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Saturday, August 30 2014 17:18

Cleveland Rocks: A Visit to The Step2 Company (and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame)! #RockFatherTour

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THE ROCK FATHER is a 2014 Step2 Brand AmbassadorI didn't realize it until recently, but in 2014, I have already logged more travel miles and visited more cool locales than in any other year in the 37-ish that I've been roaming the planet Earth. Thing is, I'm not done yet - and as I type these virtual words to appear on your computer/device screen, there's other adventures already on the books for the four months ahead. The most recent journey on my 2014 #RockFatherTour was a special one, and a trip that was a little bit different than most - an adventure back to Northeastern Ohio, staying in Cleveland and spending some time in the neighboring town of Streetsboro - home of The Step2 Company, who I've been working with for nearly two years - first as a "Test Driver," and most recently, as one of 10 paid Brand Ambassadors. Along with five fellow Ambassadors (a few couldn't make it this time around), this was our first time working with Step2 in-person, taking meetings and going hands-on with some of the latest products (for kids and grownups!) that are hitting the market now, and all the way into Fall of 2015. If you've ever wondered "Where the Toys Come From," I have your answer...

Within the halls of Step2 HQ, there's a sense of pride around every turn - a group of hard-working people (many of whom are parents themselves) that are tasked with creating lasting playthings that are carefully designed and crafted to nurture a child's natural sense of curiosity and wonder, while being safe, in some cases educational, and above all - FUN.

Roughly 90% of what Step2 produces is MADE IN THE USA, right there in Ohio at a manufacturing plant attached to the company offices. Just across the yard is the Research & Development Building, a place that company founder Tom Murdough thought should be separate from the rest of the complex - an isolated realm for the "mad scientists" within to develop and refine new products - only 25% of which will ultimately make it to consumers' homes.

Where it Began:

Murdough (since retired) is a legend in the Streetsboro area, a philanthropist who previously-founded another familiar company down the road, eventually setting up Step2 in 1991 with just five employees and a focus on products for the home and garden. In the time since, Step2 has become the largest manufacturer of rotational molded plastics in America, producing not only those items for the home, but TOYS, TOYS, TOYS, and some B2B items - custom products for municipal and corporate clients. 

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Where They're At:

Just before starting a tour of the plant, Al, our trusted guide, made a comment about feeling "like an elf." That's really the key thing right there... The Step2 Company is like the literal version of "Santa's Workshop," and the entire crew are elves. Somewhat rockin' elves, too, as we came around a corner in the plant at one point to be greeted by the sweet sounds of "Holy Diver" by Ronnie James Dio - but that was just a bonus. It was great to see the faces behind the toys as we made our way through the plant, seeing some old classics being produced along with some new ones, including a "blue" batch of the new 2-in-1 Ford F-150 Raptor SVT that will be headed to Sam's Club as an exclusive this Fall (the red version is available now). Beyond the plant, we visited the warehouse, where toys were piled sky-high, awaiting shipment to retailers, distributors, and consumers. 

Customer service, the fun FriDIY Blog, all of the graphic design, photography, packaging and more - it's all handled in-house, and it's awesome.

Where They're Headed:

While there is much that I cannot divulge, we have seen the future of The Step2 Company, and what's coming down the pipeline is fantastic. Collectively and individually, we the Ambassadors have provided feedback and consultation on new items that will be available well into the new year and beyond. There's some great new toys on the way, along with new items for the garden (some I'm very excited about), and a commitment to sustainability and innovation all the way around. 

CEO Tom Doherty spent some time with us in the product showroom and during one of our working lunches - his enthusiasm evident - and finally being in the same room with the team we've been working with long distance was a fun experience, as a group of people - most of which have never met in-person - just immediately clicked.

The Step2 Crew

Your 2014 Step2 Brand Ambassadors From left-to-right, Janessa of Thrifty Nifty Mommy, Vanessa of See Vanessa Craft, Ruth of Viva Veltoro, Jess of A Million Moments, ME (James, The Rock Father), Lindsey of So Easy Being Green, and Step2 staffers Tena and Ashley. 

Now, a trip to Cleveland can't be all work and no play - especially when your business is play.  That said, the whole team had some adventures, dining at Chef Michael Symon's LOLA, 1890 at The Arcade, Blue Canyon and the 100th Bomb Group - and we took a stop to the wholly-appropriate Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

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I even spent some after-hours solo fun by visiting the Horseshoe Casino located in the former location of The Higbee Company (from A CHRISTMAS STORY), winning some bucks on a DUKES OF HAZZARD slot machine, and I caught a late-night screening of TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (review here).

I've worked with a lot of companies over the years, and the folks at Step2 are a group that I'm truly proud to be working with.

Big thanks to the whole Step2 crew (especially Ashley and Tena)!
James Zahn

James Zahn is best-known as The Rock Father™, a media personality, commentator, adventurer and raconteur. He is the Owner, Publisher, and Editor-in-Chief of THE ROCK FATHER™ Magazine. In January, 2019, after nearly a decade of publishing The Rock Father™ Magazine, he joined Adventure Media and Events as Senior Editor of The Toy Book—the leading trade publication for the toy industry since 1984, as well as The Pop Insider — a destination for all things pop culture, and The Toy Insider — the leading consumer guide for toys and games. He is also editor of The Toy Report, a weekly newsletter published by The Toy Book each Thursday. Zahn has over 27 years of experience in the entertainment, retail and publishing industries.

He regularly serves as a Brand Ambassador and spokesperson for several Globally-recognized pop culture and lifestyle brands in addition to consulting for a number of toy manufacturers. 

Creatively, James has directed/edited music videos, lyric videos, and album trailers for bands such as FEAR FACTORY, has appeared as an actor in feature films and commercials, written comic books, and performed in bands. He currently serves as an artist manager and video director for PRODUCT OF HATE, whose debut album was released by Napalm Records in 2016, distributed by ADA/Warner Music in the U.S. with Universal Music handling global. A new album has been completed and is set for release this year.

Zahn and/or his work have been featured in/on CNN, NBC, ABC, WGN, CBS, GCTN, G4, The Chicago Tribune, Forbes, MarketWatch, Reuters, BusinessWire, Fangoria, Starlog and more. He's appeared as a music expert on CNN's AC360 alongside Anderson Cooper, and has been interviewed by Larry King. In the past he served as a writer for the Netflix Stream Team,  Fandango Family and PBS KIDS, penned articles for Sprout and PopSugar, and was a contributor to Chicago Parent.

Learn more here

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