Toy Industry Eager to See What Zizzle Executives Think of Next

Article excerpt

Byline: Whitney Beckett Medill News Service

Zizzle is the toy industry's version of a band reunion -except instead of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, it's Giga Pets, Talkboys and Furbys.

That and they make toys, not music, but who's counting?

Zizzle LLC, after all, sounds like the name of a rock 'n' roll band, rather than the name of a Bannockburn-based toy company that opened in January.

It's a small firm with the connections of a larger one, and Zizzle will utilize its connections to get dibs on toys and licensing deals that might otherwise fall through the cracks of the $20 billion toy industry.

Chicago native Roger Shiffman, Zizzle's bigger-than-life president and CEO, could easily pass for a former rocker. And with applause from the toy industry, the reunion of three toy industry bigwigs - Shiffman and two long-time associates - could be a rock concert.

"Zizzle is a breath of fresh air to the industry, and we are delighted to have Roger back in the business," said Jeffery Breslow, president and CEO of Chicago-based Big Monster Toys LLC. "Roger is one of the most dynamic marketers in the toy industry, and he is in love with the business."

Now 51, Shiffman began Tiger Electronics Ltd. in Vernon Hills in 1978 and sold it 20 years later to Hasbro Inc. for $335 million, staying on to run it for another three years.

"Roger, as a person, is a very inspirational, passionate exciting guy, and the industry needs that now," said Greg Staley, former president of the U.S. and international divisions of Toys R Us Inc. "Roger has great relationships all the way across the industry - from retailers to inventors to licensors, even his competitors."

Shiffman is indeed a celebrity in the toy industry. His new Bannockburn office brims with pictures of a slightly younger self - with shoulder-length brown curls - and celebrities like Katie Couric. A caricature of the "Wolf Man" (Shiffman's alter ego, apparently) being carried by a Furby - the blockbuster toy he launched in the 1990s and which sold 20 million in the first six months - also has prominent wall space.

Today, with a sleek new haircut and a black polo shirt monogrammed with Zizzle's logo, Shiffman is back from a three-year hiatus.

His former band members - two of his right-hand people at Tiger - would not let him retire. Patty Jackson, Zizzle's executive vice president of product development, and Marc Rosenberg, Zizzle's chief marketing officer, lured their lead singer back for the reunion tour they call Zizzle.

"None of us had to do this - we just desperately wanted to. We are getting people back together who love to work together and we are very excited," Jackson said. "People in the industry are jumping and cheering that Roger is coming back."

Before Zizzle, Jackson worked in the toy industry for more than 20 years, including 11 years with Tiger, where she served as senior vice president of marketing. …