In less time than it takes to read this sentence, Ryan Hamilton builds a cow, then a moo-bot—a half-inch-high toy with a jetpack. These are the unlimited possibilities of Plus-Plus, a relatively new construction toy that can shape into a waterfall, tapestries of famous paintings, and a unicorn—“Unicorns are very hot right now in kids’ world.”
The 42-year-old toypreneur spends his workdays fiddling with pieces at Plus-Plus USA, the Greenville-based global distributor for the toy, drawing obvious comparisons to the archetypal Lego. But once you start tinkering with either of the toy’s two sizes, about the dimensions of postage stamps, the similarity ends.
“Kids see it as a puzzle piece instinctively,” says Hamilton, director of product development and operations. “Younger kids are going to match together the pieces and do simple mosaics, and if you keep turning it every other way, it’s like weaving a basket.”
Legos stack and lock into tiers. Plus-Plus pieces hinge, so sheets can be instantly shaped from 2-D to 3-D. “This toy is much more open-ended and creative because you can literally build in any direction,” he says, showing off a foot-high pirate ship with billowing sails and a mermaid’s tail.
Creative Director Emory Cash, a self-described “Legos fiend,” works alongside Hamilton as the only other person in the offices adjacent to the 9,000-square-foot warehouse off Rutherford Road. “Seeing all the things that Ryan was coming up with, and seeing the possibilities, opened up my imagination about what you could do with it.”
Hamilton’s office looks like a kindergartner’s playshop. Once a buyer for Barnes & Noble in New York and a onetime toy store owner in Ohio, he returned home to Greenville to launch the distributorship for the toy that was invented in Denmark around 2005.
Hamilton discovered Plus-Plus at a toy fair in Europe—in fact, the day after our chat, he was off to the International Toy Fair in Germany. “It was only in Scandinavia at that point, but only in kindergartens with really limited distribution.”
These days, Plus-Plus USA grows as fast as a child bending a mosaic into a bust of the Mona Lisa, its business exploding nearly 250 percent from 2016 to 2017, shipping 600,000 tubes to some 3,000 retailers from the warehouse.
The first time Hamilton’s four children saw the clear, plastic tubes, packed with as many as 240 pieces in up to 22 colors from neon to pastel to camo, they began building . . . and shaping. The jam-packed tubes come with instructions—and, of course, there’s an app—but kids are kids.
“My kids said, ‘Oh, look, it’s a cow,’ and then, they were like, ‘now it’s a cow with a rocket on him.’” Their engaged little brains still inspire Dad to add to the dozens of product lines. And for adults, we’re talking idle-hands salvation.
While puzzling over how to end this story, I toy with a pile of pieces. Oh, cool, here’s a superhero! Now, a dog . . . and, hey, a cat! And now I’m . . .
Plus-Plus USA, 1801 Rutherford Rd, Greenville. (888) 830-4212, plus-plus.us