TRUCKING 'TOONS FOR TOTS: Tommys World Entertainment is looking jump-start the children's entertainment market with storybooks, stuffed toys, an interactive Web site and a "Disney-like" animated DVD series - all dedicated to trucking.
DALLAS, Texas – Leonard Michael Wendland knows what it’s like to be the child of a trucker. The missed birthdays, the lonely nights; always wondering when Daddy will be coming home.
But for Wendland, it wasn’t just about being away from his father. It was also how little he knew about trucking. Why was his father away from home so much? What was it like in the places he travelled? What was he doing along the way?
Wendland always felt the industry was lacking something to help children understand the trucking industry; something that might even get them excited enough that they’d want to be a trucker too.
But today, the Tommys World Entertainment (TWE) president and CEO is looking to change all that.
The genesis of Wendland’s ambitious project started in 1998, after he penned a children’s book which chronicled what longhaul drivers do when they’re away from home. The book became a best-seller in the industry and it got Wendland thinking. What if he could create an entertainment company specifically geared towards children with parents in the trucking industry?
“We want to achieve the leading children’s entertainment company in the world that features big rigs as its content. Just like The Incredibles and Jimmy Neutron, we want to be a brand; a property,” he said.
It’s now seven years later and Wendland’s dream is beginning to take shape. The company’s Web site (www.mytommysworld.com) was the first step in building TWE’s image. It’s currently serving as the launch pad for future products and services. In September, TWE announced the release of its first product to the trucking industry, a 12-track CD entitled “Tommy Tunes (Volume One): Geared Up & Hammered Down!” The CD was a first for the industry: a compilation of trucking songs written just for kids. Track titles include: Yardstick 309, Bridging the Gap, Trucks Go Everywhere and Girls Drive Big Rigs Too!
Though at this point TWE only offers the Web site and CD, the company is poised to explode with merchandising over the next year.
In the works is a large scale interactive Web site with over 60 features on it, including one feature called Tommy Tracker, where children can track their parent’s whereabouts when they’re on the road. Based on those whereabouts, the child can also watch a video describing what part of the country their parent is in.
“We’re giving the parent and child the ability to interact,” Wendland said.
Other features on the site include original TWE Web Toons, NitelyNews with animated anchors, a ‘How Trucks Work’ feature, weather, interactive games and daily storytime.
In addition to the Web site, an animated DVD series entitled “The Adventures of Tommy Truck” is in the works, starring characters like Mexico Joe, Flatbed Fred and Dump Truck Willy, as well as the children who drive them (Yes, in the series, the kids are the truck drivers). At present, TWE has animators from as far as Japan and South Africa working on the series, some former employees of animation giants like Disney and Pixar.
“That’s the quality of what we have. We don’t want to give them anything cheesey. We want to give them top-notch quality entertainment,” Wendland said.
The first installment of the DVD series is slated to be out next summer. After the initial release date, TWE’s goal is to have a new cartoon come out every month.
Promotional vehicles include an agreement with Gund (one of the world’s largest stuffed toy manufacturers) to make products for the Tommys World line. TWE is also in talks with the Fox Kids Network, the WB network, different satellite radio networks and Kraft foods for other promotional deals.
One of the main driving forces behind Wendland’s ambitious project is providing kids with more information on trucking. He thinks many children’s career choices are influenced by the media, prompting them to seek out occupations like movie stars, doctors and lawyers. He hopes that TWE will help change the way that children look at the vital but oft-misunderstood industry.
“We’re trying to change the image of the industry to where trucks are cool again. People will respect truck drivers. They’ll see the truckers life with Tommys World and they can relate more to truckers, what they do and how they make this country move on 18 wheels.”
But more important than improving the image kids have about the industry, Wendland said he hopes Tommys World will serve as a tool to bridge the gap between children and their parents in the trucking industry.
“Nobody thinks about these kids,” he said. “I remember that feeling these kids get and I figured there must be some other kids who felt the same way. We want people to look at what we’re doing and say, ‘This company really puts their heart into what they do. They’re not just in it to make money off truck drivers.'”