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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What it is like to run a toy company?


Let's admit it. No matter how old we are, we all love toys. Moms can 'clean' their daughters doll houses for hours. Dads always volunteer to show their children 'how to play' with a toy. Grandparents can spend a whole day in a toy store, 'choosing' a gift for their grandchildren. Oh, those toy stores! Temples of our childhood. Adult or child. Once we get in, we lose our way in the maze of tiny Wonderland's.

Then, imagine you are running a toy company. Spending all your time with toys! Too good to be true, huh? Meet Ramona Pariente. She's the  president of Safari Ltd, manufacturer & wholesaler of educational, nature related gifts & toys. Let's hear the 'Toy Story' from her. Is it really cool to run a toy company?

Hi Ramona. Can you tell us a bit about your company, Safari Ltd.? What kind of toys are you manufacturing?

First, I would like to thank you for this opportunity to be interviewed. I think it would be interesting to share with you the story of how Safari got started. The company was started by my parents in 1980 out of their apartment. It all began when they returned from a vacation in Europe with an endangered animal rummy card game for children. They purchased it at the Munich Zoo in Germany. Well they proceeded to translate it into English and mailed out a sell sheet to all the zoos and museums. Well it worked. They received orders from a variety of venues. 

After a few years of success with these rummy games, one of which was dinosaurs, they discovered dinosaur replicas produced for the Natural History Museum of London in the shop. This led to producing our own authentic scale model dinosaur collection for the Carnegie Museum of Natural History based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  This collection is sculpted with the guidance of the paleontologists of Carnegie to ensure authenticity. Dinosaur experts affirm this. Today, Safari has an extensive variety of hand painted authentic replicas from Mythological Creatures, farm animals, fairies, wildlife, sea creatures, knights, dragons, horses, people, reptiles, insects and more.

What is it like to run a toy company? How did you get involved?

I entered Safari in 1985 and was focused on sales. One of the first markets I opened up for Safari was the school market in the US selling them our scale model dinosaurs of Carnegie and also the scale model sea life of the Monterey Bay Aquarium of Monterey Bay, California. A few years later, I travelled extensively throughout Europe, South America and the Middle East introducing Safari.

In 2004, I took over the company after my father's passing. I immediately focused all my efforts on transforming our collections into the most beautiful models in the world. I sourced some of the best sculptors in the world and got to work. I  also believed that I had a good grasp of what the market was looking for, especially after being in this field for so many years, and additionally being a mother of two with a degree in teaching. This combination was the "perfect storm" to make collections with this "wow" factor. Six years later, the market is recognizing this vision.

So to answer your question about what it is like to run a toy company? It is hard work , but at the same time, it is very exciting to see my teams motivated and in love with the product they deal with everyday. The hard work of always focused on sales and the bottom line is all worthwhile when you see how much our toys are loved by the people within the company and also our clients. Clients, including individual mothers and fathers, who send us letters telling us, not only how much they appreciate the quality of our replicas, but how much they enjoy the information we provide with the replicas that help educate their children about the fragility of our ecosystems and the inhabitants that live within.

Did you have an affection towards wild life & dinosaurs earlier?

My parents were both wild life lovers and we often spent our Sundays at the zoo. This developed a love for all the animals no exceptions except for a few insects. I especially enjoy birds. Fascinating how they have a built in sonar that enables them to migrate for thousands of miles, sometimes from the northern hemisphere down to the southern, plus it allows them to fly in formation without ever bumping into each other even when they are swooping up and down together. Dinosaurs came later with Safari.

How is a typical work day in Safari Ltd.?

First there is not really a "typical" day. Every day brings a different challenge or discovery. We do work in open environments so we can share daily events. The mood at Safari is up-beat, friendly and cooperation and team work is essential. Each department has their own set of rules and 'to do list" and because team work is emphasized no one person feels overwhelmed or alone. We enjoy working hard and also playing. We make sure we have our "get togethers" based around food and contests. I am always impressed when people stay after hours just because they want to. I feel like my goal has been accomplished.

What's a toy's story, from idea to toy store shelf?

Very simple. Make toys that provide value for your money, add a little "WOW" factor and  some educational information  and "the food is ready to be served." And never underestimate the intelligence of the buying market.

Do you collaborate with zoos, aquariums or museums, when designing a toy?

Yes. Often they request certain animals that are in their venues. I have made replicas for the San Diego Zoo and the Monterey Bay Aquarium plus a sundry of other museums and aquariums. We listen to all requests and consider all of them based on worldwide appeal.

What's your favorite animal or dino or mythological figure?

My favorite is the unicorn with the roses in her mane. The story why she has roses is because the unicorns stopped to smell the roses when Noah was loading the arch and missed the boat which is also why they do not exist anymore.

What are your future plans?

Our plans are too continue the grow slowly with our method of producing unique replica collections and additionally adding dimension to them with playscapes. Our dedication to the environment and the endangered animals will continue also to be a main focus of ours. We have joined many conservation organizations for big cats, polar bears, wild lands and trees and have recently become Life Time members of the venerable Sierra Club. We want to eventually to build our own “green” building and have everything printed and packaged in recycled paper. Reducing our carbon footprint is essential for us as individuals and as a company.

Hope this answered your questions to your satisfaction!

Thanks for your time Ramona.

You can explore Safari Ltd. catalog on their web site  & you can follow them on Twitter, on Facebook, on Flickr & on YouTube.

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