Tony Morley didn't intend to spend most of his adult life tinkering with toys, but that's what he has done for about three decades.
"I didn't go to college with intentions to be a toy inventor," chuckled Morley, 61. "I don't know many people who do. And if somebody had that as a career goal, I would try to talk them out of it."
Morley's run in the toy business is an impressive one. This spring at the American International Toy Fair in New York, manufacturers picked up a number of Morley's toy ideas for review. He's fresh off another success, "Wobbling Tobbles," manufactured by Fat Brain Toys. It was a finalist for 2012 Toy of the Year in the Specialty Toy category by the Toy Industry Association.
"Tobbles is a satisfying toy concept that I invented recently," Morley said, "It's got some character about it that is attractive to young and old."
The typical life span of a successful toy is about three years, explained Morley. Yet, he's been fortunate to have one that is on its 12th year with Fisher Price. "Its called Stacking Action Blocks," he said, "very simple, very low-tech."
It took a few years for the resident of West Lakeland Township to find his niche.
After receiving an industrial design degree from Brigham Young University, Morley worked at several positions and traveled from place to place. It wasn't until he started working at toy companies that he found his calling.
It started with Lakeside Games in Bloomington in 1980. Morley's next gig was designing Star Wars-themed toys for Kenner Products, in Cincinnati, Ohio. Then he was on to designing games for Milton Bradley in Springfield, Mass., between 1984 and 1986.
He met his wife, Taia, a fellow game designer in Massachusetts, and they moved to Minneapolis so Morley could join two partners in an independent toy design company. After the partners went in different directions, Morley decided to strike out on his own, and kept the group's original name, Red Racer Studio.
Today, Red Racer Studio takes contracts from Mattel, Fisher-Price and others. He and Taia also do package design for toy companies.
Morley enjoys the creative process and says he showed signs of tinkering even as a child growing up in California. He had little or no knowledge of physics or electricity or the scale of materials, but he says he spent a lot of time in the garage just building things.
"I once tried to make a rock polisher out of an old washing machine motor," recalled Morley. "It was dramatic. I plugged it in and it essentially self-destructed in a very violent fashion."
Do his four kids think his job is cool? "No. They don't think it's cool. They don't know anything else. Their friends thinks it's super-cool, though," he said.
Even though most find Morley's job a fun and carefree way to spend the working days, he stresses that the toy industry can be a tricky one, and is very unpredictable. But when one of his toys captures the attention it deserves, "It is a great feeling," he said. "It is fun!"
Kelly Jo McConnell is a freelance writer from Lino Lakes.