Of all the toys Santa Claus delivered today, some of the most original came from a Roseville-based company that puts a high value on inventors and inventiveness.
Since 1990, MindWare has been creating brainy toys for kids of all ages, as its tag line says.
It has also become a reliable innovator for retailers with products like Qwirkle, Keva Structures building planks and Science Academy kits for making slime, lip balm and volcanoes, as well as hundreds of other toys and games.
“We count on them for new, innovative products,” said Roberta Bonoff, chief executive of Creative Kidstuff, the Twin Cities-based toy seller. “Some other companies come out with redos, but MindWare always comes out with new things.”
MindWare experienced double-digit growth this holiday season, consistent with most years past, the company said. That’s significantly higher than the 5 percent growth the toy industry as a whole is experiencing, according to the NPD Group.
“We get to come to work all day and play with toys and games,” said Jonathan Staruck, vice president and general manager at MindWare. “They’re educational and fun. We’re helping young minds.”
The company’s acquisition by Berkshire Hathaway’s Oriental Trading Company in 2013 jump-started its marketing, web development and customer service.
Some companies end the relationship with the inventor after the initial product. MindWare keeps them involved in the design and packaging and puts them in the booth at Toy Fair, the industry’s biggest trade show.
“They love that and appreciate that,” Staruck said. “This was their baby and they want to stay involved.”
How does an educational toy company compete against Star Wars and other licensed characters? Sometimes, it joins the party. Last year, it introduced a line of products based on the children’s story “The Rainbow Fish.” “It’s the first and only licensed product we’ve ever worked with,” Staruck said.
But more often, forges its own path. This year retailers such as Target, Best Buy, Walmart and Amazon are selecting more toys that teach kids through play. STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) is the new buzzword in schools, and toy companies are following MindWare’s lead to offer them. It’s also added another layer of creativity — the arts — to make STEAM.
“We look at MindWare as accidental learning,” Staruck said. “You learn something and maybe you didn’t even realize it.”
MindWare started out as a catalog company and remains solidly so. It distributes tens of millions of catalogs each year, making that the primary driver for sales. “Kids like to get the catalog, flip through the pages and make their Christmas lists,” Staruck said.
One part of the product that has changed is the packaging. Impulse buyers in a retail store aren’t the same as catalog browsers. “The packaging has to have color, not too much print, high-quality photographs and clear, quick copy,” Staruck said. “And it has to look fun too. MindWare is educational and fun.”