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Welcome Idioms and idiouts No. 219 Autumn/Winter 2021 Editor Robert Hutchins firstname.lastname@example.org
Sales Manager Tony Patman email@example.com
Designer Paul Forster firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow us @toynews online
Like ‘mustn’t grumble’ and ‘not too bad’, I’m convinced that ‘Christmas will be interesting this year’ is fast falling into the dictionary of collective national idioms to perfectly summarise the festive mood this time around. Syllabically, it fits perfectly should the toy industry be interested in delivering a pastiche on the Band Aid ‘Do they know it’s Christmas?’; an ensemble cast of toy industry personalities singing their hearts out for the benefit of foreign aid, with proceeds going to efforts to keep ports across China open and running throughout the winter. Call on Michael Acton Smith to reprise his role as the industry’s Bob Geldof (it was definitely the jacket), and Christmas will indeed be very interesting this year. So once again, the tale of Christmas 2021 will be told by the consumer. Supporting roles will be played by China’s ongoing shipping woes, the logistical nightmares being encountered on home soil, and the mere matter that customers will be buying something this year - though exactly what that will be, will be the biggest surprise reveal of them all. But it’s a note of optimism that rings through the loudest. Like with the best of our British sayings, we are defined by our stoicism and innate ability to see it all through. We remind ourselves that whatever challenges we face getting those most in demand items in stock this year, shelves will need filling regardless, and with that the opportunity for brands and products that may not have seen much light otherwise, are endless. Coincidentally, opportunity has come knocking in this direction recently, as this fit-to-burst content-packed issue of ToyNews marks the last to be written, curated, and edited by yours truly. Almost one decade later. I’ve always said that you don’t emerge from a global pandemic unchanged, and I’m happy to exemplify the proverb. Of all the lessons the toy industry has taught me (who to listen to, who to switch off, and the importance of laughing along with it all) it’s the legacy we provide the next generation that remains the most poignant. It takes optimists with vision to perpetuate real change, and thankfully, the toy industry isn’t short of them. I look forward to continuing my conversations with this business’ real gamechangers when I make my editorial reincarnation very soon. And with that, the metaphorical keys (that’ll be social media passwords, and website account details, I suppose) are handed over as ToyNews awaits its next chapter and I make my final call to the toy industry: Never stop being fascinating, because it makes Christmas very interesting indeed.
Robert Hutchins, Editor Robert.Hutchins@biz-media.co.uk
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ACTION PACT AKEDO PACKS A PUNCH P16
Contents Autumn/Winter 2021 Features
PACKING A PUNCH ToyNews dives head first into the world of Akedo Warriors with Moose Toys and WildBrain
THE DOCTOR'S ORDERS We sit down with Dr Gummer's Good Play Guide to learn the outfits plans for world domination
HOT PROPERTIES toyNews takes a look at some of the most exciting kids' properties and franchises on the scene today
Regulars Opinion 10 Steve Pasierb 12 Sonia Sanchez 13 Steve Reece 14 Gary Pope
Market Data 26 The Insights Family 28 Bambola Toys 31 Geek Retreat Sector Guides 33 The Games and Puzzles scene Back pages 65 Final Word
THE FUTURE OF PLAY Pioneers in the realm of sustainable toys, Dantoy talks ToyNews through its plans for the UK
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DKB Toys: “We’re here to shake up the industry!” From diversity and mental health awareness practices, to introducing better, faster technology into the indies’ ordering process, DKB Toys and Distribution is not holding back on its plans to ‘turn the market on its head.’ ToyNews catches up with MD, Chris Lohmeyer
hris Lohmeyer, MD of DKB Toys and Distribution Limited, is a 29 year old full of energy, passion, and most importantly, big, big ideas for the company that is only now approaching its first anniversary in the UK toy market. From an 18 year old in the police force, to a new career path at Hasbro and a two year stint at MGA Entertainment, Lohmeyer has found himself growing both career and person within the toy industry. He’s not the same as when he first started. He has set his sights higher and ambitions larger, and - having been brought on board to head up DKB by the Canadian owner, Doug Putman those don’t merely settle at “shaking up the UK’s toy distribution industry.”
Chris, let’s see - Covid, supply chain chaos, Brexit fallout - you couldn’t have picked a better year to launch a new company within. Let’s start there. How has navigating all of that been? How are the nerves? It’s been crazy, hasn’t it? You get to a point where, everything you hear, you’re just like, ‘Yeah, it is what it is.’ When you list all of the challenges in the space right now, it’s crazy. You just couldn’t write it. Everything is taking so much longer to process. I set myself a goal to have our website live by the end of May, and it to be transactional by the end of June.
Now, because of the world as it is, and the times we are living in - the website was delayed but successfully went live in September. To be fair, it looks great. But that, for me, is a sign of just how challenging things are right now. All you can do is sit there and say, ‘what the hell is going on?’ Adding to that, the cost of containers has gone up 400 per cent, a terrifying number causing a massive influx of costs across the board, so absolutely - what a year!
No, Lohmeyer is already thinking about expansion for the DKB Toys and Distribution name, and why shouldn’t he be? With the backing of Putman - you’ll recognise that name for having recently bought the Toys R Us Canada brand - behind him, and a freedom to “grow the business in the direction he best sees” there’s little wonder that this is a company oozing with energy. And, following the tumultuous year the toy space has seen, it’s exactly the dose of vitality that it needs.
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We’ve gone right in at the deep end here, but let’s keep swimming! What’s your perspective on the soaring container prices, then? Are you optimistic it will level out? I don’t see how it will - not in the short term. Now that it has gone as high as it has, and people are paying those prices, I don’t think those costs will go back down to what they were before. However, I do hope they come down sooner rather than later. With Alex Global Products - one of the brands in our portfolio - the range for next year is incredible. I should have a lot of stock right now, about ten containers on the water, instead I have got three. That’s for a year one business who just wants to go out and get it! I am all for taking the risks and making sure you try something. If it doesn’t work, you sell it through and you come out the other side. But you just can’t take a risk on a $20,000 container - it’s impossible, that’s your margin gone. It certainly is a challenging landscape right now for the industry, especially the middle-tier guys. The toy industry right now - It’s like every time you turn a corner, there’s something there to knock you down again. You can’t be surprised by anything these days. Saying that though, you learn more from failure than you do from success, so we’re taking it on the chin and powering forward!
I’m glad you said that, because I was starting to worry… In truth, I am absolutely loving it. We have to sit back and actually assess how far we have come in just one year. I was on my own for the first six months, then I bought on James and George. We’ve landed Uncanny Brands from the US, we’re distributing Melissa & Doug, as well as Hasbro products to HMV, with a scope for that to go further out. We’ve opened accounts with Smyths, The Range, Toymaster, and we have the AIS show on soon. So, we’re ready to smash it. It feels like there’s a lot of energy coming from DKB Toys and Distribution, not least in the messaging you launched with that you’re here to ‘shake the UK toy industry up’. What does that look like from your perspective? One of the big things for me is that many companies in the UK, they’re not as forward facing as they need to be now. For instance, why are customers emailing multi-billion dollar companies asking for an open order report? You don’t do that with Amazon, you don’t phone up and ask, ‘when is my stock going to arrive?’. We are at a point now where retailers don’t care if something is ‘on its way to the UK’. They need something that is here now, and they want to know they can get it next week. That’s the space we’re in.
We have big plans for our website, to create a user-friendly, quick and easy ordering system and key for us is always putting customers first. We’re going to be giving customers the information they want and need, and swiftly. So you have a very firm idea of what you want to be offering retailers, from that perspective? Absolutely. There is a type of person and company that we want to be. Take AIS show for example, we will have a no phone policy on our stand, and we are going to be there, in front of the customer. We haven’t got the funding of a large toy company, but we are going to do this with everything that we have got. Key for us is that we will be sure to be present and engaged with everyone. It’s how we want to do things. Well, that’s exciting - there are already big plans afoot then among the team? Even now in just your first year of business? 100 per cent. We are going to succeed in the UK, and once the UK is fully functional, we can start going further afield and build up new bases in new territories. I have such a great backing from Doug and Jesse, the owner and CEO of our Canadian parent company, and I would love to set up DKB in other countries once we have achieved the success in the UK. Doug and Jesse have been bloody awesome the whole way through, they are generally great people to work with. This is Doug Putman, owner of companies such as Sunrise, HMV, Everest in Canada, and who has recently bought Toys R Us Canada. It must be an inspiring place to work with a leadership team with that kind of vision? Every now and then, you get good managers who back you up and help you. That’s what we have in Doug and Jesse. They just want you to go out and get it. You might fall down on the way, but they will pick you up and set you off again. It sounds like the kind of atmosphere to thrive in. Do you see yourself as a toy industry lifer? I am 30 in November and I have to remind myself that I am year one in this business. I could be in this Toy business another 30 or 40 years, and there is no reason that Alex Brands or Crazy Fort couldn’t be $10 million plus brands. So in all honesty, yes, I can see myself being in the toy industry for a very, very long time.
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So, you’re living the dream job? I think I am living it right now in DKB, as I said I would love to venture further afield within DKB and expand into other countries but I have to remember that we’re only a year old on October 16th. Working with an owner managed company versus working with a corporate company, the differences are vast. Wow, so we’ve covered shipping, shaking up the industry, and shaping up your UK and global growth. I had better ask you about the Melissa & Doug partnership before I run out of page space! The whole Melissa & Doug deal is really exciting for us. It brings new customers into DKB and into the DKB portfolio, as they now have access to not only Melissa & Doug, but our whole host of products. Our plan is to have 300 Melissa & Doug lines in the warehouse. We will be a full stockist, with every line available to us, but the top 300 in the warehouse and the other 200 will be ordered to order. We will also have all of the planograms, full bay examples and POS kits available, so if you’re a new customer who wants to deal with Melissa & Doug, come to us. We can do you a one bay range, a two bay range, a three bay range, and put POS all over it. In-store execution is a massive thing for us – so we’re here to help. I’m really excited about the shows in the next couple of weeks, getting in front of people and showing it all off. Because of our courier tie-up through HMV, customers will have the option of receiving deliveries within 48 hours. It’s our dream to have a really big showroom one day to show off all our amazing products year round. Chris, thanks for chatting with us. There’s some keen energy coming from the DKB team, and it’s a drum we have long been beating here at ToyNews. However, I have a word limit to stick to. Let’s ask one last big question: Is the toy industry headed in the right direction? Yes, I think it is. I think we need a bit more diversity and a few more young people to be taken seriously. I know what that looks like, with me being among them. But, there are people who can be very negative on young people in the industry. I started at Hasbro as a young lad and I’ll be the first to admit that at that age you don’t really appreciate the position you’re in. But in time you learn and you grow and you change. More young people need to be given a chance in the toy industry because there are some really great people out here. On the flip side, there are people who think they are too old for a job. That’s nonsense. If you’re genuine and get the job done, people know it and people like it. Autumn/Winter 2021 | toy news | 9
On stranger Yuletides: How shipping is shaping a very different holiday season this year From West Yorkshire to West Philadelpia, the global toy industry is feeling the impact of the continued shipping chaos and container price hikes. In a note to the international community, the Toy Association’s Steve Pasierb calls on unity and communication to best ride it out
rguably, potential upsides and dramatic risks have never been greater for the business of toys, games, and play than they are today. Over the first half of 2021, the global play community saw toy sales rise an impressive 15 per cent over 2020 as families and playful adults continued to seek comfort and entertainment in toys amid the ongoing pandemic. Meanwhile, a storm of disruptions to supply chains worldwide – from holiday ocean shipments to raw
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materials, labour shortages, and trucking among others – are creating severe financial hardships and growing uncertainty as we head into our industry’s critical Q4 selling season. With the situation only expected to worsen and continue well into 2022, the U.S. Toy Association is hard at work to provide members with as many solutions and as much actionable information as possible to keep their businesses moving forward. To help companies stay on top of the latest developments and any potential
solutions in a seemingly stubborn situation, The Toy Association rolled out a new resource center providing a one-stop shop for information. Here, toy professionals can access new U.S. government and port updates, the Association’s topical ondemand business webinars exclusive to our members, and links to additional business tools to help track and plan shipments, as well as information on our ongoing shipping industry advocacy work at federal and international levels.
The Toy Association continues to press elected officials and government agencies to take aggressive action, including a meeting between the Executive Committee of our governing board meeting with the chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) to provide a direct briefing of the damage being caused to toymakers. We also fully support the newly introduced Ocean Shipping Reform Act of 2021, which addresses many of the long-term systemic supply chain and port issues. Our recent letters to the House Transportation Subcommittee and all members of Congress underscore the significant negative impacts of shipping delays, increased costs, and container shortages, and how these disruptions put the entire toy industry’s business operations at risk. While we know our industry’s largest toy manufacturers are year-round shippers with the contracts and bandwidth in place to ensure delivery of their key drivers for holiday, this shipping crisis is deep and dramatic among the hundreds of smalland mid-size companies that utilise the spot market for shipping and which make
up 95 per cent of The Toy Association’s membership. These members are reporting shipping price increases anywhere from 500 to 800 per cent (from USD$3,000 to in some cases USD$24,000+ for a single container with surcharges, if they can even get access to containers or space on ships), and rising costs for cargo and trucking brought on by detention, demurrage, and increases in transit times of 75 days or more. There is also a fear among many that if freight does not start moving, retailer orders may be cancelled, which has a disastrous impact on bottom lines and leaves unsold product to linger after the prime holiday season. What’s made all these factors even more challenging is that they are unfolding against the backdrop of a global pandemic. Buy early is our cry! Now is the time to get the word out to consumers to shop early for the holidays while selection is strong and not to delay in the hopes of finding last-minute deals in an environment that could see a potentially limited selection if not overall supply. We began this communication effort more than a month ago, advocating consumers to
#ShopEarly4Toys. The Vice President of the United States even included the toy industry situation in her trade remarks recently upon arriving in Vietnam. I’d encourage the UK toy and play community together with retail partners to start singing this shop early song long and loud! In the end, we’re all in this together. I know our team is grateful for our excellent collaborative relationships with the British Toy and Hobby Association as well as Toy Industries of Europe. We must keep channels of communication active and open with our fellow associations. What’s more, if we can be of assistance to anyone – manufacturer, distributor, retailer, or association – both with issues here in the U.S. or around the world, our team in Washington, DC stands ready. And we want to help. While our industry likes to speak proudly of our creativity and inventiveness, I would also argue our biggest strengths may indeed be determination and resilience against all odds. Onward! All good wishes for your continued health, safety and a path toward a prosperous close to 2021.
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The elephant in the play room Impact and sustainability expert, Sonia Sánchez and author of the eyeopening whitepaper Changing the World Toy by Toy is here to tell us, that while businesses are beginning to take notice of the all important sustainability issue, the elephant is still sat right in the room By Sonia Sanchez
Today, sustainability is a buzzword in the toy industry. Increasingly, brands commit funds and their best minds to address their environmental impact. They are turning to recycled plastic and cardboard, minimising packaging, reducing GHG emissions and waste, and the first generation of toys to be made from bio-based plastics is now on the shelf. However, there remains an elephant in the room. And it’s a massive one. It’s called volume. Current business models rely heavily on volume. Toy companies need to sell large quantities to reduce production costs and make a decent profit from tight margins. To sell large numbers, firms are doomed to a frantic launch of novelties and promote fast-moving trends. As a result, most Western children own a ludicrous amount of toys (though they essentially stick to just a few of them). This pursuit of volume undermines the efforts to reduce packaging, adopt sustainable materials, and address the carbon footprint. The more units produced, the more GHGs released, limited natural resources consumed and waste generated. We need new business models that decouple profitability from the number of toys sold. Circular business models integrating resale, rental and take-back
schemes can simultaneously address natural resources depletion, carbon footprint and waste. The challenge is gigantic. Circularity implies a radical switch in the consumer's mindset and developing an utterly new infrastructure: sales platforms, the logistics enabling the collection, repairing, distribution and recycling. However, the status quo is on the verge of collapse and is no longer a realistic option for companies aspiring to thrive. On the one hand, the last IPCC report acknowledges that we are immersed in a climate crisis and instils a sense of urgency that will translate into more restrictive regulation and taxes reflecting the environmental impact of products. Circular business models that reduce the input of virgin raw materials and reduce the need for manufacturing new products can protect companies from future cost escalations due to regulation, taxes and scarcity. On the other hand, if toy prices had to reflect higher costs, consumers might move towards buying fewer toys providing more added value (already a rising trend), renting or purchasing pre-owned toys, models growing fast among the younger generations (promptly parents). We can go on ignoring the elephant in the room. But the sooner we engage in an open conversation about volume, the sooner we'll find sustainable options to obsolete business models. Few are better equipped for this challenge than the toy industry; the industry of play, dreams, creativity, imagination, innovation, learning and growing. The sky is the limit.
"The sooner we have open conversations about volume, the quicker we'll find sustainable answers to obsolete business models."
Sonia Sanchez is an impact and sustainability consultant who specialises in the toy industry via her website, sonia-sanchez.com. She is the author of the eye-opening whitepaper Changing the World Toy by Toy which is available to download now.
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When the ships are down: It’s rough seas for now, but the storm will pass For months now, conversation has centered on the ongoing China shipping chaos and the astronomical price hikes of containers, helping shipping companies to see record-smashing financials while retailers prepare for a Christmas of diminished stock levels. But, says Kids Brand Insights, it wont last forever; it’s just another storm for the toy industry to weather By Steve Reece
We in the toy business have long since taken for granted the regular process of shipping products from Asia back to the UK. Aside from the occasional lost container, grounding of a container ship or typhoons, it is remarkable just how smoothly things have gone. Until recently of course when things have been beyond what could be described as difficult. Demand has massively outpaced supply in terms of container and ship availability leading to an exorbitant and scandalous increase in shipping costs which is having some hefty impacts on the toy business. From price rises to pending stock shortages heading into peak season trading, this is not going to be an easy Christmas by the looks of it. Toy companies are inevitably going to have reviewed what products they order and have shipped based on new financial calculations which may make some products unviable. Inventory will be tighter this Christmas, and several retailers have warned consumers to buy their toys early to avoid missing out.
Like all situations though, nothing is forever! There have been reports that China’s central government has instructed Chinese shipping containers manufacturers to increase production to help to ease the issue. The three biggest container manufacturers in the world are in China, and they are already set to have record output of containers this year according to reports. It also seems likely that when hard working, pandemic ravaged punters can’t find the toys they want to buy for their kids at Christmas there is going to be a reaction, maybe even a major backlash. In the UK, this would probably have no great impact on global shipping companies, but should U.S. politicians jump on this bandwagon, and seek action against shipping companies who perhaps have too much control over the market to ensure healthy competition, then things could get interesting. Another likely solution of the shipping issue is the winding down of the severe impact of the pandemic. We may need booster jabs, covid may still be around for years, or even decades to come, but it looks like mass vaccination has reduced covid from severe threat to life on a great scale, to a health threat on a par with other health issues in this country. Severely restrictive lockdowns certainly look less likely now, and once consumers around the world head back towards more normal life patterns and buy less stuff out of season, the shipping issue will likely correct itself.
"When hard working punters can't find the toys they want for Christmas, there's going to be a reaction, likely a backlash." Steve Reece is the founder of the toy expert consultancy, Kids Brand Inisght, leaders in supplying services to the toys and kids' entertainment industries.
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Ready Player One? The future may have arrived early, and kids may be more deeply immersed in the digital playground than ever before, but this is no time for general fist-shaking, says Kids Industries’ Gary Pope, rather an embrace of the new terrain the next generation is traversing in the pursuit of play
could tell you that the explosion of gaming in the hearts, minds and wallets of our children is because of technical advancement, because of wonderful narrative and compelling characters, because of the nefarious arts of marketing, or because of the addictive nature of the soon to be banned loot crates. But I won’t, because it is far, far more fundamental (and simple) than that. The digital playground is now literally transcending the physical and is enabling children to define and assert their social status amongst their peers; Ready Player One is here and it’s 25 years early. The digital vistas that entice and enthrall are no longer a vacuous wasteland inhabited by (possibly) maladjusted young men in darkened rooms. These digital landscapes are an explosion of collaboration, colour
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and conversation. The truth is games can be really very good for our children - and they know it. And that is why gaming is now the biggest, strongest, fastest growing pillar of the children’s entertainment world. The key components of all games - card games, board games, playground games or video games - are universal: goals, rules, strategy, challenge and most importantly interaction. And that’s the key word, isn’t it, “interaction”. It will not be surprising to you that more than nine out of 10 children today are playing video games regularly. And one of the reasons for this steady explosion over the last 20 years is that true, deep meaningful interaction between players has become more and more accessible. And as a result, fun. Meaning more and more want to do it, meaning more and more gets invested in making it better, meaning more and
more play it... meaning, you get the idea. Businesses give what consumers want and what children of game playing age want is interaction. Effective socialisation in our species is arguably the most important aspect of our development - a fundamental building block for life. It’s one of the core need states that we consider here at Kids Industries whenever we’re developing product, digital or physical, for young people. Childhood is perhaps the most socialised time of our lives - you’re literally locked up with 30 other people for eight hours a day. Relationships are forged and broken with a startling velocity and, as in all social groupings, it is shared experience that binds us or parts us. And gaming is the epitome of shared experience in 2021 for the digital native.
Today’s children live in an entirely new world facilitated by a new generation of hardware; the cross-platform, internetdriven world of live conversation with friends, doing stuff together whilst being physically apart. And with games, you always “do”, you don’t just watch. Unless you happen to be at an eSports stadium or glued to a Twitch stream, that is - but even these seemingly more passive activities have something of the gladiatorial spectacle about them; active viewership. For children, games are a conduit through which they extend their playtime shenanigans. From chat to party modes, interactive representations of others are accepted and considered a valid extension of the self. The lines between the physical and digital worlds are becoming increasingly blurred, and young people are perfectly at home with it. Even before the pandemic, this was an obvious and charted trend - the
Metaverse was coming. Ernest Cline’s romp through entertainment culture is here and it’s real. The good news is that despite the march of digital progress, real play cannot be surpassed. We’re not quite ready for our consciousness to connect to the cloud. The kind of play where you’re outside running around with your friends, or exploring imaginary worlds with action figures, or building something with your parents has a place and roots so deep that it will learn to exist in partnership with digitised play. Play is the work of the child, it is what children need to do to become who they are destined to be. And this last year there’s not been enough of that play. And the digital babysitter has perhaps been a little more prominent than many of us would have liked - but you know, that’s okay. It’s okay because they are digitally native, it’s okay because tech has enabled children to socialise and
continue that fundamental pathway of development and it’s okay because a lot of what they’re playing could actually be good for them. When we hear the scary figures around screen time it’s easy to make assumptions about impact. But data, and I trade in data, is only half the story. Data gives you a stable platform, but it is what lies behind the numbers that really counts. The what, the why and the how behind the headline number is where the insight is and if this past year has told us anything, it has told us that kids will be kids, whatever they have to play with. So, as a little balance returns, don’t be shocked if they’re even more connected than they were but take a look beyond what’s on the surface. Chances are - as they have in every single generation since the very start of time - they will just be different kids to the ones that came before them. Autumn/Winter 2021 | toy news | 15
A total knock out! The Moose Toys team billed it the ‘next global boys franchise mega hit’ when it lifted the veil on its battle action collectable range, Akedo this summer. A real triple threat, the new launch is not only looking to stir up the toy aisles, but the kids’ content space and licensing sector, too. ToyNews talks to chief marketing officer, Ronnie Frankowski about the Akedo brand
he energy with which Moose Toys is launching its latest arcade style boys’ battle action toy franchise, Akedo, cannot not be over exaggerated. If we’re reading the signs correctly, this is the idea that the Australia head-quartered global toymaker has been just waiting to hit upon. The trumpets were sounded from the very off and it was with little mediation that Moose declared it the ‘next global action franchise megahit’ back in June this year. These aren’t the kind of words to be spoken by a marketing team lightly; but then, Akedo is not the kind of launch unable to back them up. “In today’s market, you just have to make a clamour,” says Ronnie Frankowski, chief marketing officer at Moose Toys. Let’s face facts, more than ever the toy space is grappling for the attention of its target audience. With gaming skewing younger and younger, and new digital titles swallowing up audience numbers at an alarming rate, the soft launch approach isn’t necessarily always the right one. Especially when you’re a toy brand promising to be meeting kids exactly where they’re at right now. And Moose Toys is. A triple threat in what it’s delivering, Akedo launches not only with its retro arcade style battle action collectable toys, but a slate of online content in the form of an animated YouTube series, and a licensing programme being headed up by the consumer products specialist, WildBrain CPLG.
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“This is a competitive strategic game, where you have micro collectable battling action figures, each with a different fighting style and weapon, as well as health and attack scores, that replicates in 3D form some of the greatest video games of all time,” says Frankowski. “It really is a boys’ action franchise that is not only a cool toy, but it is a strategic skill and action based game universe - and community - with great content surrounding it, great partners, and after that, some great consumer products that are non-toy. “We as a company, and certainly me personally, are very, very energised by the launch of Akedo.”
So much so, that Frankowski won’t stop short of calling Akedo the ‘holy grail of boys’ toys,’ attributing this to the ‘Moose Wow’ with which the franchise oozes. And, he insists, away from the noise of the franchise launch, it all starts with the toy itself. “Akedo has, in my opinion, the most dynamic and realistic battling action of any action figure ever,” he tells ToyNews. “The actual movement of the toy is unbelievably cool. It looks like what kids see in video games. Number two - and this is so important - the results of the action are determined by ability. Skill actually means something in Akedo. It impacts the results and encourages the kids to get better, practice, and hone their ability.” So much of what Akedo brings to the table is drawn from the video game genre, from the characters’ health scores and attacking power, to the depth of characters there are to choose from. It’s launch pool of 39 unique characters for kids to get their hands on doesn’t only drive the collectability of Akedo, but hits all of those nostalgic notes of the character selection process found within the retro arcade gaming scene. It even arrives with its own ‘training mode’ in the form of a ‘gym play-set’ in which kids can practice their technique and strategy outside of a head to head scenario. “Strategy plays a huge role in the franchise,” continues Frankowski. “Matchups and health scores, picking your line-up
Akedo Warriors and learning when to use certain players. Akedo isn’t just about brawn, but it’s about using your brain, too, and that’s incredibly important.” For anyone reading this and feeling their own charge of excitement for the Akedo franchise, you’re not alone. There’s a very real reason that this toy line in particular may be firing up the nostalgic synapses. This has been designed, according to Frankowski, with a real cross-generational appeal; “100 per cent.” “Everything we do, we try to be as unique as humanly possible,” he says. “At Moose Toys, we’re all of similar ages, and we all grew up with the classic stand-up video arcades, so that really spoke to us as fathers and toy makers. It’s iconic, but unique in the market place today. “Akedo has a retro vibe to it, that is made unique with the fresh, updated style and a reinterpretation of timeless classics. And we get to tap into all those crazy genres of arcade styles, whether it’s Kung Fu Warrior, or The Viking.” The contemporary feel arrives in the look of these characters; if gameplay arrives as a callback to the arcade scene of the ‘80s and ‘90s, then the cast pays homage to the massively multiplayer games of today. There’s a real focus on infusing comedy and humour with gameplay, the result being crazy teddy bear characters, or the Evil Clown and his weaponised rubber chicken. “He can really kick butt with that rubber chicken,” says Frankowski. “The chicken istelf is a character in the YouTube show. The chicken is always scared and is always on the receiving end of the extreme action. It provides these great comedic beats that play to multi generations from a comedy standpoint.” The line-up of 39 characters will be routinely added to every six months, all as part of Moose Toys’ plan to drive the collectability of the range. To do so, the firm will simply delve into its ‘endless supply of ideas and art types of characters.’ “We have a tonne of new things to do every six months. I tell the guys at work, it’s always a good sign when you can map out two or three years of products,” Frankowski continues. “You can’t get it all in up front, so you have this big pipeline, and there really is an unlimited amount of things that we can do that will keep kids wanting to come back to Akedo and have a different experience every time.”
When it comes to Moose Toys’ vision for the franchise, there’s no point in beating around the bush. “We are trying to redefine the genre,” says Frankowski, matter of factly. “There are a couple of fronts on which we want to redefine, and it goes back to being as unique and disruptive, and innovative, as you can be with the core toy. “But as well as that, the way in which we are going to market is very different. The traditional model is being disrupted by technology companies, by Netflix, and by YouTube. Fragmentation of content and discoverability of content is at an all time high. So it is important, for when you go for it, that you have this thunderclap of assets that you are bringing to drive discoverability. “We’ve got product, we’ve got great content, and we’ve got great distribution at where kids are today; consumer products are coming right on the heels of all of that and we are really overwhelming the marketplace with Akedo touchpoints from a consumer standpoint.” Make no bones about it, Akedo may be a toy franchise, but it is being built like a gaming franchise, with particular onus on competition to drive its success among kids. The parallels with the gaming scene don’t end with the retro arcade feel, because this is a gaming system that is also drawing heavily from the esports explosion over the past several years. “We’ve been inspired by video games to such a degree, that we have essentially a Professional-Amateur Akedo Tournament that we are launching with Nickelodeon,” explains Frankowski. “We are taking the world’s top influencers and a bunch of great, regular kids, and they are battling head-to-head in a big tournament that we are going to broadcast in conjunction with Nickelodeon.
“So, just like these real video games, whether it’s League of Legends or NBA 2K, or Fortnite, who go heavy on these ProAm tournaments, we are doing the exact same thing with Akedo toys. We will have influencers host the show, and we will be streaming that live around the world. It’s worked so well in the videogame space, but no one has done it in the toy space, so it’s really cool.” The plan is, over time, that this will become an annual World Akedo Championship, made up of singular tournaments around the world that will, each year, eventually see the coronation of the World Champion of Akedo. “It’ll take time to build that,” admits Frankowski. “But building that gamer community is really important to the franchise, given what the franchise is.” And what this franchise is, is an entity built on the idea of perpetual creativity. There’s more at play here than a toy line and its boxticking, obligatory YouTube content, but as Frankowski describes it, an ‘ecosystem’ that will perpetuate its own ideas. “The three pronged aspect of this franchise - the content, the toys, and the licensing - if we do it well, will each independently influence the others,” he says. “We want that consumer experience to be consistent not only within toys in every market around the world, but in every category of experience in every market around the world. “The consumer products will eek the DNA of competition infused with humour, and skill and action. And that will bleed into the toys and content as well. It is one ecosystem that is feeding itself in each of these different sectors, all cross-pollinating. “It’s to be expected in today’s marketplace. The old models are changing and this is the model going forward. It is the ecosystem that you have got to create that drives engagement, discoverability, and longevity.” Contractually, there’s nothing more that Frankowski can tell us about upcoming licensing partnerships for the Akedo franchise, but he appearsto take great delight in teasing that it will be ‘like nothing we’ve seen in the toy franchise business before.’ “Going back to your question on doing things differently and bringing a fresh take to the industry, we’re taking that spirit into everything that we’re doing. Licensing partners across the board, you’ll see some different things being done.”
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The Action Pact Moose Toys has made no secret of its plans for the consumer products licensing space, having launched its boys’ battle action brand Akedo with its global licensing agency already on board. ToyNews catches up with WildBrain CPLG’s John Taylor to talk the long term plans for the partnership
t’s fair to say that Moose Toys has previous. It doesn’t take much of a jolt to the memory banks to remember those months when shelves were once stacked high with Shopkins; a brand that not only reignited the collectables space, but breathed new life into the toy franchise model to help set new standards in toy brand consumer product licensing. And if you were around for the height of Shopkins popularity, then you’re likely just as excited as Moose Toys itself is about the latest launch to the boys’ action toy collectable market, Akedo. It lands with what ToyNews has called a three-pronged attack; an ‘80s and ‘90s vibes toy line (and that’s an immediate ‘yes’ from us), a robust slate of online content in the form of its own Akedo Warrior YouTube series, and a consumer products licensing programme that is now nicely underway, thanks to WildBrain CPLG. Together, it all makes the three cornerstones of the franchise triangle, the strongest shape in existence. There is, by the way, a fourth prong in the equation in the form of a Nickelodeon produced influencer vs amateur Akedo tournament, ticking the live event box off the checklist too, transforming our triangle metaphor into a diamond - even stronger. Here, ToyNews catches up with WildBrain CPLG’s VP Northern Europe, and MD UK and France, John Taylor to discuss the licensing potential of the Akedo toy brand. Hi John, it’s good to catch up. There’s a fair bit of excitement around the launch of the Akedo toy line, and Moose Toys has made no secret of its estimation of the brand to be the next big boys’ toy franchise. What are the feelings in the WildBrain CPLG camp around the launch of its licensing programme? What do you think Akedo will bring to the wider consumer products and licensing space?
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The boys’ space has been waiting for a new and unique property to enter the market, so it’s an ideal time for Akedo to launch and offer something dynamic, fresh and engaging for this demographic. It also marks Moose Toys’ biggest investment in content for a boys’ franchise brand to date. From a consumer products perspective, Akedo has all the ingredients to create significant potential in a broad array of categories. One of the key elements for the programme is the 39 unique warriors within the line that kids can battle one-on-one with - ranging from ninjas, robots, gladiators and Vikings, through to teddy bears, a dinosaur and clowns - offering multiple options as they choose their favourite characters. We’ve seen in the past how collectability is an important factor in engaging and building a solid fanbase. Akedo also brings multiple touch points from the get-go - this is not simply a toy launch, there’s so much more for fans to engage with. First, there’s fantastic episodic Akedo content on YouTube, produced in partnership with WildBrain Spark our premium kids’ and family AVOD network and digital studios, which helps drive an affinity to the brand and
its characters, as well as offering new and exciting themes that can be used to inspire consumer products. Also part of Moose Toys’ unprecedented marketing efforts is Nickelodeon’s ‘The Akedo Super Ultimate Tournament’ activation, which sees kids and top influencers, including Ninja Kidz, Onyx Kids, Kyle’s Toys & Games and Ohana Boys, battle it out in an exclusive tournament. Looking at the brand from a visual perspective, it is very appealing, bringing retro, ’80s and nostalgia vibes featuring bright colours that will engage kids and the nostalgia factor will appeal to their parents, as well as translating to eye-catching consumer products helping the brand stand out in the market. Why is now the right time for a property like Akedo to be making its mark on the licensing space? How is the property tapping into current consumer and audience demands? How will this be reflected in the licensing partnerships you guys build around the brand? The brand already has a solid foundation for a licensing programme - the toy range and content are both off to impressive starts, and the marketing efforts are ensuring the brand is grabbing the attention of boys and becoming the talk of the playgrounds around the world. One of the most exciting things about Akedo is that it’s a digital-first series and is reaching Generation Alpha where they are on their preferred platform - YouTube. We know this is a space where kids really take on brands as their own and form strong connections to an IP. Plus, YouTube has incredible reach. WildBrain Spark’s network reaches one in three kids with access to YouTube globally and generates billions of views every month.
The content itself is premium animation, so it brings with it a lot of depth and storytelling to capture audience imagination. Furthermore, the data and insights we garner from YouTube content means we can understand what the audience is responding to, aiding future content creation and informing the overall licensing strategy. The brand also has wide consumer appeal thanks to its attention-grabbing themes and diverse mix of characters, including Bria the strong female lead and Cub who is in a wheelchair.
What key partners or categories will you be looking towards in building out the licensing programme?
Will you be looking to amplify these elements of the toy line, and how does this reflect audiences today?
We’ll initially be looking at getting partners on board across apparel, back-to-school, bedding and more - all the ones you’d expect to be hits with fans. However, Akedo is really flexible and also offers considerable opportunities in the digital space, publishing, gaming, outdoor toys, as well as in live events and experiential activations that could really bring the battling and competition element to life in the real world - in a purely fun way, of course! With so many different characters and personalities, the opportunities are limitless when it comes to consumer products. Following Moose Toys’ hugely impressive retailer roll-out, our retail team is also engaging with potential partners for Akedo DTR product offerings to launch in 2022. The retailer interest we’ve received so far has been hugely exciting and really blown us away.
Yes definitely! The consumer products programme and style guide will have a strong ’80s and ’90s feel and nostalgia elements. It’s neon and bright and will be sure to grab attention. Nostalgia is a huge trend in licensing for all demographics right now, and not only will kids love the show, but we’re sure parents will buy into the retro aesthetic as well.
Akedo appears to blend elements of pop culture in its arcade gaming style and retro fighting robots gameplay... to what extent will this play into your licensing plans for the brand?
What are your next steps in the licensing plans around the brand? There’s lots of excitement for the digital series and toy launch so far across the first wave of markets to launch, including the US and Canada, Australia, New Zealand, UK and France, with more markets set to debut the brand in the coming months and into Spring/Summer 2022. We’re ready to hit the ground running to get licensees on board in all territories. What potential do you think this property has to be an evergreen within the competitive boys’ market?
Akedo definitely has all the ingredients to become an evergreen brand and the impressive 360-degree programme that’s already in place will ensure it continues to be relevant and at the forefront of boys’ imaginations for the long-term. The evolving YouTube series will be a key driver in the brand’s longevity and will continually be refreshed for new and existing fans, with additional seasons, characters and phased launches. Also, with WildBrain’s handling global distribution for the Akedo content, including debuting the series on its Canadian TV network this autumn, we expect that having a robust broadcast presence for the brand will also play a pivotal role in getting Akedo into homes around the world to further grow its fan base. John, thank you for taking the time to chat with us.
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‘Tooning up The relationship between toys and its animated content has long been set, only increasing in importance as kids and fans become more empowered to become more selective of the brands they choose to watch. It’s just part of the reason that when it came to building out the Akedo franchise, Moose Toys decided to toon up with WildBrain Spark
he symbiotic nature between toys and content, says Ryan Denham, senior creative producer at WildBrain Spark, the content production arm of the WildBrain business, is one well established. It’s also an area in which WildBrain Spark excels. With a history of success in translating some of the most popular children’s toy ranges for the animated content space, it didn’t take a leap of the imagination for Moose Toys to land upon WildBrain Spark as it content production partner with which to fuel the Akedo franchise across the YouTube animated content platform. However, as kids become more and more discerning about the kind of content they opt to watch online, it’s becoming increasingly important that the dynamic between toy range and its content is right. We catch up with Ryan Denham, Senior Creative Producer at WildBrain Spark to talk about the need to get the partnership correct from the off, how content is becoming an integral part to a toy launch, and the process of developing the Akedo animated online series.
Hello Ryan, it’s nice to talk. As a toy line, Akedo appears to be drawing on multiple strains of pop culture trends right now, blending arcade video gaming with retro fighting robot style play, all brought into the 21st century through your own animation. What level of excitement did the project bring to the WildBrain Spark team throughout the development? What was the creative process like in bringing this all together?
should tell - and how action-packed we should make it. The main task was then forming the show’s world, figuring out who our human protagonists were and how to make them engaging and relatable, and letting the stories flow from there.
As a team, we were all incredibly excited at WildBrain Spark to work on this project. Many of us have grown up loving collectable toys, battle shows and video games (and still loving all of these as adults!) so it felt like a perfect fit. We’d have been excited as fans, but to be a part of creating a new, original series was extra fun. The creative process came together really smoothly. The Akedo toys and warrior characters that Moose Toys came to us with were already very creative and quirky, so we had a great foundation to build upwards from. Across both sides, we had a clear and unified vision about what the show should be, what it should look like, what kind stories we
To create the storylines for the Akedo series, we look closely at the product we’re working from and figure out what’s the core DNA of that toy - what makes it so great, and what it is that we (and the brand) want to show off about it? We then look at the demographic we’re creating the show for - boys aged eight to 12 years. What kind of stories do they like? What engages them? What’s relatable? What’s clickable and exciting? And finally, we draw on insights from WildBrain Spark’s proprietary data across the wider network and platform we analyse other similar content in the space and figure out what’s working and successful about certain shows, what the pitfalls to avoid are, and how that can inform what we’re doing in a way that’s totally new and unique. Then it’s a case of bringing all these elements together with the help of our great team of creative minds.
Animation has become an integral part in building a wider world around toys, and an area you guys are experts in. How do you begin to create those storylines?
So, what are the fundamental steps in turning a toy line into an animated property? The core of both the show and the toy needs to be the same. In Akedo’s case, it’s the action and drama of the battles, the fun of playing with (or against) your friends (and potential rivals), and the comedy that’s inherent to the variety of warrior characters. Then, as you add additional elements, and begin to craft the world and the stories, you ensure that the core remains a constant. Our show is about a group of friends competing to be the best and save a virtual world, but at its very heart, it’s just about friends enjoying playing Akedo together, something that’s just as relatable to kids with the toys in the real world – at least until giant holographic battling warriors become a thing!
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And what do you think it is about Akedo that has caught the imagination of kids and audiences today?
that it becomes a real feast for the eyes and has you on the edge of your seat as a viewer, just as you would be as a player in real life.
The games that kids play together (video and otherwise) change constantly and evolve, but the heart of them all - the bonds, camaraderie, laughs and the lows - are timeless. Likewise, online gaming has never been more popular, and the virtual friendships formed through these games (like that of Jet, Bria, and Cub in Akedo) are more and more commonplace especially post-pandemic. So, when you take both of these things, and insert them into a futuristic ‘anything-can-happen’ world like Akedo, it becomes something at once very relatable and relevant, but also incredibly unique and exciting.
What elements of the toy line and game play did you draw on to develop the series, and how do you ensure that it all ties back around into the toy line itself - staying true to the themes of the toy brand, etc?
Why does the Akedo toy line lend itself to this form of animation so well? The whole aesthetic of the Akedo toyline is great - it’s at once retro and futuristic, and has such a cool, comedic edge that means it really stands out. So, we worked from that and developed it further as we got to the animation development. The designs of the cast of warriors are so varied and unique, they virtually leap onto screen, and really come to life when we’re able to showcase their personalities in how they move, speak and emote. Likewise, we’re able to take the core of the combat from the toys and represent that element in such a big, out-of-this-world way
Everything in the show is built from the toys and all the battles depicted follow the exact same rules and format as the Akedo toy line – health and damage points work the same, warriors have the same strengths and weaknesses, and they even move very similarly. This keeps the gameplay consistent for the viewer and is even designed to act like a tutorial of sorts - watching the show will not only entertain you but make you a better real life Akedo player too. Our main aim was that the show feels the same to watch as the toy feels to play with when a warrior split strikes, for example, it’s a hugely exciting moment in both the show and the toy. How is your partnership with Moose Toys reflective of trends and demands in the toy space and children’s content space today? Where do you think the future of children’s entertainment and its relationship with toys is headed?
The symbiotic nature of toy and content is well established and WildBrain Spark offers a highly curated, brand-safe environment for kids that IP partners know they can trust. With the rise of YouTube and YouTube Kids, where kids have a lot of liberty to decide for themselves what they’re watching, that dynamic is more important and direct than ever. A child who chooses to watch our show regularly is more invested than one who watches more passively, and that passion for the characters and brand will directly impact engagement with the toy offering. Inversely, a kid who loves the toys and discovers the content will be excited to watch and will become more invested in the brand as a whole as they immerse themselves deeper. This relationship will only grow in importance as more and more kids watch through YouTube, YouTube Kids and other AVOD/SVOD platforms. What plans has WildBrain Spark got to continue developing the animated YouTube series, will you continue to build on the current roll-out? We’ll be building on the momentum of the Akedo content roll out and continuing to support the toy performance as much as possible, as further products lines are released and the toys keep evolving. Thanks, Ryan, for taking the time to chat with us this month. Autumn/Winter 2021 | toy news | 21
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Picking up the play prescription It was at the end of 2019 that Dr Gummer’s Good Play Guide unveiled its rebranding as it positioned itself for a bold new course within the US toy market. Things have certainly been picking up steam for the outfit ever since. ToyNews catches up with the company’s founder Dr Amanda Gummer to discuss the world’s acceptance and enjoyment of prescribed play
ay a visit to the new Good Play Guide offices in Hitchin’s vibrant town centre, and you’ll find yourself clearing a path through a thicket of playing preschoolers before climbing the final flight of stairs towards the firm’s top floor headquarters. It’s a nice touch for anyone new to the Good Play Guide vibe, and a reassurance that Dr Gummer and her outfit of toy and play experts are indeed the real deal. This is no corporate looking office block with a London address, this is a homely space filled with homely characters, sat atop a local Play Cafe, established as a place of support and nurture for Hitchin’s local children and their parents. This is what a High Street should be about; fewer carbon copy coffee shops and more of this; focus points of community play for children and families, and that’s exactly what Dr Amanda Gummer hopes to one day achieve. She may joke about global domination, but mark our words, it’ll be a happier place for it. Humility forces Dr Gummer to laugh at the idea, of course, but the truth of it stands, the Good Play Guide really isn’t too far off a truly global presence. It’s big focus right now - and likely for the next year or two - is on its move upon the US market. However, the team also talks openly about interest from the Far East and India, China, South Africa, Australia, and of course, Europe; all of them not only prime holiday destinations for any Good Play Guide team member scouting for new business, but locations of real potential expansion. From its homely office space in Hitchin town centre, the Good Play Guide is certainly casting its aspirations far and wide. And it all starts with the High Street.
You may have noticed a lot of excitable noises coming from the direction of the Good Play Guide this past year or so. The team has, afterall, been busying itself with a multitude of new launches and initiatives, from a company rebrand to Dr Gummer’s Good Play Guide and the launch of a new ecommerce platform, to the most recent activity in its partnerships with both the US Toy Association for a STEAM accreditation initiative and the UK’s Toymaster buying group for a new UK-wide, high street retail and toy shop campaign.
All of the activity - be it the firm’s overseas focus, or its home turf retail campaign holds at its heart one central theme - to keep the business of play invigorated, on track, and beneficial to all those involved within it. “At the end of 2019, we decided it was a good idea, in preparation for our move towards the US, to put a face firmly behind the brand, and obviously that would be me,” Dr Gummer tells ToyNews.
“We have still got the Fundamentally Children name as the business to business and research and consultancy arm, but we do a lot of work outside of toys now, such as consumer products, FMCG, and a load more guides coming through over the next few months, such as the Good Activities Guide, the Good Learning Guide, and the Good Baby Guide, and we are housing it all under the Good Play Guide name and website. “The idea is that it is all about learning through play, and there is a play theme running through everything. It is about recognising the different ways of playing, and that this is not all about flogging toys.” Dr Gummer calls this period in the business’ history as its ten year overnight success; the result of a vision laid out by the child psychologist now coming into real fruition, with opportunities for growth sprouting not only in the US, but on a global scale. Perhaps it’s the result of exemplary timing; hitting a crest of a wave of what appears to be a global change in attitude towards toys and play? “I think there is a universal shift in mind-set around play,” says Dr Gummer. “The pendulum swung from children being undervalued, through all the research into child development that took place in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and now we have got to a point where children are so prioritised that that’s created its own problems. But, people are realising that development isn’t all about grades. It’s about well-being, physical fitness, and general resilience, and that is all stuff that you get through play. “In the last five years, we have seen this shift, and the pandemic has definitely exacerbated it. I think that, as a species, we are understanding that play for play’s sake is good.” Autumn/Winter 2021 | toy news | 23
The Good Play Guide and the health of the High Street Earlier this year, Dr Gummer’s Good Play Guide detailed a pioneering new partnership with the Toymaster buying group, through which the firm’s experts will supply the group’s members with research and articles on topics spanning diversity, special needs, and other key topics to a UK toy industry in the flux of evolution. “We are looking at providing webinars for members, for them to be able to access additional content so that they can really upskill their teams and get back to being at the heart of their local communities,” explains Dr Gummer. It sits right at the centre of the company’s vision for the brand; to play its part in reinvigorating UK high streets. Take its current office location for example; situated above Hitchin’s local Play Cafe and working in collaboration with its organisers to host Good Toy Zones among other initiatives that promote the idea of ‘playing with purpose.’ “Our office is in the heart of a playful, community and parent-focused hub in Hitchin, and if we can make this work in terms of community play, we’d love to scale that,” says Dr Gummer. “I think
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there should be a Play Cafe in every high street, bringing play back to the heart of the community, and if you can do that - making sure that the toys there are ‘good toys’, and that families can find the value of play, it will do a lot to regenerate communities, and can even be done in partnership with toy companies and toy shops locally. “So often these kind of places are stigmatised; you get told to do a parenting class because your kid has an ASBO, these become places you are told to go, not because you want to. But if we can change that narrative, the potential is limitless.” What’s more, insists Dr Gummer, is that this isn’t a goal that will conflict with the Good Play Guide’s recently established ecommerce business. “Our ecommerce platform is an added facility to our review site, it was never planned nor will it ever be the principal driver of the business. We established it for the ease of the website’s users and for clients, to help them find a route to market. We are the Good Play Guide with an ecommerce facility, we are not a toy shop; it’s all about offering access to people to find ‘good toys.’” That’s just another prong to this multifaceted business, and a personal mission of
Dr Gummer’s; to lead the charge in the fight against fake reviews online by providing a trusted resource for honest reviews and product listings for good quality products. Dr Gummer says: “The BTHA does a lot of good work in the fight against counterfeit products, but there’s not a lot you can do against fake reviews. I have always said about the Good Toy Guide, that if we don’t have integrity, then we don’t have anything. That’s why it has taken us so long to get an ecommerce facility, because we didn’t want people to think we were abusing or capitalising on our position, just to flog toys.” Making its play for the USA Such is the manner of the company’s new alignment in recent months, that it’s hard to believe it when Dr Gummer tells you that ‘there’s never been a master plan’ for the Good Play Guide. Yes, there has been a vision and ultimate goals, but the path for Dr Gummer and her team has been a winding and adventurous one. “I read once that it takes ten years to be an overnight success, and next year is our tenth year,” reveals Dr Gummer. “This has been a passion project. I have kown what I have wanted to do, and I have always felt that it was needed and worthwhile, and it has taken me a while to get the commerciality right and make it sustainable, but I feel like, as a business, we are now there.” And where is there? Well, there will soon be a marked move into the US market, of course. In fact, the plan - and yes, there is one - is for every facet of the UK business to be translated to the US market in a phased approach. “We are going out for investment to support our move to the US at the end of this year, so as long as that comes, we will go out to the US market, start with the Toy Association link up, and quickly add our toys and app reviews as we launch the other guides, too. “We have partnered up with a great organisation in the States called Empower Me, who will be providing a lot of our toy testing capabilities out there. They are a team of occupational therapists, so they will be adding a therapeutic angle to all of our toy reviews, and put Good Toy Guide products on their website, helping us to build up presence in the US. “Then, of course, is our tie up with the Toy Association and our new STEAM Toy accreditation.” A savvy move from the Good Play Guide that can’t be overvalued, is that the outfit - in teaming up with the US toy industry body, the Toy Association - has made moves to place itself at the centre of one of the most dominant areas of the evolving toy industry, the STEAM toy market, in recognition of an issue that has blighted it for the past five years.
Interview “There is a lack of consistency around the labelling of, and making claims for, STEAM products,” says Dr Gummer. “Meanwhile, there is a surge in demand and production of toys that promote education and learning through play, making STEAM a priority area to focus on. “There’s a big push to get more girls into STEAM subjects and the idea of making that accessible through play. But actually, parents want to know what it is that each of these products does, and how it helps their kids. “We felt that an industry standard would help unify that messaging and make it more consistent and help consumers find the right products.” The framework from which the Accreditation scheme will work is broken down on the Toy Association website, laying it out as three characteristics each toy must be hitting, including whether the toy is a good toy to begin with, how it promotes creative thinking to problem solve, and ensuring that it hits at least two of the Science, Technology, Engineering, (Art) and Mathematics subjects. “It has to have at least two of the subjects in it, otherwise it is just a maths toy, or a science toys. So it has to be multi-faceted,” says Dr Gummer. “But it’s important to note
that this isn’t about casting aside ‘rubbish toys’. I believe that most toys have the potential to be ‘good toys’ if the product development is right. “A lot of the time, you find a toy that is simply wrongly aged, too easy or too difficult for the target age group, or the instructions are too difficult to follow. They are not bad toys in themselves, just badly marketed or put together. “But this is where the STEAM Accreditation helps - and it’s the same with the Good Toy Guide or the Good App Guide - it’s about the product development itself, so that toy makers can spot things early on and fix them, with something to work towards. So through this, we will help companies develop better products.” It’s a service that goes the distance to wrap the Dr Gummer’s Good Play Guide package in its ‘play with purpose’mission statement. This is after all the fundamental charge of the team; to help develop better play experiences and opportunities not only for families and consumers, but for the toy industry itself. At a time in which much of the toy industry is in deep reflection over the legacy it is leaving through toys and products, it’s a flag that many would be proud to fly, and watch that message travel far and wide, from Hitchin town centre. Autumn/Winter 2021 | toy news | 25
The Insights Family
The systems at play The term ‘toy ecosystem’ is one becoming more and more prevalent in modern toy marketing, as children’s media and entertainment becomes increasingly fragmented. Toys have become so much more than just the product, but the world they inhabit and the brand universe that exists around them. In this month’s column with ToyNews, The Insights Family dives into the process of taking toys that extra step beyond play
he kids’ entertainment ecosystem continues to become more fragmented than ever. In 2020, the top ten favourite TV shows among three to five year olds made up 84 per cent of the market share. 12 months on, the top ten represents just 68 per cent of the market, marking a considerable decrease, from any angle you look at it. Therefore, to maximise brand exposure in a saturated marketplace, it’s never been more important to expand kids’ IP and create presence across multiple touchpoints in the ecosystem. A global leader in kids, parents, and family market
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intelligence, The Insights Family works to provide real-time data on the attitudes, behaviour, and consumption patterns of such an audience. In fact, every year the company surveys more than 383,760 kids and 187,200 parents to deliver up to the minute data and insights on topics just like this. So, what does that data show? We’ll let The Insights Family’s founder, Nick Richardson explain: Our data shows the top ways children aged three to five interact with their favourite characters and IPs is first and foremost, through watching YouTube (37 per cent), followed by watching on
Streaming platforms (36 per cent), playing Video Games (30 per cent), and purchasing Toys or Games (29 per cent). We’re seeing a host of toy brands expand their ecosystem, by creating more experiences across these touchpoints than just toys for their fans. So, the question is: is it working? There are lots of examples which show these more innovative approaches to be working from across the toys category - we have seen significant positive uplifts around awareness, preference, and purchase intent for brands such as Playmobil, PAW Patrol,
The Insights Family
Rubik’s, LEGO, LOL Dolls, and Mattel after sizeable digital campaigns. At the time of the Playmobil movie release in August 2019, Playmobil toys spiked in popularity by 103 per cent compared to the previous three months - showing a positive impact on the brand’s popularity overall. Our data shows the top purchases of kids aged three to nine who watched Playmobil: The Movie are Books, Magazines & Comics, and Toys, over-indexing by 90 per cent, 74 per cent, and 15 per cent respectively. We also look to track the new PAW Patrol movie, released this month. The movie was the most anticipated release during June to August with 15 per cent of three to five year olds looking forward to its release. Our data shows that the children who are most looking forward to watching the movie are most likely to buy Toys (63 per cent), Magazines & Comics (35 per cent) and Clothes (28 per cent) related to their favourite films. Early indications also show that between May and August 2021, Chase - the lead character - has also increased as a favourite by 65 per cent in the run up to the release date, illustrating the positive effect on the wider brand from these extensions.
Furthermore, our data shows the popularity of the TV show has also increased by 14 per cent when compared against the first four months of 2021. MGA Entertainment is also expanding its universe by experimenting with events and experiences, with L.O.L Surprise! Dolls going on their first UK arena concert tour. The move comes at a good time, not because live events are opening post-coronavirus, but because our data shows the majority of parents (53 per cent) with five to nine-year-olds (the key age of L.O.L Surprise! fans) prefer to spend their money on experiences rather than products. The brand has also experimented with digital experiences too. Tapping into the trend for co-gaming, earlier this year they created a new experience within the video game Roblox for kids to play. With this generation as comfortable existing in a virtual world as the physical, they expect seamless integration between the two. Other brands are also turning to the big screen to expand their worlds. Mattel continues to bring its toys to life on screen, with movies based on Barbie, Hot Wheels, and even UNO in the works. All of which we track prior to their release to provide clients with insights on how they resonate with kids, parents, and families and what their impact is on the properties themselves. Creating additional touchpoints has also been done on a smaller scale than via cinema releases or concert tours too. The Jazwares plush line Squishmallows recently landed its own animated series, produced by Moonbug on YouTube. The new series, following their toys, will see a new episode released weekly.
According to our UK data, Squishmallows are most popular with kids aged eight to 10, with these fans watching more YouTube (+35 per cent) on a weekly basis than other platforms such as Netflix and Linear TV, showing the importance of understanding your target audience and reaching them on the most relevant platform. What this means to you… Digital also provides some risks, as with more media fragmentation, the ‘one size fits all’ approach is increasingly not fit for purpose. We believe that brands have to consider geography, personas, age, gender, attitudes, and many other factors about the target audience before planning activity. Once you have that information (which can vary significantly by region) an ecosystem can be built to engage your key audience, using the most relevant and prevalent touchpoints. Not only do these touchpoints serve as channels for kids to discover new IPs and toys, but they also satisfy the demand for more content and experiences from avid fans. As part of The Insights Family continued development, the company has released a quarterly Toy Report for its clients which includes analysis on kids’ favourite hobbies and activities, favourite toy categories and toys and analysis of their spending and influence. In addition, the report looks forward at future demand (based on IP and toy brands). To download a complimentary copy of the inaugural Toy Report, visit https://try. theinsightsfamily.com/toynews/ Autumn/Winter 2021 | toy news | 27
Situated on Jersey Island, Bambola Toymaster - the second generation family run independent toy shop has been supplying the channel island’s locals with the latest toys and trends for some 60 years. ToyNews catches up with owner, John Testori, to talk about the shop’s past, present, and future
t’s without irony that John Testori, the second generation owner of Jersey’s popular Bambola Toymaster, tells us that his father was working as a barman in a cocktail bar, when he first struck upon the idea of opening a toy shop. What sparked the idea has been lost to memory. But then again, it was 60 years and we dare say a fair few Manhattans ago. That was in 1961. Right now, in 2021, and it is John Testori, the son of the man known to local customers and staff simply as Mr T, who fronts the Jersey toy shop. Popular as ever, the store has seen it all over those 60 years; the ups and downs of the toy industry and retail landscape, watched the UK both enter and leave the EU, and navigated a global pandemic that turned retail on its head, and yet it still lives to tell the tale. Its generation-spanning history certainly proves one thing; toy folk are a resilient stock, indeed. 28 | toy news | Autumn/Winter 2021
“I joined the business in 1978 as an interim job while looking for my ‘proper job’, recalls Testori. “43 years on and I am still trying to get my first job interview.” Testori - with his wife Sharon - took on the toy shop in 1992, when Mr T finally retired and sold the business on to his already industry-initiated son. In the hands of its next generation, Bambola Toy Shop has continued to play an integral part in the success and vibrancy of its local high street. “The Parade Store has been in the same location for all of our 60 years,” explains Testori. Its name draws on the family’s own Italian roots. Bambola means ‘doll’ in Italian and in its earliest years, sourced much of its stock from the southern European country. Testori notes that it was this that helped the store standout in the early days, billing its collection of large display dolls and electric ride-on vehicles - toys that might seem commonplace today - as ‘very avant-garde’ for the time.
“We have always tried to stay ahead of new trends and introduce new ranges in store, which has set us apart from competitors,” says Testori. It’s a modus operandi that Bambola carries with it today, whether with its historic Parade store, or its sister shop one which has moved locations a couple of times now over the course of its stay, before settling on its Don Street spot for the past 16 years. And it will no doubt continue to be the way in which Bambola operates when the toy shop makes a rather major move in the coming weeks. “We have now purchased the Don Street premises,” says Testori. “So long term it will be our main location and when we consolidate the shops, it will become 50 per cent larger at that location.” From making his first solo buying trip for the family toy shop at the age of just 17 (John recalls having to make the journey to the January Harrogate Toy Fair following an
Retail Interview accident involving his father and horse), to the shop’s latest plans today, Bambola has stood the test of time. “I think our strength in surviving would be from having a great team,” says Testori. “They are all enthusiastic, knowledgeable, even knowing regular customers by their names. Our team of seven, including myself, have worked 106 years in the industry between us. “Our customers trust our advice and opinions when it comes to their toy choices and we have great customer loyalty. We have benefitted from having the size limitations of the island, but feel we provide a good choice, range, value and experience for our customers. We also adapt to our customer’s interests as quickly as we can.” And there’s no prizes for guessing where those customer interests have landed in the most recent of times. In fact, Testori cites the introduction and success of online trading as the single most influential change across the toy industry over the last 60 years. It’s not only affected the way in which customers shop today, but their expectations when they walk into a store. Especially when it comes to pricing. “When I started, the products that customers were looking for were classic, Tamiya RC, model kits, LEGO, and then over the years it changed into electronics, the original eight-bit Nintendo Entertainment System and Gameboys,” recalls Testori. “Now, trends are moving back around to classic items. We are doing well again with Tamiya RC, LEGO, and model kits for both adults and children.” No, not even the English Channel could keep the creeping rise of the kidult market away from Jersey shores, as Testori notes that in recent months and years, the toy shop has seen “lots of adults returning to previous hobbies and interests” or “starting new ones.” The pandemic, of course, has played a major role in all of this. “Our LEGO market has grown a lot during the pandemic with people keeping the interest going,” says Testori. “We also sold a lot of puzzles in months where we wouldn’t usually see these sales. “We have noticed since the stores reopened there was definitely a desire for customers to visit a traditional toy shop and have a shopping experience. We have received great comments from holiday makers, as well as locals, on our stores. I think consumers have also appreciated our high street more since the pandemic and the ability to have a shopping experience.” Bambola Toymaster also didn’t escape the restrictions of the pandemic, having found itself forced to step up its online operations at the on-set of nation-wide lockdowns early last year. It was a move that Testori admits he would never have made were it not for the pandemic.
“Deliveres were completed by the team on the same day,” he recalls. “We split the island up into areas and took a section each for deliveries. We received great customer support and they were so appreciative of our service as well as showing genuine concern for the future of the business.” Bambola has subsequently kept the website going for its click and collect service, while customers regularly let the team know that it is how many of them keep their eyes on desirable stock. “Luckily being a small business, we were able to adapt quickly to all restrictions and we were always ahead in implementing screens and signage, as well as other protective measures in store once we reopened.” Testori made headlines across the trade press only recently, when it was announced that the toy shop owner was to be appointed to the Board of Directors of Toymaster, as a non-executive director. The move is the culmination of 32 years of Toymaster membership. Autumn/Winter 2021 | toy news | 29
Retail Interview “Bambola has benefited from being a Toymaster member since 1989, and we have had great support from them over the years, so it will be nice to be involved in making a difference to other members,” said Testori. “I hope to provide a fresh set of eyes to future suggestions and assist the very capable team we already have at Toymaster.” As eyes begin to turn to the all important fourth quarter and its golden Christmas shopping season, it’s a role that Testori takes on with Toymaster that could see him fielding more frequently the kind of questions on everybody’s lips right now. What about the shipping chaos? It’s the rhetorical question of the year, and one that is plaguing industries reliant on imports, across the board. “I don’t think we have experienced anything specific to Jersey with regards to shipping costs, but we have noticed price increases across the board as a result of their increases,” explains Testori. “We have been forced to pass these on to consumers, like many others. I struggle to remember a time where suppliers had mid-year price increases. “We have noticed deliveries taking longer, but as a result we have brought our Christmas deliveries forward and we have been filling the warehouse considerably earlier than normal.
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“I think there could be short term shortages of some items, and it might affect initial ranges of choices, but there will still be lots to choose from. Shelf space always needs to be filled so there could be instances where sections are taken up by other categories, but they will return.” As for Bambola and its own plans for securing its success for the next 60 years and beyond, the answer lies in adaptation and quick reactions. “We will continue to adapt to customer trends and economic changes and encourage the team’s knowledge in store,” says Testori. “We pride ourselves on offering good customer service and I think that is the secret to the high street shopping experience. “I am fortunate to have a great team with people who can continue the business and I would love to see it continue for many more years to come. I would be here working for another 60 years if I could. “The pandemic has made people revisit old hobbies and try new ones, as well as highlight the importance of supporting our high street. The great thing about our industry is that toys are a tactile product. Children and adults alike will always enjoy visitig a toy shop or department.”
Disbanding the Culture Club Geek Retreat is on a mission to rewrite the narrative around the geek culture space, taking its philosophy of accessible and inclusive fandom nationwide as it continues on its plans to open 60 stores in the UK this year alone. Here, ToyNews catches up with Geek Retreat CEO, Peter Dobson to find out more
f ever a business did exactly what it says on the tin, then Geek Retreat is it. Fast spreading itself across the UK, cascading downwards from the Glaswegian underground scene, with tendrils growing across high streets from Harrogate to Portsmouth, Geek Retreat is more than a shop, but a philosophy, and a safe space for nerds, of any decree. The plan has been seven years in the making. First opened in Glasgow in 2013, Geek Retreat quickly set up a second destination in Newcastle the following year. Since then, its growth has been one of significant rapidity, tapping into the now ubiquitous nature of pop and geek culture, to deliver a comic book and board gaming store experience that has made no secret of its plans to be operating across 60 locations in the UK by the end of the year.
And it’s working. At the time of writing, Geek Retreat is “motoring along”, opening up in Portsmouth and Oxford, with new spots in Lincoln and Bedford in the coming week, along the way sharing a philosophy of accessibility and inclusivity amid a marketplace that has for so long, carried with it an ‘exclusive members club vibe.’ “We are all about making this geek culture as accessible and as easy going and approachable to new customers as possible,” Peter Dobson, chief executive of Geek Retreat tells ToyNews. “There’s an image that a lot of people have of gaming stores, that they can be cliquey. If you’re not into a certain type of game, people say they can be a bit unwelcoming. “But we are absolutely not about that. We are about making this pop culture -
which is everywhere today - welcoming and accessible for everyone, no matter what they are into.” The core value of Geek Retreat is, then, that it is a haven for the geek culture audience, no matter where they measure on the charts. A business built on the philosophy of broadening the audience as widely as possible, while fulfilling a childhood dream, Geek Retreat surely couldn’t have picked a better time to expand. “There’s a lot of people - especially throughout the pandemic - who have reassessed their careers and their lives, and have concluded that maybe they want to do a bit more of the things that they love,” says Dobson, noting the rise in the audience numbers around the kidult market and the demand for board gaming and hobby shops. Autumn/Winter 2021 | toy news | 31
“We have really kind of benefitted from that, but more than anything it’s been our approach that has fuelled our success. What Geek Retreat offers people is a place they can go to and feel like they belong. With the pandemic, people, regardless of their interests, haven’t really had that, and I think they are seeing how important it is to create places like this in their local communities.” Traditionally, you would call Geek Retreat a local game store. It’s a business offering a combination of a place for fans to gather to play board games, trading card games, and wargaming titles, mixed with a comic book shop and geek culture retail. On top of this, however, Geek Retreat also boasts a very strong hospitality and food and beverage offering, with partnerships with Absolute Cafe across all of its stores to sell snacks, burgers, hot dogs, and an array of drinks to its board gaming customers. “The reception from consumers and this gaming audience has been really strong,” says Dobson. “I don’t think we’ve had a store opening where we’ve failed to have a queue out of the door. I think there are people who are geeks, and people who love what they do, love gaming, love comics, and love to have a place to come and hang out. “I think that’s what attracts people in store. We have a real focus on creating communities - not just customers who come in, buy stuff, and leave. We make sure people get to know our staff, get to know our franchises, and get to know each other. “There’s definitely something I hear a lot, that people visit some of these older game store and the atmosphere is unwelcoming or cliquey. There’s an image of a bunch of guys playing their games, and it’s just not inclusive. I have certainly had that experience before and I know it’s something that a lot of our customers and franchises have had. “We, however, really make sure that no matter who you are, or what games you’re into, you get a really warm welcome at a Geek Retreat. There’s no reason why you can’t have all the good parts of a comic shop, without those bad associations.” 32 | toy news | Autumn/Winter 2021
It’s not difficult to join the dots between Dobson’s own experiences of the geek culture scene when he was growing up, and the business he has spearheaded as the direct antidote to them. He recalls the times spent painting Warhammer figures, for instance, with no knowledge of how to play the game, and little by way of access to a means of learning with likeminded and similarly aged people. It’s a bit of a different scene today, and Geek Retreat is proud to stand among the brands changing the narrative for many young fans or gamers looking to break into the space themselves. And why wouldn’t they? It’s an endlessly fascinating and exciting landscape to be a part of right now. “There is so much stuff going on in this scene right now,” says Dobson. “Obviously Games Workshop is the star of the stockmarket right now, with fantastically exciting stuff going on there, while with Pokémon - people are literally fighting in the aisles to get boxes of Pokémon Trading Cards, and paying insane amounts of money for cards. “Dungeons & Dragons is riding the wave of resurgence, and that’s actually a great example. We can’t find enough Dungeon Masters to run games and teach all the people that want to learn about the game. Whenever we advertise ‘Learn how to play D&D’ it’s just oversubscribed. “We are about to launch a programme of organised and structured Learn to Play so that fans can book a time to go in one of our stores, learn how to play Warhammer or Pokémon or whatever. We are really going to make sure there’s a constant push to bring new people into these hobbies, because, I remember as a kid, there were things I wanted to play but I didn’t know anyone else who was playing these games. This is all about making it accessible.” With such an onus on community and helping others interact and connect around the geek culture medium, it stands to reason that Geek Retreat’s greatest focus is on the bricks and mortar business. Yes, the team - like most other retailer over the last 18 months
- did invest in its online operations over the pandemic, but it readily admits this is ‘only an ancillary’ to its core high street presence. “The online stuff kept us going over the pandemic, like so many others,” says Dobson. “But Geek Retreat’s heart and soul is in the actual store.” It’s good news for brands and high streets across the country alike, then, that Geek Retreat won’t be shifting its focus from its core retailing space anytime soon. Instead, plans are still moving full steam ahead for the retailer-come-hang out space to hit its 60 operational stores across the UK by the end of the year. And that’s despite the additional headaches that the pandemic and its hangover have thrown at the retail landscape. “The issues around shipping have been hitting the board gaming space a bit, but only a little bit,” says Dobson. “It’s not critical, but it is a bit of a background irritant. It all falls in that same space as Brexit - shipping issues and Brexit - and just adds an annoying amount of friction to the process. “Obviously we ship a lot of stuff from Europe, and a bit from America, a bit from Japan - and the systems that used to work flawlessly and you didn’t have to worry about are now just headaches. “Things like Brexit, and UPS drivers not understanding and demanding the store pay £400 for customs clearance out of the safe. You have a Saturday part time staff member on who doesn’t know how to deal with that, and it’s all just frustrating more than anything.” Frustrating, but by no means crippling to a firm who has found its plans relatively unhampered - bar the odd lockdown of the past year - by it all. “Those plans are still going strong, We have such an amazing team and everybody believes in this mission to create places for people to feel welcome, and that’s what is driving us. Everyone we speak to and bring on board shares that passion. “I really do feel that people need to have somewhere to belong, and we are creating that in our space for them.”
Torque of the town: The unstoppable energy of Coiledspring Armed now with its ‘strongest team ever’ and a portfolio of tabletop titles with more award wins than Daniel Day Lewis, Coiledspring Games is approaching the business end of the year in a very strong position indeed. We catch up with MD, Kerrie Corrigan to learn all about it
t was towards the end of 2020 that Coiledspring bid a fond farewell to its long-serving managing director, Roger Martin as the board gaming enthusiast moved into a role with parent company, Asmodee - and offered a warm seat, a new coffee mug, and a much larger desk to the firm’s now MD, Kerrie Corrigan. Taking on the position at the height of a global pandemic, and its trailing socio-economic upheaval - it’s testament to both the succeeding leadership and the strength of the Coiledspring portfolio and reputation in the market that it now prepares to advance on the business end of the year armed with its ‘strongest team ever’ and eyes firmly on its continued ‘upward growth trend.’ ToyNews catches up with MD, Corrigan to discuss some of the biggest topics affecting the toys and games space right now, from the impact of the China shipping crisis on both consumer and board gaming trends, to the overall health of innovation in the gaming space today. How has business been for Coiledspring over the past few months? It’s been a period of exciting change and development for the company, how are you guys positioned now for continued growth and success in the market? The tail end of last year saw our previous Managing Director, Roger Martin moving to another opportunity with Asmodee, and I stepped up to take the helm of Coiledspring. Having been with the company for five years, I felt ready for the new challenge. So yes, there have been plenty of changes over the last year! It has been a tough start to the year, as it has been for many businesses in the industry. With non-essential retail being closed, and many retailers being fast tracked into moving online and attempting to navigate the changing consumer behaviour, combined with shipping issues and Brexit, it has been challenging. However, as we move forward, with our return to a new normal, we are seeing an uplift in orders and generally more positivity in the market. We have our strongest team ever and are ready to continue this upward growth trend. Our eight-strong team is made up of three marketing specialists and four salespeople, therefore we are well positioned to continue to represent our key partners with whom we share the same ambitions and goals.
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Boardgame Q&A Congratulations on the success at UK Games Expo and the multiple award wins across the portfolio this year. How does this reflect the strength of your current games line-up? What do you look for in the titles that you distribute and the publishers that you work with? Thank you! We are certainly delighted with these wins, and the opportunity to put these excellent games into the spotlight. It was a dream to be back demoing games in-person at the UK Games Expo. Our demo team was very busy, and it is a huge credit to them for bringing high energy and contributing to such a successful expo. Plus, they were able to encourage attendees to vote for the people’s choice awards which mean a great deal to us. We always refer to the core values that Coiledspring Games was founded on back in 2004 and make sure that our partners align with those. We are consistently ensuring we consider titles that are quality, family games that have an excellent replay and entertainment value. We always conduct playtests before we include a title in our range, not only to deduce if it’s ‘fun’ but to ensure the product us up to our high-quality standards. We also work hard to provide strong marketing support for all our partners, to maximise all opportunities that are available. Along with our partners and audience we do share the love for board games, which puts us in a perfect position to be able to select, recommend and deliver the very best titles to our customers. What are the current trends in the gaming space and how is your current portfolio reflective of these? What is the current gaming market demanding? Last year the toys and games space saw the resurgence in popularity of jigsaw puzzles – which was a welcome trend. Luckily, we have a large portion of our portfolio dedicated to jigsaws, and we are proud of our extensive range, especially the Thomas Kinkade Disney range which has really resonated with consumers.
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We have a strong focus on best sellers, that are considered evergreen products for us, and this commitment has led to the creation of our Hero Range. The Coiledspring Heroes are a selection of lead titles that represent a brilliant cross section of our range. It is designed to give retailers confidence in selecting these products and portray a strong image of the types of games customers/partners can expect from the overall Coiledspring catalogue. We have a continued commitment to these titles and back them with investment in strong promotional activity, including brand new videos, photos, in-store displays and redesigns of products. We plan to continue this investment as the hero range goes from strength to strength. We are also seeing an uplift in two player games and smaller games that travel easily for on-the-go gaming, especially during the summer and the travel seasons. What do you make of the health of innovation with the gaming space right now? Is it healthier than it ever has been? How are barriers to entry being broken down in terms of accessibility to boardgaming, and what is Coiledspring’s role in facilitating this? There has never been a better time to create and make a game. There are more games on the market than ever before as designers become more innovative with the types of games they are creating. There are more opportunities for smaller publishers to produce games. A positive take away from Covid, is people had a lot more time on their hands to develop games, particularly those who are just breaking into the market, it’s wonderful to see. We’ve seen some incredibly creative games over the last 18 months. There are obviously barriers for breaking into the gaming market, as there is for any newcomer into any industry. We facilitate accessibility in that we represent many well-known partners, and so we can provide an introduction to these companies for those with an idea who do not want to go down the Kickstarter route. This can prove to be a valuable avenue for new players. Due to the impressive growth in our company, we are more likely to consider taking on smaller lines than we would have in the past as we have the security needed to do this.
Boardgame Q&A Can you talk us through some of the latest developments for the portfolio? What new lines have you got in store for Q4? What kind of trends are these tapping into, and what should retailers be keeping top of mind this second half? We have many exciting products in the pipeline, leading up to Q4! Licences such as ‘Ghostbusters’ and ‘Friends’ in the Wrebbit 3D puzzle range are sure to be very popular as well as the ever-growing Harry Potter range which always piques the interest of fans. We are also growing our jigsaw range to meet the demand for Q4, with new Schmidt, Thomas Kinkade lines - both stunning landscape images and, of course, brand-new Disney instalments that are consistently fan favourites! In the lead up to Christmas, people are certainly looking for party games, easy plays and great gifts. Our autumn supplement catalogue works to fulfil these needs. Word on the Street we foresee to be popular for both adults and kids alike, new releases from Cocktail Games; Hanabi Deluxe and Happy City are creative, light games that are great to travel with. 50 Clues, the escape room style party game is here to spice up game nights and the fan favourite, King of Tokyo is set to be released in a ‘Monster Box’ with the base game, power ups and exclusive monsters included! For those who are more into strategy, the Unmatched series has two new expansions, Cobble and Fog, and Little Red Riding Hood vs Beowulf. There is so much for retailers to get their hands on, and they should prepare for an exciting and fruitful Q4! Obviously, one of the biggest hurdles for the toys and game industry right now is shipping. To what extent have you been impacted by the shipping chaos and what is your strategy to deal with the implications as we begin to think about Christmas trading? What message are you sending out to retailers and customers around this? Although shipping poses an issue currently and while it is something that is largely out of our control, we are taking many steps to mitigate the associated risk. We are working harder on forecasting than ever before, trying to be as accurate as we possibly can, and we are ordering our stock in much earlier. This did prove to be slightly difficult at the beginning of the year, due to retail store closures, we experienced a lull in ordering, however as we move further into 2021, this has picked up significantly. We have also asked retailers for their forecasts so we can adequately prepare and ensure that we are consistently meeting their needs in a timely manner. Plus, at Coiledspring we pride ourselves in maintaining open and transparent communication if there are issues with getting stock in. We are trying to consolidate all our orders where possible, so we are working on more open lines of communication across the board. As an example of this issue, we currently have a small shipment in China that we can’t move, as it would cost 50 per cent of the value of the goods. It’s not commercially available for us as a straightforward shipment at this time. Looking to consolidate more of our shipments helps keep our well known favourites in stock. What impact do you think this issue may have on the board gaming scene in general? Can you see this shaping any upcoming trends in the market - bigger box items, more locally produced games, that kind of thing? At this stage, we don’t think it would lead to the purchasing of bigger box items, as it requires a larger investment, and a bigger risk which also doesn’t suit current consumer trends. We have investigated game production closer to home, and this could be something that is in the future for the industry, but for now, unfortunately it isn’t viable. There is low availability of the raw materials that are needed to make the components locally meaning that we would just be swapping a completed goods issue shipping issue for a raw material one.
We hope to see more Kickstarters and new players completing print runs to break into the market. While there may be more gaps on shelves due to the shipping issues, it leaves room for new releases – a silver lining for sure! We are excited for Christmas, as it will provide a real opportunity for businesses who have planned well. What’s next in the pipeline for Coiledspring? What are you guys focusing on now? How is this setting you up for future growth in the market? It’s an exciting time for Coiledspring as we grow the company within a flourishing gaming industry! We have just agreed to a three-year plan that has ambitious growth plans, so we are looking onwards and upwards this year. We intend to become a home for our brands, as they have our full support through sales and marketing. Our marketing support is sound and will continue to be an asset to all of our brands and partners, we are proud to be able to raise awareness of these wonderful products in a way that is reaching audiences across the whole of the country. The most important thing to us is maintaining the level of relationship we have with our suppliers, to ensure we are in a great position to be able to continue to provide the UK with the very best board games, jigsaws and puzzles! Thanks Kerrie. Before you go, is there anything you’d like to add? Coiledspring is proud to be associated with so many fabulous brands and partners, we look forward to continuing to share the love of gaming into 2022 and beyond!
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Bangers and smash! A hugely respected name in the party game space, Big Potato is ordering off menu for the first time this year, with its launch into the puzzles market as well as the more in-depth tabletop gaming space. ToyNews finds out from the team why, when it comes to new markets, these potatoes are keeping their eyes peeled.
arty games will always be the bread and butter of the creative minds at Big Potato, a team that has all but made the market its own with its trademark Shoreditch quirk. This is an outfit that likes its bread and butter, it’s good at bread and butter and it takes pleasure in serving up bread and butter for its legions of fans across the world in many different guises. There’s Obama Llama, Herd Mentality, Don’t Get Got, P is for Pizza, and Colour Brain to name just a few, of the firm’s titles, each of them satisfying and hole filling at any party game occasion.
But every now and then, it’s nice to deviate from the set menu and try something a little different. And, with gaming audiences across the globe showing an equal desire to expand the palette, this year Big Potato is moving beyond the entrees to sample the bold flavours the gaming space has to offer. It’s first dish will arrive later this year in the form of What Next? a choose your own adventure game that pays homage to the vastly popular choose your own adventure books of the ‘90s. It’s a big, hefty box of a board game that will see players decide their own fate by choosing which path they follow
on their plentiful adventures, peppered with mini challenges and games that the Big Potato marketing team bill simply as “fantastic”. “The idea came to us from a member of the team - Ed - who joined us only a couple of months ago, actually,” says Beth Motherwell, marketing manager at Big Potato Games. “He presented the idea to our head of inventions, James Vaughan, at an inventors conference, and after a few years in the making we are not only launching the game, but have brought Ed in to join the Autumn/Winter 2021 | toy news | 37
Boardgame Interview team. James absolutely loved the game and really wanted to make it happen. It’s a great reflection of how audience taste and demands have shifted. “We’re now catering to our core fanbase of party gamers, as well as tapping into the puzzles market and with What’s Next? we’re supplying the more involved, longer-play gaming audience, too.” Yes, you read that correctly. Not only is Big Potato dabbling in the tabletop gaming arts, but has made its move into the jigsaw puzzles sector, too. Driven not only by the huge spike that the market saw for jigsaw puzzles sales over the various nation-wide lockdowns, but the steadily growing and shifting audience for the hobby over the last three to four years. “It has been a knock-on from the pandemic, to some extent,” says Motherwell. “Before, it was a very specific demographic of people that would want to sit down and play board games. But I think a lot more people have seen the value of it now, the value of sitting down and socialising around a board game. “We also know that the puzzles market just rocketed in lockdown, but we have known for a while that we wanted to move into the puzzles space. We knew the opportunity was there before the pandemic, we just wanted to make sure that we went in with the right product - it needed that Big Potato element.” In its new puzzles range - a launch consisting of two titles, one themed around films and the other around music - Big Potato believes it has found exactly that. Each title arrives with mini game elements to keep puzzle enthusiasts engaged long after completing the puzzle. “Both feature 101 riddles to solve, capturing a famous scene or actor, or song or standout moment from a piece of music,” says Motherwell.
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“For instance, the Films themed puzzles will feature someone carrying a watermelon, which we all know will be referencing Dirty Dancing. We wanted to create a jigsaw puzzle that isn’t just a puzzle, but something to engage with afterwards.” The artwork has all been created in house, by the Big Potato creative team, for which they can all take a bow. It certainly has a striking look, visually appealing for an audience who, over the years, have come to expect nothing less from the London based publisher. “Our audience has always been quite varied,” says Motherwell. “We have always had a lot of party games and titles that appeal to everyone. Top of the Pops, for example, is a nostalgic license that is recognisable to people straight away. But we have always had varied audiences and varied age groups, and with lockdowns, we have seen new fans emerge. “We have always been a bit of a gateway for people, especially the kind of people who might think that they don’t like board games. We have always been there to show them the truth, that actually, they do - they just haven’t been introduced to board games through the right medium, and that’s us.” It’s an awkward truth for anyone in the toy space to admit, but the pandemic has actually been rather good for business. Families at home with little else for entertainment have found themselves turning to hobbies and gaming. And now that restrictions are lifted, there’s little reason that Big Potato can see, for those audiences not to stick around. As long as they continue to provide the temptation for them, of course. “We have a host of new licenses coming out next year that will go to hold onto these audiences and retain that attention and focus on the sector,” explains Motherwell.
“That’s a really big thing for us, looking at what people are engaged with outside of board games - be that a TV programme, a film, music, or a pop culture moment. We are always coming up with license ideas, which we see as a key way for us to keep board games on the general conversation.” Motherwell teases that the Big Potato team has a “really, really exciting title coming out next year” but can tell us little more about it, right now. Suffice to say, it will - according to Motherwell - be the first board game to be centered on its theme, and will be key to the team’s launch plans for the coming year. What Motherwell can tell us, however, is that the team is very excited about the launch of its upcoming, officially licensed Mean Girls party game. Based on the hit 2004 teen comedy, the game will be centered around the film’s Burn Book, but instead of encouraging people to be mean - a la the film itself - this will be focused on seeing players provide the funniest answers in the game as possible. “We don’t want this game to be emotionally scarring for players, just funny,” says Motherwell. Working closely with licensors for the development of their party game titles is becoming an increasingly routine practice for Big Potato. It’s previously - and successfully - worked with Disney to develop titles such as its Disney Colour Brain game, while its Top of the Pops and Blockbuster’s games have proved to be hits in equal measures with audiences and media alike. “It varies from game to game as to how the titles get developed,” says Motherwell. “We have a submissions page for inventors
to submit their ideas, while James is always at events talking to loads of people presenting him with ideas. Our team will often take that game and apply a theme or a context to it, just to make it more playable. “One of the really good ways we come up with games is that, once a year, we have a ‘hat session’ in which everyone in the business puts their idea into the hat, has a few drinks, and then reads the ideas out to the group. “We have 37 people working at Big Potato, and we are all encouraged to be as creative with ideas as we want to be. Of course, we have a creative team whose job it is to come with ideas for games, but equally, Hannah and I could walk up to James tomorrow and say ‘we’ve got an amazing idea for a game.’ Unless it was absolutely awful, James always helps us out and see how it could be developed.” It’s a means of promoting endless creativity within the business, and one that has cooked up countless quirky creations over the course of the firm’s history. There’s even talk of an idea bubbling that will take Big Potato away from the tabletop space altogether and into the outdoor game arena. It’s an active, moving around game. And that’s all we’re allowed to know about it. So, how well does a team of creatively minded individuals cope when it comes to the nitty gritty aspects of business? One topic of conversation we simply can’t escape right now is the matter of logistics. Shipping, to be precise, has been the headache of the past six months and counting that the toy industry certainly didn’t need. Motherwell admits that it’s been a nightmare for the team at points.
“It’s just been about managing expectations and keeping communications going with all of our accounts,” she explains. “Shipping has been a nightmare, but luckily we have such a good relationship with our retailers anyway, that if they hadn’t had that, it would likely be a lot worse. You can be much more understanding when things are delayed if you really know the people you work with well, and we do.” Shipping isn’t the only hurdle that Big Potato has faced, of course. Anyone who knows the team will already be very aware of how much these guys like to talk. Interaction with their customers and audiences has, in fact, always been a key component to its marketing success since the company’s inception. So, like many others in the toy space, a year of lockdowns and restrictions has forced the team to find new methods of staying in touch. Motherwell says: “From a marketing point of view - and what’s always been key to our marketing strategy - is attending events and demonstrating our games. Our indie accounts will quite often go to stores and host demo events for them. “Sadly, we have no plans to anything like that for the rest of the year, to stay on the safe side. It’s been a real challenge for us to maintain our presence in the digital space.” Big Potato found its answer in online quizzes. Over the course of the pandemic, the team has been hosting online quizzes based on its board games, which, according to Motherwell “have gone down really well.” So well, in fact, it’s sparked the next imaginative leap for the team in the creation of its own Big Potato Game Show on YouTube. “We are bringing in some talent; TikTok personalities and a TV presenter, to come in an play as contestants on this game show,” she explains. “We are constantly thinking
of new ways to bring these games to life. The thing that makes you want to buy a board game is holding it in your hands, so communicating that without being able to physically meet people has been difficult. It’s made us rethink how we do a lot of our marketing. “So, we’re filming two episodes of our own YouTube gameshow, with the potential to create more.” And that’s us almost completely caught up with the latest from the independent board game publisher, were it not for the final feather in the team’s 2021 cap. Until now, Big Potato has made relatively little noise about a new initiative flying under the banner of Green Tatos, despite the major strides it has taken in attaining it. Motherwell tells us that it was over the course of the past year that the outfit has taken the idea of environmentalism and sustainability far more seriously than ever before, launching its Green Tatos campaign that will see it achieve the mission of making 64 per cent of its games plastic free by the end of the year. “We are setting out to achieve this by removing things like shrink wrapping, plastic sleeves, and working hard at it,” says Motherwell. “A lot of our games listed on the website and online shop now feature the little ‘plastic free’ logo. Our Mean Girls game is one of those. “We are also looking at shrinking the size of some of our most popular games in order to get more of our games over on fewer containers. I think that’s really important for us, encouraging the eco side. We are hosting a plant a tree initiative on our ecommerce site, which we will be shouting about next year. “We are well on track to hit 64 per cent by the end of the year, and we will no doubt see setting that target even higher next year. Being eco friendly is very important to us.”
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An eye on the Kosmos Filled with complexities and, let’s face it, some real beauty, the gaming universe continues to expand. Among its vibrant and bustling core is Thames & Kosmos, an expert in the tabletop hobby industry with its eyes and ambitions sky high
Hello Nicky, thanks for talking to us this month. It’s been a busy year for you guys in the board game space. How has business been for Thames & Kosmos over the past few months? It’s been a period of much development for the industry overall, how are you guys positioned now for continued growth and success in the gaming market?
ailing from the land that practically invented the tabletop gaming genre today, the German-rooted Thames & Kosmos knows a thing or two about the hobby gaming sector. In fact, this year the firm only narrowly missed out on taking home the Spiel des Jahres widely recognised as the most prestigious awards on the board game community - for its Euro style tabletop board game, The Adventures of Robin Hood. Needless to say, sales for Thames & Kosmos across the gaming portfolio surged throughout the pandemic, when consumers turned to more analogue means of entertainment in the form of two player games and puzzle gaming. As a result, Thames & Kosmos’ Exit game series remains a best-seller for the firm, as now it begins to build out the Exit gaming experience by taking it into puzzles and calendars. With plenty to catch up on, ToyNews sits down with Thames & Kosmos’ board game sales and marketing manager, Nicky ThomasDavies to discuss the health of the board game sector and to find out the latest from the team.
Wow! Where to begin with that one? 2021 has definitely thrown a few challenges in our path, which include transportation, customs delays and all the usual suspects, but we also moved to a new warehouse in the last few months. We seem to be coming through the other side safely, and exceeding forecasts, which is great, but it’s been a bumpy ride, and whilst we’ve done our absolute utmost, unfortunately we haven’t always been able to fulfil our usual ‘nextday delivery’ standard of service. We hope that the rest of 2021 doesn’t throw as many challenges in our path, and happily feel like we are now on course for a good autumn/winter period.
My observations are that we are seeing an enthusiasm for small and low-cost games, with the sweet spot being between £13 and £15. In Germany, we call them Mitbringspiele, which translates to ‘bring-along games’. For example: The Exit games continue to perform exceptionally well, and I’m thrilled to say that Devir’s Mazescape games have also been a surprise hit. Crew 2 has also performed astoundingly, and the card game adaptations of the books The Lost Words/Spells are so beautiful, they have flown off the shelves.
It’s been tough across the board, but thankfully innovation in the space is still thriving. Can you talk us through the strength of your current games portfolio? How is it reflective of the changes in demands from gaming audiences today? Our boardgames have absolutely rocketed in the last few years. I think we can partially attribute that to the pandemic, but I think our editing department has performed amazingly in these last few years.
The Crew Mission Deep Sea
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Boardgame Interview However, we have had big box game success stories too, with Robin Hood being a sell-out success after it’s Spiele Des Jahres nomination, and Anno 1880 already having a strong following, due to it being a best selling computer game, and so has also been very popular. Some fantastic titles in the line-up there, getting well-deserved attention. So, what do you make of the health of innovation with the gaming space right now? Is it healthier than it ever has been? How are barriers to entry being broken down in terms of accessibility to boardgaming, and what is Thames & Kosmos’ role in facilitating this? We don’t really include technology in our games as we like to be more traditional but we do have a helper app, which has proven to be a real boon to players with accessibility issues. It not only breaks down the rules into an easy to understand video but also reads out the tutorial and, in the case of adventure games, the cards too. Our new Lost Cities Roll and Write game has symbols as well as colours to help those with colourblindness and other visual issues. Can you talk us through some of the latest developments for the portfolio? What new lines have you got in store for Q4? What kind of trends are these tapping into, and what should retailers be keeping top of mind this second half?
Obviously we experienced a surge in demand for two player games during the pandemic and we have found that co-operative games have gone from strength to strength since lockdown ended. Unsurprisingly, people want to play together and we have found that more children are now playing with their parents. Our family games such as Ubongo Junior or Andor Family are well placed to appeal to this audience. Our Spiel des Jahres nominated Adventures of Robin Hood is another great game that will hit this sweet spot of co-operative play and family accessibility. Another huge success that we had planned for Q4 but is already flying off our shelves, is the Exit Advent Calendar. It is doing so well in both game stores, escape rooms and mainline shops that I think we will sell out before November even starts. Obviously, one of the biggest hurdles for the toys and game industries right now is shipping. To what extent have you guys been impacted by the current shipping crisis and what is your strategy to deal with the implications as we begin to think about Christmas trading? What message are you sending out to retailers and customers around this? We were largely unaffected until the Ever Given, where we had stock on board! It’s recently arrived, but was obviously delayed immensely. In reality, almost all of our boardgames are shipped from Germany, and so we haven’t been affected as severely as most suppliers.
Having found success in games and puzzles, the Exit series is now moving into the next bustling consumer space, Advent Calendars, coming this year.
Robin Hood narrowly missed out on a Spiel des Jahres win this year
We have sold out of some kits due to the unexpected popularity, but we still have more productions arriving, and so we don’t foresee any stock issues for AW21 at present, but we would always advise retailers and customers to get your stock ordered early to ensure your requirements are met. What impact do you think this issue may have on the board gaming scene in general, can you foresee this shaping any upcoming trends in the market - bigger box items, more locally produced games, that kind of thing? We have always manufactured the vast majority of our games in Europe, as we like the quality of the goods produced there. We have no plans to change our production location, though we are certainly looking into how we can make our games more eco-friendly. Thank you Nicky, before we let you go - one last question. What’s next in the pipeline for Thames & Kosmos, what are you guys focusing on now? How is this setting you up for future growth in the market? We are localising new games that have already proven to be successful in Europe as well as bringing in a sequel to our fantastic Lost Words card game, The Lost Spells, along with a Lost Spells jigsaw puzzle, which will be a perfect addition to any Christmas list. We believe that high quality, familyoriented games will always be successful and we are proud of our growing range. Our ever popular classics such as Targi and Legends of Andor, along with our Spiel des Jahres successes of The Crew range, My City and Robin Hood show that the Kosmos brand is continuing to grow from strength to strength, despite the current difficult climate! Autumn/Winter 2021 | toy news | 43
Family fodder More robust than ever, the family games market continues to supply both toy retailers and UK families with a host of quality titles, and as consumers make preparations for a Christmas full of partying, there’s likely no better time to stock up
Mattel 01628 500 000 | www.mattel.com Mattel Games continues to strengthen its first-class games portfolio with an extensive offering, introducing new lines alongside the company’s iconic favourites. This year, UNO celebrates its 50th anniversary with new products and a raft of exciting new campaigns. Joining the range this autumn is the new UNO Extreme, bringing more action, suspense, and surprise into a game that has been made popular around the world over the past half a century. Following the continued ‘incredible performance’ of Pictionary Air in 2020, Mattel Games is expanding the range with the new Pictionary Air Harry Potter, providing a magical twist on the classic family drawing game. Two teams, representing different Hogwarts houses, battle it out to see who will reign supreme. Players take turns drawing clues in the air while their teammates guess the images that appear on the screen. The team with the most points wins the house cup. New to Scrabble this autumn/winter is the Scrabble Star Wars Edition. May the Force be with You, especially on a triple word score! Fans can play classic Scrabble or try out Galaxy mode in which they must build words to advance their starship token around the board, collect Galaxy Cards to increase their score, and strike back at their opponents. Players can jump through hyperspace by playing words from the Star Wars glossary. With Scrabble Star Wars Edition, Mattel is appealing to sci-fi fans to lock their s-foils in attack position and let the spelling begin. Finally, joining Whac-a-Mole in Mattel’s Kids Games range is Crossed Signals, a new and exciting reaction-based electronics game, where players read the lights right or get mixed up. Players choose one of four different games, playing solo or with friends. 44 | toy news | Autumn/Winter 2021
Utilising light and voice commands, the Crossed Signals game will get players on their feet to challenge speed and accuracy including a duelling showdown where two players each take a sick. The player with the highest score wins. Up to four players can enjoy Mattel’s frenzied game of lights and action. Crossed Signals brings indoor and outdoor fun to any party or family night.
Gibsons 0208 661 8866 | www.gibsonsgames.co.uk | firstname.lastname@example.org Gibsons, the 102 year old family-owned jigsaw puzzle and board game company, is launching its autumn releases this September. This year, that collection consists of two new games and some festive gift puzzles that the whole family can enjoy. Gibsons’ Limited Edition Christmas Puzzle is back again and Light Up The Night is the 19th puzzle in this best-selling series. Painted by Tony Ryan, Light Up The Night depicts the whole town getting in the Christmas spirit as they adorn their houses with fairy lights to raise money for local charities. This 1000 piece puzzle is packaged in an eco-foiled gold box and inside is a special, serial-numbered certificate to make it the ultimate collectors’ item. Out of Order is the first of Gibsons’ exciting new games. There’s a laugh on every card in this fast-paced party game. The quirky quiz sees you whizz through just five questions a card… with one catch: you must give the answer from the question before. Out of Order is cheeky fun for everyone aged 14 and over. It’s also made in the UK and is plastic free! Gibsons 24-door advent calendar, Merry Mischief - illustrated by Jess Bretherton - is bound to spread Christmas cheer with its blue box and gold foiling. It contains 22 festive jigsaw puzzles as well as puzzle glue and ribbon so you can craft your own Christmas decorations. The puzzles come in four festive shapes and was named last year’s winner of Gift of the Year 2021. It also featured on ITV’s This Morning, and is billed by the team as the the ultimate festive gift.
Skyrocket 01489 668442 | email@example.com Skyrocket is ready to create a storm in the games category this year and beyond, with the introduction of Avalanche - a title the firm refers to ‘as the coolest game of the season.’ New for autumn/winter 2021, Avalanche markets itself as the highest-action game of the year, and it has ther might to back the claim up. In this fun, fast and furious game, players must shoot a cannon to knock out their opponent’s ice blocks. It will take multiple shots to displace a block, as players adopt an offense/defence strategy. The first player to hit five blocks wins the game. Parents will take comfort in the fact that the cannon balls are connected to each cannon, as this will avoid any loose or lost balls. Meanwhile, kids will love the fact that this means unlimited ammunition and zero reloading time - offering them heaps of fast-paced fun. Suitable for players aged four and upwards, this game presents families with multiple ways to play. In ‘Frenzy’ mode, two players can battle one another to knock out five blocks. In ‘Turn Based’ play, players follow a Noughts and Crosses style of game. Finally, adopt a ‘Time-Based’ play and one player can level up their play in practice mode. For more information about Avalanche and other upcoming and available lines from Skyrocket, including My Fuzzy Friends, Crystalina fairy dolls, and Moji the Lovable Labradoodle, please call 01489 668442 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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Basic Fun 0118 925 3270 | email@example.com
Flair 0208 643 0320 | firstname.lastname@example.org From a talking toilet to a stacking game with a difference, Flair puts family fun first with its all-new offering of games. Enjoy plenty of family fun with Pick-Up Pete – the game that families in the US can’t get enough of. Perfect for preschoolers, this is the stacking game with a difference, where players must pile up the chairs while Pete the Pick-Up truck drives around. The winner of the game is the first person to stack all his/her coloured chairs on the truck as Pete passes by. This awesome game will launch in October, with a 360-degree marketing campaign, including TV, pre-roll, and social media influencer activity. Meanwhile, combining all the things that children love, Shoot the Poop is the hilarious game, where players must shoot their toy poops into a talking toilet bowl - that’s Tank the Toilet to all his fans and friends. To play, simply place the poop on the poop launcher, aim the launcher, and SHOOT! The first player to shoot all his/her poops into Tank the Toilet wins. Shoot the Poop will launch in the UK, following an incredible consumer response in the US. Available from July, the game will benefit from extensive marketing support, including TV, pre-roll, and influencer activity. Finally, with football front of mind this year following the Euros and with the World Cup tournament set to take place next year, Flair’s football inspired card game Goal 10 will be right on target. For more information about Shoot the Poop, Pick-Up Pete, and the Goal 10 range, or any of the other collections from Flair and Just Play, call 0208 643 0320 or email email@example.com
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The Monopoly Surprise Collectables from Basic Fun! are hot property in the games and collectables categories, this year. Monopoly Surprise is the epic collection of blindboxed, multi-purpose collectables that presents kids and collectors with an exciting peel ‘n reveal experience like no other. Once unboxed, kids can collect, play and display their new game tokens. The surprises include heavy-weighted, metal, exclusive tokens, unique coins, new Mr. Monopoly expressions, chase tokens, and more! Not just fun to collect, these collectables can be used while playing with nearly any version of the iconic property trading board game. There are two Monopoly Surprise lines to discover. Monopoly Surprise Exclusive Collectable Tokens contain five surprises in each pack; there are more than 20 new tokens to collect in this assortment. Meanwhile, there are a further more than 25 tokens to find in the Monopoly Surprise Community Chests. Each Chest contains 10 surprises - exclusive gold toned tokens, which cannot be found anywhere else, unique coins, new Mr. Monopoly expressions, different coloured plaques, chase tokens, and more. Kids, families, and Monopoly enthusiast can collect all of the game tokens and use them in their board game play, and then display them for all to see! “Collect, Play, and Display”! For more information about the Basic Fun’s impressive portfolio of brands, please contact Tim Ives by emailing Tim.Ives@basicfun.com or calling 0118 925 3270.
Character Options 0161 633 9800 | firstname.lastname@example.org Character Options continues to deliver in the games aisle, with an unmissable portfolio for the second half. First, there’s the incredible cooperative game Stop The Robots. New for AW21, and having proved an absolute smash hit in the Character Kidz event, this new game is set in a world where crazy robots are threatening the city. Players must find and deactivate them before it’s too late. Players can use voice recognition walkie-talkies to talk to their virtual partner. They’ll need to work together to identify the robot, solve the puzzles, and cut the correct wires. There are more than 100 puzzles to solve to progress through the game’s 36 missions and nine levels. Kids can either play alone or as part of a team. There is also the Electronic Spin the Bottle game, where players must dare to perform songs and dances, or answer Truths to reveal what they really think. This hilarious game features hundreds of questions, truths and dares to create the ultimate family challenge game. Another must have in the games aisle is Projex, the projecting game arcade. This is the game that tests players’ speed and skill as they blast moving targets projected onto any light-coloured wall, all from the comfort of their own home, and without the need for TV screens or sensors. The game features three interchangeable image slides that let you project ducks, targets or UFOs, each with different sound effects. Players can choose from five built-in games and three skill levels, with target pointers on both blasters to help with their aim. Kids can either play solo, head-to-head or in co-op mode, teaming up to get the highest combined score. For more information about the full games portfolio from Character Options, which also includes the hugely successful PenSilly and Pokémon Trainer Trivia games, please call 0161 633 9800 or email email@example.com.
Ravensburger 01869 363 800 | www.ravensburger.com Following exceptional games and puzzles sales from March last year, Ravensburger is continuing the momentum and expecting further growth in Q4 with new launches and heavy-weight marketing plans. More than 100 new lines across games and puzzles will be launching this Autumn/Winter after a surge in demand over the past 18 months. In adult puzzles, the popular Christmas Limited Edition series is back, with a 25th Limited Edition 1000pc; The Christmas House, commissioned by UK Product Development Manager Sarah Stevens and created by and UK artist Roy Trower. In addition to this, 55 new puzzles launched in the 2021 Autumn/Winter catalogue, focusing on consumer trends such as fine art, the outdoors, recreational activities and a focus on nostalgia. 3D puzzle popularity continues to grow from strength to strength and we are particularly excited about the all-new Harry Potter Hogwarts Castle, sitting at a whopping 540 pieces, this is an ideal puzzle for a puzzle fanatic and Harry Potter fan. In games, the new #UpsideDownChallenge game does as the title says, turns the world (literally) upside down. A hilarious game that will keep friends and family entertained. Classic family game Labyrinth celebrates its 35th anniversary this year, a popular family game having sold more than 20 million copies to date. With a packaging refresh and a host of new marketing assets to mark the anniversary, this family favourite will be a popular purchase for new and existing fans. Immersive games continue to become more and more popular, coming into stock soon is Alien The Game – Fate of the Nostromo and The Princess Bride Adventure Book Game. Strong sales are expected for Ravensburger’s Immersive Games Marvel Villainous and Disney Villainous due to the expansion/ standalone packs and game popularity. Check it all out and discover the expansive portfolio of Ravensburger products for the festive season this year by getting in touch with the sales team now.
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Bird watching talons spotters It’s only just taken flight on Channel 5’s Milkshake but already Sixteen South’s new 2D-3D animated preschool series, Odo is causing a stir among audiences as it embarks on its subtle mission to address rising depression and anxiety in children through its positive outlook. ToyNews talks to licensing agency, Bulldog Licenisng about translating its core messaging to the consumer products space.
ust over one year on from the events of summer 2020 that shocked the world into making its stand against racism and inequality, and the new preschool IP developed to tackle some of the biggest issues of the modern era has successfully touched down on the children’s television landscape. If ever there was a series created to address the world that children inhibit today, Sixteen South’s Odo is surely it. Now launched on Channel 5’s Milkshake, Odo not only brings a ‘stunning new animated style’ to the preschool space, but with it, it addresses the most pressing matters of society today, from the rising anxiety and depression in children, to issues of racism, immigration, and respect for others. If 2020 was the catalyst for meaningful address of today’s biggest topics, then Sixteen South’s Odo is the response many 48 | toy news | Autumn/Winter 2021
of us have been waiting for. It’s likely why the news was received with such fanfare when it was announced in June this year that Bulldog Licensing would be handling the licensing strategy around the series, championing the series for ‘gently tackling important issues in a warm and engaging way for preschoolers’ while moving to keep both that, and its ‘beautiful animation’ at the heart of all licensing plans for the IP. Already, the team is in “advanced conversations” with toy and publishing partners, while the series broadcast partner line-up boasts some major global names, including KIKA, HBO Max, ABC Australia, and Canal +, making it an IP of vast potential in the preschool market. We catch up with Vicky Miller, licensing director at Bulldog Licensing, to find out what more Odo has to offer the preschool space this year and beyond.
Hello Vicky, thanks for chatting with us. To refresh us, can you talk us through Odo and what the series and property is bringing to the children’s space? What is making this series stand out in a competitive place, and what will it be bringing to the licensing space? Of course - Odo is the new launch from Sixteen South, and is a comic and heartwarming series targeting pre-schoolers which has just launched on Milkshake. Odo is the littlest owl at the Forest Camp, who despite his size believes there’s absolutely nothing he can’t do. The series aims to teach young children self-efficacy and to believe in themselves to help combat the troubling rise in anxiety and depression levels in today’s children. The stories also deal with important themes such as immigration, racism, respect for others, and show kids how to deal with setbacks in a meaningful way while fostering the development of social skills.
The first series has 52 seven-minute episodes and is currently airing weekend mornings on Milkshake. It will be rolling out in other territories this year and into 2022. We absolutely love Odo and the way it gently tackles such important issues in a warm and engaging way for pre-schoolers. The animation is beautiful and really stands out from other shows out there, and will translate to fantastic product ranges. What attracted you guys to the property? What makes this a property that speaks directly to audiences today? How will you guys work to translate the sensibilities of the series into the licensing space? We have long admired Sixteen South and so we absolutely jumped at the chance to work with them on Odo. The show speaks directly to kids on an array of issues important and relevant to them, but always in a warm and positive way with plenty of humour. Visually it is stunning - everyone who has seen it loves the animation – and will translate beautifully to products across all categories. We will work with our partners to incorporate the important curriculum into product development wherever possible, and always promote the positive messaging of the show in all ranges. What kind of partners are you in talks with for the series already? What are you looking for in Odo partners? The response to Odo has been huge – the winning combination of beautiful animation, fantastic content and incredibly strong broadcast partners (in addition to Milkshake, confirmed partners include KIKA, HBO Max, ABC Australia, Canal+ to name but a few) has created a lot of excitement in the market and we are in a number of advanced conversations on initial categories including toy and publishing.
We are looking for partners who love Odo as much as we do, who share the strong values of the show, and with whom we can build the brand into a successful global franchise in the long-term. What has reception of the property been like so far? How will you work to make sure that those core elements of the IP that have caught people’s attention are what comes through in its licensing? The reception has been incredibly positive. Every partner we have discussed it with immediately comments on the strength of the creative, and how well it will work for the market. The fantastic storytelling and humour makes Odo a show that parents and children will love to watch together. We are building a full cross-category programme for Odo, and across all categories our style guide will enable licensees to develop stunning products that will stand out on shelf. In softlines, we will encourage our partners to bring Odo, his friends and the forest camp to life through texture to reflect the animation.
In categories including publishing, we will work with licensees to incorporate the curriculum and goal of teaching children to believe in themselves, deal with setbacks and consider others, as well as ensuring the fun and humour of the show runs throughout. What potential for longevity in the children’s space do you see for Odo? How will you work towards this? We firmly believe Odo has the potential to establish as a core evergreen brand for pre-schoolers around the globe. The first series is comprised of 52 seven-minute episodes with a great variety of episodes and storylines. As mentioned, the 2.5D animation is beautiful and stands apart from other brands, the values and themes are important and timeless, and the backing of incredibly strong broadcast across the globe provides the platform for a long, successful future. Along with our partners we will plan Odo ranges, the initial launches and the longer-term roll out accordingly to build a sustainable long-term programme. What will be key to your licensing approach for the property? Key to this approach is to work with licensees who share the long-term vision for the Odo licensing programme, and to ensure that all partners are aligned at all stages. This will mean we can bring the cohesive, coordinated Odo range to market in spring 2023 which children and parents alike will love. At the time of writing, the series has only been on air for three weeks and Sixteen South are already receiving letters and art from fans! What’s your next step with it? Our next steps are to confirm and announce our first licensees, and work closely with all parties to bring the Odo licensing programme to market with a bang in 2023. Watch this space! Autumn/Winter 2021 | toy news | 49
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Hasbro: A magical gathering With sales surging 54 per cent in Q2 this year to hit $1.32bn, fuelled by consumer products, its Wizards of the Coast segment and a robust demand for toys and games, it would seem nothing can stop Hasbro’s run of cross-generational success. ToyNews catches up with head of global licensed consumer products, Casey Collins to find out what’s next Casey Collins
t was an increase in sales across its consumer products division and Wizards of the Coast and Digital Gaming segment that fuelled Hasbro to a stellar second quarter this year, a period in which the global entertainment powerhouse saw sales surge a full 54 per cent year on year to hit an impressive $1.32bn. Record new releases in its Wizards of the Coast and Digital Gaming helped to more than double the segment, while so robust was demand for the company’s toys and games that across the board, Hasbro’s chairman and chief executive, Brian Goldner hailed the second quarter trading period as nothing short of excellent. And it’s not escaped the industry’s notice. Hasbro is sitting at the apex of a crossgenerational resurgence of play right now,
whether that’s in the preschool space, where the firm’s acquisition of Entertainment One has helped cement it as a leader in younger years entertainment, or in its Wizards of the Coast pillar, through which it is guiding a global resurgence for games like Dungeons & Dragons (sitting at the centre of a tabletop gaming and geek culture phenomenon right now) and Magic: The Gathering, in all of its new, cross-platform iterations. Then, of course, is the wealth of activity surrounding its classic Hasbro fodder, such as NERF, Monopoly, My Little Pony and Transformers. Here, we catch up with Hasbro’s head of global licensed consumer products, Casey Collins to learn more about the company’s plans for the second half of the year and beyond. Casey, hello. Thanks for talking to us this month. To kick off, there’s been a flurry of very exciting licensing and consumer products developments and partnerships from you guys recently. What’s the general feeling within the consumer products division at Hasbro right now? What is exciting the team about the licensing space, and Hasbro’s licensing plans, the most at the moment? We had an excellent first half of the year with growth in Licensed Consumer Products revenue buoyed by strong demand across our brand portfolio. We have been working with several partners on a variety of location-based experiences which are opening soon.
Peppa Pig playsets head to shelves
Monopoly Lifesized, launching this August in London, will give people an entirely new, immersive way to enjoy the game. We are also moving closer to the opening of the first theme park land inspired by Transformers, with Universal Studios Beijing. The Transformers Metrobase will supercharge our storytelling with an entirely new world for fans to learn about. In 2022 Legoland Florida Resort in Winter Haven is set to debut the world’s first standalone Peppa Pig amusement park. With the exciting all-new My Little Pony movie, My Little Pony: A New Generation, premiering September 24th on Netflix, we’ve been working on several softlines deals including Morgan Lane, Alex Woo and a softlines capsule collection at Rue 21 stores. We’ve also deepened our relationship with Reebok following our strong showing with our Power Rangers and Peppa Pig collaborations with an upcoming launch for and PJ Masks. How has business been for the Hasbro consumer products/licensing division this year? What’s it been like fueling that forward and out of the various lockdowns etc over the pandemic? There has been a seismic shift in the popularity of online shopping as fewer children and parents are engaging in brick and mortar retail and we believe that the closures and lockdowns will have huge implications for the next 20 years in terms of the global retail landscape. Autumn/Winter 2021 | toy news | 51
Licensing Interview develop improvements to ensure the safety of their patrons. You’ve got major activity going on across the brand portfolio - spanning Transformers, My Little Pony, GI Joe, Nerf, then the eOne properties as well as the Wizards of the Coast stuff - Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering. Can you talk us through some of the key developments across the portfolio right now? What is Hasbro bringing to the consumer products/licensing arena this year and beyond?
Is there more consumer emphasis on experiential licensing now than before, and how are you guys adapting to that?
We have many major entertainment launches in the pipeline including My Little Pony: A New Generation, an animated feature launching on Neflix in September, to Transformers: Rise of The Beasts, hitting theatres in 2022. Working closely with eOne, we’re really excited to provide high quality content that will ignite excitement for our brands. As we look towards 2022 and beyond, it’s critical we immerse ourselves in our new, post-pandemic world. Our entire landscape has changed - over the past year we have seen shifts in media consumption with kids media more fragmented than ever; and our retail landscape has rapidly evolved with an accelerated growth in ecommerce sales. We have a strong need to diversify how we reach our audience both through media and at the point of purchase.
Location based experiences have long been a priority area for our team and our globally-recognizable, family-friendly brands - like Transformers, Peppa Pig, Monopoly and more - really lend themselves to these types of experiences. Despite the lockdowns, that part of the business has not slowed development, though as rules change - in terms of capacity limits, social distancing and masks, etc. - our partners have been quick to
How is Hasbro’s licensing approach adapting to new audience tastes? It’s been well documented that the ‘pop culture explosion’ has driven greater audience numbers across the older age ranges... How is Hasbro positioning itself as a crossgenerational entertainment and consumer products powerhouse? How important are those older audiences to you guys, and what do you think future growth looks like in the sector?
Hasbro expands its PJ Masks line-up
We are working more with partners that possess Ecommerce and/or Direct to Consumer expertise. We are also working to build franchise destinations and experiences online with our Ecom partners to deliver more consumer engagement, like Monopoly.com. How have the events of the past 12 months shaped the approach of the Hasbro licensing division? How are we seeing that being played out in the latest developments - live entertainment, Lifesized Monopoly here in London for example?
Transformers continues to see new content and animated series land across the Netflix streaming platform
Nostalgia has always been a big driver for us and has enabled our brands to have crossgenerational appeal as parents share the characters and stories they loved as kids with their own children. People grow up with our brands and it’s important to us to have our brands grow with our audiences and provide touchpoints across multiple age groups. For example, on the entertainment side, a child might be first introduced to Transformers through “Transformers: Rescue Bots” our animated series meant for our youngest fans. As they grow older, they may dive into the War For Cybertron Trilogy - which launched its final season on Netflix last month, or any of the Transformers live action films. How does the consumer products team continue to drive innovation in its partnerships and collaborations? What do you look for and how do you unlock the creative potential in each partnership for the portfolio of brands? We work closely with our partners to ensure that they are bringing the best possible products to consumers. We work with them every step of the way to ensure the products meet our brand standards and offer consumers a high-quality, unique item or experience.
How exciting and forward thinking is the consumer products space right now? What is Hasbro’s place within that sphere? The consumer product space is more exciting than ever as we all adjust to the ever-changing dynamics of the past year. We have always strived to be forward thinking, relying on consumer insights and data to help us predict trends, which we continue to do. At the beginning of the pandemic, we were quick to shift our strategies to ecommerce, and have continued to develop that area as the world begins to reopen and consumers create new shopping habits. We can’t not mention two key points affecting the consumer space right now - sustainability and shipping. Hasbro has been very vocal about its approach to sustainability - how does that filter down to the consumer products space. What role does it play in your partner and collaboration selection? We challenge ourselves every day to find new ways to embed sustainability throughout our business. We evaluate every element of our business, from product and packaging design to manufacturing, logistics and operations.
Through our Sustainability Center of Excellence, we aim to drive our strategic environmental blueprint across our global organization with a focus on uniting our facilities and teams around the world to advance our environmental commitments. In terms of shipping, what impact do you think that could have on the consumer products space, or on consumer trends themselves. Does it have the potential to shake up what consumers demand from their brands and products? Rising costs in freight and commodities continue to impact consumer products across industries. Earlier this year, we made the decision to implement price increases for Hasbro toys and games during the third quarter to offset these increased costs. We will be monitoring consumer reaction closely as the situation continues to evolve. Is there anything you’d like to shout about? After an unpredictable 2020, we’re really excited that production is back up and running and we’re finally able to refocus our alignment with the new Hasbro/ eOne team. We have a great entertainment pipeline across theatrical, scripted, unscripted, and animation and we can’t wait to share more in the coming months. Autumn/Winter 2021 | toy news | 53
A Hero’s Welcome Marvel’s Spider-Man has unveiled its latest incarnation, web-slinging into the preschool sector via the studio’s first full-length animated series in the highly competitive market. ToyNews catches up with Disney’s Paul Gitter and Mike Stagg to explore the latest adventure for Marvel’s friendliest neighbourhood spider-man
Y Paul Gitter
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our Friendly Neighbourhood Hero has taken on a number of iterations over the course of his 60 year history, from the early etchings of Stan Lee, through the Toby Maguire live action film era (without forgetting Andrew Garfield and Tom Holland, of course) and right up to the Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse complexity of characters, that included one Spider-Pig. But here’s an iteration that until now has never been seen before, as Disney and Marvel unveil the first full-focused preschool series based on the super hero lore. Enter, Spidey and His Amazing Friends, a new preschool animated series following the adventures of Spidey and a cast of Marvel heroes, all in pint-sized form.
Licensing Interview A major new launch for Marvel and Disney, the series - now airing on Disney Junior and landing on Disney+ in the coming weeks - marks the first time Marvel has trained its content efforts solely on the preschool space. As such, it stands to reason that the studio is pretty excited to discover just what impact its IP will make within it. Already, the company has lined up some 100 licensing partners, tapping giants in the toy space, including Hasbro, Jazwares, and LEGO to help lead the firm’s licensing efforts in the market. Disney has told ToyNews that early response to the series and the licensing plans have so far been ‘theatrical-level,’ while the studio is certain that Spidey and his Amazing Friends will be topping the wishlists of kids’ all over this Christmas season. ToyNews catches up with Paul Gitter, senior vice president, thir party commercialisation Marvel, 20th Century and ESPN, Disney Consumer Products, Games and Publishing, and Mike Stagg, senior vice president, franchise and retail, EMEA, Disney Consumer Products, Games and Publishing, to find out more. It’s a pretty big announcement from Marvel with some very exciting prospects for the preschool arena. It seems there’s big potential here to change the dynamic of a very competitive preschool space. Can you tell us, what’s the feeling among the team right now, now the launch is upon us? Paul Gitter, senior vice president, third party commercialisation Marvel, 20th Century, and ESPN, Disney Consumer Products, Games and Publishing: We are excited to be evolving the Marvel franchise for our next generation of fans with characters we know parents and kids love, coupled with new stories and adventures. Marvel connects families from very young kids right through to their parents and grandparents, so Spidey and his Amazing Friends is a perfect property for all to enjoy. The original series launched this August on Disney Junior and later on Disney+ and is Marvel’s first foray into programming that is geared specifically to preschoolers.
It is the perfect entry point for preschoolers to experience the positive values of teamwork with our Marvel Super Heroes in storylines they can easily relate to and understand. We have massive global licensee support across toys, games, publishing, apparel, home décor, stationery, youth electronics and consumables so there will be plenty of action-packed offerings for kids and parents. From a Marvel perspective, the appeal of our characters for licensees continues to grow. We know that this has been a challenging 18 months for many, so it is important to have this launch now, since our brand, with its legacy of creating amazing content that brings fans and families closer together, brings inspiration and resilience. Our characters are known for often triumphing against the odds, leading to millions of highly engaged fans who seek out our products around the world. Their stories seem more pertinent today than ever before. Why does the Spider-man franchise lend itself to this market so well? Why is Spidey leading the charge into the preschool sector? What scope is there now to begin to introduce other Marvel characters into the market in a similar fashion? Paul Gitter: Spidey is such an iconic crossgenerational character. With Spidey and his Amazing Friends, we’re introducing new friends, new villains, new themes and more adventures from the great Spidey team. We’re excited to get the opportunity to bring the positive values of our Marvel Super Heroes rooted in teamwork and bravery with storylines that will cater to this new, younger audience of pre-schoolers.
When you are out and about, you will likely see kids and adults sporting SpiderMan apparel, accessories or even playing with Spidey inspired toys, all of which reinforce the character’s strength and ability to inspire all-ages. We are fully expecting families to be tuning in together and sharing the viewing experience, which, of course, will ultimately influence purchasing decisions. How is the launch of the pre-school series reflective of the evolving audiences and markets for the Marvel IP? How does this help Disney and Marvel attract and retain audiences across the age ranges, or create fans for life across the franchises? And can we therefore expect more to come in this regard? Paul Gitter: Our Marvel characters are celebrated by millions of families and fans across generations and will continue to do so as we introduce new stories, new characters and expand to more categories and retail activations. We find that parents who love our characters pass that emotion onto their kids and new fanbases grow. We retain these fans through storytelling that resonates with viewers of all ages. We are also constantly reviewing where we place our content, making it as accessible as possible for families so they can enjoy it where they already are. This legacy of engaging content forges a deeper relationship with fans, and as you say, often creates fans for life! Spider-Man is celebrating his milestone 60th anniversary next year so you can be sure that there will be some really special activations and launches honouring our iconic hero.
This new launch takes ‘Spidey’ into the preschool content space, and marks Marvel’s first full length series in the market. How important is this move for Marvel, and why is now the right time to be making it? Why is the preschool market ready for this launch, and what do you think it will do for the preschool space? Paul Gitter: This series follows Peter Parker, Miles Morales, and Gwen Stacy, a diverse team who embark on heroic adventures as Team Spidey to protect their community. Autumn/Winter 2021 | toy news | 55
Licensing Interview This is the perfect time to engage our new pre-school audience as this season is traditionally more open for creative play and free time. Considering Marvel more broadly, aside from Spidey and His Amazing Friends, there is a lot of new content rolling out on Disney+, as well as continued support for our evergreen franchises, including The Avengers. As a result, we have a steady pace of new product lines and licensees to support. The preschool market is an important one for us and one we want to be able to develop the right type of content and products for. Spidey and his Amazing Friends offers this audience so much through exciting and relatable storytelling allowing kids to learn about Marvel Super Heroes. We hope our line of play-sets, vehicles, and action figures will add to their fun. Where will this sit within the wider consumer products portfolio for Marvel and Disney? Will this be an integral IP in marketing and retail strategy moving forward?
Obviously, Marvel is already reasonably well established across the preschool consumer products space in various capacities, so how will this new series launch strengthen and bolster that presence? What can we expect this to look like in terms of consumer products and preschool marketing? How big a focus will the pre-school market now become for Marvel? Mike Stagg, senior vice president, franchise and retail, EMEA, Disney Consumer Products, Games and Publishing: We have more than 100 licensees supporting Spidey and his Amazing Friends globally - including but not limited to Hasbro, Jazwares, LEGO and Rubies - and have already received a tremendous positive response for the property. We are really seeing a theatrical-level of support across the board. Spidey is one of our most beloved characters with kids and families, and Miles Morales and Ghost-Spider continue to rise quickly in awareness and affinity, so it has been great to see the fanfare around the show and for us to see how we can really amplify the property with our merchandising and retailing partners. The toy product line is what we call “show to shelf ” with character detailing from the show replicated in the product, this will be complemented with a broad category selection across apparel, accessories, and home décor, debuting in retailers with the series premiere this summer. 56 | toy news | Autumn/Winter 2021
Mike Stagg: We have significant global support for this IP at retail. Major retailers will be supporting in a big way with dedicated in-aisle space, endcaps, and direct to consumer marketing. For direct to consumer shopDisney.com will have a complete line of toys, apparel, and accessories all geared toward pre-schoolers and their families. Across EMEA many retailers including Smyths Toys, Tesco, Carrefour, Lidl, Aldi as well as Amazon, will be carrying our Spidey line, so we are really focusing on where our families are shopping on a daily basis. We are hoping that our fans’ interest will only grow. Can you talk us through some of the key brand extensions you’ll be exploring for the preschool IP? Will you be looking towards experts in preschool toys for example?
Mike Stagg: We are working with a really diverse list of licensees, spanning toys, games, publishing, apparel, home décor, stationery, youth electronics and consumables. Some highlights include Hasbro’s innovative toy line with age appropriate figures and role-play and Jazwares is on board with an assortment of plush and vehicles. For warm weather play, SwimWays has a cool line of Spidey pool inflatables while KIDdesigns is launching a robust portfolio of preschool inspired interactive learning toys such as electronic keyboards and drums. On the games side, families can look forward to some action-packed tabletop offerings from Spin Master, perfect for developing preschoolers’ cognitive and problem-solving skills. For apparel and home décor we have numerous global collaborations coming soon from Bentex, Centric Brands, footwear from BBC International, bedding from Crown Craft and more. On the consumables front, General Mills will be debuting a healthy snack lineup while Hallmark and American Greetings will make kids’ special day more heroic with a wide array of Spidey themed birthday cards. What’s the next step you guys will be taking with the Spidey and his Amazing Friends IP from here? What can retailers expect next, and why should they be excited for its future? Mike Stagg: The future is bright for Spidey and His Amazing Friends and we will continue to see an outpouring of support across our licensees, retailers and most importantly our family of fans. With the upcoming gift-giving season fast approaching, it will be no surprise to see our Spidey inspired merchandise topping kids’ wish lists, bringing lots of playtime joy for the holidays and beyond. Stay tuned for more exciting announcements coming soon.
The Pokémon phenoménon
25 years on and Pokémon is still selling gangbusters, with sales across its brand up 90 per cent on 2020, while toy sales surge 83 per cent on last year. We catch up with Mathieu Galante, licensing director (EMEA) for The Pokémon Company International to talk it over
whole quarter of a century since its first launch, and the demand for the global phenomenon that is Pokémon is still unabating. And that’s putting it mildly. As a brand, Pokémon is up 90 per cent on 2020. Yes, you read that right, 90. In fact, Pokémon has remained within the top four performing NPD properties for the whole of the year, and you’ll agree, that’s fighting off some pretty big competition. But it gets better still, because toy sales - the company has confirmed - now stand at 83 per cent higher in value this year to date. Drink that in for a moment. Pokémon, 25 years on from its initial arrival on the global scene, is more popular now that it ever has been. Fans are literally fighting in the aisles to get their hands on the stuff, and it’s not just the well-documented surge in the Pokémon Trading Card Game sales, but some of the more peculiar items too. Take the new die-cast Poké Ball replicas for instance. These come equipped with proximity sensing technology that appears to be driving fans wild. The launch has now
gone on record as one of the most successful launches ever for The Wand Company who pre-sold over 2,000 units within 24 hours for one UK retailer alone. One of them. The range has now seen nearly £1.1million in sales since launch in February this year. That’s the current might of the pop culture scene for you. In fact, there’s so much activity currently centred around the Pokémon brand, it’s difficult to know where to begin. The IP is in the throes of a global 25th anniversary that has brought in the likes of Katy Perry and Post Malone to celebrate through a new music venture, while new video games continue to drop faster than you can spell ‘Fletchinder’ (at 11 letters long, this is the longest Pokémon name. From Gen I to Gen V a Pokémon’s name could not exceed 10 letters. There are no 12 letter Pokémon names. No, you’ve been studying Pokémon for too long). To get a handle on all of the latest developments for the blockbuster franchise, ToyNews catches up with Mathieu Galante Licensing Director (EMEA) for The Pokémon Company International.
Hello Mathieu, it’s good to catch up. First up, it’s been a big year of big collabs and big launches for Pokémon. How are the 25th anniversary celebrations going? What has reaction been like to some of the major announcements and initiatives you guys have launched so far? We’ve been thrilled with the reaction to our 25th anniversary activity. Teaming up with other iconic brands and global superstars, we’re rolling out a dynamic and ambitious programme to generate greater awareness and give existing fans reasons to celebrate the journey throughout the year. Combined with a dedicated website, unique promotions and special merchandise, we’re seeing an increased profile and high global interest. A particular highlight has been our major music venture, P25 Music. This year-long, worldwide celebration of Pokémon through the power of music launched with a global online party on Pokémon Day, 27 February, which culminated in an exclusive virtual gig headlined by Pokémon fan Post Malone, including a surprise exclusive cover song. Autumn/Winter 2021 | toy news | 57
Licensing Interview Other Pokémon fans, including P25 Music headliner Katy Perry and global reggaeton superstar J Balvin, in addition to Cyn, Vince Staple and UK artist Mabel, are also creating new songs, styles and pop-culture moments through the lens of Pokémon, culminating in a celebratory year-end digital release, Pokémon 25: The Album, from Universal Music Group’s Capitol Records. In June, Katy Perry released the vibrant anthem Electric, starring alongside Pikachu and Pichu in its video. A limited-edition Katy Perry and Pokémon merchandise collection was also issued with the hit single’s release. Pokémon has, of course, been an ever popular property among fans (kids and adults) with its cross-generational appeal, but over the past six months to a year has been the focus of a real boom in demand. What has been behind this rocketing demand and how has that translated across the whole of Pokémon’s consumer products portfolio? Pokémon is a multi-generational and evergreen brand with an enormous and loyal global fanbase. Encompassing video games, mobile apps, a Trading Card Game, animation and movies, competitive events and licensed products, there is something that appeals to everyone. By constantly innovating and releasing a continuous pipeline of exciting new content, Pokémon remains vibrant and relevant, with a major impact on popular culture, and so consistently appeals to and attracts new fans across the age groups. The heightened activity and profile around the 25th anniversary celebrations has given extra impetus to all things Pokémon and helped the increase in demand. To satisfy and further stimulate this we are looking to continually broaden our CP offering through innovative and exciting new partnerships which cater to our existing fans as well as enticing new ones. We hope our recent deal with the BBC, which sees several series of Pokémon animation airing on CBBC and iPlayer, will also help to engage a new audience.
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Can you give us a run through of some of the key launches, collabs, and initiatives from you guys this year? How are you building on these to maintain the momentum of the Pokémon brand for the second half of the year and beyond? Will you be ramping up activity on the approach to Q4? Following the release of the all-new Nintendo Switch adventure New Pokémon Snap at the end of April, video games Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Pokémon Shining Pearl - faithful revitalisations of two iconic Pokémon games from 2006 which first introduced trainers to the Sinnoh region - will launch exclusively on Nintendo Switch on 19th November. Meanwhile, Pokémon continues to evolve its offering with its first strategic team battle game, Pokémon UNITE, which was released in July on Nintendo Switch systems and is scheduled to launch in September on mobile devices. Pokémon UNITE will be free-tostart, with optional in-game purchases available.
The latest expansion for the Pokémon Trading Card Game, Sword & Shield Evolving Skies launched on 27th August brings together all Eevee evolutions and showcases Dragon-type Pokémon. And coming in October is the highly-anticipated Pokémon Trading Card Game: Celebrations, which commemorates 25 years of the brand and features fan-favourite Pokémon and remakes of classic Pokémon TCG cards. Ongoing until October is a pan-European retail TCG giveaway promotion. There has been a host of exciting collaborations this year, including fabulous fashion and accessories from Levi’s, G-Shock, Zavvi (their fastest and bestselling collection to date), Criminal Damage, Opposuits and Galeries Lafayette - which launched with an amazing Pokémon popup in the famous store that also included other exclusive merchandise such as the hugely collectible Pikachu sculptures from Leblon Delienne. We have also partnered with leading glue brand UHU for a global back-to-school promotion which includes downloadable crafting ideas and is supported by a TV campaign. Our master toy partner Jazwares, distributed in the UK and Eire by Character Options, has delivered an exciting toy range which has delivered strong sales. Following the stand out performance of our very first Backpack Carry Case playset last year, which sold out at a number of retailers and was a huge success across Europe, we are launching a follow up Volcano-themed playset this year. In addition, the special collectable Mewtoo light up statue has proved a big hit and the new Deluxe Pikachu version will launch towards the end of the year. Character Options will also be launching a highly-anticipated new range of highly articulated figures with Charizard the first character available at retail. Mattel has been enjoying success with it’s MEGA CONSTRUX line Jumbo Pikachu and Jumbo Eevee, with the former recently being named the Grands Prix du Jouet’s Construction Toy of the Year in France.
A special 25th anniversary Celebration Pikachu, complete with party hat and present is available at Amazon. Additional anniversary products from Character Options include new three-inch limited edition silver figurines of Bulbasaur, Charmander, Squirtle and Pikachu. There will also be special silver plush of the Kanto region classics. What have been some of the stand out successes across the consumer products space? Is there anything that’s taken you by surprise, or anything that has inspired or encouraged the next level of brand development innovation from you guys? Sales have been strong across all categories during our anniversary year but the Trading Card Game and toys have performed particularly well. Pokémon as a brand is up 90 per cent on 2020 and has remained within the top four performing NPD properties for the whole of the year. With toy sales up 83 per cent in value this year to date. Following last year’s sell out toy advent calendars, 2021 will also see a special Halloween calendar produced, as well as new festive advent calendars including a deluxe light and sound version. Innovative new die-cast Poké Ball replicas, equipped with proximity sensing technology, have been one of the most successful launches ever for The Wand Company, who pre-sold over 2,000 units in 24 hours for one UK retailer and have seen nearly £1.1m in sales since launch in February. And Funko extended its range of pop vinyl Pokémon figures, with Charmander and Squirtle coming to the UK and Europe for the first time.
Our McDonalds Happy Meal x Pokémon Trading Card Game promotions, which ran in the US, Germany, France and the UK, were fun, innovative and newsworthy. This partnership was unique as we have never involved this part of our business in a promotion of this scale before. They proved hugely popular sell-outs and brought the excitement of collecting to kids, families and adults in these key territories. These are some truly impressive numbers and results here, it must be very exciting times at the Pokémon head offices. So, content wise, what can we expect from Pokémon next? As well as the new games and apps mentioned earlier, the 24th season of the iconic Pokémon animated series premieres from this summer. In Pokémon Master Journeys: The Series, Ash and Goh meet new friends and returning rivals on their exciting adventures. The latest animated film, Pokémon the Movie: Secrets of the Jungle, tells the story of Mythical Pokémon Zarude and Koko, the human baby he adopts after finding him abandoned in Okoya Forest. What do you make of the current pop culture licensing space? Is it still a sector in good health and what do you think of the state of innovation within it? We are always looking to work with innovative partners. Our first collaboration with the online home of pop culture, Zavvi, was a sell-out success that has since spawned further collections, while our partnership with Funko has produced highly collectible pop vinyl figures.
The diverse plethora of stylish and exciting products launched for our 25th anniversary reinforces our commitment to innovative, original and high-quality merchandise. How is The Pokémon Company International helping to fuel innovation in that licensing sector, and why is this important? Pokémon has always been innovative; it’s what keeps it fresh, relevant and appealing. Its pillars continue to evolve. The groundbreaking Pokémon GO has become an astonishing global phenomenon, and our recent first-ever live-action Pokémon movie was a box-office smash. This innovation is reflected in our exciting partnerships and collaborations, and has led to us being nominated for a wealth of awards this year. What’s the next move for you guys in the consumer products, gaming, and, of course, toys spaces? We have a thrilling start to 2022 with the release of Pokémon Legends: Arceus, which will Introduce fans to the long-gone Sinnoh region of old. It promises an experience unlike anything trainers have experienced before as they embark to create the region’s first Pokédex. Thanks Mathieu, this has been a great chat. Before you go, is there anything you’d like to add? Yes, keep an eye out for even more innovation in 2022 as we continue to ramp up the excitement with more dynamic activity and intriguing partnerships - watch this space! Autumn/Winter 2021 | toy news | 59
There’s Magic on the air Magic Light Pictures made its first foray into the preschool television space when it launched its first TV series, Pip and Posy to Channel 5’s Milkshake earlier this year, and already, audience reaction has been strongly positive. We catch up with brand director, Daryl Shute to talk about the company’s new adventure
Daryl Shute, brand director
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hether it’s the deep, dark woods of the Gruffalo, or the dizzying heights (and spatial capacity) of the Witch’s broom, Magic Light Pictures is well versed in taking its audiences on some of the most popular and spell-binding adventures to grace our screens in modern times. This year, however, that adventure looks a little different, as the award-winning studio embarks on its own journey to bring a new property to the preschool space; its first animated preschool series in the form of Pip and Posy. The realisation of a long held desire of the Magic Light team to take on the preschool sector outside of its penchant for high quality half hour specials, Pip and Posy is a new series, currently airing on Channel 5’s Mikshake!, based on the popular children’s books illustrated by Axel Scheffler. If it has the air of familiarity about it, it’s because Scheffler has been the long time illustrator of the wildly beloved Julia Donaldson collection, from the Gruffalo and The Highway Rat, to Zog, Snail and the Whale and plenty more.
It’s from Scheffler’s illustrations that Magic Light Pictures has been able to carve out its own unique spot on the animation landscape, and one which it now brings to the preschool television market. Pip and Posy, however, marks a “very different proposition” for an award winning team that has made a name for itself in TV specials, and this is a path down which Magic Light Pictures is taking its steps with the utmost care. “We know it’s a crowded market, packed with wonderful shows and brands, so we’re fully aware that cut through is going to be very hard and it will take time,” Daryl Shute, brand director at Magic Light Pictures, tells ToyNews. “However, the ratings on Milkshake! are strong and our own testing shows that the series is connecting with audiences. The animation is beautiful and the team has created something really unique and special, so we are confident it stands up alongside all of our work. “While we have been making high quality half hour specials for a number of years now, we have long wanted to bring a new IP to the global market.
Licensing Interview Pip and Posy is based on a popular series of books illustrated by Axel Scheffler, so we’re in a comfortable space.” Pip and Posy is centred largely on the theme of friendship, drawing on the importance of social skills and the ability to make friends as a child develops their emotional intelligence. This is a series that aims to impart on its preschool audience the ability to see the world through someone else’s point of view, as well as discovering how to build lasting friendships with kindness, resilience, and flexibility. “We love Axel Scheffler’s work, so it’s been a joy to bring another of his unique worlds to the screen,” says Shute. It was in time for the 2009 launch of The Gruffalo that Magic Light Pictures struck up its partnership with both Donaldson and Scheffler, adapting the popular children’s book of the same name some ten years after its first publication. Since then, Magic Light has played a key role in developing the IP into a globally loved brand that today continues to see soaring success across toys and consumer products, as well as live experiences, games and collaborative efforts the world over. So successful has Magic Light Pictures’ partnership with the preschool property been, that audiences are now very keen to see what the outfit has in store for its preschool property, Pip and Posy. “Focus right now is on building
momentum and awareness of the series. It’s key to establish fandom early on so the demand for activity beyond the series becomes eagerly anticipated,” explains Shute. “Our strategy is to introduce licensed products to the UK market in 2022, and we’re having conversations across key categories at the moment. “We’ll be making the first announcements in the coming months. “Partnerships play such an important role for The Gruffalo. Brand extension in this way has enabled us to connect with new audiences, diversify and extend our reach, but also allows fans to engage with the characters in a physical world alongside the books or films. What’s always been at the heart of these relationships is to remain true to the core brand values and, as an example in the instance of Forestry England, that the values of both partners are completely aligned.” As such, it’s a similar approach that Magic Light Pictures is taking with the Pip and Posy IP, as this year has already seen the team work alongside Play England. “We partnered with all the key nations’ Play organisations to sponsor Playday - the annual national day for play,” says Shute. “Play is central to Pip and Posy’s friendship, and we see fantastic brand synergy with Play England and Playday.” It was inevitable that comparisons were always going to be drawn between the
success that Magic Light has seen in its half hour TV specials, such as The Gruffalo and the subsequent global licensing activity surrounding the property, and its first venture into the preschool television space with Pip and Posy, but the team stands firm that it will remain level headed about the strategy for the IP and its own, very separate and very unique journey within the licensing space. “To call something a ‘brand’ takes time,” says Shute. “We’ve spent over 10 years building The Gruffalo and its collection of companion titles, so as to position it as an evergreen literary classic; a brand that will be enjoyed by families for 50 years and more. “Quality and longevity are the company’s core values and we believe that by doing something well and in a measured way, it will deliver success. So, we’re sticking with that approach with Pip and Posy.” Meanwhile, The Gruffalo business continues to just ‘grow and grow’ for the Magic Light team, who bills the success as nothing short of ‘fantastic,’ watching it become rounded out with a master toy range of figurines from Wow! Stuff, while the expansion of the overall toy category will be a “big focus for the team this year.” “The next title for this Christmas on BBC One is Superworm, which is just coming to an end of production so we’re excited to share that with audiences this year, too,”concludes Shute.
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Sustainable by design Known globally for its proficiency in design and architecture, sustainability, and having a word for everything, Denmark also houses a toy company committed to all three of these principles. We catch up with the team at Dantoy to discuss the latest
arck Højbjerg Matthiasen, the CEO of the Danish toy brand, Dantoy, has an interesting perspective of the sustainability movement. Heading up a toy firm that was built on the DNA of environmentalism some 50 years ago, he is very well equipped to have it, and quite at home sharing it. It’s Matthiasen’s honestly held opinion that sustainability and the toy industry simply do not mix well. It’s not within the industry’s make-up to be a sustainable business, not when it is a global multi-billion dollar industry that is so vastly dependent on the import and export of goods out of China and the East. It’s rather ironic that Dantoy, then, has seen such a resounding success in the sustainable toy space. Ironic, but by absolutely no means, surprising. Because Dantoy is a company unlike so many in the toy industry; it’s a company that is built precisely on the premise of being the most sustainable toy company in the world.
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“Dantoy launched with the mission to push sustainability in the toy industry,” Matthiasen tells ToyNews. “We have done it for so many years now that it is not a new thing for us. What is new, is that people have started to talk about it.” It was in the 1970s that Dantoy first got rid of PVC plastics. In the ‘90s, the firm received its certificate for environment and quality, and in 2010 it became the first toy company in the world to be certified with the Nordic Eco Label. It remains one of the very few in the toy space to hold that accreditation today. Like most of Denmark’s exports, there’s a Danish word for Matthiasen’s belief that most sustainable practices are simply, also, good business practices. “What I always say is that a lot of manufacturing is actually fairly sustainable,” he says. “Really, it is the same as being a good businessman. We have a Danish word købmandskab - that refers to the practice of saving money by being sustainable. Instead
of using new cardboard every time you enter production, for instance, what if you were to reuse old card three or four times? You can save both money and CO2 from entering the atmosphere. “I actually think a lot of manufacturers are thinking like that, they just don’t always map out the sustainable journey.” The issue is, it is Mattiasen’s strongly held belief, that there are simply “far too few companies manufacturing their own products.” “And for that reason,” he tells ToyNews, “I honestly don’t envisage the toy industry becoming a sustainable one.” “The biggest issue is that we are an industry of a lot of brand owners who don’t make their own products. They don’t have the resources or the know-how to do it. This isn’t like in the food industry, where food is more locally produced. Plastic is very much driven by production, shipping into Europe, and selling cheap. Then it just becomes the consumer or the community’s responsibility to get it away.” A major breakthrough for Dantoy occurred in 2016 when the team decided to do something about its use of fossil fuels. It was the decision that gave life to its popular Bio Range brand; a range of toys that adhere to the rules of all Dantoy products: they must be of high quality, recyclable once played with, and all produced on the same equipment as the company’s other products. The sugarcane-based range did very well for the company upon its launch back in 2018, surpassing all expectations amid an audience that was growing more and more wary of the use of plastics. “We were concerned,” says Matthiasen, “because plastic has a very, very bad reputation. Mainly because the consumer sees plastic as one thing in total. When they see a plastic bag in the ocean, it’s easy to think that all plastics are bad. For us, being able to launch our Bio Range in 2018, we couldn’t have imagined it would be so well received. “We were able to get new customer accounts - accounts who had switched to wooden toy suppliers - to come back to
us, purely because of the Bio Range line. It was a breakthrough for us that reaffirmed our vision to be the most sustainable toy manufacturer in the world. “I won’t brag,” says Matthiasen, no hint of a brag about his person, “but I would say that we have that position now, and have had it for a couple of years, We will definitely keep on that track, because it is a futurewinning position.” There ws then, only one logical step from there, and with an eye on retaining its title as the most sustainable toy company in the world, it didn’t take Dantoy long before it started to look at its own waste. Yes, while the waking world is quite often actively discouraged from playing with its own waste, Dantoy sought to create an entire play universe out of it. Last year, it launched that universe to the consumer sphere. “When you make products, you make a lot of wrong products - misproductions or over-productions - with the wrong colouring, or not moulded correctly. The process of production also makes waste,” says Matthiasen. “So, we decided to take that waste and create a new universe of play out of it. From that waste we are now creating limited edition colour toys and so on. It’s even more sustainable than the Bio Range, because instead of shipping our waste off to recycling plants, we just break it all up again, combine it with other mis-productions and create new toys all within this play universe.
“It’s the future that consumers are looking at. Compromises are going to have to be made to be sustainable; not on the shapes or the quality of the toys, but on the colours of the plastics. Compromise in this sense is how we bring about a more circular economy.” The range, according to Matthiasen, has already been very well received by the company’s domestic market. It’s a pleasant result for the firm, but not altogether too
surprising. Denmark is, afterall, at the center of a Scandinavian territory known for its alignment with the sustainability movement. It’s why the agenda flows through everything that the business does, even down to its water drainage system. Having partnered with Operation Clean Sweep, Dantoy uses filters in its drains to ensure that no trace of microplastics escapes into the environment from its manufacturing
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Sustainability Interview facility. It’s an example of Dantoy’s commitment to the cause outside the direct toy space. Another is in its recently launched Toy Take Back campaign through which it is encouraging consumers who have finished playing with their Dantoy products, to return them to the company to be reused elsewhere. That’s the consumer facing strain of the campaign. The second strain of the campaign involves the Danish Government to devise a learning plan for young children - a National Curriculum equivalent - that will introduce lessons on sustainability and recycling among preschoolers. “We have proposed for the Government to bring it in as a yearly programme for kindergarten kids. Hopefully, one day, we could make it so that all day care centres in Denmark host an annual Dantoy Take Back day themselves,” says Matthiasen. “That’s the vision from here. Because kids are the future consumer. If they can start from a very, very young age to learn about the environment, we can help move our society and communities in a much more sustainable way. If we can do that through play, it’s a win-win. Kids don’t learn about sustainability through books, they learn this stuff through play.”
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The plan for now is for these initiatives to remain local to Denmark, just while Dantoy figures out all of the logistics. Matthiasen does have a vision of rolling it out across Scandinavia, but only once the team can be certain there are no issues with the initiative on a smaller scale first. “It’s important to me to get this right,” he says. “Because I think we need to do something. Everyday I open up the papers and we read about how everything is going crazy. I have children myself and I hope we can make this a better place for them. But, of course, we need, as businesses, to push that agenda. Also on a political level. But we cannot wait for the politicians to take action, becasue by then, it will be too late.” The good news is, despite Matthiasen’s resignation that sustainability is outside of the toy industry’s grasp as a whole, that consumers are demanding more and better sustainable practicies from the brands they are buying. It’s why sales for Dantoy were nice and robust last year, even in the face of the pandemic. It’s also why Dantoy is positioning itself for a focused and strategic ramping up of activity here within the UK toy market. It’s now finalised its onboarding sessions with
four new UK sales agents whose drive it will be to increase Dantoy’s presence in the UK. “My honest response is that the UK is not a huge market for sustainable toys right now, but I am sure that you will be moving in that direction,” he tells us. “That is why we are going in more heavily than ever. We are seeing a trend in day care centres and government programmes where you need to buy more sustainably, while younger parents are driving the market into the future. “We will start shipping from our factory into the UK. Of course, you haven’t made that part easy for us, but we are on top of that. We will be investing much more in the UK market from this point onwards.” Is there anything else on the radar for Dantoy for the near future? Absolutely there is, and it’s fishing nets, Matthiasen teases. A whole universe of toys made out of them. “That’s a planned new range for 2022,” the CEO tells us, “We’re going to be buying up old and used fishing nets and developing another play universe. Everytime we launch an initiative like this, we cut down the need for virgin materials, and that helps everybody, I guess.” Dantoy’s head of sales, Anne Krogh Harding can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Games, mastered When the brains behind the toy design and invention platform, Mojo Nation, and the industry PR and board game specialist, Playtime PR come together, the result is often beautiful. Here, the trio takes us through its first board game launch, Out of Order. For those that don’t know, who are you and how did you get in the industry? Lesley: Well… Billy Langsworthy, as you know, was the editor at Toy News before co-founding Mojo Nation with Adam Butler. Mojo Nation celebrates creativity in the toy-and-game industry and runs awards, conferences and pitching events. Billy: Deej Johnson is a creative consultant and writer. He writes rules and copy, and helps people improve and sell their games. He’s also the brains behind several books including The Snakes & Ladders of Creative Thinking.
Deej: The final part of our shambles is Lesley Singleton. Lesley’s spent over 20 years in PR, including the entertainment and travel sectors. She now specialises in toys and games as the founder of Playtime PR. She also has an uncanny sixth sense spotting great board games! And now the three of you have a game out! What’s the idea of it? Deej: Yes, we’ve teamed up with Gibsons to revolutionise the industry in no way at all! It’s the first party game Gibsons have done... It’s called Out of Order; it’s a trivia game with a twist – you call out the answer you missed!
Billy: It’s as easy to show you how it goes as to explain it… Lesley gets ready to answer five questions – but she’s always one answer behind. So when I read out the first question, Lesley THINKS of the answer but SAYS, “Out of Order”. Then I read the second question – and Lesley answers the first. Ready, Lesley? Lesley: Kind of! Billy: Which breed of dog comes in three sizes: toy, miniature, and standard? Lesley: Out of Order. Autumn/Winter 2021 | toy news | 65
Do you have a favourite question card? Lesley: My favourite card changes depending on whether I’m playing it with – say – a friend, my teenage son or with my mother. But this brings up an interesting point that was on our mind when we were writing questions. In our experience, a lot of party games are only as funny as the people you’re playing with. So if you’re with a more introverted group, some games can actually be awkward to play… With Out of Order, our intention was for anyone to play this and be as hilarious as the next player. We achieved that by effectively making each card a script… There’s a laugh on every card because the game puts words in your mouth: it makes you funny. What was the biggest challenge?
Billy: The cartoon cat Garfield loves which Italian dish made from layers of wide, flat pasta?
Independently, each of you gives new inventors advice on creating games. Why do your own now?
Billy: As Lesley said, Mojo Nation runs toyand-game design conferences and pitching events. We also interview professional inventors and inventor relations execs about their creative processes. Then, when we speak to new inventors, we pass on that know-how… But what better way to empathise with our core audience than to actually go through the exact same process they go through?
Billy: Elvis Presley recorded a song about a well-known gamblers’ haunt: Viva WHAT? Lesley: Lasagne Billy: Lots’ wife turns to salt in a story about the destruction of two cities: WHAT and Gomorrah? Lesley: Las Vegas Billy: WHAT did Marie Antoinette supposedly say when told her people were starving? Lesley: Sodom! Billy: And the bonus? Lesley: Erm... Oh! “Let them eat cake.” Very good! It reminds me of a Mastermind sketch by The Two Ronnies! Is that where the idea came from? Deej: Oddly enough, no! Being old, we’re aware of the sketch but we chose not to research it. We didn’t want it to influence us. Rather, a couple of years ago, Billy and I wrote a book called The Snakes & Ladders of Creative Thinking. It’s about having more ideas for board games… Well, it’s impossible to write about that without coming up with ideas! One of our notes said, ‘Answer from the question before’ – and so it began… 66 | toy news | Autumn/Winter 2021
Deej: We decided we should go through the entire process, starting with generating lots of ideas and playtesting. Then we pitched to companies! We got useful feedback, we got icy stares and we got polite “no thanks yous”… And, to be honest, that process would’ve been incredibly useful even if we’d got nowhere! Billy: We were delighted when Gibsons licensed it, though, because we then got insight into negotiating licensing agreements. Working alongside a company’s internal design team also gave us first-hand experience of what inventors go through. It all puts us in a stronger position to help new inventors. Lesley: It’s been incredibly useful. For anyone that doesn’t have experience of this route to market, we can properly talk them through it – inside and out. In my case, it’s also added another string to Playtime PR’s bow. We now have a deep understanding of the entire process behind launching a game – from sketch to shelf.
Lesley: First, getting all three of us in the same room together… After that, it was nailing the tone. When we decided to publish with Gibsons, we needed to take their values into consideration and take out some of the ruder stuff. But who, finally, can say what the difference is between being cheeky and being rude? Deej: Well, that’s what I find interesting because what one member of the public thinks is rude may not bother another person at all. And for whatever reason, there are plenty of people in the world who think their own sense of humour is somehow definitive. It’s very peculiar! When’s the game out? Deej: It’s out now on amazon, the Gibsons website and in John Lewis stores. Early next year, it should be more widely available… I’m expecting to see it in all good clearance shops by March. Lesley: The Fantastic Factory’s David Snow told me, “You know you’ve made it as a games designer when you see your game in The Works!” Is now a good time to be a game inventor? Billy: Absolutely. More and more companies are opening their doors to the inventor community – and great ideas can come from anywhere. Look at TOMY’s Active Snap… That was invented by a group of secondary-school pupils and their teacher! Finally, then, do you have plans to do any more games? Deej: Yes! More are in the pipeline, including a potentially fatal drinking game.
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