Jack Schylling started out, in 1975, as a Faneuil Hall street vendor, selling wind-up flying birds. He was taken with the whimsy and charm of the simple toys, the wonder they evoked.
Over the next four decades, Schylling expanded his sidewalk operation into the multimillion dollar enterprise Schylling Inc., but his philosophy on toys and play hasn’t changed.
“We don’t make toys that are based on computer chips,” Schylling said, sitting in a conference room of his Rowley company that is lined with hundreds of his company’s painted metal robots, toy racing cars, and rubber duckies. “We like the more traditional toys where your imagination fills in the blanks.”
Now, Schylling and his company are entering a new phase. Schylling Inc. announced last week that the investment firms Crofton Capital LLC of Newton and Gladstone Investment Corp. of McLean, Va., have acquired the company from Schylling and his brothers David and Tom.
Terms of the sale were not disclosed.
As the new owners take over, Schylling, 63, will be stepping back, but not stepping away entirely — at least not yet. He has resigned as president and will take on a less formal role as an adviser and creative consultant. He expects to be in the office daily for the next year or so.
“I see this as the next step, seeing the company being nurtured by a new team,” Schylling said. “This is passing the torch for me.”
Schylling and his brothers will retain a significant stake in the company — “certainly enough to keep us motivated,” Schylling said. David Schylling will stay on in business development, and Tom Schylling will remain in his current position as chief financial officer.
The enterprise that has been Jack Schylling’s “entire life” for the better part of 40 years is well known in the toy industry for producing the kinds of classic playthings that use hand cranks rather than electric switches.
Every inch of the company’s office displays that philosophy.
Filing cabinets are covered with dozens of jack-in-the-boxes, a signature Schylling item. A giant sock monkey stands sentinel over the conference room. A floor-to-ceiling shelf outside of Schylling’s office is covered with dozens of vintage toys that serve as inspiration for the company’s products.
Schylling shows off every part of his company with palpable pride, from the smallest toys to the sprawling warehouse.
A Schylling jack-in-the-box appeared in the Will Ferrell movie “Elf,” he notes. Over the years, he boasts, the quality of his sales staff grew along with his company, and today they are “the best in the industry.”
The company, with its 100,000-square-foot warehouse, also acts as a distributor for many well-known brands such as Lego, Erector sets, and Brio trains.
Schylling said his company needed bigger, more sophisticated management than what he has been able to provide. The company has never done much marketing and needs leaders with different talents to push it to the next level of success, he said.
“We brought it as far as we could,” Schylling said.
He agreed to sell only after being convinced Crofton and Gladstone would preserve the spirit of Schylling. Crofton managing director Philip Ivey convinced him that the company would be safe in his hands.
“The enduring philosophy is going to remain the same,” Ivey added.
The buyers were drawn to Schylling’s timeless toys, extensive customer base, and continuous growth, Ivey said.
In 2005, the company had annual sales of more than $20 million, according to a Globe story from that year. Though Ivey would not share current numbers, he said that sales have increased significantly each year since that time, even during the recent recession.
“That was a pretty impressive testament to the strength of the business,” Ivey said.
Schylling will be handing the title of president to Paul Weingard, an industry veteran and current head of product development for the company. Weingard’s first priority will be spreading the Schylling name, he said. Right now, the brand is well known within the toy industry, but enjoys less name recognition among consumers.
“We definitely intend to put more emphasis on connecting with families, with children, to reinforce the Schylling brand,” he said.
Schylling first came to the toy business shortly after graduating from Harvard University. He was working for the Harvard College Fund and trying to figure out what to do with the rest of his life.
Then, one day he saw a small plastic bird fly by his fourth-floor office window. Immediately fascinated, he ran outside to find the source of the toy and buy one for himself. In no time, Schylling tracked down the toy manufacturer in France, secured a street vendor’s license, and started his own sidewalk toy business.
“My parents had a hard time understanding how I could turn a Harvard degree into a Boston street vendor’s license,” he said.
Schylling soon added other toys to his offerings, then started selling his wares to small, high-end toy stores. In the early 1980s, he began working with manufacturers in Asia to create custom products according to his own designs.
Now, as he passes on the enterprise he built from the sidewalk up, Schylling looks forward to a life outside of the toy business, though he does not yet have any specific plans. Indeed, when asked what he will do next, he talks about the company, not himself.
“I was never looking beyond the next product,” Schylling said. “These guys bring in vision that goes beyond the next toy.”
This story originally appeared in The Boston Globe on August 22, 2013.