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Casdon’s Head of Research and Development, Alex Reynolds on new toys, licenses and branding
Alex, terrific to see you…
Always a pleasure to speak with you Deej.
That’s kind – let’s see if you feel the same at the end, though! So… You’re the Head of Research and Development at the toy company Casdon. People can read about your background here… But in a Brands Untapped context, what are some of the licences you have at Casdon?
Casdon are predominantly a role-play toy company that have many licenses in which we partner and create long-standing relationships with huge global household brands.
Let’s name some of those right away…
The licences we currently have are Dyson, Morphy Richards, DeLonghi, Kenwood, Mr. Kipling, Flymo, Numatic and – most recently – Joseph Joseph.
You mentioned Pneumatic… Is that what you were saying? Like a drill?
No – Numatic: N, U, M, A, T, I, C. You’ll know the products: Henry and Hetty!
Ah! The vacuum cleaners! Right. Well, that leads nicely to my next question because I imagine there must be a pretty specific mindset when considering these partnerships…
Yes – we need to seek out licenses that could be possible for us. The great thing for Casdon is that a lot of our licences are household brands, so research happens every minute in our daily lives and interests.
And what’s the criteria? What pulls you to all those brands?
The key criteria to Casdon are… One: the power of the brand, and two: the product USPs within the toy world. As with any license, it also needs to add huge strength to the appeal and play-value of the toy, otherwise we’d just create a generic item. We look at the license power in its own household market and what their competition is. We then look at their product USPs, but specifically how they would stand out as a toy.
“We make our toys as close to the real thing as possible.”
If a product’s already well-known, then parents and children will instantly relate to a smaller toy version of it, especially as we make our toys as close to the real thing as possible.
Yes, your product’s authenticity is very apparent. And they’re adorable – I unashamedly say that as a grown man with no children!
Right! So yes – we constantly get “Oooh’s” and “Ahhh’s” at trade shows when people see the smaller toy versions next to the real products and how realistic they are, so we know that detailed element of our work is a winner.
You’re so right! I saw one of the Casdon team on Casdon’s London Toy Fair stand… They were using a full-size Henry vacuum to clean the carpet in front of a load of tiny Henry vacuums. I don’t know why I was so delighted!
Amazing! That’s the appeal our toys bring and – hopefully – we made a memorable impression on a lot of people at toy fair.
I’m sure you must’ve… Am I right in saying the stand picked up an award?
Yes, you’re correct! We were very proud to pick up the very-catchily titled award, ‘Best Stand for Covid Adaptation, Security and Safety’.
Is that what it was?!
Yes! But if you want to save space, you can just shorten that to ‘Best Stand’.
Ha! I think I will… The stand did look amazing, by the way… Incredibly clean and colourful; really contemporary.
Thank you, Deej; we were all so proud of our stand and the unveiling of our new company branding. And we really were thrilled to get the award. The judges said the stand was colourful and welcoming – which is exactly what we were aiming for when designing it. Casdon celebrated its 75th anniversary last year by introducing new branding, bringing a bright and playful feel to our fantastic toy range.
It’s 75? My god; that is a fresh looking company… What’s the history there, then? Tell me about it…
It’s a proud story of a family of toymakers since 1946. Casdon Ltd – formerly Cassidy Brothers plc – was founded by Thomas Cassidy; a talented toolmaker with an ambition to start his own toy business. He founded the company just after the second world war.
Um… On his own?
On his own, but his brother, Joe Cassidy, joined him soon afterwards, hence the first business name, Cassidy Brothers. Together, they were a great toy-making force, and built the business up over many decades. Tom’s son, Paul, then continued the fine family tradition of bringing a smile to the faces of generations of children!
And where are we now? Who’s in charge?
Tom’s grandsons, Phil and Peter Cassidy. They now run the company and proudly continue their family legacy; that role-play toys need to be fun, but they also have a role to play in how children discover, learn and develop. To this day we ensure this message is conveyed and executed in every new toy we create.
Great! Let me get that down just right… Role-play toys have to have a role to play in how children discover, learn and develop. That’s brilliant. Looking forward, then, what licensing projects are you working on at the moment?
In 2022, we’ll be entering into many new areas of marketing for Casdon – with the continued growth in digital, we’ll be launching our first ever digital-advertising campaigns to build both brand awareness and drive traffic to sale across many of our retail partners.
With brand new photography and videography assets to complement our new look and feel, we’ve managed to create engaging content – tailored to each specific platform – so that we’re capturing audiences at each stage of their journey. Also – later this year – we’ll be launching our mini-munch sessions to celebrate the launch of our Joseph Joseph range.
That’s kitchenware based, presumably?
Right. Predominantly influencer led, the campaign will run across Facebook and Instagram, and you’ll certainly see a few familiar faces fronting this campaign with us.
Nicely teased! Anything else?
In another first for Casdon, we’ll be partnering with Dyson to create an exclusive event at their prestigious Beauty Lab on London’s Oxford Street. With our brand-new Dyson Styling Sets at the heart of this campaign, we’ll be inviting attendees in to enjoy the VIP treatment with a Dyson Global Stylist for some mini-me styling sessions. In short, the future’s looking very exciting for Casdon and we can’t wait to reveal more in the upcoming trade shows.
So let me ask you this: when you’re developing a new idea for a licensed product, how do you go about it? What’s the process?
We start by listening and learning from the license partner. We live with the brand first as a consumer and get to know the real product. We find out what they offer and how their consumer benefits from the product. Once we have that deep knowledge on the brand, we then imagine those same values but within the toy world – where will our products sit? What is our competition? What features can we bring to our consumers? Once we have that, we brainstorm and create the multiple play value ideas of the toys. Even then, we will always go back and sense check that they’re still in line with the brand values required.
It almost seems like a redundant question, then… But how important is creativity in what you do?
Wow… It’s not only the most important part of what we do, but also the most exciting! We research, brainstorm, innovate, design and implement a full play pattern to even the simplest of items and ensure we educate children to learn through play. Our products promote imagination, coordination, fine-motor skills, sensory play and cause and effect, and we pride ourselves on innovating fun toys with these educational benefits. Ultimately, our creativity delivers a product for a child to ‘Live Playfully’ as per Casdon’s strapline.
It doesn’t sound like an easy job…
Ha! No; if my job was easy, we’d just create smaller models of real-life products – and I’d live a much easier life and have more holidays! However, we don’t make models… We create fun and educational toys that will last for generations.
What’s the most challenging part of your role?
The most challenging part for me is what we’ve just talked about… The creative element of the toy. When creating a generic item, you can simply shape and form the product around battery housings, electronics and so on. But we have to do this the other way round. We have to creatively engineer the internals into the existing form while keeping the aesthetic true to the original product and passing our stringent safety testing.
This is great. It’s not at all obvious…
Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment, but the strange thing is that while it’s extremely challenging for me and the team, it’s also the most fun and most rewarding part of the journey. If it’s keeping me awake at night, then I’m in my element and won’t rest until I find a solution.
We’ve spoken before about you seeking inspiration outside the toy industry. What else keeps you creative, Alex?
Oh, I could talk about this for hours, Deej. I’ll keep it shorter with three things that really help me create and ideate…
Three is perfect!
First, my children. Children are amazing and imaginative, and they think differently to adults. I’m developing toys for children, so who better to learn from? I have constant conversations with my children on what I’m creating.
Do you mean it’s like a regular exercise? Or just as and when needed?
Oh, regularly! We have frequent visits to toy stores when I just look at their reaction to the different aisles, the toys they pick up and what inspires them. This tells me so much more about children than I can ever learn from around a boardroom table. I also like to think that I’ve never really grown up – and my wife would agree – and that’s why I love working in the toy industry.
Love it. And second?
Second: never get complacent… I always try to put myself outside my comfort zone. I push to learn new things, ask questions and be curious in every part of life. Even things as simple as putting on a different radio station or a different TV channel from time to time to broaden my horizon.
You know, I think you’re right – we could talk about this for ages; every answer throws up more questions… But I’m trying to stay focused! What’s number three?
Number three is to get away from my desk. This for me is the biggest source of creativity. I have my best ideas in the shower, or on a walk… So I promote that for all creatives out there. Take a sketch pad or iPad to the park and take in your surroundings… You’ll be surprised how quickly you can think differently, think creatively and solve a problem.
Oh, this is great stuff. Alex, this has been an absolute pleasure; I’ve really enjoyed hearing more about the way you work. To wrap this up, what’s the one question I could’ve asked you today but didn’t?
Hmmm. Why should a brand think about working with Casdon?
Perfect. And what’s the answer?
Casdon offers a unique position for producing toys under a license. With Casdon, we offer product promotion with products that look just like the real thing, as well as a royalty income. We target an entirely new demographic which emphasises brand loyalty to children from a young age.
“We offer product promotion with products that look just like the real thing, as well as a royalty income…”
That combination is rather unusual…
And we feel it’s a win, win! We also build and nurture relationships with our brand partners. As an example, we’ve partnered with Dyson since 1997 and are still going strong 25 years later. And finally, we have a lot of fun while working together… We’re a toy company after all!
Brilliant. Alex, take the rest of the day off – I think you’ve earned it with this interview alone… Thank you!
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