Pictured above is the Hardin family, the family behind Diverse Marketing
It’s impossible to be at a toy fair anywhere in the world and not run into one of the Hardins on the search for new products or chatting at an social event. I was fortunate to spend an interesting afternoon with Greg Hardin and his lovely wife Kelly in Tel Aviv last year when our trips to Israel overlapped. I learned a bit about their family history that day. You won’t find anyone prouder and more passionate about their business and family than Greg.
How did your family first enter the toy industry?
Wes Hardin: It all started in the 1950s with my grandfather, Edward Everett Hardin IV and Anderson/Hardin and Associates (now Diverse Marketing). He began selling toys in the southwestern region of the U.S. This was a time before the division of gift and mass, when a toy salesman just sold the same product to everyone. This was also a time without Walmart, Target, and, of course, Amazon. Ed was a charismatic man who could have seamlessly been a character on Mad Men. By the 1970s, my uncle Edward Everett “Rett” Hardin V started his own rep group (friendly competitors). The Hardin family now had two manufacturer rep groups selling the southwest region.
The 1980s were also a huge growth period for the industry. Ed Hardin and Karl Anderson the owners of Anderson/Hardin and Associates merge with Hardin/Hild and Associates bringing all the clients from both firms together.
When the 90s hit, and the toy industry retail landscape poised for continued growth, Greg Hardin (current CEO) bought a specialty rep group named Hugh McConnell and Associates and merged it with Anderson/Hardin/Hild under the new name, Diverse Marketing (1993).
We are now the only manufacturer rep group in the southwest that handles both the mass and specialty retail markets. The 2000s began a new era for Diverse Marketing. Ed Hardin (founder) retired along with Fred Hild. During that time, Rett and Greg Hardin were the only partners of Diverse Marketing. I came on board in 2002 after graduation. When Rett left the company in 2008 to spin off our private label import business into Art 101!, I took over as a partner alongside my dad, Greg.
Then in 2016, John Wesley Hardin Sr. officially took over as president of Diverse Marketing, marking the third generation to run the company. Today, the company has expanded into a national sales rep agency, with showrooms in Dallas, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Seattle, and Minneapolis.
Who has been involved and who is involved now?
Wes: A better question would be “Who hasn’t been involved?” We are three generations deep now. We have all pitched in with all aspects of the business throughout our lives. I started out with tiny accounts that no one had time for, my little sister Haylie used to sticker catalogs then curl up in my dad’s office chair and fall asleep in the showroom. She now lives in Los Angeles and handles all our social media along with several of her own accounts. And, those chairs are still in my dad’s office. My brother Tyler is a senior key account manager, handling West Coast accounts out of California.
We all have the paper cuts from stickering catalogs or spent days unboxing samples for the Dallas showroom. It’s the nature of who we are, everyone helps until the job gets done.
Do you think the next generation will get involved?
Wes: Our next generation is just underway, but I have absolutely no doubt that my son John Jr. will be an amazing predecessor. His current cousins Beckham and Zoey are the best toy testers out there, and I am sure all soon-to-be new additions will be just as enthusiastic.
How has business changed over the years?
Greg: With change comes great opportunity; we always need to have this as the forethought, but it has changed greatly in a number of different areas. Prior to me coming on board, as a family member I got to hear all about Walmart coming in the market and decimating every retailer. It was going to be the “death of retail.” Let’s be honest, they did put accounts out of business but then people started figuring out how to work around Walmart. The dust settled and Walmart continued to grow across the U.S.
In my particular career the major change has been Amazon. It first started selling toys in 2007, and we know by 2018 its market share was 30 percent. The Toys “R” Us bankruptcy last year is probably the second biggest thing that I’ve seen. I still don’t think we’ve seen the end of that; It’s had a long-lasting impact, which continues to hurt or help the industry depending on how you look at it. Additionally, we will always have continual consolidation, with companies buying other companies that just can’t survive in today’s marketplace.
What advice do you have for others thinking of joining the family business?
Greg: I can only speak to myself, for which being in a family business has been nothing short of fantastic. I was fortunate enough to come later into the business with my dad, so I got to spend about five years with him at the end of his career. Plus, I was fortunate to have an incredibly talented partner in my brother Rett. We had maybe one argument 18 years. We respected each other, worked hard, and did what we had to do—and we looked what we built!
I have had the pleasure of watching firsthand my own children grow into thriving and important people in this industry. Even more so now I get to watch them take the company to a whole new level of which I had never dreamed. I know plenty of family scenarios that wouldn’t be good for family business, so again I can just speak of my personal experiences. My advice is to work tirelessly, listen, and respect one another.