STREETSBORO — Step2 Co. isn’t just concerned with the plastic, rotationally molded toys, mailboxes and play vehicles for which they’ve been known for decades.

The company is now one of three branches of a larger company, Step2 Discovery, which Tony Ciepiel now heads as the chief executive officer, a position he’s held since April.

“It encompasses three companies, one of which is Step 2, which everyone is familiar with,” he said. The other companies are Backyard Discovery in Pittsburg, Kan., and Go Configure It, headquartered in Chicago.

Backyard Discovery is “the No. 1 manufacturer of pergolas, pavilions and playsets of wood in this country,” Ciepiel said.

The third company under the Step2 Discovery, Go Configure It, installs a variety of products, including those sold by Step2 Co. and Backyard Discovery.

“Picture the three companies together; we have the unique opportunity to create synergy by combining substrates, wood and rotomold, and combining a service for installation,” he said. “You could have a playset in the future that is a combination of wood and rotomold that is installed by Go Configure It.”

Ciepiel said the companies began to coalesce around two years ago when Aterian acquired Step2 Co.

Altogether, he said, the companies employ about 11,000 in four states and China, adding that some logistics and supply chain jobs are in China.

Ciepiel said Step2 Co. faced a tough test this year when Toys R Us, Step2′s largest customer, went out of business.

“The exciting part is that because of this company’s strong competencies, because of the company’s tremendous employees that had have been working so hard to build this company over the years, the company was able to recover quite nicely,” he said.

Ciepiel said Step2 Discovery will have double-digit growth this year, despite Step2 Co. losing Toys R Us.

Even though they sell large items, 70 percent of Step2 Discovery’s sales are completed online, which helped the company weather the closure of Toys R Us. Other retailers that carry Step2 products online include Walmart, Sam’s Club, Amazon, Kohl’s, Target and Costco.

“You buy it there, and then we ship it directly to your home; it never goes to the Kohl’s; it never goes to Target; it never goes to Amazon,” he explained. “It’s like virtual retail. There’s such great demand for Step2 products, and our team did such a good job getting the word out about our products that that business could migrate.”

Another example of the potential for synergy that could develop is being tested at Home Depots in some markets. Ciepiel said customers can order a pavilion, a Backyard Discovery product, and have it installed that day by Go Configure It, a service included in the price of the pavilion.

“This is an actual bundle; it’s an add-on service, ” he said. “At Sam’s, you can say, ‘I’ll take it at this price’ or ‘I’ll take it built,’” and we’ll send our people over.”

Go Configure It completes about 140,000 installations per year, he added.

“It’s a network of 600 contractors across the country, and each of those contractors has a crew of two or more,” he said.

Although the research and development teams from Backyard Discovery and Step2 will likely remain separate, at least for the time being, Ciepiel said there are opportunities for teaming up on products, particularly playsets, which could be built mostly of “a unique species of cypress (Cupressaceae — cunninghamia lanceolate).” Ciepiel said the wood has small knots and great strength owing to its dampness. It is found in China. Accessories, such as slides and other items, could be rotationally molded parts developed by Step2, he explained.

In addition to seeking cooperation among the three arms of Step2 Discovery, Ciepiel also said each company has an opportunity to expand its product offerings and its geographical reach.

Parents may also notice some new products from Step2 this Christmas. Last year, the company created a rotationally molded Christmas tree with ornaments on a test basis, and Ciepiel said the new product was quite popular.

He said test runs of other Christmas toys are planned this year, including a snowman, a rocking-horse reindeer and a slightly updated Christmas tree.

Halloween fans haven’t been left out, he added. Inspired by the KidAlert traffic sign, Step2 has created a ghost aimed at directing traffic.

Ciepiel said the snowman is already on pace to sell out of its test run supply, and he believes the other seasonal items will be popular, as well.

 

Reporter Bob Gaetjens can be reached at 330-541-9440, bgaetjens@recordpub.com or @bobgaetjens_rpc.