Mass customization in the toy market is an often quoted but still not really broadly implemented idea. Sure, there was Mattel’s famous custom Barbie (great online configurator, but they stopped the custom manufacturing after a couple of years due to supply chain problems – and perhaps this was just logical when the most important feature of girls customizing their doll is the doll’s name – for this you don’t need a custom manufacturing system). Then we of course have Build-a-Bear, one of the largest mass customization success stories. And Lego Factory, the most serious toy customization application I know until today.
But now, at the FAO Schwarz toy store in Manhattan, there’s an automotive assembly line manned by an ever-changing group of eight-year-olds. The new WIRED 3/06 has a small piece about a Kiosk system in this store where kids can customize the toy cars at the „Mattel Hot Wheels Custom Car Factory Kiosk„. Long name, nice idea:
Mattel has offered a DIY-solution for toy-car-tuning since a couple of years. Using their parent’s PC and the software, kids can personalize their toys on the screen and then print stickers etc to put them on their cars (see CD cover to get an idea). However, this craft solution is probably not cool enough for today’s kids, and they like to go to the next level:
As KioskCom reports:
At FAO Schwarz, „Kids use an interactive kiosk, equipped with sound, lighting and a touch screen. Kids choose a car design. Within the Factory is a station manned by two employees who fill orders from a stock of Hot Wheels toys representing all the combinations available. Once the custom order is found, it’s placed in a custom laser printer where the child’s name and unique registration number are applied. Then the collectible car, along with a certificate of authenticity, is presented through the kiosk. The whole thing costs $20, about four times what a basic Hot Wheels car costs off the shelf. During the assembly, the child sees a three-minute video of the building of the car.“
So this is progress: Kids outsource their toy car customization to adults sitting in a big box in a store (a real „mini factory“), and interacting with them via a touchscreen … I wished to be a kid again – and know where I will go when I am in NYC the next time!
Update: Business Week has a nice interview with Mattel designer Gary Swisher on “ Re-inventing HotWheels“ and the company’s challenges of designing toys for tech-savvy kids, which also includes a comment on mass customization at Hot Wheels (published on July 17, 2006)