Laurie wilson for metro Toronto
To the rest of the world, it may seem a bit unintuitive that a couple of bio-science students would choose to pursue their dreams by launching a toy company.
But Kris Schantz and Shirley Yee, partners in marriage and business, see their Happy Worker toy line as a natural extension of both their unabashed geekdom and love of toys.
“Shirley and I both have creative minds. We were always inventing stuff and a lot of it was toys. We just loved toys,” said Schantz.
About five-and-a-half years ago the couple had a bunch of toy ideas sitting on the shelf in various stages of development. When they saw similar ideas from other companies popping up in stores, they knew it was time to jump on their plan or sit back and watch somebody else do it.
“Ideas are fleeting and that’s business,” said Schantz. “The entrepreneurial opportunity you may see is time sensitive. You either choose to move, or wait. And if you wait, it usually evaporates.”
So they went ahead and started putting their efforts toward what would eventually become Happy Worker. “We had the decision to buy a house or make toys. So we still rent, but we make lots and lots of toys.”
The first toy they decided to fully develop was the GeekMan figurine, a hero who wears thick glasses and takes his laptop everywhere. He may not wear a cape or have bulging biceps, but then Happy Worker has never tried to compete with the ordinary. “We’re geeks and we just wanted to make our own superhero,” Schantz said. “Not for us, but for people of the geek ilk.”
GeekMan has since been joined by three more workplace characters, namely SuperMom, BossMan and MoneyMan, all designed to bring a little fun into the office.
The launch of Happy Worker wasn’t without its challenges. At the time, it was unheard of for an independent company to start its own toy line with brand new unlicensed characters. Moreover, there was virtually no market research data available on older toy buyers.
“Nobody had looked at the grown-up toy market. It didn’t exist 20 years ago,” explained Schantz. “Back in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s it would have been looked down upon as being childish and immature. But today you’re allowed to be who you are and just have fun and that’s great.”
Schantz and Yee are currently in the early stages of working on a group of figurines for a movie, and this year they expect to have a couple new Happy Worker toys on store shelves.