Thursday, December 20, 2007

OK, a bit off of topic, but at least it is holiday inspired . .

An Interview with Santa
With the 2007 Holiday season upon us, the continued recall of many children’s toys due to excessive levels of lead paint and concern about toxic levels of PVC used in toys has left many parents wondering which toys will be safe to purchase for their children. Following is an interview with Santa, who discusses how he is dealing with the current crisis.

With the holiday season upon us, what is the big, in-demand toy this year?

Santa: This year, it isn’t any specific toy that is in demand. Because of the recent spate of toy recalls due to lead paint, and concern about PVC used in plastic toys, parents are demanding an assurance that all toys are produced using high-quality materials that are fully traceable back to source – all in an effort to ensure the toys their children play with are safe and free of dangerous chemicals and other substances. What this has translated into is a renewed demand for hand-crafted, classic toys that spark the imagination of children.

Well, isn’t that what your Elves are trained for: To hand-make, imaginative toys with care?
Yes, the Elves have always prided themselves on producing the best quality toys. Through the years they enjoyed creating traditional trains, dolls and blocks, for example, but as technology has advanced, they also have added a contemporary twist to these toys such as a new color, a designer wardrobe for a doll, or electronics that teach children how to spell in another language.

You look a bit worried and haggard. Are you anticipating too big of a demand for toys?
In recent times, demand has been especially high as parents have asked me to deliver more and more toys for their children. This is in contrast to my early years when one high-quality, hand-made toy was all that was needed to make a child excited on Christmas morning.
Unfortunately my workshops are empty this year. Like so many other industries, market demand and increased competition from low-cost mass producers drove me to cut costs. The only way I could compete was to outsource the production of Christmas toys to China where labor and production costs were a fraction of what I was paying my Elves. With China easily meeting the increasing demand for more toys, and producing them at a fraction of the amount it cost me to pay my Elves, my only choice was to let my workforce go and outsource to China.

Wow, how did you handle laying off the Elves? You had worked together for so many years.
It was the hardest thing I ever had to do. Mrs. Claus begged me to reconsider. To think about the Elves and their families. To think about how loyal they had been to me through the years, and how their skill in making toys couldn’t be replicated if made elsewhere. But she too knew, deep down, that if we were ever to continue to be the primary supplier of toys for Christmas that we had to keep up with parents’ increasing demands and move production to a cheaper locale.

How hands-on were you with the production and the quality control once manufacturing moved to China?
I never thought for a moment that the toys I was now buying from China would be of lesser quality than those the Elves produced in the workshop. I didn’t personally visit each factory, and perhaps that was one of my downfalls. Now because I let market forces, rather than my heart, drive my decision, poor quality, shoddy construction and poisonous paint have marred my reputation as the primary supplier of toys for children at Christmastime.

How will you deal with the current crisis?
As I mentioned, parents are once again asking me to produce hand-crafted high quality toys – much like those the Elves made years ago. Now with my workforce gone, and no way parents or the Consumer Products Safety Commission would allow me to deliver toys made in China, I’m not really sure. When I downsized, many of my Elves who had been with me for 20 or more years took early retirement, while the more novice Elves simply changed their profession and have moved on. Many took call center jobs in Indonesia.
My credibility within the toy industry is marred. I now have the same reputation that many other big businesses do, in that the consumers view me as solely dedicated to the bottom line instead of the quality of the product and the people who devoted themselves to me for so long. I’m not sure I can find a dedicated, experienced job force willing to commit to the long hours necessary during this time of the year.

Well then, how will you keep up with demand?
To help keep up with demand this year, I have contacted many grandparents who, in their own retirement, have taken up the hobby of hand-making classic toys for their own grandchildren. With so many Baby Boomer-grandparents around the world reaching retirement age, I am looking to build relationships with many of them to produce their specialties, whether it is wooden trains, hand-sewn dolls or whatever toy they enjoy making.

Will you continue to work with this skilled labor force in coming years?
Definitely! The Elves’ quarters are now in the process of being converted into a vacation timeshare where grandparents can visit for one to two weeks each year. During that time, they will have access to my workshop, tools and materials to create some truly spectacular classic toys. By working with a wide network of grandparents from around the world, no single grandparent will feel the pressure of having to mass-produce toys in an assembly line fashion. Instead they can produce at their own pace, putting a bit of love into every toy they create.

That sounds a bit like your old business model when you had the Elves on board.
Yes it is. I have learned my lesson the hard way. But I think those grandparents can remember the joy they had when they found one special toy under the tree when they were children. Now they can help me bring that joy to their grandchildren. Through this expanding network of “Grandparent Elves” I feel that I will be able to fill the stockings of children around the world with toys that inspire the imagination of children once again.