|Irwin Toy logo, from 2000 to bankruptcy, and the font "Johnny Irwin" designed by Johnny Larocque.|
|Founded||Toronto, Ontario, Canada (1926)|
|Headquarters||Toronto, Ontario, Canada|
|Key people||Sam and Beatrice Irwin|
The company began in 1926 as an importer and distributor of dry goods and clothing, located in Sam and Beatrice Irwin's house. Later, the company moved to a warehouse in the west end of Toronto and focused mainly on toys, Sam and Beatrice's sons had taken over management in the years to follow.
Most of Irwin's profits came from distributing other (usually American) companies' toys—and as a result, almost all popular toys available in Canada until the 1990s were distributed by Irwin. This was because many major American companies wished to sell their toys in Canada, but it was not seen as a useful business practice to open a Canadian branch because of the lower population and tariffs which would generate less income. Irwin's success came mainly due to their licensing and contract manufacture of American companies Kenner and Parker, where Irwin was the Canadian importer and distributor of their products.
The business found success with the help of the Hula Hoop, Slinky, Frisbee, and later on in the century with the enormously popular Star Wars action figures, Care Bears and the Easy-Bake Oven. In the early 1980s, the Atari Video Computer System was a huge hit, and Irwin was the Canadian distributor. Irwin would also acquire the rights to the Sega video game brand in Canada later on. The video game sales, and remaining products brought revenues of $100 million and huge growth for the company. The company also had a popular junior shareholders program to get kids interested in the toy company and introduce them to the stock market, and employed 350 people at their downtown Toronto factory.
However, in the 1980s and 1990s major American companies such as Hasbro, Mattel, and Kenner acquired many of the companies that Irwin did business with. In the 1980s, with the introduction of the Free Trade Agreement and later, the North American Free Trade Agreement, it became less expensive for American companies to form Canadian branches. As a result, Irwin lost many business deals and major toy companies began to distribute toys themselves.
In 1989, Irwin Toy challenged the constitutionality a Quebec law prohibiting advertising directed toward children. The case, Irwin Toy Ltd. v. Quebec (Attorney General), reached the Supreme Court and resulted in a landmark ruling regarding the interpretation of freedom of expression provision in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Approaching the millennium, Irwin Toy was facing financial and business difficulty, and was sold to a private investment group, LivGroup Ltd. of Toronto in 2001 for approximately $55 million. Eighteen months after the buyout, Irwin Toy, now owned by Richard Ivey and Jean Marie Halde of Toronto, declared bankruptcy and entered into creditor supported liquidation. The original factory was sold to developers for $10 million and converted into a condominium called Toy Factory Lofts.
Following liquidation, the company officially closed down, and in 2003, the company was re-purchased by the former employees, George and Peter Irwin, and continued business as itoys inc.
Brands and Toys Distributed:.
- Barcode Battler
- Dowell-Brown Power Fighters
- Dragon Ball Z
- The G.U.R.L.Z.
- Kenner (prior to Hasbro's purchase)
- Mighty Max
- Sailor Moon
- Square 1
- Tyco (prior to Mattel's purchase)
- Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? board game
- Kids Can Press
- Magic Dip
- Pound Puppies
- Interior Decorator Set (with Marvin Glass and Associates) 1964
- Trouble (usually under the name "Frustration")
- Powerplay Hockey
- Top Corner Hockey
- My One and Only guy dolls
- Sailor Moon Adventure Dolls and other Sailor Moon items
- Suzie Stretch dolls
- Girder & Panel Building Sets
- Globetrotters board game
- ReBoot Action Figures
- Lazer Doodle
- Dragon Ball Z Action Figures