A few weeks ago, I alluded to a special trip I was taking… no kids, a hotel room to myself and KABOOM – a good night’s sleep. Oooooh, how sweet it was. Gone are the days of raiding the mini-bar and locating Cinemax on the dial.
THAT’S HOW TIRED I WAS.
As it turned out, I wasn’t just skipping town to escape the madness, I just so happened to be one of four incredibly lucky parenting and lifestyle bloggers that were chosen to represent the legacy of the epic toymaker, Fisher-Price, officially known as the FP Insiders.
As many of you know, I’m a sucker for nostalgia (I’ve been known to fight over PEZ dispensers at flea markets) and maybe something you don’t know, is that the FP Chatter telephone was one of my very first toys in the late 1970’s.
In fact, most of my toys as a toddler were made by Fisher-Price, they were a sturdy, reliable, household name in the toy business.
I was SUPER excited as I boarded a flight (alone. no kids. WTF.) from Baltimore-Washington International on my way to the amazing, crafty little town of East Aurora, just outside of Buffalo, New York. I felt like I was part of an elaborate joke when I deplaned and saw a gentleman in a suit, holding a sign that said ‘Mr. Kulp’.
I’m used to ‘dad’, ‘daddy’ or ‘HEY YOU, ANOTHER DIAPER OVER HERE, I SOILED MYSELF’.
As I rode in the backseat of a town car, headed to the infamously haunted (I Googled ahead of time) Roycroft Inn, I talked to the driver about the city of Buffalo and East Aurora, how the Roycroft was established by a man named Elbert Hubbard in 1905, the man who inspired the arts and crafts movement of East Aurora. He opened the Inn as a place to stay for artisans and visitors who shared his emerging creative vision. Elbert initially found success as a traveling salesman for the Larkin Soap Company, but was so much more. He was rumored to have been a free mason, theologian and was self-described as an anarchist and socialist. He and his wife died aboard the RMS Lusitania, after it was sunk by the Germans off the coast of Ireland in 1915.
Okay – wow. The crickety floorboards and smells of the Roycroft were my first impression of this sleepy little town in upstate New York.
The next morning, I met a few of my new friends whom I would share the next few days with. I’m not unfamiliar with being the only dad on trips like this and found myself right at home in the company of Rachel Gurk from Rachel Cooks, Jennifer Borget of Baby Making Machine and Chelsea Day of Some Day I’ll Learn.
As we met on the stoop of the Inn that Thursday morning, the taste of history was palatable.
As far as I was concerned, our next destination down the street, Fisher-Price, was a company started in the early 70’s and I was born onto the ground floor of it’s creative endeavors.
How wrong was I?
Fisher-Price was created almost 85 years ago in October of 1930 by three integral people.
On the heels of The Great Depression, Herman Fisher, a true visionary, inventor and retail expert teamed up with Irving Price, the mayor of East Aurora, who raised the capital to make Herman’s dream become a reality. Many people don’t know about Helen Schelle, but they should. She was a woman ahead of her time, recruited by Herman and Irving because of her breadth of knowledge within the toy industry, paired with her invaluable retail expertise and she played a pivotal role in the company.
Even though they were written in 1931, the founding business principles of this company still stand today:
- Intrinsic play value
- Strong construction
- Good value for the money
I was super stoked to pass through the security gate of the Fisher-Price campus, welcomed by the larger than life replicas of toys I have in my kids playroom.
The rest is just a pure blur.
We spent time meeting with the executives in charge of safety, who explained to us in depth, the rigors of their testing processes. I was astonished (yet comforted) to hear how many times something is pounded, pulled, smashed, stretched and finally played with in a real-life setting.
We went on to meet the devoted folks in the customer service call center, doing everything they can to identify issues with a product and make your experience with Fisher-Price a good one. We visited a building completely constructed for the purpose of hosting a series of interactive situations where we watched kids play with toys that are about to hit the market.
One of the highlights of our visit was to sit down with the actual designers of the toys we all love, as well as chew the fat with the Executive Vice-President, Geoff Walker, a super personable guy whom I felt an instant connection with. He’s been fortunate, as I have, to find a profession in which you can always remain a kid at heart.
The ultimate moment, however, occurred when I got to sneak away and visit the ‘nest’ (as I call it) in a separate building (sorry, no pictures), a floor of designers my age ala Tom Hanks in the movie ‘Big’, researching and carving toy prototypes out of core foam, surrounded by every toy that I grew up with, as a point of reference. I felt like my head was on a swivel and someone had lit bottle rockets that were taped to my face, my head spinning around and around before it eventually popped off into the lobby topiary.
And to really add some gravy to the already delicious mashed potatoes, within the hallowed walls of the FP Headquarters lie a series of hallways with encased floor to ceiling showcases, as well as the Heritage Center, taking you on a trip down memory lane. From the very first FP toy from the early 1930’s up until now, it’s a real-life archive of my childhood play experience and the generations that preceded me.
As a toy collector and kid that never grew up, I was completely blown away.
This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The best part is that I don’t have to let go just yet.
Stick with me over the next few months, as me and my friends, the FP Insiders (sounds like a rough crew, eh?) explore the bones of one of my favorite toy companies of all time, help you out in your parenting journey with a few secret surprises and spread the joy and dream of Herman Fisher, who taught us to measure our success in increments of time.
The time a child spends playing. The time a child spends laughing. The time a child spends learning, reaching and realizing.
I am SUPER blessed with this opportunity and I hope you hang on for the ride.