Volume 4, No. 9
Features 18 Tinkering with Today’s Connected Kids by Nancy Lombardi
20 Monster Factory: The
Hottest Unknown Property
by Nancy Lombardi
22 The Magic of Bubbles by Laurie Leahey
26 Manufacturers Gear Youth Electronics Offerings to Today’s PriceConscious Consumers
by Chris Adams
28 Ride-Ons Keep Rolling by Paul Narula by Paul Narula
Product Presentation by Paul Narula
: Mary Meyer
by Paul Narula
Observations & Opinions
32 Playsets: Product Presentation
Hot Wheels Battle Force 5
Merchandise Makers: SmartLab
Industry Forum: TIF
Industry Forum: TIA
Calendar of Events
ON THIS PAGE (CLOCKWISE FROM THE TOP): Digital Blue’s LEGO MP3 Player, Fisher-Price’s Grow with Me Trike, and Imperial’s Care Bears Bubble Belly
ON THE COVER: The large photo is Fisher-Price’s Bubble Mower. Additional photos, top to bottom, are Little Tikes’ Cozy Coupe, Colin from Monster Factory, and Smith & Tinker’s Nanovor. COVER BY DESIGN EDGE
OBSERVATIONS & OPINIONS
FOLLOW THE OPPORTUNITY BOB GLASER
ummertime in the toy industry brings with it the same laments every year. Manufacturers always claim that toy sales are down and won’t ever come back—regardless of the state of the economy. Of course it is never true, yet at the same time, it is completely understandable that a bit of panic sets in. The reason there seems to be decreased toy shopping every summer is because kids are away at camp, on vacation, or simply playing outside. Yet, predictably, every year the sales return as the kids head back to school. We all know that back to school kicks off the buying season for many consumers, which is followed by Halloween, and then culminates with the holiday-shopping season. This year’s back-to-school season is being watched very closely as a barometer of what will happen during the holidays in terms of consumer spending for kids and families. There will certainly be a lot to choose from this holiday season to spur on consumer spending. It all seems to have started with the summer movies, which have been a big success. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen produced incredible box-office results in just five days. This excitement will carry forward when the DVD version of the film is released, which will continue to drive sales of the movie-related product. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra received positive pre-opening buzz. As of press time the movie had not yet opened. However, if this movie performs as expected, it should drive customers into toy stores as well. This holiday season also brings The Princess and the Frog and the release of Toy Story 3-D. As I’ve written in this space before, our current economic climate lends itself to many opportunities. You never know when or where this opportunity may present itself but the important thing is to seize the opportunity when it is presented. A major opportunity is underway for the toy industry as Wal-Mart cuts back on toy SKUs. Wal-Mart is not only cutting back on total toy SKUs but it is focusing on 3–5 year olds as its core toy target. Wal-Mart has left the door open for other toy retailers to step up and fill the void that it is leaving. These items will need to be placed with other retailers both online and offline—hopefully minus some of the pricing pressures that Wal-Mart imposes. There are certainly lots of children outside the 3–5 year old span and it’s time to seize the opportunity as the shopping season gets underway. BY
4 TOYS & FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT AUGUST 2009
MEDIA • Volume 4, Number 9
PUBLISHER BOB GLASER BOB@ANBMEDIA.COM ASSOCIATE PUBLISHER ANDY KRINNER ANDY@ANBMEDIA.COM ADVERTISING MANAGER AMY LAND AMY@ANBMEDIA.COM CONTROLLER MARY GROGAN MARY@ANBMEDIA.COM EDITOR IN CHIEF JIM SILVER JIM@ANBMEDIA.COM EDITORIAL DIRECTOR NANCY LOMBARDI NANCY@ANBMEDIA.COM MANAGING EDITOR CHRIS ADAMS CHRISA@ANBMEDIA.COM EDITOR AT LARGE CHRISTOPHER BYRNE CHRISB@ANBMEDIA.COM ASSISTANT EDITORS LAURIE LEAHEY; LAURIE@ANBMEDIA.COM PAUL NARULA; PAUL@ANBMEDIA.COM WEB MASTER ERIK KIECKHAFER ERIK@ANBMEDIA.COM WEB CONTENT MANAGER BRENDAN SANABRIA BRENDAN@ANBMEDIA.COM CONTRIBUTORS ADRIENNE CITRIN; AMANDA MCDORMAN; MATT NUCCIO, MATT@DESIGNEDGE.NET HONG KONG REPRESENTATIVE TONY LEE SMART REGENT PRODUCTIONS LTD., 66–72 STANLEY STREET, ROOM 603, KAI TAK COMMERCIAL BUILDING, CENTRAL HONG KONG PHONE: 2815 0166 • FAX: 2815 6911 • SREGENT@NETVIGATOR.COM PUBLIC RELATIONS REPRESENTATIVE JOSSLYNNE WELCH LITZKY PUBLIC RELATIONS, 320 SINATRA DRIVE, HOBOKEN, N.J. 07030 (201) 222–9118 EXT. 13 • JWELCH@LITZKYPR.COM INTERESTED IN A SUBSCRIPTION? CONTACT SUBSCRIPTIONS@ANBMEDIA.COM ANB MEDIA, INC. 229 WEST 28TH STREET, SUITE 401, NEW YORK, N.Y. 10001 PHONE: (646) 763–8710 • FAX: (646) 763–8727 TOYS & FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT and SPECIALTY EMPORIUM are published monthly by aNb Media, Inc. Copyright 2009 aNb Media, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or
transmitted in any form, or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording,
or any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. Printed in the U.S.A. TOYS & FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT and SPECIALTY EMPORIUM are registered trade-
marks of aNb Media, Inc. Opinions and comments expressed in this publication by editors, contributing writers, or solicited or unsolicited documents are not necessarily those of management.
EXTRACT, COMBINE & FIGHT ONLINE!
FIGURE ASSORTMENT STARTER KIT
computer not included.
UNLOCK A WORLD OF COMBAT & CREATION! Xtractaurs™ takes web-enabled play to the next level. Collect Xtractaurs™ figures, then use the Starter Kit to extract their "DNA" and create powerful hybrids online at www.XTRACTAURS.com! Send them into battle against the evil Megavores™ and save the world from destruction! In stores Fall 2009. Contact your Mattel representative for more information. © 2009 Mattel, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
SIZZLERS: WHAT ’S MOVING OFF STORE SHELVES? WHAT ARE THE HOTTEST WEB ORDERS? Here is an alphabetical listing of the hottest-selling items in the toy industry, based on a combined survey of both offline and online retailers, reflecting the previous month’s sales.
RAINFOREST MELODIES AND LIGHTS DELUXE GYM Fisher-Price
BAKUGAN TRAP ASSORTMENT Spin Master CRAYOLA SIDEWALK CHALK Crayola
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen Bumblebee Voice Mixer
FISHER-PRICE POWER WHEELS BARBIE PRINCESS LIL’ QUAD Fisher-Price
Fisher-Price Power Wheels Barbie Princess Lil’ Quad
LEGO STAR WARS ASSORTMENT LEGO
STEP2 WATERWHEEL ACTIVITY PLAY TABLE Step2 TAG LeapFrog TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN BUMBLEBEE VOICE MIXER Hasbro
LEGO STAR WARS THE COMPLETE SAGA FOR WII Traveller’s Tales/TT Games
TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN FIGURE ASSORTMENT Hasbro
MARIO KART WII WITH WII WHEEL Nintendo
6 TOYS & FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT AUGUST 2009
STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS FIGURES Hasbro
This is an alphabetical listing of the hottest-selling items in the specialty segment of the toy industry, based on a survey of independent toy and gift retailers,
SPECIALTY SIZZLERS: WHAT ’S MOVING OFF STORE SHELVES IN THE SPECIALTY MARKET? reflecting the previous month’s sales.
BALANCE BIKE Skuut
LEMONADE STAND Alex Toys
BANANAGRAMS Bananagrams Lemonade Stand
DOINK-IT DARTS Marky Sparky Bananagrams
FROGS Wild Creations HEXBUG Innovation First ICE CREAM PARLOR Melissa & Doug
MAX LIQUIDATOR ELIMINATOR Prime Time Toys PLASMACAR PlaSmart SNAP CAPS: THE ORIGINAL
Max Liquidator Eliminator
BOTTLE CAP NECKLACE M3 Girl Designs
AUGUST 2009 TOYS & FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT 7
A RECAP OF LICENSING SHOW HASBRO-DISCOVERY APPOINTS LOESCH AS CEO
Hasbro, Inc., and Discovery Communications announced that Margaret Loesch has been named president and CEO of the companies’ multi-platform joint venture. The yet-to-be-named network is expected to premiere in the fall of 2010 on what is currently Discovery Kids channel. Loesch will assume her new position on August 17, based in Los Angeles. Her experience includes the launch and international expansion of Fox Kids Network, the creation of the U.S. Hallmark Channel, leadership of Marvel Comics’ film production arm, Marvel Productions, and the cofounding of family media company, The Hatchery. Announced this past April, the joint venture network and the venture’s online component will feature content from Hasbro’s portfolio of entertainment and educational properties, including original programming for animation, game shows, and liveaction series and specials. The TV network and online presence also will include content from Discovery’s extensive library of children’s educational programming.
TIA TO SUBMIT ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDATIONS TO CPSC
A task force of testing experts that was organized under the auspices of the Toy Industry Association, Inc., (TIA) in February 2009 is continuing its efforts to develop standardized testing protocols to assist with implementation of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA). Slated to become a standing subcommittee of TIA’s Safety Standards and Technical Committee, the Laboratory Testing Technical Working Group represents many of the nation’s leading product testing laboratories. Its consensus recommendations on issues such as component parts and representative production sample testing will be submitted to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in an effort to resolve variations in testing methodologies that have become apparent since the Act was approved nearly one year ago. The TIA Working Group is currently developing recommendations for component testing of toys and other children’s products. Though component testing for lead under the third-party requirements of CPSIA is currently not permitted by the CPSC, it is a long-standing practice of testing laboratories. The group is also developing a standardized protocol for composite testing for lead substrates and materials. Future work will address heavy metals, flammability, projectiles, magnets, rattles, and other emerging priorities.
MATTEL, PARAMOUNT TO PRODUCE MAX STEEL FEATURE FILM
It has been widely reported that Paramount Pictures is teaming up with Joe Roth to executive produce a film based on Mattel’s action figure, Max Steel. Mattel introduced the character in the U.S. in 1999 as an action figure, and soon after in an animated series that ran from 2000–2002. Variety is reporting that both Mattel and Roth are seeking a screenwriter and director, who will work closely with Mattel to develop the film’s characters and storyline to match the company’s plans for the franchise.
LYNN PRESSMAN PASSES AWAY
Lynn Pressman Raymond, who passed away on July 22, 2009, at the age of 97, will be remembered by the employees of Pressman Toy Corporation, where she served as president for more than 20 years, after succeeding her husband, Jack, the founder of the company. At a time when few women entered the ranks of executives, Lynn ran the toy company in her own flamboyant and one-of-a-kind style. She was known for her lavish parties and Mr. John hats, as well as her business acumen.
8 TOYS & FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT AUGUST 2009
CELEBRATING 10 YEARS OF HAPPY! A FLOOD OF FANS • Most watched Kids cartoon ever • Over 72 million monthly viewers • #1 animated program on all of TV 8 years in a row, among K2-11 and 6-11* *Nielsen: 7/17/99-12/31/08
NICK’S BIGGEST CELEBRATION EVER • $100 million in marketing and promotions including: - Ultimate Fansite: www.spongebob.com (January) - Three major TV events (April, July, November) - Two QSRs (April, November) - SpongeBob Documentary (July) - Global Day of Happiness celebrating SpongeBob’s 10th Anniversary (July) • All new product lines, ﬁrst-ever co-brands, innovative partnerships and re-imagined art styles • National sweepstakes promotion on over 15 million products
For International licensing information contact:
For US licensing and retail information contact:
Jill Tully VP, International Consumer Products Jill.Tully@nick.com
Shaun Turner VP, Retail Development Shaun.Turner@nick.com
Kristi Wasmer VP, Retail Development Kristi.Wasmer@nick.com
©2009 Viacom International Inc. All Rights Reserved. SpongeBob SquarePants created by Stephen Hillenburg.
4/22/09 5:46:19 PM
MATTEL BY LAURIE LEAHEY
ot Wheels have been a staple in every boy’s toy box since the brand’s introduction in 1968. The brand’s 40th anniversary last year proved Hot Wheels’ staying power among boys. During those 40 years, the die-cast cars have gone through numerous transformations and iterations in order to bring boys the coolest cars in scales from miniature to full-size. This month the Hot Wheels brand gets another upgrade with its first-ever 3-D CGI-animated TV series, Hot Wheels Battle Force 5. Debuting in the U.S. August 29 on Cartoon Network’s Saturday morning lineup, Battle Force 5 transports boys into a fantasy world of crash-and-bash vehicular combat. Featuring CGI animation by Nelvana and Nerd Corps Entertainment, the show follows the Battle Force 5, an elite team of teen drivers with five ultra-fast and battleready vehicles. The team’s members include Vert Wheeler, Stanford Isaac Rhodes IV, Zoom Takazumi, Sherman Cortez, Spinner Cortez, and Agura Ibaden. Their mission is to defend Earth from the robotic armies of The Sark and the barbaric Vandals. The turbo-charged teens must work together using their armored battle machines to defeat these galactic predators. The action of the show extends beyond TV screens and into boys’ hands with a full line of vehicles and action figures from Mattel, which owns the Hot Wheels brand. Mattel has signed numerous licensing partners for a full line of complementary Battle Force 5 products, including everything from apparel and roleVert Wheeler from Hot Wheels Battle Force 5 play to publishing and video games. Promotional partners, including McDonald’s and Royal Caribbean International, have also been signed for the property. Details for these promotional agreements were not available at press time. From backpacks by Accessory Innovations and sportswear by Children’s Apparel Network to electronic learning aids by Oregon Scientific and graphic novels from Del Rey/Random House, the Battle Force 5 licensing program encompasses every aspect of a boy’s life, allowing them to recreate the show’s exciting adventures in a variety of ways.
10 TOYS & FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT AUGUST 2009
• Vert Wheeler’s vehicle is Saber. Stanford Isaac Rhodes IV’s vehicle is Reverb. Zoom Takazumi’s vehicle is Chopper. Sherman and Spinner Cortez share their vehicle, Buster Tank. Agura Ibaden’s vehicle is the Tangler ATV. • In 1969, an original animated show called Hot Wheels aired for one year.
• Battle Force 5 will debut on Canada’s Teletoon network on Sunday, September 6.
• The first season of Battle Force 5 includes 26 22-minute episodes.
Activision Publishing, Inc., will bring the heart-pounding, adrenaline-rushing excitement of Hot Wheels Battle Force 5 to Wii and Nintendo DS platforms, giving kids an entirely new way to experience the action of the television show. Gamers can choose to be members of the Battle Force 5 team or the showâ€™s evil team villains, The Sark and The Vandals. The game will be available in November.
Freeze will offer a line of Tshirts featuring the cars, heroes, and villains from Battle Force 5.
Dynacraft will help boys race like their favorite Battle Force 5 characters with the Hot Wheels Battle Force 5 Bike. The bike features images and colors from the show.
Mattel will release a variety of Hot Wheels Battle Force 5 vehicles, action figures, and track assortments. The characters from the show come to life in both vehicle and action figure form with the Battle Force 5 1:24-scale vehicles and figures. In addition to having hero, Vandal, and Sark Legion team action figures, each vehicle transforms into either race or battle mode and contains firing projectiles. The vehicles and figures are for ages 5 and up.
CREATIVE DESIGNS INTERNATIONAL
Boys of all ages can recreate their own Hot Wheels Battle Force 5 adventures with a line of toys from Creative Designs International (CDI), a division of Jakks Pacific, including Battle Communicator walkie-talkies (shown), complete with phrases from the show; Battle Armor Dress Up Sets; Battle Launcher gloves, featuring a disk-launching gauntlet with lights and sounds; and the signature Battle Visor of Vert Wheeler, featuring a light projector, recordings of favorite phrases of Vert Wheeler, and a voice-amplified microphone. CDI products will be available fall 2010.
AUGUST 2009 TOYS & FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT 11
BEYOND BOOKS BY
or many children, science is just With its roots in a publishing company, it’s another subject at school that not hard to see that SmartLab puts a great deal generates extra homework. While of effort into its books. “Each book is really a multiple science-based toys and stand-alone product all by itself,” says Tibbs. kits exist, there is a precarious The books are meant both to educate and balance between creating a fun toy and an guide children as they play with SmartLab’s educational product that every company has products. The books in the SmartLab line are to be wary of. SmartLab, however, takes a written by experts in the particular science straightforward route and produces a line of field that the product deals with, and suggest products that can often be considered two sep- experiments for children to conduct, including arate products in one: a book and a science kit. instructions and illustrations, as well as the The company’s tag line on its catalogs reads, reasons and science behind why each experi“Where toys and books collide!” and ment acts as it does. ArtLab books guide chilSmartLab intends to dren through various art make sure that at the projects, using the included heart of the collision is a kit to help them put on a fun experience for kids. fashion show, draw horses, SmartLab is a diviand more. sion of becker&meyer, a However, the toy part of publishing company that the SmartLab package is focuses on adult and not neglected either. juvenile nonfiction. The SmartLab knows that a toy company originally prohas to be able to hold a duced a number of scichild’s attention as well or ence and art kits for better than the included Scholastic before decidwritten materials. “We’ve ing to go into the busifound that sometimes chilness themselves. “We dren will go to the toy and You Explore it: The Human Body took the concepts we’d kit first, and then come been working on and transformed them into back to the book,” says Tibbs. SmartLab’s kits the SmartLab brand,” says Aaron Tibbs, vice- are tested to make sure that every aspect of the president of sales at SmartLab. The first product works and passes safety standards. SmartLab product hit the market roughly five On top of that, the projects are designed to years ago and the company has continued to stay away from a classroom-type experience expand the brand. Since its inception, and focus more on being a fun toy that just SmartLab has also created the ArtLab brand, happens to have an educational aspect. The which is a more arts-and-crafts- oriented ver- toy appeals to children, and the book appeals sion of the SmartLab product. to parents. “It’s a substantial toy, with a sub-
12 TOYS & FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT AUGUST 2009
stantial book, for a great price,” says Tibbs. In fact, most SmartLab kits are sold at $19.99. ArtLab kits can be higher for extra materials. The main goal of both ArtLab and SmartLab products is to give kids a sense of satisfaction and achievement when they complete a project. “Both brands are about creating clever, fun, and empowering products,” says Tibbs. For SmartLab, this means that the experiments in the kit have to be challenging enough to be fun to do, but not frustrating. For ArtLab, this means that the company provides the necessary tools to complete complex art projects, which could be anything from a light table to a poseable model. “There’s always a piece in the kit that helps a child reach success, as well as the book that helps them get started,” says Tibbs. SmartLab knows that today, science and education are a large part of what’s on parents’ minds. Reports about the quality of science education in the U.S. have parents looking for ways to get children interested. “There’s a big push right now for science, and that resonates with retailers and consumers,” says Tibbs. SmartLab is reformatting and re-launching its SmartLab challenge line to create a more educational line of products. Upcoming science products also include kits that will appeal to girls, such as the All Natural Spa Lab coming up in September. The company will also continue to expand on popular kits and will continue to grow its ArtLab brand, with products available in Barnes & Noble, Borders, and toy and gift stores around the country. As long as the company can keep bringing books and toys together, SmartLab hopes to keep customers coming to their products.
Play Heals: Toy Industry Helps Make Play Possible for Ronald McDonald House Residents BY
AMANDA MCDORMAN, MANAGER, TOY INDUSTRY FOUNDATION
o help spread the joy of play to all children, the Toy Industry Foundation (TIF) recently hosted a summer luau for young cancer patients and their families who are now staying at the Ronald McDonald House of New York. A hula hoop contest, beach crafts, tropical refreshments, and a toy distribution led by TIF and Toy Industry Association (TIA) staff helped the kids forget about their worries and spend some time enjoying the healing power of play. “At Ronald McDonald Houses, children form friendships, regain a sense of control, and experience the fun of childhood,” says Jean Butler, TIF’s executive director. “Some of these children reside in a house for years while they undergo treatment. Toys and play can make things seem more normal when everything else in their lives is turned upside down.” Donations from toy manufacturers, retailers, and others across the Ronald McDonald House residents in New York, along with their friends and families, enjoyed a recent luau. There were a industry allow Ronald McDonald Houses to focus their resources on the hula hoop contest, beach crafts, and tropical refreshments, most critical, day-to-day needs of the children in their care—needs such as and each child selected a new toy of their own. transportation to and from treatment centers and the extensive overhead of housing families with the rapidly rising cost of living. “Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) is thrilled to work with the Toy Industry Foundation to provide children with the opportunity to learn, grow, and have fun,” says Marty Coyne, RMHC president and CEO. “The importance of play in a child’s life is immeasurable and, together with TIF, we will continue to support all aspects of a child’s health and well-being.” Supported by grant funding from TIF and supplied by donations from the foundation’s Toy Bank, the Play Heals program allows the almost 100 Ronald McDonald Houses across North America to request boxes of toys free of charge to put smiles on the faces of sick children and their families. To ensure an adequate toy supply, TIF manages year-round toy drives with Toy Bank partner Gifts In Kind International; donations are used in everything from special occasions to welcome baskets to playrooms at individual chapters. “We are grateful to our donors Funrise, Inc., Spin Master, Ltd., Just Jump It, and Oriental Trading Company for giving so generously to the luau,” says Marisa Randall, TIF’s coordinator who manages the Toy Bank. In appreciation of our industry’s commitment to bring joy and comfort to children in need, the TIF will be honored later this summer at the Ronald McDonald House Charities International Conference in Chicago. The Play Heals program will be showcased as a resource to help further strengthen the Ronald McDonald House Charities network and directly improve the health and well being of children around the world. The Toy Industry Foundation is your foundation. Thank you for your help in making play possible.
To find out how you can participate in this partnership, or for more information, log on to www.toyindustryfoundation.org, call (646) 520–4878, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
14 TOYS & FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT AUGUST 2009
Hong Kong Pocket Vendor Guide 2010 Edition
MEDIA, in conjunction with the TIA, will publish a stand-alone pocket guide of manufacturers that have showrooms and/or hotel space in Hong Kong in EARLY 2010. THE HONG KONG VENDOR POCKET GUIDE will be mailed to TOYS & FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT’s subscribers in the December issue. In addition, it will be distributed in Hong Kong at hotels, showrooms, and other non-convention center venues coinciding with/in anticipation of the Hong Kong Toys & Games Fair. The take-along guide (at 4-inches wide x 8.5-inches high) will offer a number of options to direct buyers to your Hong Kong location and deliver your brand’s message. ❏ Place an ad in the December issue of TOYS & FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT and run an additional ad in the POCKET GUIDE for only $2,500.
❏ A full-page ad in THE POCKET GUIDE is $3,500 for TIA members. The non-TIA-member rate is $5,000.
❏ A bold listing is $700. The bold listing will be free with an ad in THE POCKET GUIDE. ❏ A basic company listing is free.
Please note: If you don’t fill this out accurately and in its entirety we can’t guarantee the accuracy of your listing. EVEN IF YOU WERE INCLUDED IN THE GUIDE LAST YEAR YOU MUST FILL OUT THIS FORM AND RETURN IT.
Company Headquarters’ Address (include street address, city, state, zip):
Company Contact Person:
Contact Person’s Phone Number: Contact Person’s Email:
HONG KONG LOCATION FOR JANUARY 2010:
Hong Kong Contact Person:
Hong Kong Contact Person’s Phone Number:
Hong Kong Email (only if different from above):
To be included you must FAX this back to (646) 763–8727 by September 15, 2009. Attn: Hong Kong Listing
Or EMAIL: Nancy Lombardi at nancy@aNbMedia.com; (646) 763–8722; or FOR ADS CONTACT BOB GLASER at bob@aNbMedia.com; (646) 763–8720.
When Virtual and Real Worlds Collide: Promoting Engagement and Creating Excitement in the Youth Entertainment Arena BY
ADRIENNE CITRIN, SENIOR MANAGER OF PUBLIC RELATIONS, TOY INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION
ne of the top toy trends for 2009 is “engagement”—both in the online and offline worlds. For many toy brands, virtual worlds are becoming the goto strategy for extending brand recognition. This fundamental change in how children relate to and interact with their entertainment choices has not gone unnoticed by the Toy Industry Association (TIA). Acknowledging the close relationship between toymakers and the online world, TIA and Show Initiative LLC recently announced that Engage! Expo (previously Virtual World Expo) will co-locate with the 107th American International Toy Fair at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City in February 2010. This dramatic move is recognition that the stream of commerce generated by online worlds is indeed substantial—and, in fact, was one of the bright spots of 2008 as well as into 2009. Sales of web-connected toys for the 12-month period ending April 2009 were $446.3 million, according to the NPD Group. “In just the past year, [virtual gaming] realized a three point increase among kids ages 4–14, now 30 percent of kids in this age group engage in this type of activity on computers,” says Anita Frazier, industry analyst for toys and video games at the NPD Group. Today’s kids are growing up with technology, and in many cases they are surpassing their parents in terms of familiarity and finesse with high-tech products. A recent poll of kids ages 8–14 indicates that more than a third of them regularly use the inter-
16 TOYS & FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT AUGUST 2009
net to share pictures and emails with relatives, get movie listings, and send and receive party invitations. It’s no wonder that savvy youth entertainment companies are using a variety of digital tools and social media and web-connected toys and games to further enhance young consumers’ interaction with their brands. Mattel, Hasbro, and Disney have recently added executive divisions with dedicated professionals who oversee the strategic development of virtual worlds and web-connected products. The play patterns are heavily focused on community, creating avatars, playing games, collecting, and challenges. The ability to reach young consumers on and offline is also being explored by video and online gaming companies. Many of these enterprises already have virtual worlds but are inking licensing deals for toys and other products to bolster share of day, screen time, and wallet. What’s clear is that companies that create products to appeal to digitally native kids must continually evolve their offerings, tapping into kids’ desires and natural play patterns while also creating new digital challenges that meld fantasy with core brand identity. “Every toy company should be considering an online component of their brand to engage audiences,” says Christopher Sherman, executive director of Show Initiative LLC. “Merging toys with new technology solutions creates a powerful range of opportunities.” One of those opportunities, of course, is next year’s merger of Toy Fair with
Engage! Expo. Marian Bossard, TIA vicepresident of meetings and events, is excited at the possibilities. “Toy Fair exhibitors are constantly introducing new ways to engage children,” she says. “The Engage! Expo conference will expose Toy Fair exhibitors and attendees to best practices, current trends, and effective strategies behind the most successful online brand extensions. These conversations will be of tremendous interest and value to our audience.” Engage! Expo 2010 will feature demonstrations of the latest tools, technologies, products, and services being used in virtual worlds, the immersive web, and interactive entertainment; conference programs will also deliver insights into new monetization strategies, proven ways to strengthen customer relationships, and essential marketing solutions to maximize reach. “Bringing both Toy Fair and Engage! Expo under one roof will make it easier for our shared audiences to capitalize on the digital media concepts and programming presented at both events,” says Bossard. “We look forward to welcoming a highly connected and engaged audience to New York next February.”
Toy Fair will be held February 14–17; Engage!
Expo will overlap for the last two days (February 16–17). All Engage! Expo attendees
will receive access to the show floor at Toy Fair
and all Toy Fair attendees will gain entry to the
Engage! show floor. TIA members that exhibit at Toy Fair are entitled to half-price registration
discounts for the Engage! conference program. For more information visit toyassociation.org.
“iHobby Expo is a great showpiece
for the hobby industry and I feel it is worth my while traveling from Ireland to attend.” —Mark Cuffe, Mark’s Models, Dublin, Ireland
“This was my first trade show. I’m impressed and glad I came.”
Over Dose Racing & Technologies Palco Sports Panache Place, Inc Parma International Paul K Guillow —Bob Kampe, Island Train and Hobby, Pegasus Hobbies Phoenix Toys & Novelties Venice, Florida Plastruct Inc Guangzhou Walkera Technology Co Ltd Premier Kites & Design Exhibitors Include: ProDesign Model Production Hangzhou Lin’an AA Portable Power Pro-Line Beyonder Power Co. Ltd Academy of Model Aeronautics Proxxon/Prox-Tech Inc Haoye Limited Accor Hospitality/Motel 6 Puzzled Inc Hape Int’l Acela/Northeast Corridor Layout Quayside Publishing Group (MBI) Happytime R/C Hobby Distributors Acrylicos Vallejo S.L. R/C Car Magazine Hawk Model Co Ltd Aeromax Inc Race Track Heimburger House Publishing Airborne Models Racemasters, Inc/AFX Himoto Racing Airfix/Humbrol RailCam/HobbyCam by ATS Hitec RCD USA, LLC Alpha Precision Abrasives Railway Productions Hobby Manufacturers Association Al’s Hobby Shop RAM Models Inc. Hobby Merchandiser aNb Media RC-HOME/Prostar Batteries Inc. Hobbycraft Canada AristoCraft Trains/Polk’s Hobby Red Cat Racing HobbyTown USA Auto World REH Distributing Hobbytyme b2b Replicas Replicarz Hobzob Bachmann Trains Hong Kong Trade Development Council RJ Speed Big Squid RC Robotis Horizon Hobby Inc Blu Track Rotory Modeler Magazine Hornby America Bob Smith Industries Inc SCX Imex Model Co Burfitt Tools Australia Ship Chandler Independent Highrailers Midwest Caboose Industries Siriani & Associates Isolde Industries Carrera of America Skywide (HK) Ltd Iwata-Medea Inc Castle Creations Inc Smart Energy Joe’s Brick Depot Chicagoland Hobby SoundTraxx/Blackstone Models Kalmbach Publishing Co China Toy Association Stevens International KATO USA Inc CIS-Associates, LLC Sullivan Products Kenosha Garden Railroad Society CMW Holdings/Classic Metal Works KL Corporation Cobra RC Toys Kookle Gifts Common Sense RC LGB Model Railroad Club of Chicago Daron Worldwide Trading Lionel Trains Delta of North America M.T.H. Electric Trains Desire Power Co Ltd Magnum Enterprises DHS Diecast Maplegate Media Group Donegan Optical Company Inc Marklin, Inc. Du-Bro Products Maxx Products Int’l LLC DX Energy, Science & Technology Merit International Ltd Co. LTD Merlin Glow Plugs Inc EDS Racing Products Micro-Trains Line Co Eduard Model Accessories Midwest Products Co Electronic Model Systems Minichamps North America Inc Empire Hobby, LLC Minicraft Models Enerland Co Ltd MMD Squadron Evergreen Scale Models Mobil Aviation Historical Exhibits Excel Hobby Blade Corp Model Builders Supply Four Pi Inc Model Power Fun Lines Model Rectifier Corporation Games Workshop Model Shipways/Model Expo Garrett Metal Detectors Moebius Models Gayla Industries Inc Nine Eagles GCLaser North International Exhibition Co Ltd Golden Bell Press North International Exhibition Co Ltd Good L Corp Northwest Trainmasters HO Modular Great Planes Model Dist. Railroad Club Green Light LLC Novak Electronics, Inc Grex Airbrush
Sun Star Die-Cast America Inc Sun Trade Ltd Sunrich Toys & Hobby Sunward Aerospace Tekin, Inc The Car Room Magazine The Coachyard/Thinfilm The Desktop Cash Register The Testor Corporation Think Omnimedia LLC (Xtreme R/C Cars Magazine) Thunder Power RC Thunder Tech Racing Tiny Brite Lights, LLC TM Books & Video Topsoaring New Technology Co Ltd Toymine International Inc Traplet Dist Traxxas Tri-Technical Systems Trossen Robotics Trumpeter Models Tru-Square Metal Products Tyler Retail Systems Inc Venture Crew 57 Club—Baden Powell Modular Railroad Club Venture Hobbies Williams by Bachmann Wingtote LLC Wm K Walthers Woodland Scenics World’s Greatest Hobby on Tour Xtreme Racing Xuron Corporation Zona Tool Co
“ The Hobby University Seminars , and especially the one
on ‘The Bottom Line’, was extremely valuable to a new retailer.” —Carrie Green, the Clover Leaf, Union Gap, WA
October 22 and 23 — Trade October 24 and 25 — Trade & Consumer Donald E. Stephens Convention Center Rosemont (Chicago) IL See over 350 displays of “NEW”radio control, model railroad, plastics & die cast, toy, and general hobby products. Source products for children and adults of all ages and skill levels. Attend valuable educational seminars to help you increase sales Network with your industry peers Meet future hobby enthusiasts—over 15,800 in 2008
To secure your preferred exhibit Space, email boothsales@iHobbyExpo.com
To receive attendee registration information call
DESKTOP CASH REGISTER BLUE E P 77C 17M 0Y 24K
877-To-Hobby or visit
B231 iHobby ad aNb August? 2009 due 7/1/09
7/13/09 3:13 PM
T ODAY ’S CONNECTED KIDS
he latest craze in the toy industry are toys that have a web component. Many have tried this strategy over the past few years but very few have made an impact. The reason seems to be that “traditional” toy companies attempt to build a site around a new toy or existing property. The online experience is then not rich enough to last. However, that is about to change as newcomer Smith & Tinker improves upon this strategy by devising what it calls “connected toys and entertainment.” It is focusing on content first by launching its own IP this month called Nanovor targeting boys ages 7–12. The group is led by Jordan Weisman of WizKids, among many other achievements. He is founder and CEO of Smith & Tinker. The company is a mix of “traditional” toy industry veterans from companies such as Disney, Cranium, and Hasbro with those from Microsoft, RealNetworks, THQ, and Hidden City Games. And, of course, a host of venture capitalists are thrown in for good measure. The group, which presented Nanovor to aNb Media last month, is a technology company that’s integrating toys into its web game. This makes a distinct point of difference in this evolving genre. We are “harnessing the power of the internet with refreshed content and making sure it’s pushed into an offline play experience,” says Joe Lawandus, president of Smith & Tinker. “That’s the gap the traditional offerings from the toy industry have yet to bridge. Nanovor is the marriage of online and offline play that’s a lot more integrated than what we have seen from the competition.” Nanovor sets itself apart from many other toy properties on the web by creating a rich backstory for boys. Smith & Tinker has created 50-plus, two-minute animated episodes hosted by Lucas Nelson, a Hanover High School student, who accidently discovers Nanovor living inside his computer. BY
18 TOYS & FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT AUGUST 2009
The backstory starts like this: “Nanovor are tiny nanoscopic monsters that lived on the still-molten Earth, long before any other species could survive. As the Earth cooled and the atmosphere became oxygen-rich, the silicone-based Nanovor went into hibernation for millions of years. In the 1960s, when the first silicon semiconductors were created, the Nanovor were awakened. Forty years later, high school student Lucas discovers the Nanovor inside his computer. Lucas discovers that the Nanovor must fight to stay alive and soon a new sport is born.” And, of course, a new game and toy line is also born. The site, Nanovor.com, launches this month. Kids will be able to get acquainted with the property through the webisodes and a free download of the game, which allows up to four kids to battle online. Kids will also have the option to chat in two forms. There is “canned chat,” which is predetermined text, designed for the younger kids, and “open chat” so older kids have more freedom with their conversations. However, the freedom only goes so far. “The ‘open chat’ does have very sophisticated filtering so there will be no bad language and kids can’t give out phone numbers or addresses,” says Charles Merrin, senior vice-president of marketing. Additionally there are parental controls for those who want to customize their child’s experience. To gain a deeper experience on the site, kids will need Nanocash, which can be purchased on the site or as a pre-paid gift card at retail. This will allow kids to purchase things online such as booster packs and additional components that enhance play. The next step at retail are figures, which are sold with a code linking kids back to the site. “Just like a collectible card game, these are blind at purchase,” says Lawandus. “Kids get a code for a digital representation of that figure and they get the resources necessary to evolve that Nanovor.”
Nanovor.com launches this month from Smith & Tinker. The company is devising what it calls connected toys and entertainment. Complementary products launch at retail this fall.
On October 1, the Nanoscope will be available at retail. This handheld device allows kids to battle their creatures by linking their devices in person. Kids can also connect the device to their computer via USB to upload and download information integrating the online and offline play experience as one. The MSRP for the Nanoscope is $49.99 and will be sold at Target, Toys “R” Us, and Best Buy. Smith & Tinker has a multi-faceted plan to draw kids to Nanovor.com. It includes a “broad-based campaign that will target game sites that kids already visit,” says Merrin. “We will create a browser-based version of the game to act as a teaser game. When they win in those games they will get codes to unlock things on our site when they register.” Additionally, social media sites such as Facebook and YouTube will allow kids to watch the episodic content. Traditional TV ads will promote the online game and the Nanoscope in the fall, according to Merrin. What sets this property apart is the richness of the site, the webisodes, and the Nanovor characters. Of course the toys act as a complement to the online play. As toys that have a web component continue to evolve, those that find success will have to focus on content first and toys second because there is no fooling today’s connected generation.
20 F in T B C rting ” o p p 009. u 2 S n t i n F eve CBT A g n M i I t r ly L ppo u “On S t n eve A M I yL
DREAMS AND PROMISE GALA honoring DREAMS AND PROMISE GALA honoring
Ronnen Harary, Chairman & CEO Anton Rabie, President & CEO Ronnen Harary, Chairman & CEO Ben Varadi, Executive Vice President Anton Rabie, President & CEO Spin Master Ltd. Ben Varadi, Executive Vice President Jonathan Finlay, M.D. Spin Master Ltd.
Director, Neural Tumors Program—Childrens Hospital Los Angeles Professor of Pediatrics—Keck School of Medicine, Jonathan Finlay, M.D. University of Southern California
Director, Neural Tumors Program—Childrens Hospital Los Angeles Professor of Pediatrics—Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California
Thursday, October 22, 2009 Beverly Hills Hotel Thursday, October 22, 2009 Melina Beverly HillsKanikaredes Hotel
Monster Factory: The Hottest Unknown Property s each holiday season rolls around, the inevitable question that’s posed to anyone who works in the toy industry is, “What’s the hot toy?” Usually the answer comes from one of the top manufacturers. So when yahoo.com ran a piece last holiday listing the latest and greatest and an item called Monster Factory was displayed prominently along with items from Hasbro, it took many by surprise. What is Monster Factory? Monster Factory began as a class project for three art students in Canada. Rhya Tamasauskas, Bliss Man, and Adam Dunn developed an extensive range of unique characters, each with a very distinct personality and specific “quirks” that anyone can relate to. For example, Philip has trouble getting out of bed in the morning and has been known to stretch the truth. Otis frequently loses his house keys. Each of the characters are described on monsterfactory.net. The then-students took their hand-sewn plush project to local craft fairs. The characters were a hit, which lead to more craft fairs and then a website with PayPal capability. Monster Factory then took on a life of its own on the web. Yet, it’s quite a leap from class project to craft fair to getting recognized on yahoo.com by millions. A story like this is a marketing department’s ultimate fantasy. After all, we know just how much time and energy marketing teams put into getting recognized on holiday lists because the pay-off at retail can be huge. And the pay-off is expected to be huge for Monster Factory. After the yahoo.com listing, a handful of people in the toy industry sat up and took notice. In less than one year’s time Monster Factory has signed The Licensing Shop (TLS) to act as its agent, representing Monster Factory for licensing and entertainment. TLS, also a new venture, is run by Holly Rawlinson, who was most recently at Pokémon, and Nancy Fowler,
20 TOYS & FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT AUGUST 2009
who was most recently at DIC Entertainment, along with Fowler’s husband, Steve Fowler. Rawlinson saw the yahoo.com piece and, along with Fowler, immediately got the ball rolling with a phone call to the company. The duo devised a plan for Monster Factory that, most importantly, allowed the creators to retain ownership and creative control. “They had been approached by many companies but it all meant they had to give up ownership,” says Rawlinson. “We wanted to make sure they retained control but at the same time we’d find them the best partners.” TLS devised a plan that rolls the product out into two separate tiers of the specialty market— the independent toy and gift stores and specialty chains such as Urban Outfitters. From there the next step is a roll-out into the mass market in the next 18 months. TLS is currently evaluating licensees for publishing and apparel. Moderati has been signed as the mobile licensee. GP Toys has been signed to initially create designer-style plush in two sizes, five inch and nine inch, which is expected to be in specialty stores this fall. The follow-up to the plush for fall 2010 or spring 2011 is expected to be vinyl figures. The target age for the property is 9–14. GP Toys’ Karl Aaronian, executive vicepresident of marketing, explains that these are compelling characters and “there are about 150 of them, which is amazing,” he says. “Usually there is a handful and you have to figure out how to stretch it. There is a rich backstory for each character so this feels fresh and different.” Wildbrain is in pre-production on shorts that will air online starting in September. “We see this as a Freaks and Geeks meets The Muppet Show,” says Bob Higgins, executive vice-president of development and production, Wildbrain. Monster Factory “feels very much like a developmental parallel for adolescence. We have all gone through our own ‘Monster Factory.’ It’s
GP Toys has been signed for Monster Factory plush. Each character has a distinct personality. Colin, on the left, divides his time between playing video games and fretting about his future. Todd puts undue pressure on himself and it makes him walk too fast.
that time when you are 12–14 and everything is horrible, awkward, and weird,” he says. “We want to let these characters be the embodiment of all that in a relatable space to today’s kids.” And relatable space to today’s kids comes in the form of Wildbrain web shorts, which are being funded by Lenz Entertainment. The Monster Factory characters will take the form of puppets that will interact with humans much the way they did in Monster Factory’s Chupa Chups online ads (visit chupachuck.com). All involved expect the Wildbrain/Lenz shorts to lead to a network TV series. “We are having the Monster Factory characters interact with people, which is new for us,” says Jack Lenz, president of Lenz Entertainment. “Normally our puppets have their own worlds and we simulate the idea of a real-life environment.” Certainly the marketplace is poised for something new. As the recession drags on the story at retail continues to be classic properties. The classics have seen incredible success this summer with Transformers and Harry Potter. Barbie is in the midst of a 50th anniversary celebration. This falls brings the 40th anniversary of Sesame Street. Peanuts is gearing up for a 60th anniversary in 2010, while Thomas & Friends will celebrate 65 years. There is no doubt that everyone in the industry benefits in countless ways from the success of enduring brands. Yet it was fun to see a newcomer with fresh ideas at this year’s Licensing Show, where Monster Factory made its official industry debut.
BY LAURIE LEAHEY
ig or small, one at a time or in a flurry, bubbles fasci- Thompson, senior vice-president of marketing, Imperial. “The nate people of all ages. Through bubble toys, making devices are where the innovation happens.” (and popping) bubbles is easy and fun to do. Babies Licensing has become a force in the bubble toys category, allowlove the surprise of bubbles floating out of a bubble ing a simple way for a bubble toy to stand out on shelf. However, not blower. Older kids can blow their own bubbles and just any license will do. A Twilight-branded bubble toy will probably chase them around outside. With certain bubble toys, kids can even not sell as well as a Dora the Explorer bubble toy because the core hold a bubble in their palm of their hand! demographic for bubble toys is not Twilight Bubbles and bubble toys have certainly fans, for example. “Seventy percent of bubcome a long way since being nothing more ble toys are sold for kids younger than 5 than a byproduct of cleaning back in the years old,” says Jim Engle, president of 19th century. From bubble solutions to bubLittle Kids, which works with Nickelodeon ble wands to electronic bubble machines, properties for some of its bubble toys. “Any the bubble toys category continues to find preschool license tends to do better.” new ways to evolve. “In the past, innovation What also helps keep bubble toys fresh is was lacking in this category, but that is going back to the classics and updating them where we have been able to succeed,” says for today’s bubble blowers. Fisher-Price’s Kathy Hawk, director of marketing at Bubble Mower launched in 1985 and still Funrise, maker of Gazillion Bubbles bubble continues to be a big seller for the company. solution and toys. “It’s no longer about a The classic roleplay pattern of mowing the bottle of solution and a wand, although that lawn just like mom or dad is still there, but is still a very popular way to enjoy bubbles. the mower now has contemporary stylings, It’s also about creating a complete play envias well as convenient features that make the ronment that involves bubbles.” mower easier to refill with bubble solution. It might seem strange to have the words Speaking of bubble solution, while most “bubbles” and “innovation” in the same senmanufacturers are creating new bubble The Fisher-Price Bubble Mower has been around since tence. There’s not much that can be changed 1985. Fisher-Price continues to update the mower to devices, David Erck, principle at Extreme about a bubble, including its shape remain fresh and relevant to today’s kids and parents. Bubbles, focuses on creating better versions of (although Steve Spangler Science’s Square the company’s beeboo Big Bubble mix. “It’s Bubble Maker might prove that wrong). fun to see all the iterations with the bubble toys This is why most of the innovation in bubble toys takes place in the but the bottom line is, people are still using the bubble solution,” he says. mechanisms used to make bubbles. This can be seen in the way bub- Not yet available for sale, Extreme Bubbles’ newest bubble mix makes bles are made or blown, such as with Little Kids’ NASCAR Bubble bubbles that last six minutes or longer, in ideal weather conditions. Racers. With the press of a button, the free-rolling vehicles blow conWeathering the Weather tinuous bubbles as they move and even when not moving. Weather plays a big role in the bubble toys category. It not only Imperial Toy’s Strawberry Shortcake Bubble Tea Set looks like a classic tea party playset, but the tea cups turn into bubble wands. affects when people play with bubbles, but it can also affect the “Bubbles are a really unusual category because the product isn’t sold sales of bubble toys. While summertime is the peak bubble-playing season, it is not the in the package. The bubble itself isn’t in the package,” says Tim
22 TOYS & FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT AUGUST 2009
peak bubble sales time. Retailers begin selling bubble products in the spring, with Easter being a huge sales opportunity, and by the Fourth of July consumers are hard-pressed to find bubble toys on store shelves. Most bubble manufacturers deem this selling period too early and not long enough. While Easter is generally a great time to sell bubble products because consumers are looking for toys to put in Easter baskets and the nicer weather puts people in the mood for outdoor activities, an early Easter—say, in March—doesn’t really rake in the sales. “Easter was really early in 2008 and the economy was just starting to hit the rocks a little bit,” says Little Kids’ Engle. “And the weather last year… [across] so much of the country there was still snow on the ground, so that tended to have an effect [on sales].” Having a longer selling period throughout the summer would at least give manufacturers a chance to make up on missed sales by giving consumers a chance to find the bubble toys they didn’t buy when it was still winter. But manufacturers understand that taking bubble toys off the shelves mid-summer is what retailers have to do in order to be ready for back-to-school and fall. “We’re in the month of July and bubble toys are hard to find at retail and, yet, there are still several months of prime bubble-playing season across the country and consumers have virtually no options in buying bubble toys,” says Imperial’s Thompson. “It’s frustrating. [Retailers] have to get ready for back-to-school and it’s their selling calendar, but in terms of consumer buying and consumer play pattern, they’re playing with bubbles now.” Even after summer ends, there are some bubble toys that can be played with inside, especially when inside a classroom. Steve Spangler, CEO/founder of Steve Spangler Science, says that bubbles can be educational. His company looks at bubbles as tools to help kids understand chemistry concepts. “Everybody blows a bubble. Everybody dips a wand into bubble solution and starts it from there,” Spangler says. “We start it very differently because, as a teacher, I can use the fascination of a bubble to teach a tremendous amount of chemistry and I can teach it at a second grade level and [kids] don’t realize how much they’re learning but they’re going to carry that information forever.”
The Other Side of Bubbles
Steve Spangler Science produces a variety of educational, but fun, bubble kits that allow kids to make square bubbles and even hold bubbles in their hands.
Spangler wants kids to understand the science behind making bubble solution, encouraging them to experiment with water, dish soap, and glycerin until they come up with a recipe that works for them. From there, the fun continues as Steve Spangler Science kits show kids how to make square bubbles, bubbles that you can hold in your hand, and bubbles that contain fog. The company is working on a new bouncing bubbles kit. Because bubbles carry such a huge fascination with kids, using bubbles as a starting point to get kids excited about science seems a logical step. “Science education has become an extracurricular activity,” Spangler says. “Parents are realizing that unless we spend more time with our kids, they are losing their ability to wonder and ask questions and discover and explore.” No matter what kind of bubble toy parents buy for their kids, the important thing is that bubble toys are a great way for parents and kids to spend time together. Especially in these economic times, a low-cost toy that everyone in the family can play with for hours will really stand out to consumers. “Bubbles are inexpensive and have a lot of play value,” says Mark Weppner, director of Fisher-Price consumer products. “People are going back to classic and simple things. They just want the magic of bubbles.”
AUGUST 2009 TOYS & FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT 23
BY LAURIE LEAHEY
Whether innovating the device used for making bubbles, the bubble solution, or the bubble itself, bubble toys manufacturers continue to look for new ways to make the classic play of bubbles fresh and fun for consumers.
Steve Spangler Science
The Boo Bubbles Kit allows kids to generate dry ice-filled bubbles and bounce the bubbles in the palm of their hands. Just fill the bubble generator with dry ice and warm water, dip the rubber tubing in bubble solution, and make ghostly bubbles. Then, put on the cotton gloves and bounce the bubbles in the palm of your hand. The kit includes a plastic jar with lid, a pair of cotton gloves (one size fits most), a nineounce plastic cup, rubber tubing, a threaded nozzle, and a bottle of dish soap. The kit is designed to help kids understand the concepts of surface tension, gasses, and more in a fun way. Boo Bubbles is for ages 8 and up.
24 TOYS & FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT AUGUST 2009
With Funrise’s Amazing Gazillion Bubble Rocket, pour Gazillion Bubble solution into the tray of the launch pad, place the rocket on the launcher, and stomp on the stomp pad to launch the bubble rocket into the sky. The rocket will leave a trail of bubbles behind. The kit comes with a rocket, a launcher, a stomp pad, and eight ounces of Gazillion solution. No batteries are required.
Fisher-Price’s Mega Bubble Kit can be used in the backyard or at the beach. It comes with two animal-shaped wands, a dipping tray with a built-in bubble solution holder, and a four-ounce bottle of safe, nontoxic bubble solution. It is for ages 3 and up. The Fisher-Price Bubble Mower (shown) features an allnew one-touch refill system that keeps bubbles blowing. The refill system also features a bigger bubble dispenser for less fill-ups—and a one-press, no-mess refill. It features all-terrain tires for tougher traction on grass and other surfaces. Bubble solution is included. The Bubble Mower is for ages 2 and up.
The Bubble Thing wand is a flexible fabric loop supported by a tubular handle. Close the loop, dip it in a bucket of soap suds, raise it up, and bubble. Bubble Thing Big Bubble Mix comes with the wand. Kids can create bubbles up to 50 feet long. (The Bubble Thing was created by David Stein, a former Guinness Record soap bubble champion.) For every two Bubble Things sold, the company donates money to plant a tree near the village of Tiruvannamalai, India via a non-profit called Trees for the Future.
With Little Kids’ No-Spill Bubble Blitzers, kids can blow nonstop bubbles—up to 3,000 a minute. Just pour in the bubble solution, replace the plug, and blow bubbles. The Bubble Blitzers feature Dora the Explorer, Go Diego Go (shown), and The Backyardigans.
Imperial’s Strawberry Shortcake Bubble Tea Set is a 14-piece set with service for four combined with the magic of bubbles. The teacups and teaspoons feature bubble wands. Use the saucer as the dipping tray and pour bubbles with the teapot. The set includes an eight-ounce bottle of scented bubble solution.
The beeboo Big Bubble Family Pack comes with one beeboo Big Bubble Pro Wand, one small beeboo Bubble Starter Wand, and four bottles of beeboo Big Bubble Mix. Mix 14 cups of ordinary tap water with one 16-ounce bottle of concentrate to make one gallon of the beeboo Big Bubble Solution. Each Pro Wand is constructed using two 30-inch wooden handles and a section of super absorbent cotton cloth. The kit is for ages 6 and up.
AUGUST 2009 TOYS & FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT 25
Manufacturers Gear Youth Electronics Offerings to Today’s Price-Conscious Consumers BY
s the weak economy and low levels of consumer Sakar’s vice-president of licensing. “That all trickles down to the confidence affect every avenue of trade, manufac- manufacturer. We are more focused than ever on our product mix, turers are adjusting their products and lineups to but we remain optimistic.” deal with this reality. Within the youth electronics While older kids certainly are using adult consumer electronmarket, which consists of kid versions of adult con- ics items and the prices on adult consumer electronics have crept sumer electronics items, many manufacturers have scaled back down, the products still aren’t in the price window that today’s their offerings, while all manufacturers are keeping an eye on even- youth electronics category mandates. Plus, youth electronics more-crucial price points. items also have the advantage of being geared toward the younger The goal in creating a youth electronics product in 2009 is not users. The products are designed to be easy to include as many features as possible into it— to use, durable, and aesthetically pleasprice be darned—but to take a look at what a ing for kids. In addition, youth elecchild wants and needs the product to do and tronics products have passed the designing around that framework. more rigorous safety testing “We have to be conscious of price points,” required of kids’ products. says Mike Sullivan, senior marketing manager The interfaces that youth elecfor preschool at Fisher-Price. “[A few years tronics items use are also a key difago] products were rapidly approaching $100 ferentiating factor that makes them and beyond, but that is very difficult right now. more kid friendly. Vtech’s Kidizoom Because you need to hit certain price points, not Plus has expanded on the original camputting every feature under the sun in these things is era’s editing applications by including silly something we’re conscious of.” Sakar’s new LeapFrog-branded digital camera frames and stamps, funny faces and kaleiAn example of this would be Vtech’s openingdoscope effects. Sakar’s cameras all come price-point version of its Kidizoom camera, at $39, with individualized proprietary software that holds fewer photos and doesn’t have video capabilities. that helps kids create a personalized, interactive experience. Many “Price point plays a significant factor in this category,” says of Digital Blue’s items include an editing suite that helps immerse Julie Gibbons Van Matre, vice-president of marketing at Digital kids in a particular brand. Blue. “We are always working with our factories to cut costs so Licensing does play a high-profile role in this category. Both that we can deliver a better margin to our retailers and ultimate- Sakar and Digital Blue have successfully leveraged a plethora of ly a great price to our consumers.” brands for their youth electronics products. Licensing helps attract Consumers are still purchasing youth electronic items, but kids to these products, while today’s parents are more comfortable they are certainly taking a closer look at the array of products sit- with allowing their children to own electronics items than past generting on store shelves before making the purchase decision. As ations of parents. In fact, technological savvy is viewed today as a retailers are maintaining lean operations by cutting back on the necessity rather than something to keep kids away from. space allotted to any one category, they are making sure that they “Parents’ mindsets are changing from fearing electronics as have the right product mix. ‘evil’ for their young children to realizing that their child needs “I think the pinch is coming more from retailers who have to compete in the world,” says Sakar’s Abrams. “If electronics are been challenged to work with smaller sections, less inventory, not a part of their life, they will be behind other kids both profesand less margin for error in what they select,” says Liza Abrams, sionally and socially.”
26 TOYS & FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT AUGUST 2009
In addition to the LeapFrog-licensed digital camera (shown), Sakar plans on introducing an extensive Nickelodeonlicensed youth electronics line this fall. The line will encompass approximately 35 items, including an iCarly camcorder that allows children to create their own web show.
The Disney Netpal by ASUS is a netbook computer for children that utilizes an easy-to-use web interface and includes kid-friendly software featuring Disney characters. Browsers and email have extra filters to assure parents are able to control online safety and content for their children.
Hasbro is expanding on its I-Dog line with the introduction of the I-Dog Plush Puppy. Also on the way are I-Dog Designer (an IDog girls can decorate and customize) and I-Dog Amp’d (featuring sleek new graphics and stereo sound).
Vtech updates its kids’ digital camera with the introduction of Kidizoom Digital Camera Plus. This camera can store 2,000 photos or five minutes of digital video with its 512 MB memory. A lower-priced Kidizoom is also available that can hold 400 photos with its 64 MB memory.
Tech2Go’s Barbie iHome charges and plays docking iPods. Its Reson8 speaker is designed to give music clarity, power, and depth.
Fisher-Price’s My Toon TV allows children to turn themselves into a cartoon character and then perform on TV alongside their own character. In addition, Fisher-Price plans to expand on its Kid Tough line in 2010.
The Little Tikes My Real Digital Camera is a waterproof camera that can take pictures under water or on terra firma. It includes a USB cable, TV cable, microphone, speaker, flash, SD card slot, 4X digital zoom, and 1.3 megapixel resolution.
Music for Little People
Music for Little People’s BeBoP line includes the Carry-a-Tune MP3 Player. It features 1 GB of memory and comes preloaded with one hour of music and audio books. It features a built-in speaker and a built-in volume limiter with the highest volume being 80 dB.
AUGUST 2009 TOYS & FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT 27
RIDE-ONS KEEP ROLLING
hether it’s a bicycle, a scaled-down car, or the classic play pattern and design of the original model, updated to be bouncing caterpillar, almost every child has more appealing to the modern consumer. The 30th anniversary designs had some experience with the ride-on catego- of the Cozy Coupe include the Ride & Rescue Cozy Coupe, the Princess ry. Ride-ons are a classic part of Cozy Coupe, and the Tikes Patrol 30th Anniversary edition. childhood that parents rememRazor, the company that helped bring the scooter into the ber fondly and that children still enjoy. Today, the modern world once again, has also continued to innovate options available to children when it comes to riding with new takes on classic products. The Razor RipRider toys are quite exhaustive and go from the simple 360 takes the basic design of a tricycle and expands on it scooter to more complex and innovative toys, by giving the vehicle the ability to do 360-degree turns each with its own unique appeal. and the Razor Sparks Scooter adds the ability to trigger Ride-on vehicles are appealing for children in sparks to the scooter play pattern. In addition to the new a number of ways. They often act as aspirational takes on classic play patterns, these products were creattoys for younger children. “They see older chiled by children. “One of the reasons we are successful is dren riding bikes and scooters and they want to not just innovation and fun, but because we stay close to be able to mimic what older children are doing,” our target audience,” says Razor’s Mahoney. says Rosanne Kubisty, marketing director for Little Tikes’ Cozy Coupe celebrates its One of the problems that faces the ride-on market, 30th anniversary this year. Little Tikes. Some ride-ons, such as Fisherespecially when it comes to products for younger children, Price’s Power Wheels line, further that aspiration is that a ride-on toy can quickly be rendered useless when with products that resemble adult motor vehicles, such as the upcoming a child begins to grow up and can no longer fit their favorite ride-on. A Harley Davidson Rocker and Stinger XS. Younger children get to feel number of companies have moved forward to help fix that problem, cremore independent and in control, while their parents know they are actu- ating products that are designed to grow with a child and stay at their size ally safe. In addition, there is generally little to no learning curve until they are ready to move on. “Most of our ride-ons are designed to involved in playing with a ride-on toy. Most are foot-to-floor powered. grow with baby, extending the life of the toy,” says Frederico Brigatti, Parents find ride-on toys to be a handy way of getting children out marketing product manager at Chicco. Not only does this mean that chilof the house in an age where indoor entertainment often outdoes the dren can keep their favorite toys, but it keeps parents from having to appeal of playing outside. “There’s a new and constant concern about repurchase similar products. “If it is safe and guaranteed fun for a long childhood obesity, so parents want to get kids outdoors and having fun time, that communicates good value to parents,” says Chris Pardi, viceand getting fit,” says Katherine Mahoney, vice-president of marketing president of marketing for Fisher-Price. The upcoming Fisher-Price at Razor. Ride-ons can also help a child develop new physical skills and Grow With Me Trike follows this design by including adjustable seats the mental process necessary to navigate a ride-on. Parents also have a and removable pedal blocks to keep the product growing with the child. strong sense of nostalgia when it comes to ride-ons and want to give As a traditional play pattern, ride-ons will continue to be a part of the their children the same experiences they enjoyed when they were toy category for a long time to come. “Ride-on toys are successful simyounger, with the same or, at the very least, similar products. ply because parents see them as a need in a child’s life,” says Blessly Like any category that has had a long life in the toy industry, ride-ons Thomas, marketing coordinator at Radio Flyer. But no ride-on company change with the times. This year, the Little Tikes Cozy Coupe celebrates is resting on the strength of the category to keep it going. Innovation and its 30th year as a part of the ride-on category. However, Little Tikes has- fun remain the key drivers behind new products every year from many n’t sold the exact same product for 30 years without change. The Cozy of the companies that produce ride-on products. “Four million kids turn Coupe has been released in new models, with new styling, all featuring 5 every year,” says Mahoney. “That’s a predictable marketplace for us.”
28 TOYS & FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT AUGUST 2009
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Whether pedal-powered, foot-to-floor, or battery-powered, ride-ons are toys that almost every child has enjoyed. From bikes and trikes to trains and cars, the variety of products and opportunities for innovation continue to expand each year. Here are some of the newest ride-on products from a number of manufacturers.
Little Tikes has a wide variety of new ride-ons. The Bumble Bee Buggy (shown) features four caster wheels for easy movement and a working horn. The company will also add a School Bus, Fire Truck, and Horse to its Rock â€™n Scoot line. The Little Tikes Hop & Scoot ATV is propelled forward when a child bounces on the seat. Little Tikes is also celebrating the 30th anniversary of its Cozy Coupe with a new 30th Anniversary Special Edition with new features, such as an ignition switch, gas cap, handle for adult push rides, removable floor, and more.
Fisher-Price will be introducing a line of Grow With Me Trikes (shown). These trikes are designed to grow with children and will continue to fit them as they get older until they are ready for more advanced ride-ons. The Grow With Me Trikes will feature adjustable seats and removable pedal blocks, as well as other adjustable features. Fisher-Price is also adding the Ni Hao, Kai-Lan brand to its Lights & Sounds line of trikes. These new trikes will feature characters and imagery from the Ni Hao, KaiLan animated series, as well as sounds and voices from the show, with coordinated lights and other features.
Razorâ€™s new Rip Rider 360 (shown) is a new take on the classic three-wheeler ride-on. The Rip Rider features two dual-inclined casters on the back rather than wheels, which allow for resistance-free drifting and spinning action that can let the ride-on turn a full 360 degrees. It features a steel frame and fork for durability and longevity, as well as rubber grips. Also new from Razor is the Spark Scooter. Riders can simply press down on the sparking bar at the back of the scooter after installing a refillable spark cartridge and unleash bright sparks that will leave a trail as they ride. Both the Spark Scooter and the Rip Rider 360 come from concepts originally introduced by kids.
30 TOYS & FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT AUGUST 2009
New Star Wholesale
PlaSmart’s PlasmaCar is powered by a child’s back and forth motion, rather than using pedals or pushing. It can be driven on any smooth surface and has a rugged, durable design. The vehicle is available in red, black, blue, yellow, and more.
New Star Wholesale’s Scooby-Doo Express features characters from the Scooby-Doo brand. The train can move in four directions—forward, reverse, left, and right. It can carry up to 45 pounds and requires four AA batteries (not included).
Amav’s new Dominator ride-on is designed with safety in mind. The Dominator comes with a remote control that allows parents to stop the car automatically at any time. The Dominator also stops working whenever it gets out of range of the remote. The vehicle also has a back-up power supply that can provide an extra five minutes of driving time to get home. The Dominator has two forward speeds and a reverse option.
Radio Flyer’s new Inchworm moves forward as children bounce up and down in the saddle on the center of the ride-on. The heart-shaped handle and friendly face are designed to be welcoming to young children.
AUGUST 2009 TOYS & FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT 31
The great outdoors is a wonderful place to play, but sometimes today’s children need more. Outdoor playsets can help guide, expand, or support a child’s play. Here’s a look at some of the upcoming and popular playsets from a variety of manufacturers.
The Mega Bouncer playset from Fisher-Price is a 7 x 7 foot jumper for multiple kids to play in while outdoors. The Mega Bouncer includes a blower motor with a 35-foot cord for constant air support, as well as a hook-and-loop fastened mesh door for safe jumping. The playset also comes with a vinyl carrying case, and is designed to deflate to a compact size for ideal portable play. The set also includes its own repair kit.
Pacific Play Tents
The new Picnic ‘n Play Playhouse from Little Tikes is a playhouse and climber combo. It can be set up in a variety of different configurations that allow for multiple types of play. The set includes a fold-down table for lunch inside the playhouse or outside on the patio. It has a working Dutch door and indoor light, as well as a climbing wall and slide. The light requires two AA batteries (not included).
32 TOYS & FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT AUGUST 2009
The Fire Station House Tent is a new addition to the Pacific Play Tents lineup. The tent is designed to look like a red brick firehouse and features two roll-up windows and two extra large roll-up fire doors for easy access and extra ventilation. There are mesh ventilation panels at the top of the tent for airflow and easy visibility. The tent features a tunnel port that allows this tent to connect with other Pacific Play Tent products. The included poles are color-coded to allow for easy assembly.
Step2â€™s Sports Bouncer can support up to three children (or 300 pounds) for a variety of sports games. The inflatable playset is outfitted with a basketball hoop, air tee, and football goalposts. Children can play baseball, basketball, football, and more on the inflatable surface and can take the exit slide off the playset when they are finished. Side walls are blown up to ensure safety and soft landings. The playset includes a blower, repair kit, and ground stakes.
Big Backyardâ€™s Savannah Playhouse is designed to give children a classic playhouse feel. The Savannah has a shingled roof (pre-assembled) with vaulted gables, made of real wood. The door to the playhouse is a two-piece traditional Dutch door with a window on the upper half. The vinyl windows include movable wooden shutters, as well as flowerboxes. The house is topped by a cupola with a working rooster weather vane.
The ZinkoTek construction system allows children to create their own customized playset outside. The basic parts of the construction system are made of recyclable EVA foam. The 276-piece ZinkoTek set can be used to make a number of structures or figures. While the basic house construction has instructions available online, kids can customize the structure further to their own desires, adding features to make lemonade stands, pretend stores, clubhouses, and more.
AUGUST 2009 TOYS & FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT 33
From the park to the schoolyard to the backyard, swings can be considered a ubiquitous part of childhood. Ranging from sprawling and complicated sets with multiple play patterns to sturdy sets that feature just the swings, swingsets provide children with another outdoor thrill. Here are some popular swingsets from a few manufacturers. Kettler
Kettler’s Deluxe Multi-Play Swing Set is built with a high carbon steel frame. This frame supports two board swings, which are suspended using adjustable ropes and galvanized safety J-hooks. The rope used is a 10mm safety rope, which is protected from split fibers, UV deterioration, and has limited extensibility. The set includes ground anchors for setting in concrete to prevent tilting. It also has an open station for use with any of Kettler’s swing accessory items.
Big Backyard’s Lexington play system features two belt swings, held up via chains, as well as a one or two child Big Backyard Glide Ride swing. In addition to these swings, the Lexington also has a tube slide with five windows and a high rail wave slide. On the back of the Lexington is a rock wall/access ladder combo for climbing play. There is also a sandbox beneath the multiple play decks. There is a family play pavilion that has a movable picnic table and a cupola with a working weathervane.
The Little Tikes Swing Along Castle (shown) is a slide/swing combination, designed to look like a castle. The durable plastic swingset includes a 360-degree swiveling telescope and an easy climbing rock wall for beginners. There is also a steering wheel to help foster imaginative play. The slide is designed with a gentle slope for soft landings and the swing has a threepoint safety belt to keep kids safe as they swing. Little Tikes will also be adding to its Endless Adventures line with the new Little Tikes Clubhouse Swing Set. This swingset/slide combination features a challenging rope ladder, a climbing wall, steering wheel, and two cozy swings with mounting hardware.
34 TOYS & FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT AUGUST 2009
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FROM PINCUSHION TO PLUSH BY
n today’s world, a woman starting her own company is nothing unusual. But in 1933, when Mary Meyer first started the company that still bears her name, it was an unusual development, not least for being a business that was launched during the Great Depression. Using skills developed while studying clothing design, Meyer began to design and manufacture tomato- and animal-shaped pincushions, as well as small cloth dolls. Her husband, Hans Meyer, went on the road, selling the small company’s products. As the company’s sales grew, the Meyers moved themselves and their business out to Vermont, expanding its product line to include plush toys. The first of the Meyer sons, Walter, joined the company in the 1950s. Others followed and, for 76 years, Mary Meyer has remained a family-owned plush manufacturer. Now, in 2009, Mary Meyer continues to hold true to the principles that Mary and Hans Meyer set down early in the company’s history. “We are committed to making quality product,” says Linda Colson, vice-president of sales at Mary Meyer. Mary Meyer toys aren’t designed to sit on the shelves. The Meyer family often takes prototypes of toys home to their own children and grandchildren, bringing their feedback to the company to aid in the design process. The company focuses on traditional plush, as well as puppets and soft toys. In addition, Mary Meyer has started a baby line that continues to do well. While the company continues to value its
36 TOYS & FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT AUGUST 2009
heritage, that doesn’t mean that Mary Meyer doesn’t innovate in the plush category. Plush is a popular and large category, with a number of competitors, and the company doesn’t shy away from introducing plush with a twist that stays within its core philosophy. “We aren’t going to go the route of a product such as Webkinz,” says Colson. Instead, Mary Meyer introduces plush with a twist that can expand the audience. The company has developed a new line of plush called “It’s A Girl’s World,”
a line that is specifically targeted toward tween girls. The line features horses, unicorns, and other girl-oriented plush, packaged with fashion accessories and bonuses to appeal to girls and collectors. “By taking plush and twisting it, by stepping outside the box a little, we can make something that’s still soft, still plush, but just different enough so that it’s not just another stuffed animal,” says Colson. Perhaps the biggest “plush with a twist” product line that Mary Meyer has developed is Earthmates. Earthmates is the company’s eco-
friendly line that has a three-pronged approach to eco-friendly plush that defines three different Earthmates product lines. The Organic line features plush made entirely from certifiably organic cotton cloth and stuffing. Earthmates also encompasses Mary Meyer’s Bamboo line, which features plush made from bamboo, which is an easily sustainable resource. Finally, Mary Meyer’s Earthmates line includes recycled plush, dubbed “Fuzz That Wuzz.” The outer shell and stuffing of these products are made entirely from recycled plastic bottles. Each toy is made up of roughly 10 recycled bottles. “There is a lot of competition, and products like Earthmates are how we separate ourselves from the crowd.” Having been in the plush business for more than 70 years, Mary Meyer knows that the category can be cyclical; the category has had its ups and downs. “The strength of Mary Meyer is that we’ve seen the cycle,” says Colson. “We know, no matter what happens, the category is always going to come back.” Because of that knowledge, Mary Meyer continues to innovate and move forward with new developments in its category. The company will continue to expand its baby catalog. In addition, the company will continue to bolster its Earthmates line with new products. For 76 years and two generations, Mary Meyer has stuck to the principles laid out by its founders and has no intention of changing that aspect of the company. “We’re about the things that all toy companies should be about,” says Colson. “We’re about kids.”
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Your excess product can put smiles on faces! Poverty is a disaster that happens every day, but K.I.D.S. brings hope to 4.5 million children and their families every year. Donating your excess apparel, shoes, toys, books and juvenile products can provide your company with a generous tax deduction and replace despair with dignity. Fill out the donation form online at www.KIDSdonations.org or call 1-800-266-3314.
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6/18/09 2:24:14 PM
Toys & Family Entertainment is a monthly magazine showcasing the hottest trends in the toy and family entertainment business.
Published on Aug 3, 2009
Toys & Family Entertainment is a monthly magazine showcasing the hottest trends in the toy and family entertainment business.