By Jenn Bergin
After having worked in toy retail for more than 25 years, Wilfried G. Demisch decided he wanted to build a business of his own in the toy industry. Toymarketing International, Inc. was founded in 1984. Best known for bringing the beloved Rody Horse and Gymnic line of products to the U.S., the 32-year old company has found success as a leading importer and distributor of international toys and sensory tools for wellness, rehabilitation and special needs.
Wilfried recently spoke with edplay from TMI’s sunny and spacious California office, located in San Diego’s Rancho Bernardo community. Here’s what he had to say.
What were the early days of TMI like?
We started out importing and distributing high-quality, brand-name products. Our first major line was Trudi, an Italian plush manufacturer. Then I met the owners of Ledraplastic spa in Italy, one of the first manufacturing companies to use the rotational moulding method to work non-toxic vinyl.
In the ‘80s, the company started to design and manufacture exercise and fitness products for children and adults. The owner of Ledraplastic spa, Mr. Aquilino Cosani, was a gifted designer and one of his creations was the Rody Horse. The Rody Horse quickly became a treasured toy and therapy companion for children and adults around the world, and has won many awards over the past 32-plus years.
So things took off from there?
In 1984, we became the U.S. distributor of the Ledraplastic spa/Gymnic line. We immediately recognized that the products are great for fitness, therapy, wellness, and of course, play. And their unique design and feel is an asset for children (and adults) with sensory issues, in therapy or school.
We also import and distribute Lucio Londero, an Italian line of high-quality wooden games. Petangue, bocce and croquet are a few of the most popular.
What’s your best seller?
The Rody Horse is our best seller! Each year we add new colors to the line to freshen it up, and we retire colors, too. We base a lot of our decisions on valuable input from our customers.
It’s such a classic! How did the product develop?
The Rody character was born in 1984 in Italy at Ledraplastic spa. Its rounded shape came from the idea of “melting” together several balls of various sizes to create a friendly character that would capture children’s attention. It had to look active and friendly at the same time. A jumping horse was the result.
At first, Ledraplastic spa wanted to call the toy “Rodeo.” But, to avoid any possible problems with patents and such, they decided to call it “Rody,” which also sounded more child-friendly.
Interestingly, the name Rody is also similar to that of Rhodes Island in Greece, home to a medieval castle that once housed a citadel which functioned as a palace, headquarters and fortress. It parallels Rody’s history and location, between Western and Eastern culture.
We can’t mention the Rody without talking about Hop Ball!
Mr. Cosani also invented the Hop Ball. He patented the idea in Italy in 1968 and called it “Pon-Pon.” 1971, he patented the product in the U.S. Eventually he discovered how to manufacture it in one piece, without applying the handle at a later stage. In 1987, it began being manufactured with the handle, made of the same soft material of the ball, and its name was changed to Hop Ball.
What tips do you have for selling your products?
We always recommend that specialty toy retailers inflate the products and display them on the top of shelves or in a window. That way parents and children can really see their beautiful detail and color. Most of our retailers will sell them right from the display.
What kinds of displays have specialty toy retailers come up with?
One of our retail customers created a shelf behind the register and displays each Rody Horse with a bow around its neck. Another has a wooden tree in their store, and they hang Hop Balls from the branches as if they’re apples ready to be picked. At Halloween, another retailer took our 5-foot orange Megaball and made it into a Jack-O-Lantern for their front window to drive traffic.
Others have made a horse corral and put handkerchiefs around the Rodys’ necks; created an “It’s Raining Rodys” window display; and another display featured Rodys pulling Santa on his sleigh! We love to hear all the creative ways that retailers sell our products, and we love when they send us pictures of their great ideas!
What’s next for TMI?
We’re always looking for new high-quality products to bring to the U.S. market. Over the years, we’ve streamlined our merchandise assortment to meet the changing needs of our specialty toy customers.
We’re constantly learning more and more about each product and its different uses, from both our customers and consumers. We exhibit at New York’s Toy Fair, ToyFest West, ASTRA and ABC Kids Expo and always receive comments about how the Rody, Hop Ball, seat cushions and other items are helping children and adults with therapy, fitness, wellness and play. We also get lots of emails and phone calls from parents.
We value this information and not only use it within the company to enhance our business – but we share it with our toy retailers, to make sure their stores are generating sales and happy customers!
We would not still be here if it wasn’t for our specialty toy retailers. We don’t sell to mass market, so they’re extremely important to us, and we send a big thank you to them for their years of their continued support.