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This Could Be Your Job: Toy Salesman

Tony Papreck shares his story of his venture into the toy industry and the perks that keep him there.
Rachel Zupek, Writer

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-as told to Rachel Zupek

The toy salesman: Tony Papreck, 47

The company: Hasbro Inc. was founded in 1923 by two brothers, Henry and Helal Hassenfeld, in Providence, R.I. Hasbro is the second largest toy manufacturer in the world, marketing toys under such brand names as Transformers, Easy-Bake Oven, Lite-Brite, Playskool, Play-Doh, Mr. Potato Head, Nerf, My Little Pony, Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit, Chutes and Ladders, Jenga and more.

Background: Papreck began his career as a buyer in the cutting tool industry. After a few years, he landed a job as an assistant buyer for a large hobby distributor. Eventually, Papreck got into sales with a vendor from his current company, selling to small toy retailers. He moved up in the ranks of the company, ending his reign in a position as the senior director of sales. After 10 years with the business, Papreck worked in sales for two toy companies (including Hasbro) and has made his way to his current position as senior director of sales.

His story: I got into the toy industry by sheer luck. From the day I started selling toys, I knew I was hooked and thought of nothing else that would be as fun, motivate me more and provide me with such a level of compatibility.

I was a buyer in the cutting tool industry, which had limited appeal to me. I came across an ad for a buyer for a hobby distributor and was fortunate enough to land the job. At the time, it was one of the largest hobby distributors in the country. We bought and distributed items such as radio control cars, boats and train sets. I wanted a career in sales; however, at the time I didn’t have any experience. On several occasions, the regional sales manager for one of our vendors suggested I interview with his company. It took a few months but I finally got an interview and he made me an offer a week later.

I began as a sales representative with a variety of smaller toy retailers and hobby distributors. I blew away my quota numbers and one year later, I was promoted and transferred to Portland, Ore. During the first year in my new territory, I won salesperson of the year. Over the course of the next eight years, I was promoted to regional manager, director of sales for our premium incentive division, and senior director of sales, toy and premium divisions. When I joined the company we were generating about $96 million in revenue. Nine years later, we were generating more than $216 million in revenue.

A year after being promoted to senior director, I was contacted by two of my old bosses who worked for a different toy company. They wanted me to join them as a vice president of sales. It was one of the more difficult decisions I have ever faced. I had a great career along with a company that I believed in and that had supported me, as well as people that I truly enjoyed working alongside. Eventually, I joined my former co-workers, but the dynamics and environment at this company all presented great challenges and one by one we all chose to leave.

I was recruited by Tiger Electronics, which was an independent division of Hasbro. I joined Tiger as a director of sales managing 20 independent sales representative organizations. One year later, Hasbro merged Tiger and other lines into their main headquarters and I was offered a position as a director of sales managing a team of six salespeople.

All in a day’s work
Like many other jobs, there really is no typical day, which is what keeps it so interesting. The main goal is to make sure that Hasbro’s brands and products are getting the appropriate amount of distribution, shelf space, out-of-aisle placement and featured ad space at our retail partners. We utilize detailed business plans and create strong partnerships with our retailers, leveraging the strength of our brands to create a positive sales impact for the retailer and consumer. We monitor sales data from our retail partners on a daily and weekly basis to ensure that our products are moving through the register as planned and then make any necessary adjustments to our flow of product to meet those needs. 

Selling a toy
Twice per year, we bring our accounts to our headquarters in Rhode Island to preview our product lines. Our brand and marketing teams present the brands and new products along with the supporting information as to how we will promote these items, what type of volume we expect them to generate and why we are coming to market at this time. Consumer insights, trends and other factors are all presented at this time.

From that presentation, my team, the merchandise managers, buyers and I all sit down and review our business plans for our total expectations by brand and overall volume. Our goal is to grow their toy business overall and to use the plan as a guideline, not a concrete plan. We sell more by brand than by item; however, there are instances where we need to sell item by item depending upon the account and allotted space within each category. The sales pitch becomes more about the relative importance of the brand, the volume it will generate and how much space we will need within the department to make a reasonable product presentation to the consumer.

Challenges of a toy salesman
Chasing product to fill everyone’s wants and needs is a big challenge, as is acquiring enough shelf space for our brands and properties at retail. It’s also difficult monitoring the sales data and trends to ensure we’re moving through the inventory we have on hand and taking the proper steps to make certain we move through this product during the current season.

The traditional toy industry does about $21 billion annually and has been relatively flat for several years. The good news is that the population of newborns to 10-year-olds will grow 4.8 percent by 2010 and 9.6 percent by 2015, bringing more active consumers into the marketplace. The top two manufacturers have close to a 30 percent market share combined; the next closest competitor is in the low single digits for market share. The pie is not getting much larger but the share of pie is shifting.

Little did you know …
1. The toy business is actually a very fashion-driven business and we replace or reinvent approximately 60 percent of our product line annually.

2. Though it’s a great movie, the toy industry is not like what is portrayed in the movie “Big.” (Although from time to time we do play with toys.)

3. We work two to three years out on most product introductions. We begin selling next year's holiday toys 14 months in advance.

4. It truly is a very fun industry; however, don’t confuse fun with easy. There are many complexities and we face the same type of competitive challenges as many other industries. There is only a finite amount of shelf space for all toy products.

5. The toy business, excluding video games, is a $22 billion industry.

Celebrities, movie clips and concerts, oh my!
Since we go to market so early, we get to see a fair amount of movies clips and product introductions a year to a year-and-a-half in advance of the general public. In certain circumstances, I have been invited to movie sets while they are filming; I have been to the (George) Lucas Ranch for events; seen pop groups perform in our showrooms; attended a live BattleBots tournament; and I’ve met a fair number of celebrities.

For love of the job
I feel very fortunate to have not only found an industry that I excel in, but companies that I truly love and enjoy working for. We take great pride in the products that we bring to market. Like any job, it has its challenges, highs and lows. The challenges engage me and make me want to find a way to resolve the issue and move on to the next one.

While making money is important, being happy with your career is an even greater fortune. In the balance of life, you spend almost half your time at work. It certainly makes it go by faster and easier if you find a career and a company that you truly enjoy putting in the time and energy. Oftentimes when I look up to see the time, I’m shocked at how late in the day it is and where the day went – that proves to me I must be engrossed and enjoying it.

Managing people offers great rewards if and when you do it well. Gaining the support and trust of your team and seeing them promoted through the organization is often like a parent being proud of the accomplishments of their child. I’ve had some very talented people on my teams and I have learned from them all and wouldn’t want to have ever changed one of them.

Rachel Zupek is a writer and blogger for She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.

Last Updated: 25/02/2008 - 11:56 AM

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