Chris Quinn wants Step2 Co. to become a recognizable brand name outside Ohio. The Streetsboro, Ohio, company has done a great job making a name for itself in its backyard, the toymaker's new president and CEO says, but it's going to have to expand beyond state borders if it wants to grow.
Quinn took over at Step2 a little less than a month ago, joining the company from New Balance Athletic, where he was executive vice president of North American operations for the shoe and athletic products company.
That retail business is “all about the product,” Quinn said, which will translate well to Step2, where he wants to implement a stronger focus on products.
Quinn wants to see the rotational molding company become more “product-led,” as opposed to manufacturing-led.
Putting a stronger focus on products could mean dedicating resources toward producing creative ideas, coming up with new concepts or developing design capabilities, Quinn said in an email.
Looking at the ratings customers give the Step2 products, it's clear the company makes world-class items for infants and toddlers, he said.
“We just haven't really built a brand,” Quinn said.
Quinn's familiar with what it takes to do that.
He has worked on brand-building throughout his career at companies like Clorox Co., where he said Hidden Valley salad dressing was an underdeveloped brand when he was there in the mid-1990s.
To build a brand, a company has to invest in “significant” product launches and use traditional and nontraditional marketing options to raise awareness, Quinn said in an email.
He's also looking to grow Step2's footprint in areas where it's already strong, like its play sets; stretch into adjacent categories; and expand its age portfolio beyond infant and toddler products.
The international market also will be an important focus, as just under 90 percent of the business is in the domestic market now.
Quinn said in an email that annual sales were about $170 million in 2014. The company was No. 1 in Plastics News' most recent survey of North American rotational molders.
And he wants to be more aggressive in developing products for the home and garden market.
“The company has an opportunity to be more focused,” he said.
Quinn is starting out his first 60 days at Step2 by going on a listening tour with employees.
There's been some executive-level turnover in recent years at the company, of which the majority owner is specialty finance company Ares Capital Corp. He wants to make sure to encourage “trust and collaboration” with the company's 800 employees.
He's been impressed with the quality of the people he's met, and he said he wants to help unlock their potential.
Tom Doherty, senior managing director at Argus Management Corp. and former interim CEO at Step2, said in an email that he had been impressed with Quinn's “intellect, enthusiasm and leadership” during the hiring process.
“His knowledge of consumer products especially in area of sales, marketing, new product design, and leveraging branding will be vital in improving the step2 customer experience,” Doherty said.
Overall, this move has been a good fit for Quinn professionally, as well as personally.
He remembers his children, Caila, 23, and Chris Jr., 20, loving Step2 toys. Especially in a technology-rich world, toys that help children use their imagination have an important place, he said.
“We have an important responsibility and role in helping children develop outside of the realm of pure technology,” Quinn said.
He and his wife of 24 years, Rosanna, are in the process of moving back to Ohio from the Boston area.
Quinn attended Denison University for a bachelor's degree in economics after growing up in Mexico and Minnesota, and he lived in Northeast Ohio when he worked at Procter & Gamble in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. That's when he met his wife, who had immigrated to Northeast Ohio from the Philippines as a child and went to the University of Akron for nursing.
“For us, we're coming home,” Quinn said.