Toy-design firm hopes to tempt talent to downtown

Pure Imagination behind popular Paper Jamz guitar

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter

Published:

 

On the Web:

To see a video of a Paper Jamz guitar being played:

http://paperjamz.com/rockstarz-academy

Pure Imagination LLC

• WHAT: A toy design firm that invents toys and engineers prototypes for major toy-sellers.

• LATEST DESIGN: Paper Jamz guitars, manufactured and sold by Carlsbad, Calif.-based WowWee Toys.

• PARTNERS: Mike Wallace, Miriam Kim and Philip Odom.

• TOTAL EMPLOYEES: 6.

• WHAT’S NEW: The company has leased a second-floor office space in the downtown Centurion Building, where it expects to gradually hire on four more employees to work on its newest Paper Jamz line of toys.

After an off-the-charts holiday hit with its Paper Jamz toy guitar, Vancouver-based Pure Imagination is ready to make another big move.

The toy design firm will graduate to real offices this month in the downtown Centurion Building at 705 Main St. It represents a definite upgrade from the company’s humble startup in his home garage in the Clark County suburbs, said Mike Wallace, who founded Pure Imagination, and with partner Philip Odom, invented its hot-selling Paper Jamz guitar.

Manufactured and sold by Carlsbad, Calif.-based WowWee Toys, the paper instruments come packed with three pre-recorded rock-n-roll songs that blare out and allow wanna-be rock stars to strum along. Different modes allow players to graduate from any old strumming to jam out the part to playing at the song’s correct intervals. In the toy’s freestyle mode, players can actually bang out chords in majors, minors and sevenths on the toy’s usable fret board.

According to tech review site http://engadget.com, Paper Jamz actually teaches children more about playing music than the popular PlayStation 2 video game Guitar Hero, in which players simulate playing rock music on a guitar-shaped controller.

“Prepare to hear more 12-year-olds playing ‘Smoke on the Water’ than you ever supposed the universe was capable of containing,” engadget.com’s review said of Paper Jamz.

Selling for $25 or less, the paper guitars topped the lists of best-selling toys at retailers including Walmart and Kmart during the holiday season.

“There were more than one million sold,” said Wallace, 48, who would not disclose the amount of the royalty his company earns for each Paper Jamz sale.

“We were extremely profitable. Our revenue increased by 100 percent,” he said.

Pure Imagination’s staff size also grew to six employees in 2010, up from the company’s three partners — Wallace and his wife, Miriam Kim, and engineer Odom.

Three software engineers were hired recently to work on next season’s Paper Jamz, Wallace said. He expects to roll out the higher-priced line this year.

“It’s a much higher-end (model) because you can download the music into it and there’s also a professional drum set,” and a guitar-shaped keyboard, Wallace said.

Downtown space

The company’s move into a second-floor office suite will leave just one ground-floor space vacant in the Centurion Building near the once-thriving Vancouver C-Tran bus mall, still a tough-to-lease area of the downtown district.

Street-front space in the building is occupied by the River Maiden coffee shop and a new photo studio called MaxM, said Tamara Fuller, a vice president and commercial real estate expert with NAI Norris Beggs & Simpson.

“And we are getting more phone calls, which is hopefully a good sign for 2011,” said Fuller, who is marketing the Centurion for its Vancouver owners, Michele and John Rudi.

Wallace hopes the downtown area will be more vibrant than his company’s current suburban location. Pure Imagination partners believe the move will help them recruit young toy engineers.

Wallace expects the company to remain in its hiring mode through the year.

“We’d like to end up at around 10 people. It really depends on how things go,” he said.

He said Paper Jamz is the biggest toy line he has ever worked on, although Pure Imagination has sold other designs to such big toy sellers as Mattel and Hasbro.

Wallace also admitted that he’s had a role in developing at least one dud.

“The factory messed up. It didn’t work right because there was too much glue,” he said.