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Monday, July 13 2015 22:02

Where the Toys Come From: A New Look at Step2 & their American Made Toys...

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Step2 Brand AmbassadorI love toys. It's a simple statement of fact - but my passion for plastic has certainly been fed by the fact that my wife and I are the parents of two little girls... little ones whose interests are broad and diverse. Kinda like that of their parents. When I launched this website (now in year five), I had every intention of covering the toy industry through news, reviews and features - but had no idea that I'd eventually wind-up cashing checks from some of our favorite toymakers. One of my longest-standing relationships has been with The Step2 Company, for whom I've served as a toy tester and paid Brand Ambassador for the past few years. Now, as I've reached the mid-way part of my third (and final) year in this position, the curtain has been pulled back on the future of the company and the exciting new product line-up for the rest of 2015 and well beyond. Along with my fellow Ambassadors, I recently returned to Ohio to provide feedback and consultation on upcoming offerings in meetings with the marketing and development staff, and sat down with new President and CEO Chris Quinn. Step2 is a company that I believe in, and my latest adventure proved that they have some BIG surprises yet to come...

Building on a Legacy:

In my coverage from last year's visit (read it here and come back!), I spoke of the company history, the way things are made, and about the headquarters, research & development department and main plant all being on-site in Streetsboro, Ohio. When it comes to rotational plastics (not a very glamorous term, but it's the process they're known for), no one does it better. From play kitchens and workbenches to ride-on toys, playhouses, swingsets, climbers and beyond - kids that grow up with Step2 toys are going to have priceless memories that will last a lifetime. It's impossible to look around our home without seeing something from Step2, and they're items that our daughters will always remember - the studio art desk in my office; the Naturally Playful Playhouse Climber & Swing; their Countryside Cottage. It's a legacy of family - and it shows not only in the products they create, but in the people working there.

Rock Father HQ, right now. #playing #parenting

A photo posted by James Zahn (@therockfather) on

Made in the USA:

There are very few toy companies (you could probably count them on one hand) that make anything of volume here in the United States - but Step2 does! The majority of their products are made in Ohio, just steps from where they've been designed. Yes, there are sometimes imported parts that have to be included (a necessary evil), but about 90% of the toys bearing the Step2 name come right from the heart of the American Midwest. When you're about family, you take care of your own, and Step2 has a commitment to their community. Nothing pleases me more than being able to walk through a factory and see the American workforce in all of its glory!

A photo posted by James Zahn (@therockfather) on

Plus: I just really, really like the people at Step2. It's uncommon to meet so many good people in one place, but I've been fortunate to run across a couple such places, and Step2 is definitely one of them. Good people that aren't afraid to try new things, and they're accountable for mistakes if they happen.

Inside Step2 HQ

Innovation:

Think you know Step2? Think again! Under their new leadership, the company has worked on cultivating talent from within, while bringing a few folks from other toymakers on-board. While we paid a visit to R&D last year and poked around, this year the sheets were literally (seriously, stuff had sheets on it that were pulled off) removed so could provide our input on some of what might be a year or more off. What's cool is seeing the stuff that was in prototype form become real. That's happened with the Igloo Wagon, Home Run Baseball Trainer and Xtreme Cruiser in the past... and this year with the WonderBall Fun House. When we last saw that, it was a drawing and a crude mock-up. This year, it's a brand new product - and the first item I'll announce as being included in my 2015 Holiday Wish Guide when it launches here on The Rock Father this Fall. We also took part in a brainstorming session, so who knows? Perhaps a couple of products that I pitched may one day be on store shelves!

Step2 WonderBall Fun House

While I can't say specifically what, there's some ridiculously-awesome toys coming out that are created in partnership and under license from some other top toy makers and brands. As we've seen with the Chevrolet Corvette Bed, the 2-in-1 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor, the Thomas the Tank Engine Toddler Bed (and Coaster), the Home Depot Workbenches and the aforementioned Igloo Cooler Wagon - partnerships can spawn some pretty cool toys that wouldn't have been possible on their own.

I don't think I'll get in too much trouble for hinting that you'll be seeing one such item sooner than later, and it's something that I'm personally excited about! 

Speaking of partnerships, this year The Step2 Company has teamed up with the Cleveland Indians to sponsor their Kid's Clubhouse at Progressive Field.

Step2 at Progressive Field

What's cool for us is that our first-day marketing meeting was actually at the ballpark, and let me tell you something - I have a real soft spot for the Indians, and it's completely because of MAJOR LEAGUE. In fact, I used to rock a shiny satin Starter Jacket back in the day that was 100% completely a purchase made because of "Wild Thing" Ricky Vaughn, Willie Mays Hays and Pedro Cerrano (before he started selling insurance). I coached my oldest daughter's Pee-Wee Baseball Team last year, played t-ball through Junior year of High School myself, so yeah... I dug having a meeting at the ballpark. 

Our office for today. #Step2Ambassador #ClevelandIndians

A photo posted by James Zahn (@therockfather) on

While my days as a Brand Ambassador may be numbered (I'm passing the torch since my girls will be "aging out" of the program), there's still a lot of great stuff from Step2 to come here on the site in the months ahead, but even when my official gig is up, The Step2 Company will forever have my support as a maker of timeless toys that families can trust and rely on.

Stay tuned...

James Zahn

James Zahn is not a journalist, nor a blogger, though he may be credited as such by others, or even accept the title... depending on the circumstance.  Instead, he considers himself largely to be an "entertainment and lifestyle writer," bringing 25+ years of experience in the entertainment and publishing industries into the family realm as THE ROCK FATHER™.

As a media personality, commentator, adventurer and raconteur, James now finds himself raising a pair young girls - The Rock Daughters™ - along with his wife from their Illinois home.

He is a member of The Toy Insider Parent Advisory Board, has contributed to The Toy Book and 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.

James and/or his work have been featured in/on CNN, FOX Business, NBC, ABC, WGN, G4, The Chicago Tribune, BusinessWire, Babble, 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

Connect with James on Facebook or Twitter.

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