew up in Randolph (N.J.), Herb Mitschele. I brought in somebody from Disney to run marketing. And I brought in somebody from Crayola to run design. One of the holes in the company was on the boys side. We have Black & Decker, which is a tremendous brand, but we want to develop the boys side more. We want to try to break out of the mold, with a lot more boys products and more promotionally driven products.
Q: Is there a property out there for boys that could be the Disney princesses of boys?
A: On the girls side of the business, properties license out dolls and play sets to one manufacturer and that's considered the master toy license, and they've always licensed out dress-up and role-play separately. On the boys side of the business, they've always just licensed out everything to one manufacturer as the master toy license. What we're saying is that on the boys side of the business, nobody has really focused on role-play. So we're out to prove that we can do the same thing in boys that we do in girls. In 2011, we're launching two heavily promoted boys role-play lines, one that's licensed and one that's homegrown.
Q: When you were getting your M.B.A. at Wharton, did you have classmates who mocked the toy business? Gave it no respect?
A: I wouldn't say no respect, actually.
A: Being in the toy business definitely gives you an identity, especially in an environment like that. I was the toy guy. When you tell someone you're in the toy business, you always get the same stuff - "Oh, is it like the movie Big?" Or, "Wow. That must be the most fun job in the world." And a lot of times it is. But it's still a pretty intense business and it's getting tougher, with costs rising in China and safety requirements changing. It's still more fun than most other jobs.
Q: Are there any issues you're worried about for this holiday - deliveries, shipping?
A: Not really. Every company had some container issues early on. But the big difference between a JAKKS or a Mattel and a CDI is they're much more about the home run - having a top 10 toy. We're kind of like the Ichiro (Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners) of the toy business. He's one of the best hitters of all time, but he only hits singles and doubles; we're great at hitting singles. We have product that sells out day in, day out, all year round because little girls always want dresses and shoes and tiaras and wands and kitchens, and that's never going to change.
Q: Are you planning ahead for what you'll do when the princess era ends?
A: End of the princess era? I will be long gone, my kids will be long gone, before that happens.
Q: So princesses are a good property to have in the toy business?
A: Yes. I don't think there will ever be an end of the princess era. I don't think there will ever be an end of the Barbie era, and we do both of those brands.
Q: In other words, princesses are forever?
A: Princesses are forever. Those classic play patterns for girls - princesses, fairies, cheerleaders, etc. - they don't change all that much, but the design element and being true to today's trends and fashions is what constantly changes.