The story of MukikiM, the company responsible for award winners like the Rock & Roll It Piano and The Genius Square, is a love story of sorts.
In the early 2000s, founder Zvika Givli was looking forward to travelling the world after his release from the Israeli army. Then he met a girl at a party.
“I already had a visa to India!” he exclaims. “Meeting her changed my plans.” They were married and after jobs overseas, settled in Milwaukee. In 2012, MukikiM was launched.
On the eve of the company’s 10th anniversary, we talked to Zvika about his role in his company’s success and new, potential award winners coming up.
You have degrees in biotech engineering, and finance & international commerce. You grew up in Israel and worked there and in China for international companies. How did you end up in Milwaukee, and how did you end up in toys?
Zvika Givli: After three years in China managing a food gifts factory, it was time to extend my contract. My wife preferred that we close that chapter in our life and move on to the next one. I had job offers from other companies in China and in Vietnam, so we considered continuing our adventure somewhere else or going back to Israel. My wife is from Milwaukee, so in the end we continued our adventure here.
I managed a local factory but missed the challenges of my previous job. I always wanted to have a company of my own, and when I came across a cool toy called Mini Flyer – it was a sensor like a ball that elevated and hovered based on hand motions – I started a company to distribute it in the USA. We don’t sell it anymore, but MukikiM offers many other cool toys and games in 10 different categories. They’re available here and in Europe, Japan, Korea, and several Latin America countries.
In terms of ending up in toys, I grew up in the 1980s when there were no screens. I was always playing with toys, making up games, and using my imagination.
What skills from your previous jobs help you succeed as a toy manufacturer?
Manufacturing management skills in general, and manufacturing in China, specifically. I managed 1,200 workers in a factory there; I came from a different culture and I was young, so it was a big challenge. I didn’t speak Mandarin, but more challenging than the language was the culture. Today, understanding the Chinese culture in terms of doing business helps me a lot.
MukikiM products, like many other toys, are produced in China, and I can look at the production from the factory’s perspective. I understand the bottlenecks and the supply chain challenges and ways to overcome them.
Where do you look for toy inspiration? Did you invent any of MukikiM’s offerings?
I personally haven’t invented a toy from A to Z, but I contributed to some ideas and early-stage product development to make the toys more commercial, for instance, and to make them more engaging for kids at play.
I get my inspiration from playing with my kids – three girls ages 14, 12 and 3.
Your toys are multiple award winners. What qualities do they have that maybe other toys do not?
I think our toys are very clear to the end user. There is no need for a long explanation or to read the manuals to know how to play with them. They’re also easy to operate and keep kids engaged and having fun. We do not compromise on quality and put a lot of thought and testing into them before they launch.
It’s a new year. What will it be like for you?
During Q1 I focus on tradeshows and forecasting product demand for the holidays. In Q2 I finalize those forecasts and order what we need from our factories. If we see increasing demand for certain items, we order more of them from our factories.
At the same time, we monitor closely our cash flow for the year.
Q4 is execution and shipping to customers for their holiday sales. I also order replenish-inventory for Q1 availability, and finalize the next year’s catalog with new items. Twenty percent of my time each year is devoted to business development – whether it’s creating new products, working with inventors, or exploring other collaborations that will help our continued growth – so I also plan my schedule for the upcoming year.
What can we expect from MukikiM in 2022?
We are bringing new items to the market that we feel very strongly about, including one in the Hyper Runner line that I feel will be a hit, and another game in our Genius series called Genius Gem. We will also have other new games items, and new items in our SpyX and Wicked Active! Fun! lines..
What would you like specialty toy retailers to know about you and your company?
We care about our specialty customers very much. I think specialty toy stores have a huge advantage over other sales channels. The close relationships they have with their communities and their ability to react fast to emerging trends is unique. I shop at our neighborhood specialty stores; I like the personal relationships and I think it’s important to support our community.
We’re very proud of our customer service – it is our number-one priority. When everything is working smoothly business is easy, but when issues happen, and they will, you realize who your true partners are. I think our customers would say that we are true and supportive partners.