If ever a person were born to work for a toy company, it’s the youthful and energetic Martin Killgallon.
As senior vice president of marketing and product development for the century-old Ohio Art Company — home of that time-honored kids favorite, the Etch A Sketch — Killgallon (BBA ’98) spends his days dreaming up the next wave of hot, new toys and then circling the globe to market and promote them.
“We’re in the business of fun!” says Killgallon.
Ohio Art is, in fact, a multi-faceted manufacturing company that was originally founded in 1908 in Archbold, Ohio, by dentist and art aficionado Henry Simon Winzeler.
But over the years, it’s the Killgallon name —and the toy side of the business — that has been most closely associated with Ohio Art. Martin’s grandfather joined the company in 1955 after it moved its headquarters to Bryan, Ohio. In 1978, the Killgallon family bought out the founding family. Since that time, the company has been managed by Martin’s uncle, who serves as chairman/CEO, and by Martin’s father, who serves as president.
So, like the Tom Hanks character in “Big,” young Martin did, in fact, grow up running through the toy company hallways and lending his age-appropriate expertise to product development — his picture even appearing with NBA superstar Julius Erving on the “Dr. J 7-foot Jammer” box.
But even Dr. J couldn’t transcend Ohio Art’s most famous product.
In the late 1950s, a French electrician tinkering in his basement created a drawing toy using a joystick, glass, and aluminum powder. In 1959, Ohio Art paid $25,000 for the rights to “L’Ecran Magique” (“Magic Screen”) and quickly renamed it “Etch A Sketch” — launching their new product just in time for the 1960 holiday season.
In 2003, the Toy Industry Association honored Etch A Sketch by including it on its “Century of Toys” list. It seemed an obvious choice, given that Etch A Sketch has appeared in the first two installments of Pixar’s blockbuster “Toy Story” films. In 2010, Etch A Sketch celebrated its 50th Anniversary. Since 1960, Ohio Art has sold more than 150 million units of Etch A Sketch drawing toys.
Toy companies face the constant challenge of having to keep pace in the age of technology, and under the Killgallon family’s leadership Ohio Art has nimbly reinvented itself through the years. The company also runs a diversified products division started by Martin’s father that is responsible for the metal lithography for a wide variety of specialty metal containers like Barbasol Shaving Cream cans, Skoal chewing tobacco tins, popcorn containers, DVD cases, and nostalgic signs.
But for Killgallon, a married father of two, his favorite part of the job still involves the toys — particularly those that encourage creativity and learning like some of Ohio Art’s latest products: “K’s Kids,” a high-end infant and toddler development toy line; and a new line of construction toys called “nanoblock,” the world’s smallest building block system, which was recently named 2011 Best Construction Toy of the Year by the American Specialty Trade Association.
Despite growing up in a family business, Killgallon says that when he enrolled at UGA in 1994 he wasn’t entirely certain what he wanted to do with his life. “But I got such an array of classes at Terry that I knew I wanted to go into marketing and sales. It gave me a broad introduction to a lot of different disciplines in the business world.”
Killgallon makes regular business trips to Germany and Japan, as well as to California and New York.
“A big part of my job is scouring the world for new toy concepts,” says Killgallon, who attends regular meetings with the inventor community, signs distribution deals for toys produced by overseas companies, and works internally to generate new products through Ohio Art’s R&D department.
“It’s tough dealing with a market where you have fickle consumers like children who can be in and out of a trend in no time,” says Killgallon. “In a lot of ways, we’re in the fashion business. We’ve got to keep things new and exciting.”
The other challenge is that toys are a very seasonal business with a short window in which to move inventory because, as Killgallon points out, “Christmas only comes once a year!”