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Bethpage toy company Design Edge Inc. sees a renaissance in play

Matt Nuccio, president of Design Edge Inc. in Bethpage, says the toy industry has seen a rise in business during the pandemic. Credit: Barry Sloan

Toys and games have gone from quaint to near-essentials in this era of enforced cocooning, and a Bethpage toy company has seen its business flourish.

Design Edge Inc., which has designed and developed toys for some of the world’s largest brands, including Fisher-Price, Hasbro and Disney, has seen a rise in design and development work as toy sales have soared during the pandemic, with more families turning to at-home entertainment.

According to Port Washington-based The NPD Group, the U.S. toy industry experienced 19.1% sales growth in the first three quarters of 2020, reaching $13.7 billion.

That growth has helped fuel revenues for Design Edge, which was founded in 1987 in the Merrick garage of Mark and Linda Nuccio. Mark had worked in the toy industry since the '60s and started the company initially as a package design firm.

Since then it's morphed into all phases of toy design and development, from packaging to marketing and licensing, and is now helmed by Matt Nuccio, 46, the founders’ son, who himself has been recognized by UK-based Mojo Nation, a conglomerate of toy and game inventors, as one of the most influential figures working in toy and game design.

The firm was nominated for three industry awards this year, including as finalist for the Toy of the Year (TOTY) Award for its design work with Fisher-Price on the Imaginext Pop-Up Gotham City Playset.

Newsday spoke with Nuccio about the company. The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

When did you get started in the family business?

From Day One I was helping in the garage and learning the trade, even through college. I graduated from FIT [Fashion Institute of Technology] with a design degree in 1997. I came in right after and started taking over more day to day. My parents are semiretired, but they tend to show up now and again.

What are some popular toys your company’s designed?

We worked with Tyco and had our hands in designing Tickle Me Elmo. We’ve worked on many versions of Trivial Pursuit, Monopoly, Sorry and Clue. We’ve worked on countless Barbie and Marvel and Disney princesses.

When did you start to see the effects of COVID?

At the Nuremberg International Toy Fair in Germany [Jan. 29-Feb. 2]. By the time that came around, there was a shift [among attendees] from talking about protests in Hong Kong to the new virus. At the time, my concerns weren’t that grave because I assumed it would be no different than what we experienced with SARS. By March it became evident it was worse.

How did COVID impact your business?

When COVID hit, two things started happening. We started getting a lot of calls from outside inventors just pitching ideas. Then, as it became apparent that we weren’t coming back quickly and everyone started working at home, we started getting calls from toy industry leaders with much larger projects. Partly because their designers weren’t in the office and a lot of things needed to be done that’s impossible to do from your kitchen table or home office. I have all the design and prototyping equipment here to make large-scale samples. [Nuccio can’t disclose current projects/clients due to proprietary reasons, but says they’re working on more than two dozen design projects presently.]

How long does the design/development phase take?

It’s a one- to two-year period, depending on the company, from concept to shelf. We usually spend nine months on the development end.

What toys are most popular during COVID?

Puzzles were gigantic, and family games. I’ve seen games go from relics of yesteryear to slowly coming back to COVID blowing the doors open.

Do you anticipate growth continuing?

We’re hopeful.

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