Inside Logistics

Up, up and away

How a supply chain makeover helped Spin Master take flight


May 27, 2009
by Deborah Aarts

Five years ago, Toronto-based toymaker Spin Master Ltd was a rapidly growing company shackled by a clunky, inefficient supply chain. Today, with full visibility and more efficient processes, it is soaring far above its competitors. Deborah Aarts explains how the right technology and strategy enabled take-off.

Ask any eight-year-old: Spin Master Ltd makes cool stuff. Brands like Air Hogs, Bakugan Battle Brawlers and Moon Sand have propelled the Toronto, Ontario-based company to the top tier of the North American toy market. Today, children in more than 50 countries around the world seek out its products, and the number is growing.

The company has gone from being a small start-up with a few SKUs to a global powerhouse at the vanguard of an ultra-competitive, fast-moving market.

This large a transformation wouldn’t have been possible without a modern supply chain. Five years ago, Spin Master didn’t have one. Now, it does—one that’s efficient and nimble enough to work with the Wal-Marts of the world, no less.

Here’s the story of how Spin Master came to play in the big leagues.

A struggling supply chain
Spin Master was born in Toronto in 1994 when three university pals banded together to sell a novelty product called The Earth Buddy. The toy—a small figurine that sprouted plant ‘hair’—turned out to be a hit. Inspired, the trio sought out new brands and two years later launched Air Hogs, a series of air-pressured toy aircraft that continue to fly off shelves today. Growth has followed the company ever since.

As is common with many growing companies, Spin Master’s supply chain was something of an afterthought, ranking far below revenue growth and market share on the priority scale.

By its 10th anniversary, the company was attempting to storm ahead, planning new products and expansion around the world—all while its methods of sourcing and distributing product lagged far behind.

“We were a small company that grew really quickly,” explains Iain Kennedy, Spin Master’s chief operating officer. “In many of those cases, you don’t have time to go back and spend the time to fix what you didn’t do quite right the first time around, because you’ve got five other things to do. You’re doing tomorrow what you should have done yesterday, so you just keep scrambling.”

The crux of the problem was inefficient data management. All information pertaining to orders and shipments was entered, analyzed and communicated manually with a seemingly endless series of Excel files.