Create what your customers want — This might seem simple, but you have to be dedicated to listening to your customer base and watching changes in consumer trends to make sure your brand evolves with your customer. Customers are wowed when a brand can anticipate their wants and needs — we feel we’ve achieved this when our fans rave about a new doll collection or edition of a beloved character.
As part of my series about the five things a business should do to create a Wow! customer experience, I had the pleasure of interviewing Percy Newsum, President and CEO of Integrity Toys, Inc.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I founded Integrity Toys in 1995 after starting my career in the doll industry and seeing the absolute lack of gender and racial diversity in toys at the time. My dream was to build a company that would show respect and appreciation to all cultures by developing unique characters and dolls that children and adults could enjoy. My goal was to not only help children develop self-love, but also foster respect and understanding for all ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds.
After focusing on the children’s doll market in the early years, I started to see that many teens and adults with a passion for high-fashion were taking mass produced dolls and designing and handmaking custom doll clothing, hand painting their makeup and styling each doll in unique ways to make characters that the market had never seen.
In 2000, with the exceptional collaboration of our first Creative Director and Designer Jason Wu and the help of the design team he helped assemble, we started our transition from catering solely to children through mass production models, to bringing our expertise and eye for detail to the adult collectible market by launching our very first high-end fashion doll line called Fashion Royalty.
Our portfolio of high-profile brands has been growing strong ever since and has been a large part of reshaping the collectible doll industry into what is has become today. Always keeping an eye on trends while staying true to our roots of bringing ethnically diverse collectibles to the market, our team spares no efforts to bring customers what they truly want in a doll. Our highly sought-after collectibles have gained worldwide popularity and demand, with collectors impatiently waiting to pre-order our new releases as soon as new series are unveiled.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I’m incredibly grateful to all of the talented designers that have helped make the brand what it is today — of course designer Jason Wu was very instrumental to our move into high-fashion doll making at the young age of 16 and his designs and collaborations continue to excite our fans today. It’s an honor to work our entire talented design team — they are true artists. I’m also grateful to work in a family-owned business with my two daughters Sachkia and Melissa. They supported me emotionally in the way only family can do while they were growing up, and now they support me within the business and are such a critical part of Integrity Toys’ future — which is very rewarding as a businessman and a father.
Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. This might be intuitive, but I think it’s helpful to specifically articulate it. In your words, can you share a few reasons why great customer service and a great customer experience is essential for success in business?
Integrity Toys is a family-owned and operated business. We pride ourselves on keeping our customers at the heart of everything that we do. I believe the most essential part of business success is knowing your customer, listening to them and creating the product they want and need. Customers who are treated with respect will always take notice.
We listen to customer input about every aspect of the dolls we make — how they want to see them styled, the shapes and articulations of the bodies, the quality of the hair, clothing and accessories, and ultimately the stories and styles we introduce in new collections. We have a team that has been in place and working together for a long time and they have developed great relationships directly with our customers. This personal connection and family-oriented approach truly helps us offer great, personalized customer service that keeps our adult collectors coming back for each new doll from Integrity Toys.
We have all had times either in a store, or online, when we’ve had a very poor experience as a customer or user. If the importance of a good customer experience is so intuitive, and apparent, where is the disconnect? How is it that so many companies do not make this a priority?
I’ve seen that the larger companies become, the more representatives are added to their customer service teams, the easier it becomes to lose track of the essentials and for customers to fall through the proverbial “cracks” of customer service. Integrity Toys has intentionally moved away from the mass production doll industry because it’s not possible to produce the quality our customers want at that scale.
The second that we are too large to quickly send a repair part for a customer not satisfied with a doll, or we become too large that we can’t connect directly and have discussions at our annual convention, is when we risk the good reputation of our company that has been built over 25 years. Even if it takes a little longer to respond to customers, I think it’s important for a company to take the proper time and address each request. Most importantly, customer service representatives must know the product inside out and be pros at dealing with the public.
Do you think that more competition helps force companies to improve the customer experience they offer? Are there other external pressures that can force a company to improve the customer experience?
Integrity Toys has been operating in a niche market for a long time, one where many players have come and gone, and I remain a strong believer that creating an immersive, respectful customer experience is the key to longevity. The retail industry is evolving, if not transforming at incredible speeds and what worked 20, 10 or even just 5 years ago doesn’t work anymore. Companies that do not take the time to listen to what their core customer base is interested in, have little chance of success in this day and age.
Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?
A longtime customer who is a former NFL cheerleader and now mom of two from Fairfax, Virginia, started collecting Integrity Toys dolls in the early 2000’s and has attended every convention we’ve ever had. She shared with us that the ‘Wow!’ moment for her was attending our convention and feeling the sense of family and care we provide to every customer at the events. She and many other of our convention attendees have had the opportunity to meet and engage with designer Jason Wu multiple times. One year at convention, this customer desperately wanted to purchase the Centerpiece doll of the Convention that year, but she was not one of the few lottery recipients to win the doll. When one of the lucky winners ultimately did not the purchase the doll, we remembered how badly this customer wanted it, found her and gave her the opportunity she had hoped for. Customers will be invariably “Wowed” by remembering the details and respect.
Did that Wow! experience have any long-term ripple effects? Can you share the story?
If it’s true that one unhappy customer will tell 25 of his or her friends, I like to think that the unparalleled service that we strive to offer our fans does have a long term ripple effect and that the deep respect that we have for our customers has truly helped us grow our base. I have one customer who comes to mind with a large network of Integrity Toys collector friends. He is always so welcoming to newcomers to the collecting community and has spread the love of doll collecting through his own network. He even tries to make it more accessible for his friends; helping them get their start as collectors by either gifting a doll or putting one in his collection up for sale — at a reasonable price of course — just because he likes to spread the joy he finds in collecting. That type of generosity and friendship shared over collecting our dolls most certainly has a ripple effect.
Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience. Please share a story or an example for each.
- Create what your customers want — This might seem simple, but you have to be dedicated to listening to your customer base and watching changes in consumer trends to make sure your brand evolves with your customer. Customers are wowed when a brand can anticipate their wants and needs — we feel we’ve achieved this when our fans rave about a new doll collection or edition of a beloved character.
- Be transparent — Mistakes will happen, but how you respond to them, and evolve the business model to reduce mistakes in the future, is where customers can truly be wowed. If a customer experiences any dissatisfaction with the quality of their collectible, we will work with them to completely resolve the situation by sending replacement parts or entirely new dolls. If you handle issues well and with integrity, that’s ultimately what they remember about the experience.
- Attention to Detail — Integrity Toys customers are looking to collect dolls built with impeccable attention to detail and artistry. They are spending their dollars with us because we deliver on that promise in every doll. These dolls are luxury items and so even our packaging goes above and beyond to impress. Every doll is situated in a themed box that could serve as a display, surrounded by custom accessories with every piece tied in place by elegant ribbons in an ornate box that is a joy to open in and of itself.
- Create Community — Help your customer base connect and build a community of people who bond and unite over a shared hobby and passion. There are so many opportunities today to do this affordably through social media, but Integrity Toys has also been hosting an annual Convention each year since 2006. We have many collectors who have joined us at every convention and over the years, thousands have formed relationships and friend groups with people across the world because of their love of Integrity Toys dolls.
- Build Excitement — In the world of high-fashion doll collecting, our customers are eager to learn about each new release or brand partnership to launch something unique like a Jem and the Holograms 35th Anniversary edition set released this year. Due to our limited production model, not every customer will have the opportunity to obtain each doll when it becomes available. All dolls are sold out within minutes. So we have to communicate news about upcoming collections or design collaborations through vivid photography and social media content to keep our customer base excited and engaged with the brand and offer a window into the product for those customers who didn’t get the opportunity to purchase a particular doll.
Are there a few things that can be done so that when a customer or client has a Wow! experience, they inspire others to reach out to you as well?
Social media has such a profound impact on how consumers make decisions and learn about new products. Something as simple as snapping a picture of your favorite doll and tagging the company or posting about an experience someone had at convention with positive thoughts about Integrity Toys are really simple ways to support a brand working for Wow!
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’m very proud to already feel like our business is part of a movement — we are the first high fashion doll maker to produce such a wide variety of Black, Asian, European, Hispanic and Caucasian dolls as well as support gender positivity in the toy industry with male, trans and drag icons like RuPaul featured in our collections. I would also say that Black-owned businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs need to be supported to continue expanding our representation and positive impact on culture and society that is greatly needed in these divisive times.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
We are so fortunate to have a loyal and engaged fan base on social media. To connect with Integrity Toys on Instagram you can use the hashtag #25yearsIT and find us on Instagram @INTEGRITY_TOYS and on Twitter @integritytoys. On Facebook we can be found at https://www.facebook.com/Integrity-Toys-200208326656019/. To learn more about our collections or joining the 2021 W Club please visit www.integritytoys.com or www.integritytoys.com/w-club/.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!