Bob Wann: HUGE champion of the Power of Play - tBR Person of the Week

by Bob Wann | 05 Aug 2021

The Bloom Report

MC. How long have you been part of the Toy Industry?


BW. 41 years! Quite frankly, I can’t believe it has been that long. It just goes to show time really does fly when you are having fun!


MC. Why did you stay in the industry this long?


BW. The minute I entered the industry I knew it was for me and that I had found my perfect fit! I loved the pace, the energy and even the unpredictability of it all (crazy, but true)!


Every day was exciting and challenging and when I rose to the challenge, I had a real sense of accomplishment and gratification that most people never experience in their entire career.


And most of all I found an industry full of special, talented, highly creative people that share an extraordinary passion in what we do to make a difference in children lives by bringing them together through the magic and power of play! 


MC. What is your claim to fame in the industry?


BW. I am not sure about “claim to fame” but what I am most proud of and widely known for within the industry is being a true believer and HUGE champion of the Power of Play!


I’ve strived to ensure that Toy Companies of EVERY SIZE, big and small, can work together and learn from each other. Not only successfully as individual companies but also together to collectively enhance the visibility and the stature of the Toy Industry, as a whole, through the great work we all do.


I was very excited through the 8 years that I served as Chair and Host of the PlayCon conference to see how much progress was made by refocusing ourselves on the world of PLAY not just the world of Toys. This began with rebranding the annual ToyCon conference to the PlayCon conference. This was followed by increasing attendance and new contemporary content focusing on the broader vision of the world of Play. This is also an example of where we were able to get the big and small companies in the industry together to share consumer insights, successful experiences, case studies etc. that could help stimulate ideas and insights to help toy companies of all sizes be more successful.



Perhaps on a lighter note I have been known for some of the goofier things I have done over the years. Some examples of this are: I opened PlayCon one year playing the Bagpipes on stage with fellow Scotsman John Barbour. And so as not to disappoint, the following year, Sean McGowan and I performed a custom written Rap Song and Dance to open the event. Clearly I am more adventurous and fun than I am smart!


Seriously though, as a champion of play I am a great believer in the power and importance of FUN and LAUGHTER as part of the play experience! And as play providers, we should embrace that daily in all that we do.



MC. Do you have any fun “behind the scenes” stories you can share regarding some of the brands /products you have worked on or been associated with?


BW There are so many I could probably spend the rest of this interview covering this but let me share just 3 that stand out for different reasons:


  •          Fisher Price Bubble Mower I was fortunate, early in my career, to be part of the team that developed and introduced this iconic classic Preschool item. The interesting “inside story” is that it all began with the product concept being presented at a Fisher Price internal line review where the FP designer had attached a hairspray can to the bubble blowing part of the toy, then he lit it so it blew flames instead of bubbles! Great way to get everyone’s attention while demonstrating the unique bubble bowing feature of this classic role play toy (but probably not in line with Fire code rules).




-          Monopoly – One of the highlights and most fun experiences of my career was overseeing the evolution of Monopoly, the board game, into Monopoly the Brand. From the expansion into City Opolies, to going to Las Vegas to introduce Monopoly Slot machines to hosting the Monopoly World Championships, there was a lot cool stuff driving the explosive growth of this great brand.


One of my favorite “behind the scenes” stories from this era involved both the Monopoly World Championships in Berlin in 1992 (after the Berlin Wall came down) and the Monopoly World Championships in Monte Carlo in 1996. The US National Champion qualified for BOTH championships over this 8 year time span. So, I asked him if he had any secrets to his consistent success as a Monopoly player and he told me he had two. First, he always picked the Flat Iron as his token, because it was the smallest token and would often not get seen on the board by his opponents thus, he avoided paying rent. Second, he always targeted buying the orange properties (St. James Place, New York and Tennessee Avenues) as the Monopoly board has 11 squares on each side and mathematically rolling 2 dice in the game means you are more likely to land on these properties than any other on the board! Who would have thought there can be serious strategy behind such a simple family board game!    


(Bob Wann giving Carter Keithley a special editiion of Monopoly!)


  •          Yeti In my Spaghetti  This great preschool game began with Ron Hayes (PlayMonster’s Head of Product design) coming into the office one day saying, ”I have a great name for a game… Yeti in my Spaghetti” We all loved it and then asked Ron what is the game, and he said “I have no idea but I love the name and I think kids will too!” He was right! Within one week we had looked at different game play options and ended up with the one that is still in the market today. It won Game of the Year in 2017 and continues years later to be one of the top selling kid’s games today.



MC . What excites you most about the industry?


BW First , Great Product!


Second, seeing great work from great people and watching how those people grow, gain confidence and often even surprise themselves with what they are able to achieve working in the right environment, with the right kind of support and mentorship from their colleagues and peers.


MC What is one mistake you made and what did you learn from it?


BW Early in my career when I was working for Those Characters from Cleveland on great new brand introductions like Strawberry Shortcake and Care Bears at that same time, I introduced another product line, Madballs, that was such a red-hot success we sold 4million pieces in 1 year. So, in my infinite wisdom (ha ha!), I knew that this was highly unlikely to repeat in year 2 so I cut the forecast in half to 2 million pieces!


Guess what, I was wrong by over 1 million pieces. Lesson learned! When something gets that hot, especially when it is an older kid’s product, those older kids are very fickle and move from this year’s hot “must have toy“ to next years “must have toy”, so be even more conservative and cautious than you think. If you are wrong, you can always “chase it”. Better that than owning way too much inventory that you must sell at distressed prices! 



MC. The Toy and Game industry clearly has…


BW. Yet another year of challenges ahead!


Not only due to the continued impact of Covid, but unfortunately now, because of the most extraordinary supply chain challenges this industry has ever seen, due to the container and freight cost astronomical increases impacting ALL companies. As always, the resiliency, creativity and determination of this industry will help us navigate through this as we have done with other challenges in the past. I am confident we will rise to the challenge as an industry and in the longer-term benefit greatly from some of the consumer behavioral changes that have been caused by Covid, most importantly the rediscovery of the value of playing together!    



MC. What was your favorite toy or game as a child?


BW Growing up in Football/Soccer centric Scotland, my favorite toy was Subbuteo which was a very popular toy all over Europe as it allowed you to play a full soccer game by yourself or against an opponent at home with the “flick of your finger”. (pic attached)  



MC. What do you want to be when you grow up?


BW. I never want to grow up! That is one of the benefits and privileges of being in the Toy business, you have a legitimate excuse to stay perennially young. Once a kid always a kid! Even today at over 65 I still want to have fun and be playful! (see pic attached) Remember what George Bernard Shaw once said “You don’t stop playing because you grow old… you grow old because you stop playing” !





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