According to sales figures from the NPD Group, which tracks consumer spending trends in America, toy sales topped $18 billion in the U.S. last year. Today, as companies strive to connect with young consumers and gain an edge in an increasingly digital industry, what does the youngest corporate executive at this global company actually do?
"I get sent about 30-50 toys a month to test out," said Thorne before his on-air interview, "I imagine how any kid would respond to them. I ask myself if they are easy to use and if they'll be popular for a long period of time."
In other words, he's a secret weapon for Toys R Us when it comes to identifying the season's hottest toys. Thorne has played with hundreds of toys in his career, each with a different target audience, from toddler to preteen. On Monday, he presented what he believes will be the dominant toy themes in the U.S. and Canada this holiday season and in the coming year: interactive robotics that simulate a living pet and "Star Wars" toys.
His picks in interactive robotics included the Little Live Pets Clever Kit from Moose Toys — because they encourage kids to interact with animals and even teach them to speak and respond to commands — ideal for kids who want living pets, but aren't old enough for the responsibilities.
And, in advance of the Dec. 18 release of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," Thorne sees the Bladebuilder Jedi Master Lightsaber from Hasbro as a hit because it offers kids creative options. With multiple add-ons, this toy can form over 100 different variations of the original light saber.
Now, despite the fun of working with toys, Thorne maintains that being a CPO goes far beyond playing: "Toys R Us gave me an amazing platform for my future. I've gained maturity, a great understanding of how a corporate atmosphere functions as well as time management skills."
As Thorne prepares for the next step is his career, Toys R Us is narrowing down the search for his successor.
"As an integral member of our team, we rely on our CPO for honest opinions and toy reviews to help advise parents and gift givers on what kids like," said Toys R Us Canada Vice President of Marketing and Store Planning Liz MacDonald. "We're looking for someone who's enthusiastic, comfortable in front of the camera and most importantly loves playing with toys."
The announcement for the next chief play officer will be made in early 2016.
Meanwhile, Thorne is considering a career as an actor. He currently acts and does voice work on Nickelodeon and Disney programs. However, he hasn't ruled out a return to his roots: "I would love to go back to Toys R Us one day. If they're hiring."