Smart Toys and Games Inc. is a company that is dedicated to producing products that help children develop logical thinking and problem-solving skills. Useful for a range of ages, the company is well-known for its “SmartGames” and “GeoSmart” brands. It’s “SmartMax” brand features construction sets that enable children to explore the fascinating world of magnetism in a safe and creative way through making strong building structures and vehicles.
SmartMax recently introduced a new line known as “My First.” These sets retail for $20 and $30 and feature colorful figurines shaped like trains and animals, including lions, hippos, giraffes, and more. These sturdy and well-designed sets aim to appeal to the senses of sight and touch–including texture–that toddlers are often just becoming aware of. Aside from the joy that children get clicking pieces together and pulling them apart as magnetic magic is discovered, the company hopes that toddlers will pick up quite a few benefits during play, including hand-eye coordination, logical thinking, color recognition, and increased creativity.
Recently Brian Rovner, the VP of Marketing, discussed the SmartMax line and the company’s vision for the future..
Meagan Meehan (MM) of Entertainment Vine: What inspired you to start SmartMax and why was that specific name chosen?
Brian Rovner (BR): We acquired the rights to the SmartMax concept several years ago. Our CEO, Rolf Vandoren, recognized the exciting potential for a safe magnetic construction product designed for a younger audience, as well as the ability of our design team to bring the concept to its potential. As for the name: our parent company is called ‘Smart’ (we also produce the SmartGames and GeoSmart brands). MAX refers to both the size of the pieces (extra-large, great for little hands) as well as being short for “magnetic.”
MM: How many items do you offer and which have been most popular?
BR: Currently we have about thirty active products. Traditionally the most popular have been our standard building kits, now known as “Start,” “Start +” and ‘Start XL.” These allow the youngest kids (safe for ages 1+) to discover magnetism, while presenting STEM-focused building challenges for older kids.
MM: One of your latest creations is an extendable train, can you tell us a bit about the thought process behind its development?
BR: You’re referring to the new My First line that is being introduced this year (“My First Animal Train” and “My First Safari Animals”). The in-house team developed the concept in Belgium (our HQ). For several years we’ve recognized the benefits of adding more ‘play value’ to the brand. The My First idea grew from the play value concept combined with the young target audience (ages 1-5). In retrospect trains and animals seem pretty obvious. But they are not just toys, there are still the construction and magnetic discovery elements.
MM: How do you think up ideas for your products? For example, do you ever work with inventors?
BR: We have a fantastically creative in-house team in Belgium. Most product ideas come from there.
MM: To date, what has been the most rewarding part of working with SmartMax and how do you envision the company expanding over the coming decade?
BR: Its really rewarding when we are able to place demo tables in stores and see kids get completely absorbed in playing with SmartMax. We also attend public shows and events – we lay out hundreds of pieces and our booth is always mobbed by kids who stay for a long time.
MM: What advice would you give to someone who is striving to enter the toy/games industry?
BR: Test your ideas and concepts. Do real market research. As tempting as it may be don’t make a huge investment because you have an idea and your friends tell you how great it is. A great idea doesn’t always equal retail success.
MM: Are there any upcoming events or product releases that you would like to mention?
BR: As referenced above, the My First items are the big news for SmartMax this year. They have been really successful out of the gate so I would anticipate seeing new My First products in the near future.
* * * * *
To learn more about SmartMax, visit its official website.