‘Strictly Briks’: Interview with Founder, CEO, and Toy Designer Brian Semling

“Brik Buster” is a new release by a line of colorful and multi-shaped building toys called Strictly Briks that comes with a toy hammer so–as soon as something gets built–kids can have fun knocking it down. The stackable pieces help children sharpen both their creative and engineering skills. The family-owned company is currently making a name for itself in the toy industry due largely in-part to the fun play-patterns and unique shapes of the briks (especially the platforms that they can be placed upon).

Brian Semling, the founder, owner, and designer of “Strictly Briks” recently discussed the brand, it’s family-friendly inspiration, and his goals as an entrepreneur.

Meagan Meehan (MM) of Entertainment Vine: How did you get into designing toys and games and how many have you created to date?

Brian Semling (BS): After retailing toys since 1994, we eventually decided in late 2014 to launch Strictly Briks and create our own line of construction brik baseplates, brik towers, briks, and more. We looked at the brick construction market and saw a lot of potential to innovate and create products that didn’t exist that would be both fun and educational. We have created dozens of products in the last three years resulting in hundreds of options when you factor in color and size variations.

MM: You have stated that your children help you make toys, how essential were they to “Brik Buster”?

BS: Well, Sonja and Erik are really the inspiration for what we do. When we started “Strictly Briks” Sonja was seven and Erik was four. When we first developed the Brik Tower we gave it to Sonja and Erik to test and play with. They loved it and got a ton of use out of it by bringing all of their toys to combine and play in a new way. We could combine quick and easy vertical brik construction with not only other bricks but also action figures, cars, and other toys.

MM: How long did it take to develop this game and what were the most difficult aspects of its design process?

BS: Getting to “Brik Buster,” that is a good story. In the summer of 2016 we had launched our social media channels and we were shooting some short videos. I asked Sonja and Erik to build something we could then make a short video of. Low and behold, they built a giant Brik Tower with our Big Briks. It had something like twenty-two levels. Each level was rather short, but overall it was quite tall, like over five feet. Then they had a plastic hammer from Erik’s construction set. They took the hammer to knock out the pillars. As we were playing, it occurred to me that this could be more than just a several-minute video to post online. We had a game on our hands! So, this game was entirely Sonja and Erik’s creation. From there, we took about a month to test various numbers of briks and levels to get to the version that eventually came to market. We started with several staff members building and playing. After getting feedback from both staff members, and Sonja and Erik, we were ready for a focus group. Our focus group was extremely scientific (just kidding), we invited several families of friends (roughly eight to ten kids and three or four parents) over to our office to test the game and get feedback on size and color. Everyone loved it!

MM: How did you chose the color schemes and how might this line expand in the near future?

BS: Regarding color selection, we put a lot of effort and discussion into choosing the right colors. We brainstormed everything from solid colors to up to twenty-four colors before eventually deciding on the final four colors. In the end, what led us to our final selection were fun, warm colors that were kind of unique and look good together at the same time. Right now, we are building Brik Buster up to become a household name. We aren’t yet planning on new colors, but we may play with the colors once we get more established.

MM: How did you come up with the name “Brik Buster?

BS: For the name, I asked my wife Carina along with Sonja and Erik what they thought it should be called as we worked on developing the game. The first words out of Carina’s mouth were “Brik Buster.” That was it; we had our perfect name. Sometimes you really need to brainstorm, do polls/surveys, and struggle to come up with the right name. Other times like this one, you name it on the first try. Carina nailed it with this one.

MM: How did you get the briks into stores and known in the market?

BS: The whole process took several months from Sonja and Erik’s creation to us finalizing the packaging and getting our first order placed. Because most of the parts already existed, the part that took the longest was choosing the final size and colors, along with designing the packaging including images, messaging, and developing a logo for the game. In terms of distribution, we have really focused on creating great products and selling them on Amazon (in the US, Canada, and Europe) over the last three years to refine and grow our selection. We decided early in 2017 that Strictly Briks would be ready for wider distribution in 2018. So, we spent a good portion of 2017 designing new packaging for many of our products, entering toy award contests (like Oppenheim, Dr. Toy, Hot Diggity, and more), and preparing logistically to sell to a broader market. We also started working closely with a rapidly growing chain of franchise stores called Bricks and Minifigs which are spread out in locations around the US and in Canada. They’ve done very well with our products and we maintain a very close relationship with them. We will be exhibiting at the Toy Fairs in Nuremberg and New York in early 2018 to expand the distributors and retailers that we work with. Expect to see Strictly Briks in many more offline channels beginning in 2018.

MM: What do you most enjoy about the game?

BS: I’ll start by saying that without question the best part of the game is when the tower topples. The bricks in Brik Buster have real weight, we’re talking three or four pounds, so when the tower topples you not only see it, but hear it and feel it. You experience it. We demonstrated the product in a conference room at the ED Expo back in March. We were at one of the tables in a room was filled with about twenty tables each with five or ten people. Each time we played the game at our table, you could hear it topple throughout the conference room and there was always a visceral response from around the room. There is an energy and excitement as the tower topples! And you have a winner too! To get a good sense of this, check out of video below. (And yes, that is Sonja and Erik in the video and my wife Carina and I make an appearance at the end.)

Now all that said, in the big picture what I love most about “Brik Buster” is that it brings families together. We’re all busy and none of us has any time. My son Erik loves “Monopoly” but I don’t always have time to play it since it takes too long. When we developed “Brik Buster” one of the things we loved about what Sonja and Erik had come up with was that it took just a few minutes to build and a few minutes to play. You can literally play like four times in fifteen minutes (especially if everyone helps build the tower quickly). I love that because there’s no excuse that you don’t have enough time to play with your kids here, because you can always make five minutes to play at least once. And, of course, once will turn into a few games, but what’s the harm in spending a few extra minutes with your kids?

I’ll tell you something else, the game is definitely fun for kids, but it’s fun for adults too! We’re marketing this as a family game because that’s who we are, but honestly don’t let the fun colors fool you, boring old adults (like us) could play this game amongst themselves and not get tired of it. We just need to share “Brik Buster” with the world! Stephanie Oppenheim really helped us in this regard. “Brik Buster “had won the prestigious Oppenheim Platinum Award seal for 2017 and Stephanie chose her favorites of the Platinum Award winners to feature on the Today show on Black Friday. Let’s just say we didn’t have enough on hand. We didn’t have much left to sell for Christmas after Stephanie’s segment on Black Friday. We ordered several thousand more and are having FedEx deliver more this week so we can keep delivering them for Christmas and after!

MM: What made you realize the need for “Unique Shapes” briks and how did you select the specific shapes and colors?

BS: Everyone is used to square baseplates. We wanted to make baseplates available in other basic shapes like circles, triangles, and half circles. At the end of the day, these were the most basic shapes that were missing from the market. We knew colors were lacking in baseplates and wanted to allow builders to be creative. We started with the colors of the rainbow and added neutral and gray tones, clear colors, metallic, and a few others. We tried to end up with a nice balance and range of colors.

MM: How can these unique shapes be put to use?

BS: From simply having a unique base to being creative with acircle baseplate and making it a “face”, there is a lot of flexibility. Plus, we made them stackable so you can build towers with various shapes. You could make a cylinder-shaped skyscraper to a tower with various triangles and half circles in an array of colors.

BS: Ultimately, they can help with anything from little kids learning and getting hands-on use with shapes to expert builders expanding their boundaries.

MM: Do you have a personal favorite?

BS: I love our Big Briks 119 Piece Starter Set which includes all of the unique shapes in one neat introductory set. This is intended for three to seven-year-old children and is a great way to get started.

MM: How do you hope your toy and game creation career evolves from here?

BS: The funny thing is, while I have designed a few toys, I don’t see myself as a toy designer. God made me to be an entrepreneur. So, at heart I’m a small businessman who loves to strategize (of course the goal is to grow the business large enough that it is harder to classify us a small business, but we have a way to go), and I also love toys and inventing. I’m surrounded by great people and a great family. Sometimes I have good ideas, but a lot of times, like in the case of Brik Buster, others have great ideas. Besides my family, we have a number of dedicated staff members that have great ideas too. My job, whether it’s my idea or someone else’s, is to push it forward. That’s what I love, taking an idea and turning into reality. Making things happen and to go from a concept to putting lots of smiles on kids and parents’ faces!

MM: Are there any other fun projects being worked on right now—or anything else—that you want to talk about?

BS: In fact, there are some fun projects that we are working on right now. We are debuting a new range of products at New York Toy Fair in February. I would love to discuss some of the details, but as you can imagine I can’t get into the details without getting into trouble!

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To learn more about Strictly Briks, visit their official website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Meagan Meehan

Meagan J. Meehan is a published author, poet, cartoonist and produced playwright. She pens columns for the Great South Bay Magazine, Examiner and AXS. She is also a stop motion animator and an award-winning abstract artist. Meagan holds a Bachelors in English Literature and a Masters of Communication. She is an animal advocate and a fledging toy and game designer.
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