There are 32 million kids under the age of 14 in the U.S. This week, and for who knows how much longer, they will be home from school due to the COVID-19 crisis. It may sound like a situation that will try the patience of any parent. But Bill Onderdonk, COO of high-end toy and game company KiwiCo, tells PYMNTS CEO Karen Webster that he thinks he has a solution.
“If you want to spend quality time with your kids, they’re great projects for two or three people to do together,” he said. “So that’s sort of the other flip side of this crisis. On a broader scale, parents are concerned about how much time kids are spending in front of screens, whether that’s video games, phones or social media. Our products are a great alternative, because they are engaging and fun for kids.”
Those products include model kits or “crates” that can be ordered as a one-off or via subscription. KiwiCo currently has eight lines, from Panda (0-2 years) to Atlas (6-11 years) to Maker (14-104 years). They form the foundation of an innovative, subscription-based model that has shipped over 15 million projects, with the goal of encouraging children to not only interact with their parents and families, but also to develop their creative confidence.
“We believe that this confidence helps kids think big and act like creators and producers instead of just consumers,” says Sandra Oh Lin, founder of the company. “Kids with creative confidence don’t assume one ‘right way’ to build with blocks, paint a picture or solve a problem. Their unique way is the right way! I had a deep appreciation for the creative, hands-on projects that encourage this kind of thinking, but as a parent, I often found that my best intentions fell short. It was tough to find the time to do the research and come up with a great idea, let alone gather all the materials.”
KiwiCo has seen an increase in orders for both its subscription lines and the one-off products from its eCommerce site. Onderdonk places the order spike around March 12, which is when schools started to close and parents began grappling with keeping their kids engaged and entertained. He believes KiwiCo’s products are effective at developing science, engineering, art and math skills while also maintaining an element of fun.
About one thousand hours of design and testing goes into developing each crate, with an eye toward matching skill levels and learning needs. For example, one of the Panda crates includes black-and-white images that fit the developing sight patterns of a newborn. The Atlas crate focuses on world geography, while the Maker crate emphasizes more advanced crafts, such as macramé and needlepoint.
“I think we hit the sweet spot for the projects, because they’re truly fun and very enriching for kids,” Onderdonk noted. He added that the company’s Instagram page shows pictures of kids waiting by the door to receive their crates. “A lot of our customers are kids who are super interested in what we’re shipping them every month.”
In addition to kids, KiwiCo also offers products to engage adults, such as the Eureka crate. Onderdonk pointed out that many millennials and younger adults see the crates as cool things to build. Another emerging segment is older adults, who have started to do puzzles and games to stay sharp mentally.
But the biggest target for KiwiCo will continue to be children, from newborns to age 14. And while his business has spiked during the past two weeks, he is hesitant to say whether the phenomena of educational, at-home projects will stick.
“It’s certainly early days, and these are unprecedented times,” he said. “I think it’s hard to say how things will play out for people. It’s obviously a very fluid and dynamic situation. We don’t have data or feedback from our customers to give us a quantitative sense of dependent changes. But anecdotally, I think we will see people doing the crates together with their kids. It gives the kids a couple of hours to work on a project, and that gives the parents time to get some work done.”
Outside of the 15 million products shipped by the company, Onderdonk is happy with the company’s high customer satisfaction scores and Net Promoter scores.
KiwiCo’s products are designed in California, but manufacturing takes place in Asia, mostly China. As the country heads into its second month of mandated social distancing, Onderdonk is confident that his logistics team has sorted out any manufacturing issues. He claims to have plenty of products on hand and even more coming through his standard supply chain channels, ensuring that KiwiCo crates will continue to reach its markets.