Serious Insights from a Toy Company

photo by LaserGuided

As a business owner, there are all sorts of places where you can pick up great information.  This week if you were lucky enough to be at the Principal Connections monthly networking event – you would have picked up some great business tips from Jonathan Freiden and Seth Freiden – brothers and co-owners of the 3rd Generation company US Toy.

If you don’t know who these guys are or why you should care…US Toy has been around for 58 years as a local Kansas City based family owned business that’s grown substantially – especially in the last few years.  Considering that the average family owned business only stays in business for 24 years and only 30% make to a 2nd generation (only 10% to a 3rd generation) – these guys have clearly figured out quite a few things that we could all benefit from.

They spoke for quite a while and graciously answered a lot of questions, so I won’t try to cover everything that was said – but here are few of the highlights that I took away from the discussion:

Impact of being 3rd Generation…

There are a lot of reasons why family businesses don’t make the generational transition…especially more than one.  Jonathan jokingly mentioned that one of the reasons for their success was a lack of cousins in the family since it’s family disputes that often disrupt a transfer…and destroy a company!

The best way to mitigate those kinds of disruptions is to recognize the importance of sound succession planning and to be really clear on what’s going to happen.  (Coincidentally the sponsors of this month’s event were the attorneys from BridgeBuilders, who specialize in Estate Planning and Business Succession Planning – great guys to talk to if you are looking for a place to get started on Succession Planning).

The other thing that came out of the family aspect is the importance of valuing what the previous generation built, but recognizing the importance of upgrading and refreshing the business as needed…whether that’s technology enhancements, a change in direction or uncovering new product lines or sales channels.  You can’t get locked into the past, but you will benefit from building on a solid foundation.

Building Something for all Employees

Another idea that really stood out to me was their focus on really building an environment and company that stood for something and that people could enjoy working for.  Not only do they focus a lot on Core Values in terms of hiring and driving the business, they also put a lot of stock into hiring great people and letting them do their thing (autonomy and purpose…a killer combination).

And in case you’re wondering, this wasn’t just the Owners of the company telling people a great story – US Toy was just selected by Ingram’s magazine as one of the Best Places to work in Kansas City!

Make sure you get help

I’ll admit I’m biased on this last point, but they attributed a lot of their success over the last 3 years (since they took over the company) to extensive use of outside advisors (you know…like a business coach).  Their point is that business owners not only need to be open to 3rd party ideas, but it’s critical to bring on independent perspectives to challenge thinking and to leverage broad skills and experiences to keep executive management on top of things.  Find good people to work with and make the investment to grow your company with help from others!

There were a lot of other great points – but the bottom line is that Jonathan and Seth have taken a great local business and evolved it into a serious national player with lots of additional room for growth.  If you’re looking for some inspiration – the folks at US Toy aren’t playing around!

Are you familiar with US Toy or another great Kansas City business example?  Share your thoughts below – I’d love to hear them.

Shawn Kinkade   Kansas City Business Coach

3 thoughts on “Serious Insights from a Toy Company”

  1. Justin says:

    A great company environment and a focus on core values wasn’t my perception as they closed the doors on their Apopka location in central Florida, leaving dedicated employees high and dry. After 16 years of honorable service as the assistant manager, my mother didn’t even get a thank you note or a simple phone call from the owners. She was also forced to work the first half of 2017 without taking vacation, and they didn’t even pay her for the vacation time she accrued because it’s not “company policy”. Seth and Jon didn’t care to visit the store one time as their faithful employees worked hard to liquidate the entire store and pack-up all the remaining inventory. In my eyes, that is a terrible way to run a company, and a poor demonstration of core values.

  2. S. Kinkade says:

    Justin – thank you for the comment and I’m sorry to hear about your mother’s situation.

    I have no insight into US Toy other than what I heard at a meeting a few years ago. Your point is valid and points out the risk of either not staying true to their core values… or misrepresenting them in the first place.

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