Safari Ltd. – Toys that teach

written by BVM June 29, 2017
Safari Ltd building

Business View Magazine interviews Stacie Beavers, Director of Business Development for Safari Ltd., as part of our series on the U.S. Toy Industry.

Safari Ltd. is an American, family-owned manufacturer and global distributor of hand-painted, scientifically accurate educational figures, spanning from the natural world to the imaginative realms of mythology and fantasy. The company features a product line of more than 1000 educational, hand-painted toy designs that teach by creating authentic figurines that speak to the innate curiosity in all of us. Their mission is to teach children the importance of nature and its conservation through the joy of play.

In 1982, Bernard and Rosemarie Rubel founded the company after discovering an endangered species card game while visiting the Munich Zoo in Germany. Fueled by their passion to educate through play, they transformed that rummy game into a collection of museum-quality figures enjoyed by children, adults, educators, and collectors alike. Today, their grandson, Alexandre Pariente, is at the helm of the family business and making great strides in the global landscape. He began his role with the company at an early age in the warehouse. Alexandre acknowledges, “My grandfather was old school and believed I needed to work my way up. After proving myself, he one day invited me inside – and I never left.” In 2014, Alexandre became full owner and CEO when his mother, Ramona Pariente, retired after 28 years at Safari Ltd.

Stacie Beavers, Director of Business Development for Safari Ltd., says, “Demand for our product has grown, and now we want to share our vision with the world. Since Alexandre took over, there has been a shift towards creating global awareness for our brand. We are streamlining our processes and investing in technology, marketing and sales aspects to prepare for continued expansion.” The company sells directly to the U.K. and Canada, and distributes across the U.S. from its Miami warehouse. Internationally, it works with distributors based in Japan, Germany, Mexico, South Africa, UAE, and South America.

Safari Ltd. employs about 60 people, known in-house as “Safarians”, at their Miami Lakes global headquarters. “Our company invests a lot, not only in technology, but in also in our employees. To attract and retain top talent, we built a fun family-like culture centered around providing a fantastic work/life balance to promote a healthy lifestyle. The perks range from 7 ½ hour workdays to events and challenges hosted by our corporate wellness team, SafariFit, designed to improve both fitness and wellbeing with topics such as nutrition, financial wellness, and stress management.”

Safari fills an important niche in the toy sector. According to Beavers, “We are one of the top companies in the animal figures market. What sets us apart is the pride we take in listening to our customers, and using those insights to make informed, customer-centric decisions that span from internal processes to new products. Our sales representatives, dubbed ‘Toy Gurus,’ have a lot of conversations with our customers to find out, for instance, what new exhibits are opening at zoos and aquariums in the coming year, so we can provide them with products that pair well with their exhibits. Our retail customers email us with product suggestions which we add to a wish list that is reviewed when determining new releases. We are really in tune with the needs of our customers and strive to provide them with an unmatched customer service experience every step of the way.”

Manufacturing is outsourced to partners in Asia who have worked with safari for over 30 years; however, the entire creative process happens in the main warehouse distribution center in Miami. Safari Ltd. was housed for 20 years in a building in Miami Gardens, and moved to the current location in Miami Lakes to satisfy increased space needs for the warehouse and offices. A significant amount of construction was done to “Safari-tize” the new headquarters and make it just right for this growing entity. The building features a winding ramp at the entrance to take Safarians to the upstairs offices to promote walking as an active design, an on-site fitness facility, and many more custom features from the lobby to the warehouse. The company is also investing in technology to provide a best-in-class customer service experience and streamline internal processes for greater efficiency. Additions include new systems for enterprise resource planning (SAP Business One), warehouse management (Acellos), and customer relationship management (Salesforce), as well as a redesigned website and a strategic partnership with FEDEX for shipping.

Looking towards the future, Beavers admits, “The challenge for us is technology – in that people are moving away from the tangible toy or animal figurine, and moving towards iPads and apps to educate children. By focusing on creating lifelike Toys That Teach, we’re emphasizing that a physical product like ours helps children know what an animal looks like, not just by viewing a picture on a tablet, but by holding it in their own hands. In the future, we’ll always have that struggle with emerging technology; the whole toy market is going through that. We’re trying to bring back teaching with a tangible object – whether in the classroom, or with toddlers who are just learning developmental skills. That’s the direction we’re taking.”

The Safari Ltd. team has done much research in the field of play therapy, which has been shown to be an effective method for allowing children to express themselves and their feelings naturally, in a comfortable setting. Play is important for early childhood development from a neurological standpoint as well as a therapeutic perspective, and can also help children resolve a range of challenging issues that may arise during their development. Safari’s customers include licensed play therapists who utilize their figures for an exercise known as “sandplay therapy,” in which a client is tasked with creating a contained environment to reflect their imaginary world using sand and miniature objects. “When children play, they learn,” says Christina Pariente, Alexandre’s wife and Safari Ltd.’s President. “They must have time for imaginative play to develop correctly. Imaginative play teaches children creativity, coping mechanisms, independence, problem-solving skills, and much more. We make sure our twelve month old has imaginative play time every day. It is that important and should start right away.”

All Safari Ltd. toys are non-toxic and free of lead, phthalates, and BPAs. For over 35 years, their products have been laboratory tested to meet all lead safety requirements, and are in compliance with worldwide safety standards. Quality control is a major focus at Safari Ltd. Throughout the year, Alexandre and Christina visit their Asian partners to stay close to the manufacturing process. Ongoing, open communication between the manufacturers and the Safari product development team is key to achieving their strict quality standards.

“Staying true to our mission, Safari also supports conservational and environmental initiatives. This year alone, we partnered with the Humane Society of Broward County, the Nature Conservatory, and several National and State Parks to provide donations to help preserve our environment. Overall, our company culture, and what we believe in, is making sure we conserve the environment so our children’s children can experience it in the way we did,” notes Beavers.

With caring, intelligent companies like Safari Ltd. working hard to bring interaction back to a tangible toy experience, our next generations have a great chance of learning, reviving, and enjoying the basics of ‘unplugged play.’

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