What happens when the little kids who dressed as Cinderella and Belle at their magical Disney tea parties grow up? If Toynk has anything to say about it, they keep the tradition going. While owning a Disney Princess tea set or a Star Trek lunch box might seem childish, Toynk is making them cool again for the grown-up geek in all of us.
Toynk began in 2001 when three friends hatched a plan to dump the corporate grind and create a company centered around fun products. The brand has come a long way from selling toys out of a small apartment in Chicago. Twenty years later, Toynk has more than 200 employees; a retail store in Addison, Illinois; and a website where people can purchase fandom-inspired home goods, office supplies, apparel, games, collectibles, and more to add a touch of geeky class to their homes.
“Toynk is fun, it’s geeky, it’s nerdy. It’s a colorful, bright, happy brand in the business of bringing people things they love,” says Toynk’s Public Relations and Media Coordinator Summer Grinwis. “We connect with people on this really fun and intimate level because we’re tapping into their passions. And sometimes these are the passions that they don’t always talk about unless they’re around like-minded people. We love matching people up with those fandoms that fit them just right.”
Years ago, the company used to deal primarily with toys and costumes, but it now focuses largely on home goods, apparel, and jewelry after finding a lack of high-quality, fan-focused products for adults. “Those fans started out 20 years ago and now they’re adults. They want practical things so they can bring a little bit of that magic back home and use it on the regular,” Grinwis says.
Some of Toynk’s most popular items include a Star Trek whiskey decanter set, a Millennium Falcon carpet, an Iron Man gauntlet desk lamp, a Harry Potter Marauder’s Map porcelain tea set, and Disney Princess dinnerware. “Fans don’t just want to let their collections sit and collect dust: They want to show them off,” Grinwis says. “Being able to wear a Star Wars T-shirt or host a Disney Princess-themed dinner party allows our fans to show off their nerdy side in a fun and functional way.”
EMBRACING A VIRTUAL WORLD
Ukonic is a supplier for Toynk, designing exclusive Robe Factory products for the brand, including the aforementioned Disney Princess dinnerware and the Star Trek whiskey decanter set. “We’ve been working with Toynk for many years as one of their many suppliers, but really found our groove in 2020,” says Ukonic’s Marketing Manager John Frazier. “With ThinkGeek disappearing from the online space, a huge vacancy opened for curated pop culture merchandise.” That, combined with people staying home and shopping more online as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, created an environment in which Toynk and Ukonic leveraged their combined expertise and thrived.
“We recognized early on that the pandemic was going to change how people shop,” Frazier says. “While many brick-and-mortar clients cut back on orders and we had to fight off momentary panic, our partner Toynk believed as we did that the customer never went away, and doubled-down on bringing great exclusive merchandise to their online store.”
Toynk’s exclusive products currently make up 5% of its catalogue, according to Toynk’s Chief Marketing Officer Dave Madoch, and the company plans to increase that amount significantly this year. The key is to stay on top of what’s trending — and in the thick of the pandemic, that involved toilet paper and puzzles. Madoch says that puzzle sales were through the roof last year, and one of Toynk’s biggest sellers continues to be the Quilted Quarantine Toilet Paper 1,000-Piece Jigsaw Puzzle.
“When new things come out, you have to be on the pulse of that,” Grinwis says. “We have to constantly be on our toes, adapting and paying attention to news and pop culture to stay on the forefront of what’s relevant.”
The pandemic affected more than just toilet paper and puzzle sales; it caused nearly all of the biggest U.S. fan events either to be canceled or take place virtually for the first time. Toynk has participated in fan conventions since the company’s inception in the early ‘00s, and wasn’t going to give up on those sales opportunities. Toynk’s sales grew dramatically during the pandemic, according to Grinwis, and a lot of that came from online conventions.
“As these in-person events went virtual, it became less personal and more of a shopping experience for the fans,” Grinwis says. Toynk continued to launch con-exclusive products as it normally would, including the Geeki Tikis Golden Girl and The Mandalorian tiki-style shot glasses from Beeline Creative that were a big hit at Comic-Con International: San Diego (SDCC)’s Comic-Con@Home.
“Part of what makes cons like SDCC so popular is exclusivity,” Frazier says. Fans attend these conventions because they don’t want to miss out. “By opening up the con to a virtual experience, the real-life experience may seem diminished,” he adds. “As retailers and merchandisers, we have to work hard to create inclusion that still feels exclusive. It’s a knife’s-edge balance.”
If fans can’t get those thrilling in-person experiences at the cons, at least they can still get it from the merch. “Fans don’t want merchandise just to stare at it. They want merchandise that makes them feel like they’re a part of that world,” Frazier says. “Our dinnerware and bar sets are designed to make the owner feel like they really could be having drinks in 10-Forward on the Enterprise, or sipping bone-broth with Din Djarin. We always think that in-universe products provide the best possible experience.”
Since Toynk is an e-commerce store that carries merchandise for a multitude of fandoms, affiliate marketing partnerships are also huge for growth and help the brand target its ideal customer base. “Affiliate marketing has helped us connect with fans from every universe, including Disney and Star Wars, smaller fandoms like Fortnite, and even smaller fandoms like Tentacle Kitty,” Grinwis says. “It has helped to increase our exposure in very new and exciting ways.” Affiliate marketing also helps Toynk connect with pop culture bloggers, influencers, and media outlets.
In a world of uncertainty, fans can trust that Toynk will continue provide the products they love. No matter if your childhood tea party locale was the Mos Eisley Cantina or Cinderella’s castle, Toynk is here to cater to every geeky whim. “Everybody has that one thing that they can really just nerd out about,” Grinwis says. “We give people permission to just totally do it — go big or go home.”
This article was original published in Issue No. 9 of the Pop Insider. Click here to read the full issue!