Toy giant lends hand – and Banz – in COVID-19 fight

HedBanz games

Debora Van Brenk//Western NewsAppropriately, headbands used in face shields made by global games giant Spin Master were originally designed for use in their game HedBanz.

Bakugan toys and HedBanz games have become unlikely tools in the fight to contain COVID-19.

Global toys and games giant Spin Master – founded and led by three Western alumni – has diverted some of its efforts and materials into assembling protective face shields for health-care workers.

They’re using headband straps appropriated from the game HedBanz; foam that otherwise would have filled Marshmallow Sofas, only now for forehead-cushioning comfort; and clear, flexible plastic from Bakugan packaging to use as shields.

In just a few weeks, the Toronto-based company has made and donated more than 107,000 shields and continues to produce thousands a day to ship to hospitals in Canada, the United States and Mexico.

Company founder and co-CEO Ronnen Harrary, BA’94 (Political Science), has pledged to keep making them as long as they’re needed.

“When this first happened, we thought to ourselves, ‘As a toy company, what could we possibly do? What do we have on hand that we could repurpose to help our health-care workers?’” said Tammy Smitham, BA’97 (Sociology and English), VP Communications at Spin Master. “Ronnen really pushed our team to come up with ideas to make this happen.”

Within days, the company known for innovation – it has more Toy of The Year nominations from the Toy Industry Association in the last 20 years than any competitor – had a solution. They would transform materials on hand to turn fun-and-games into health-and-safety.

Those who assemble the shields all wear masks, shields and gloves to ensure maximum safety as the materials are packaged and passed on to hospitals.

Not officially designated medical-grade, the shields are intended for one-time use to supplement facemasks and other personal protective equipment, Smitham said. “This is just a further barrier. They’ve been extremely well-received.”

While its shields are already in use at hospitals, the company is now looking at distributing to nursing homes and other long-term-care facilities.

Spin Master is a cultivated-at-Western, entrepreneurial success story. Harary and boyhood friend Anton Rabie, HBA’94, founded the company in 1994. They were soon joined in the venture by Ben Varadi, HBA’94, a friend and classmate of Rabie’s at Ivey Business School. (Harary and Rabie remain co-CEOs, while Varadi is executive vice-president and chief creative officer.)

The company quickly grew from one novelty product into a large line of toys under the Air Hogs brand and then expanded its international footprint with Tech Deck and Bakugan, before diversifying with products such as Etch A Sketch, Meccano, GUND, Hatchimals, and then expanding to entertainment shows and products such as PAW Patrol.

In 2015, the company went public and is traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange (where its symbol is TOY).