What does it do?
It's a pretty simple question that we never expected to hear regarding Stuf, our little canvas characters. People will see Circus Stuf, with its little plush Ringmaster, Clown, Lion and Circus Elephant and, while obviously charmed by them, ask us "What do they do?" We're always a little taken aback when we hear that because, well, what do they expect them to do?
At the risk of sounding like a crusty curmudgeon, toys used to be fun to play with because you used to be an integral part of playing with them. To appear less curmudgeony (and more geeky), let's leave Slinky, wood blocks, and all that simple classic stuff behind for a moment. Let's talk about action figures. When Star Wars figures came out, you got a Luke and a Darth, a Landspeeder and maybe, if you were the luckiest kid on the planet, a Millennium Falcon. Tatooine, Mos Eisley, the Death Star? That was all up to you and your friends to figure out. You used your imagination to set the stage. To make adventures of your own for these little plastic puppets to act out. As the years passed, elaborate playsets emerged. Whole set pieces were now available. Everything to act out key action scenes was at your fingertips. Cool to have for sure. But somehow having so much manufactured for you made for a somewhat hollow play experience.
Same thing with Hot Wheels. Racing little metal cars? Totally fun. Building mega tracks? Super fun. Building tracks so cars crashed into each other? Best fun ever. But when focus groups told Mattel that, they started designing the tracks to crash the cars for you. Eventually there wasn't even a race involved. Just cheap, elaborate set pieces where cars zoomed by chomping dinosaurs or roaring flame stickers on their way to their pre-planned destruction. Fun? Short term at best.
And I guess that's the point. Feels like we've slowly been tricked into not investing time in using our imagination for play. Not to say kids don't use their imaginations anymore. That old chestnut about the kid playing with the cardboard box more than the toy that came in it is still (thankfully) true. Kids can conjure fun from whatever their circumstances. You just have to allow them the chance to do it. And do it often. Eventually they'll apply that developed imagination into their teen experiences. Then into their adult lives. And eventually into their parenting skills. And that's where things get really fun.
So what do you do with Stuf? I started writing this with the intent of offering you some ideas on that. But now I'm not going to. Not to be mean, but I think it best to leave it up to you. It occurred to me that we've never ever never had a kid ask us what Stuf does. Why the Robot Stuf didn't shoot lasers or the Bird Stuf blast out sound effects. Kids just grab Stuf and do what kids do. Play. Our Canadian distributor, Lief at Q House Kids, has the best answer ever for those who are drawn to Stuf and ask, wide eyed, "What does it do?" He smiles and says, "It's doing it."
In 2012 we were at the New York International Gift Fair where we saw a middle-aged woman looking at our Stuf display from three booths away. Slowly she came toward us, never taking her eyes off the Stuf spread out in front of us. She stood there for a bit before she carefully lifted Bluebird with both hands. She stared at him thoughtfully. She turned him over. Gave him a soft shake. Eventually she looked up at us and quietly said, "This is very special." That, Friend, is what Stuf was designed to do.