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At Solana Beach’s Rokenbok Toys, playtime is a profession

Caitlin Bigelow poses with Rokenbok products at the company’s Solana Beach headquarters.
Photos courtesy of Rokenbok.
Caitlin Bigelow poses with Rokenbok products at the company’s Solana Beach headquarters. Photos courtesy of Rokenbok.

Everyone is well aware that the North Pole is a hot bed for toy construction during the holiday season, but what’s less obvious is that Solana Beach is just as toy-centric all year long. That’s because for the past eight years, Rokenbok Toys has been headquartered just west of the 101, steps from the picturesque Pacific Ocean.

“I love my job at Rokenbok,” says Caitlin Bigelow, the marketing director for the company. “It’s such a great creative outlet.”

Originally founded in 1995 in Encinitas, the mission of Rokenbok has changed throughout the years. The company’s hands-on products, which range the gamut between remote control and construction, seem to have one goal in mind: to spur children’s imaginations.

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“One of the things we’ve been hearing for a long time is that parents will tell us that their kids used to play with Rokenbok and now they’re at MIT,” says Bigelow of the company’s influence. “After so many years of hearing that we started thinking what is it about our toys that promotes this stem affinity?”

While mulling over that question, the team pivoted to develop products for the classroom, the latest program in the company’s progression that was only launched a few weeks ago. “We’ve created five different mobile stem labs for kindergarten level to programmable robotics for high school level,” says Bigelow. “We’ve been testing these stem labs around San Diego and have bene getting really fantastic results and traction.”

However, before the classroom push, Rokenbook products were found in the thousands of mom and pop toy stores across the nation.

“We had big expansive play tables that kids would come into the store to play with and fall in love with. What started happening was that once all of the mom and pops started going out of business and getting replaced by big box stores, we found that our products didn’t sell well in larger retail situations.”

As a result, both the company’s business and marketing efforts shifted to the internet. Only available for purchase through their website or Amazon, Rokenbok’s advertising efforts soon resulted in an immensely popular YouTube page that has yielded a whopping 64 million views to date.

Each floor of Rokenbok’s Solana Beach headquarters is bursting with creativity. One portion of the headquarters is a devoted toy lab where products are tested out and another area is where the team produces videos the company makes for YouTube, each of which can take up to four weeks to fully realize.

“We’re surrounded by toys all the time,” says Bigelow of the atmosphere. “When it comes to the videos, I storyboard and script and direct the content around here. We have to figure out what our sets look like, what builds we need. It’s a time-consuming process.”

One of their most popular clips is of a T-Rex eating a person and then letting out a burp — the entire thing made up exclusively of Rokenbok products.

Now with 150 YouTube clips under their belt, a strong online presence, and that new classroom program, Rokenbok is ready for the next phase of its evolution.

“Everyone we’ve talked to (about the classroom push) has been so excited about it. We’re in about 50 classrooms in San Diego to date and are selling across the country. We also just launched our new robotics line.”

Above all, Bigelow compares working at Rokenbok like a playtime for adults: “Everyone here works really hard but we have a good time too.”

For more information, visit www.rokenbok.com; Address: 215 Hwy 101, Solana Beach, CA 92075 :(858) 259-4433