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Welcome The Goods Life No. 218 | Spring / Summer 2021 Editor Robert Hutchins email@example.com
Sales Manager Sarah Norwood firstname.lastname@example.org
Designer Paul Forster email@example.com
Follow us @toynews online
This is the stage of a pandemic that I quite enjoy now, actually. I haven’t been around for too many, but as this one goes, I’m currently in a good place with it. It’s quite the relief, to be honest, because that was a long winter, wasn’t it? There’s no need to answer, I can tell by the look in your eyes. I’ve become pretty good at reading a situation by eye contact alone. I shared the same look with a queue of mullet-ladened men awaiting their first haircut in weeks just last month. “Thank God for April 12th.” Life is finally having the fun bits re-introduced to it, but without the social pressures of our pre-pandemic existences. I can now spend a day exploring toy shops - and believe me, I have - but still have every excuse for turning down dinner outside with the in-laws. And I realise I’m not alone. It’s been uplifting to hear toy retailers talk of ‘fantastic sales’, ‘overhelming footfall,’ and ‘continued support’ from their local customer bases across the country since their doors flew open again last month. The only sight better than that of kids filling the aisles again, must be the numbers on the balance sheet when it reads - as one indie told me - of takings akin to Christmas. Could you have asked for a better reaction from the Great British public? It’s reaffirming, too. All that talk of ‘pent up spending,’ and a ‘desire to shop local and support the community’ wasn’t just drivel designed to clog up my inbox. There’s truth to it. At least, there is so far. We’re still a few trees short of clearing the forest, and no doubt attention has already begun to turn to the matter of sustaining ‘the new consumer mindset’ and retaining those local shoppers. People who have now had their vaccinations may find themselves feeling more comfortable with travelling back to the cities or the shopping centres from which they have been absent the best part of a year. Old habits have a tendency to die hard, after all. But they do die. Therefore, I’m staying optimistic about that one. Unless one of the side effects of the Moderna jab is short term memory loss as well as improved 5G, I have faith that the role of the local toy shop this pandemic won’t be readily forgotten. Robert Hutchins, Editor Robert.Hutchins@biz-media.co.uk
Spring/Summer 2021 | toy news | 3
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COVER STORY ENTER THE DRAGON P45
Contents Spring/Summer 2021 Features
CATS, KITTENS, AND A GAMES EXPLOSION We talk to Joeri Hoste about the latest launches from tabletop gaming's Exploding Kittens
PIECING IT ALL TOGETHER ToyNews explores the jigsaw puzzles space and the new wave of artists helping to mix it all up
NEW TRICKS? The skateboarding scene has seen a resurgence this past year. We dip into what this could mean for the toy space
Regulars Opinion 11 Steve Reece 12 Gary Pope 13 Desriee Asomuyide 24 Tianna Powell
Market Data 26 The Insights Family 28 Retail Spotlight 42 Generation Media Sector Guides 53 Product Showcase Back pages 65 Bossing It...
NO MORE KIDDIN' AROUND The UK's kidult audience is on the rise, so it's time we explored some of the biggest names on the pop scene
Spring/Summer 2021 | toy news | 5
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Claws and effect Exploding Kittens burst onto the scene in 2015 when it set records as the most backed game on Kickstarter to date. Six years later, the kittens’ explosion is still expanding with ten games to the portfolio and 45 countries on its roster. ToyNews talks to Exploding Kittens’ director of international sales, Joeri Hoste
ed. Stick. Put. On. Lips,” are the clues given by Joeri Hoste, Exploding Kittens’ director of international sales at around the midway point in our Zoom call. It’s an easy one to guess, and one that exemplifies perfectly the simplicity of the company’s hit tabletop family game, Poetry for Neandethals. There’s also an innate enjoyablilty to any game that has the power to reduce one to monosyllabic speech; because let’s face it - talking like a Neanderthal is inherently funny. No matter who you are. So is, by the way, flicking through a deck of cards depicting kittens playing ‘butt tubas’, or throwing a soft burrito at a friend or family member - all of which you
will find somewhere within the Exploding Kittens repertoire. It’s a whacky humour like this that has managed to keep the company close to the style - and audience - of The Oatmeal, the webcomic platform from whence it came - even as it grows internationally at a rapid rate. Because Exploding Kittens is growing, and at a rate of knotts. Having burst onto the scene in 2015 when it launched its self-titled game to Kickstarter, Exploding Kittens has gone from one of crowdfunding’s biggest success stories (219,000 backers making it the biggest campaign ever for a game) to a global entity with over ten games selling across 45 countries in more than 20 languages.
To date, Exploding Kittens has sold over 15 million games in the last five years. And it’s story is really only just beginning. “We definitely got some timing right,” says Hoste, speaking in multiple syllables from his current base in Amsterdam. “The company hit a crest of a wave of growth in the tabletop gaming space that has led to this explosion within the scene. “But actually, what helped us with the Kickstarter campaign back in 2015, is just the nature of that platform - and something still very intrinsic to our philosophy and our mission - which is to have a very strong engagement with our audience and to really create experiences and connections with people that play our games.” Spring/Summer 2021 | toy news | 7
Try playing Throw Throw Burrito with a group of people and come away from it without making any connections. Even if it’s just between the soft throwing toy and someone’s head. “It’s a kind of bringing people together, connecting them, helping them to generate memories and so on - rather than sitting on a couch and watching TV,” says Hoste. “That is something people respond to very well.” Very well, indeed, in fact. And nowhere more so - with the exception of the US (on sheer population alone) - than here in the UK. Ours has become the single biggest international market for the Exploding Kittens business, where, since the company rocketed to popularity from 2017 onwards, it has seen the majority of its sales generated through mass market retail accounts.
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It makes sense, then, that the UK will be the focus of some of Exploding Kittens’ biggest plans for the gaming space. “Our plan for the UK is to really broaden the portfolio of games,” continues Hoste. “Even when we started, we’d set out to, each year, have a couple of games to add to the schedule that we were bringing to market. In the last 18 months, we have been ramping that up. So, on a regular basis we can expect to see five new titles.” It’s latest being the recently launched A Little Wordy - somewhat a departure from the style of game that die hard Exploding Kittens fans have grown accustomed to from the company - joining a portfolio of ten other titles, and with three more planned for this year, a target of five releases a year doesn’t seem too far-fetched. Consider that co-founder Elan Lee and Matt Inman (of The Oatmeal fame) are both considered prolific creatives themselves, while the
Exploding Kittens business keeps its doors wide open to licensing ideas from the inventor community, and it would seem at least for the timebeing - that ideas flow freely throughout this tabletop gaming unit. But then, there is a current demand to be met. It’s a - perhaps uncomfortable truth, that the pandemic has been good for the gaming industry. People at home have spent a year looking for new experiences and different forms of entertainment, with demands and tastes only increasing in variety as that audience continues to expand and diversify. “Perhaps now, game night which in the past was something more for university students, is something that the family gathers around for,” says Hoste. “And that has been very positive for us, because it is a great match for the kind of games that we do. It’s also been beneficial for the gaming industry as a whole, and it will be interesting to see, as we start to come out of lockdown, how that develops. “We are very hopeful that those great experiences we have provided for people will be something that they will continue to seek out on a regular basis.” The question for Exploding Kittens is, however, as those audiences for gaming continue to diversify, will the common thread that unites the company’s current portfolio need to change, too? It’s been established that whacky humour is a major part of what Exploding Kittens delivers, so how will the firm’s future portfolio account for varying tastes? “We want to create an engaging experience,” says Hoste. “One of our founders, Elan Lee, would go so far as to say ‘it has to make the people you are playing with entertaining.’ The humour is a major part of how we maintain the balance between where we have come from as a company, and where we are now. Balancing between the audience who arrived at the game through The Oatmeal, and the wider, international audience we have picked up as we have grown. “The audience will change considerably as we add new games to the portfolio; so games like A Little Wordy and Tacocat Spelled Backwards are quite different audiences to Exploding Kittens and Throw Throw Burrito. So I think the connection and experience is probably more important than the humour.” Take a look at the library of games under the Exploding Kittens banner and you’ll see that in many cases, the connection is made and the experience of the game is felt even before the box has been taken off the shelf. Both A Game of Cat and Mouth and Tacocat Spelled Backwards see the packaging become part of the game and play itself, while the company insists that it is “taking leaps to strip out plastics and use more paper” in its own push for greater sustainability designed into its products.
“The difference between a fad that comes and goes, and something that endures is all about gameplay and having that experience,” says Hoste. “It is something, from a marketing point of view, that we want to be instantly understood. So, if I explain Throw Throw Burrito to you as a card game meets dodgeball - you’re going to have an understanding of what the game is going to entail. We want to make sure that people instantly understand wha the game is about, before they even play it.” If a rapidly rising number of UK customers isn’t measure of success enough for the Exploding Kittens stable, then take into consideration also that this summer will witness the company’s first endeavour in the licensing space, partnering with Universal Brand Development and Illumination to bring the Minions to the Exploding Kittens title. “We are trying a few new things as we focus on the UK market this year,” explains Hoste. “And one of them is that this year, for the first time, we are applying an entertainment license to the Exploding Kittens franchise. We will have an Exploding Minions game launching this year, in June, as a fun way to reposition the game with a broader appeal. “It will be exciting to see what that does, and if it is successful we will continue to pursue those kinds of changes within our portfolio.” At the same time, the outward licensing and franchise building around the game portfolio continues to gain traction. Further products are currently in development across both the Exploding Kittens and the Throw Throw Burrito franchises for later this year, while Hoste admits that “he hasn’t even scratched the surface” of what is taking place on the digital side for the company’s games library. The latest, of course, is that Exploding Kittens has made the leap to the Nintendo Switch with a digital version of the game in a move that “has the potential to grow the audience size for Exploding Kittens exponentially.” It’s little surprise then, that plans are already in place to bring more of its titles to the gaming platform in the coming months and years, tapping into a
strong trend for brining popular physical game titles to the digital audiences. Back in the physical gaming world, and it’s been somewhat of a whirlwind 18 months since Hoste joined the Exploding Kittens line-up. He’s navigated a pandemic, seen the launch of a new game - A Little Wordy - coincide with the reopening of non-essential shops across the UK, and witnessed the company continue to only grow larger on an international scale. And all signs point towards it being just the start of a new wave of growth for the firm. Already, Hoste is teasing upcoming news of increased international growth, while re-orders have already started coming in for A Little Wordy. And Hoste is wellpositioned to assist with the company’s plans across the board.
A gaming industry veteran by experience, he has spent a 20 year career so far enveloped in the gaming scene, 15 of which based in The Netherlands where Exploding Kittens has seen sales figures rival those of Germany - the home of Essen and tabletop gaming itself. With that wealth of experience behind him, it’s with interest we ask his favourite title among the Exploding Kittens line-up to date. “My favourite to play would be between Throw Throw Burrito and Poetry for Neanderthals, because they are a bit more active and interactive,” he answers. “I like Throw Throw Burrito if I am in an active mood because they go flying everywhere; it is a fun experience. It is like doing exercise while gaming, and an example that there really is a game for a multitude of tastes at Exploding Kittens.”
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The Peter Pan phenomenon: Has the UK’s ‘kidult’ market suddenly come of age? While it’s an audience that will never shed its Comic Book Guy image, it’s notable that the ‘kidult’ market is making a rapid b-line for the mainstream. Following NPD reports of the vast growth of the UK’s own scene last year, and an adult fandom facilitated by an era of online shopping and content streaming, Kids Brand Insights’ Steve Reece explores why the ‘kidult’ sector has now come of age By Steve Reece
While it’s never too difficult to spot a ‘kidult’ in real life, it is quite a hard task to track the size of the ‘kidult’ toy market as it stands, simply because some of the distribution points happen to be outside of the traditional toy sales channels themselves. Nevertheless, it is abundantly clear that an increasing number of adults are buying toys for themselves, or being given them as gifts. There are a number of strands feeding into this considerable growth. Fandom is (and always has been) a key driver. Whether it’s characters from a classic TV show, a retro movie, or some other pop culture content, or collectables and one-offs associated with them, these days there is a much broader range of merchandise available. For these fan purchased products, the broadening of distribution for niche items via Amazon and other online platforms has played a big role. In the days before the Internet (days now confined to the dusty annals of history), there were more limited options and product ranges needed to be slimmer to reflect limited on-shelf space. But eCommerce supports a far broader range of products at varying levels of sales volumes.
Geek and sci-fi culture have been a long-term feature of the Kidult market. Today, though, there is an increasing proliferation of content out there, with new content released every month. While the amount of content and number of franchises is fast growing, those old sci-fi properties like Star Trek have not gone away, and so, we end up with a market which is significantly bigger than it was pre video on demand. Increasingly, major toy companies are playing an active role in the ‘Kidult’ market. If you want high end adult targeted Star Wars collector products, you can find them, while Mattel Creations is playing a role, and of course, Funko has been smashing it for years now with a Funko figure for nearly every license you can think of. The key point is that the Kidult market is not a new thing. There have always been adult collectors of toys, but over time things seem to have changed. Collecting toys as an adult is no longer seen as a ‘peculiar’ thing to do. One of the first projects I worked on in the toy business was consumer research (in home) with adult Action Man collectors. It was quite an eye opener, because at that time such collecting was deemed to be ‘unusual’. Some of the people I met could best be described as eccentric, if not a bit out there, but now this type of collecting is considered to be quite normal. Now, with ever growing content universes out there, it looks like this is a trend which is here to stay.
"There is a proliferation of content for the 'kidult' market, with new content released each month." 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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Value added tact: The importance of meeting the changing sensibilities of ‘kids these days’ From Generation Z to Generation Alpha, audiences’ tastes and preferences are ever changing, from awareness of social responsibilities to greater demand for sustainability. Co-founder of Kids Industries, Gary Pope explores the importance of authenticity when meeting today’s youth and their new consumer values By Gary Pope
My favourite game when I was a kid was Buckaroo. The tension, chaos and hysterical laughter caused by a few bits of plastic pulled from a cardboard box kept me happy for hours. If only the youth of today was still that easily pleased, product development and marketing teams would be laughing all the way to the bank. But they’re not. Far from it. Culturally, societally, we are in a state of flux. So many things are happening that were unthinkable five years ago, all of which are impacting our purchasing decisions. As a result, young people have become increasingly sophisticated consumers, politically savvy, environmentally aware, far more emancipated, and very, very vocal and demanding of the brands they invest time and money in. They curate rather than collect. The label in itself is no longer enough. They want to know where, how and with what products have been made. They have an incredible understanding of the supply chain; are the workers treated fairly and paid a living wage, is the factory run on wind power, is it safe? They are increasingly invested in making purchasing decisions that are driven by value and the impact they will have on the planet, rather than by consumption. Value no longer means cheap, it means quality, longevity, considered and conscious. They understand the importance of sustainability, the circular economy, diversity and humanity. They want to see products representing all of us, and not just a limited few. Charity shopping and reselling toys and games on eBay are seen as badges of honour, rather than a shameful blot on their social status. But most of all, they want authenticity; they want to buy from brands that genuinely share their values and are
honest and transparent about contributing towards a fairer society and the future of our planet. What they don’t want, is box tickers. And they know some or all of this at a really young age. Even Generation Alpha (2012-2025) is aware. They feel strongly about consumer issues, they just don’t have the maturity to decode them or the disposable income to directly influence them. Gen Z (1996-2011) has the powerful combination of a more sophisticated awareness and their own money, so they can choose to spend – or not – on the brands whose credentials are most important to them. The way young people relate to media has also changed massively. They are no longer passive consumers; they are active participants. They want to be immersed in interactive, engaging content that adds value to their experiences and fulfils a basic social need. They don’t do one-dimensional. When it comes to gaming, this means Roblox and Fortnite – games that double up as social platforms; places where they can meet friends, show off, have a voice and be heard, recognised and rewarded. Socialisation is critical to child/youth development, and this is more important than ever given how much face-to-face contact has been eradicated by the pandemic. Unsurprisingly, Roblox was the most popular mobile game in the US last year, with users averaging 100 minutes play per day, and the company had a first day valuation of $38.3 billion when it went public. Equally unsurprisingly, the notion of the metaverse (which is being coined by some as the real future of the internet and the next era of social media) is incredibly powerful to our digital natives and the brands hoping to reach them. So, two huge things for brands to get right when it comes to R&D and marketing to young people moving forward – both of which I believe will become non-negotiable before long: consciously authentic values and actions, and the integration of social. Nail that, and you’ve got the equivalent of Buckaroo for the next generation.
Gary Pope (CEO & Co-Founder, Kids Industries) will be discussing 'How Priorities are Changing Across Generations of Consumer at Brand & Licensing Innovation Summit, which runs online 9-11 June. Passes are available from https://www.brandlicensinginnovationsummit.com/
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Play culture: Conversations around inclusive toys need to be bigger and better Desriee Asomuyide is the founder and creator of the children’s brand Little Omo, an inclusive and multi-cultural pre-school brand that aims to encourage conversations around diversity and inclusivity within the toy and play space. Here, she talks us through the importance of turning the volume right up on the diversity discussion By Desriee Asomuyide
It’s no groundbreaking revelation that children learn best through play. Neither is it that the best way for parents to raise kind and multi-cultural children is by having the option of inclusive toys, books, and resources readily available to them. It was with a tired frustration, then, that despite the acknowledgement of the importance of a diverse and inclusive toy box, the real options still remain few and far between. And it was from this that I created the brand, Little Omo, with the aim of creating products that represent children of colour, and help teach children to be culturally aware of others around them. It was my son who was the inspiration behind Little Omo - the name Omo means ‘child’ in the Yoruba language spoken in the south west of Nigeria - as I wanted him to be able to learn and play with toys and resources that represented him and other children of colour. As a dark-skinned black woman, who has a first hand experience of colourism, I was very passionate about the range of flashcards I developed featuring a variety of skin complexions, facial features, and hair textures; representative of people from a variety of different backgrounds and cultures. Children should be able to play with a toy or read a book and recognise a character that looks just like them,
they shouldn't feel excluded. If a child can see themselves in the mirror, from the colour of their skin to the texture of their hair, this should be replicated in all children's spaces around the world. We live in a multicultural world but there is such a lack of products that represent children within the educational spaces and toy retailers. Little Omo wants to continue spreading the importance of why inclusive toys need to be seen more in toy trade shows, magazines, and retailers; sharing how this can help the children of tomorrow grow and learn so much more from the toys they play with from a young age. Since the launch of the Little Omo flashcards six months ago, the brand has sold more than 1,000 packs. But this is just the beginning. There are so many future plans for Little Omo and we are working behind the scenes on creating more educational games, development and fun role play products. The vision we have is that one day we see our products stocked in a variety of UK department stores and toy retailers. Brand awareness is a big focus at Little Omo, as it's essential for us to make a social impact and change the current situation that's at hand - a very real lack of inclusive toys for children. So, there are no groundbreaking revelations here, just the need to see better and bigger conversations around inclusive toys for children taking place, the desire for more toy buyers to carry out more extensive research to uncover brands that focus on inclusivity, and to see more of them line the halls of exhibition stands at trade shows. Because they are out there.
"Inclusive toys need to be seen more; at trade shows, in magazines, and in toy shops around the world." Desiree Asomuyide is the founder and creator of Little Omo, a pre-school brand that celebrates diversity and multi-culturalism by reflecting the lives of children today back at them through play
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Renaissance flair While the ‘new wave’ puzzle artists movement has been bubbling away for the past two years, it’s the surge in interest and growth in audience for the puzzles sector over the course of the pandemic that has thrown new light on demands for forward thinking ways of approaching the art work that is used in what has become a truly exciting market. ToyNews takes a look at the creativity, the diversity, and the inclusivity behind the UK’s love of puzzles
uaint country cottages, market towns in the snow, immaculately dressed children occupied with a rosy-cheeked vitality for life, while not a craned neck and face lit by the glow of a smartphone in sight; puzzles for a long time have drawn on the nostalgic allure of the idyll. Picture postcards for transportation to a different time, it’s no surprise that the puzzles market has seen major increases throughout not only the pandemic of the last year and a bit, but since the advent of the ‘digital detox.’ Like jumping into a chalk drawing with Mary Poppins, the art of the puzzle has for a long time been an escapism from the trappings of everyday life. But as wider audiences begin to discover the benefits of jigsaw puzzling - studies and research into mental wellbeing and mindfulness chief among them - the demands on the market begin to shift; tastes change and puzzle-purchasing audiences want to feel better represented, or see their lives better reflected, in the artwork through 14 | toy news | Spring/Summer 2021
which they engage in the simple joy of piecing things together. Today, nostalgia-heavy jigsaw aisles are giving way to more contemporary designs. Innovation is pouring into products at an exciting velocity, to breathe new life into a space that has finally found its cool. Whether it’s an Escape Room puzzle filled with riddles to solve, an image made completely from shades of the same colour, or an artwork made vibrant with colour and multi-culturalism, the jigsaw puzzles space is in the midst of a ‘New Wave’ movement, and it’s one of tremendous potential. In more ways than one may think. “I think the puzzle sector has massively become more viable for artists and illustrators, and there are endless possibilities when it comes to working with illustrators,” illustrator, and jigsaw puzzle designer, Bethany Lord tells ToyNews. “As trends and tastes change, demand definitely changes. While studying at uni, I remember thinking that working with wellrespected companies in the puzzles sector,
like Gibsons, seemed impossible. But I think, with new demands to work with smaller and more current artists, it’s actually a lot more viable and possible, which is very exciting.” In fact, Lord has very recently seen that pipe dream become a reality, having been collaborating with Gibsons who commissioned the young artist to work on a number of new additions to the company’s White Logo collection of puzzles - a range designed to tap into a diverse portfolio of artists to bring contemporaryism to the jigsaw puzzles sector. Lord’s artwork, Dream Picnic, is her first to join the range, an homage to world cuisine and the love of travel that runs through her portfolio. “I think it is so important to experience different cultures and be aware of the world around us, it makes us better people and allows us to grow,” continues Lord, who is also currently publishing a children’s book centred around the world travel theme. “I love the fact that I have the opportunity to introduce children to the world around them, and feed their curiosity.
“There is so much to see, that is outside of our comfort zone. I want to show the positives of travel, and the importance of informing and inspiring the next generation of children.” Lord is among a number of young artists from across the world to currently be working with Gibsons on its continuously expanding White Logo puzzles collection, a selection that aims to stay consistently on-trend, inspirational, and innovative for new puzzle audiences through the artwork it uses. “Our team is constantly on the lookout for new artists to work with, whether this be through online research, engaging in conversation on social media, or talking with art agencies,” Rebecca Hersee, marketing executive at Gibsons, tells ToyNews. “Quite often, we come across artists when we are not necessarily looking for them. “Often we will find an existing artwork that we think would make a fantastic puzzle and approach the artist that way. If we are commissioning an artist to create an original design for us, we will ensure their style is appropriate for the theme we want to show.” One example is Gibsons’ recent desire to hit the current retro and ‘90s trend by commissioning the Spanish creative designer, Ana Hard, whose contemporary graphic illustrations are inspired by fashion, movies, and lifestyle. The resulting product is the 1,000-piece Retro Vibes (pictured below, right) under the White Logo collection. At the centre of what Gibsons is looking to achieve through its relationship with international artists is set a new tone for the jigsaw puzzles market; one of diversity and inclusivity that make up the foundations of the Gibsons business as a whole. “Bringing people together underpins everything we do,” says Hersee. “We may be over 100 years old, but we understand that to make our company thrive in the future we must live our values. Gibsons is an
inclusive company and cultivating a culture of inclusivity and diversity will always be a focus for our team. We look for collaborators who align to our values and are passionate about what they do. That’s not to say that Gibsons isn’t proud of its ‘core’ range of puzzles and the audience that its traditional scenes of nostalgia, cottages, and countryside have served, and continue to serve, incredibly well. But, so too is it a company aware that these scenes “don’t always represent the society we live in today.” “These puzzles are extremely important to the Gibsons brand and we didn’t want to alienate our audience by introducing completely new scenes,” explains Hersee. “Instead, we launched the White Logo Collection to complement the range and sit alongside our traditional puzzles. We wanted the artwork to be completely different to what we have produced before.” It’s not just on a cultural level that Gibsons is dialling up the representation, but is also using its games and puzzles portfolio to tap into the societal movement around topics such as wellness and mental health, and utilising the power that the toy and game industry has in removing the stigma around such conversations. Katie Abey is the brains (and pen) behind Gibsons’ popular Pack of Positivity, a 52 pack of playing cards that has been given the 21st Century makeover with ‘feel good’ artwork designed to instil positive mental thinking and optimism, through the channel of quirky, often sarcastic cartoons and characters. Gibsons isn’t the first to be tackling the topic of mental health awareness among kids and teens, and is joined by a growing slate of toy and game makers to be addressing the issue of wellbeing, and facilitating conversations around mental health. The UK start up, Book of Beasties has been having the same conversations with kids through its mental health awareness card game, and over
the course of the pandemic implemented a London-wide school campaign to assist teachers and students with resources to help them through social distancing measures and lockdowns. “It is refreshing to see Gibsons and other larger companies realise that they have the ability to lessen the stigma around mental health by embracing it,” Abey tells ToyNews. “If people can start seeing positive messages around mental health in more and more places, even on jigsaw puzzles in the shop, then it reinforces that truth that having a spectrum of emotions is an integral part of being human.” It’s possible, at this point then, to look at the Gibsons’ White Logo collection as a lot more than a series of contemporary puzzles, but a means of instigating wider discussions based on the sensibilities of society today. Hersee says: “We really hope that the range will start an important conversation and ensure that there is representation, not just in the puzzle industry, but in the toy and gift industry too. “We predominantly want to promote topics that are important to us and give a voice to artists who have important stories to tell. For example, Tabitha Brown is an American illustrator whose motivation behind her work (including Lazy Sunday, main image) was her frustration that people of colour are under represented in art. “She found art depicting Black girls and women often focused on hardships and struggles, or was overly religious. She now creates art that shows Black women having fun, being quirky and fashionable, and living their everyday normal lives. “We also have the chance to champion upand-coming designers who are starting out and had never considered puzzle artwork before. We started working with our youngest artist, Bethany Lord. She is a real talent and we can’t wait to share her art with our audience.”
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Portrait of an artist Travel lines | Bethany Lord Bethany Lord is a university graduate, an illustrator and designer and artist behind one of the latest contemporary jigsaw puzzles to launch under the Gibsons White Logo banner. Inspired by a passion for travel, Lord brings multiculturalism into the colours and imagery of her work. We catch up with the artist to learn more about her move into the puzzles sector Hello Bethany. To start, we love the artwork featured on Gibsons’ Dream Picnic jigsaw puzzle. Can we kick off with a bit about you and your background? What got you into illustrating? I have always been drawing since a really young age, always entering competitions and creating my own scrapbooks. I very luckily grew up in a creative household and was always encouraged to pursue what I enjoyed. At school I studied art and photography which allowed me to do a foundation degree in art and design which led to me picking illustration as a pathway for university, after very nearly picking graphic design. I went on to do my BA in Illustration at the Arts University Bournemouth, graduating in 2018. I then started my career in freelance illustration, whilst also studying for my MA in Communication Design: Illustration at Kingston University in 2019. For about two and a half years now I have been working as a freelance illustrator. I’m always drawing, watching movies, playing music and reading in my free time. There’s always something creative going on. What was it that inspired you into illustration? What do you think influences the artwork that you create today? I grew up surrounded by illustrated children’s books when I was young. They always intrigued me. I read a lot, so I feel like I grew up with artists such as Shirley Hughes and Quentin Blake. In secondary school, I was always creative and spent all of my spare time on my sketchbooks and was introduced to artists such as Hockey who really inspired me. I love going to exhibitions and art galleries, going into London and walking around is a huge inspiration for me. Travel influences my work massively, I love exploring, seeing new places and experiencing different cultures. The colours, new surroundings, and places. 16 | toy news | Spring/Summer 2021
Well, travel is a key theme of your art today. How important is it for you to bring different cultures into your art? You also work in children’s book illustration. Alongside puzzles, what does it mean to bring all of this to the children’s space? I think it is so important to experience different cultures and be aware of the world around us, it makes us into better people and allows us to grow. I like to try and illustrate a huge variety of different places, and always research properly into a culture or place so that I can represent it to my best ability. I love the fact that I have the opportunity to introduce children to the world around them, inspiring them to travel the world and visit new places, feeding their curiosity. There is so much to see, that is outside of our comfort zone. I want to show the positives of travel, and the importance of informing and inspiring the next generation of children. How did your work with Gibsons come about and what does it mean to you to see your artwork on puzzles sold across the country? I had always been aware of Gibsons. I think I came across some puzzles Gibsons had worked on with a couple of illustrators I follow on Instagram, which led to me getting in contact, introducing myself and sending some potential work over. It’s always scary putting yourself out there but it can lead to great opportunities. It’s very exciting seeing my artwork on puzzles being sold across the country. It’s very crazy to think that people will be putting my artwork together in their homes. Was the puzzles market ever on the radar for you before your work with Gibsons took off? I had definitely thought about pursuing the puzzle market previously, after seeing illustrated more contemporary puzzles on the market and in stores.
I always take pictures whenever I see a product or book that I think is similar to how I work, or could potentially be a route for my work to go down. I think it was about finding the right company to work with. What was your perception of the puzzles market and its relationship with art/artists prior to your Gibsons collaboration? I didn’t quite realise how big the puzzle community is! Different companies all work so differently. But I found working with Gibsons a really fun and personal experience. They definitely wanted to showcase my work to the best of its abilities and give me the platform to work with them. As audiences change and puzzles companies (like Gibsons) look to tap into new tastes and demands, do you think the puzzles sector has become a more viable platform for illustrators and artists? I think the puzzle sector has massively become more viable for artists and illustrators. There are endless possibilities when it comes to working with illustrators. I think as trends and tastes change, demand definitely changes.
Whilst studying at university I always remember thinking that it all seemed impossible working with companies such as Gibsons. But I think with the push of social media and new demands to work with smaller/current artists, means it’s a lot more viable and possible, which is exciting. How do you think the pandemic has influenced your art, if it has at all?? What’s the first thing you’re doing when restrictions lift again? There have definitely been some positives to come out of the pandemic for me. It really allowed me to focus on my artwork and gave me lots of time to create illustration work that I wouldn’t have usually had the time to. I have definitely struggled with inspiration at times, especially towards the end during the winter months. However social media has really helped - I find that following a variety of accounts from fashion to travel allows me to still experience the world around me digitally. I’m desperate to start travelling again when it’s safe to do so, as there are so many places I would like to visit. But for the time being I am excited to start having days out again, exploring London and visiting galleries.
Anything you’d like to add/shout about? It’s been a really great experience working with Gibsons on this collaboration. Go check out my Dream Picnic puzzle with Gibsons Games and keep an eye out for more coming soon.
You can also check more of Bethany Lord’s work at her instagram: @bethanyalicelord or via her website at www.bethanylord.com
Puns of positivity | Katie Abey Bringing words and images together in a collection of contemporary, humorous, and always on-trend designs, Katie Abey is an ambassador of the inclusivity movement and the power that play has to help facilitate conversations around mental health in children. It was a perfect fit then, when Gibsons came knocking about using her art within its Pack - and Puzzle - of Positivity First of all, Katie - we love the puns, word play, and humour in a lot of your art work. Off the bat, what comes first when you’re creating - the pun and the words, or the images? Definitely the pun comes first. I collect them all in the ‘notes’ app on my phone when the ideas pop into my brain, so that list looks pretty weird without any context! Then I get the fun bit of creating the characters later. Can we talk about you and your background? How long have you been illustrating, what inspired you into it and your particular style? I have been illustrating since I graduated university in 2014. I set myself a new year’s resolution that year and decided to do ‘A Doodle Every Day’ to try and build my drawing confidence and develop my style. It certainly helped with both of those things and I actually ended up keeping that challenge going for the following five years.
Popular culture is a strong theme through much of your work, what influences do you draw upon when creating? I would consider myself an intuitive human and have been working on refining that particular superpower recently. I love to be able to visualise things that lots of people are feeling on a collective level. With all the twists and turns that the lockdowns have brought it is empowering to be able to react quickly and draw something light hearted to lift people’s spirits in response to a heavier world development. The Pack of Positivity brings your vibrant artwork to playing cards - introducing your style and pop culture inspired illustrations to the traditional game sector. Can you talk us through the idea behind Pack of Positivity? Spring/Summer 2021 | toy news | 17
TN-JAN21-GALT JUMBO:TN-JAN21-GALT JUMBO 18/12/2020 13:56 Page 1
I loved the thought of lots of optimistic characters gracing a pack of playing cards and it feels so good to see The Fearless Ferret and The Hippo of Happiness on there doing their thing. We wanted to create something that would appeal to both adults and kids and with both The Puzzle and The Pack of Positivity I think we have done that. I love the idea of a family attacking the puzzle together and that, for example, piecing together ‘The Oyster of Overthinking’ might organically open up a conversation about anxiety. What does it mean to you to see companies like Gibsons embracing wellness, positivity and mental health through the artwork they engage audiences with? Was this important to you and your work? It is refreshing to see Gibsons and other larger companies realise that they have the ability to lessen the stigma around mental health by embracing it. If people can start seeing positive messages around mental health in more and more places, even on jigsaw puzzles in the shop, then it reinforces that truth that having a spectrum of emotions is an integral part of being human. What was the process of working with Gibsons to bring your art to its games collection like?
Gibsons really wanted the puzzles to fully embody my style. We currently sell a ‘Mug of Motivation’ and ‘Pad of Productivity’ in our online store and Gibsons were keen to create puzzles that would sit alongside our format. So ‘The Puzzle of Positivity’ was born. And we have sold a lot of them through our online shop too, which has been fab. As audiences change and puzzles companies (like Gibsons) look to tap into new tastes and demands - do you think the puzzles sector has become a more viable platform for illustrators and artists? My lovely Grandma (Gms) loves a good puzzle and tends to leave one proudly on the dining table after completion to be admired. I suppose I would have associated puzzles with the older generations, but I feel like the pandemic has changed that a lot and all ages have been reintroduced to them through lockdown.
How do you think the pandemic has influenced your art, if it has at all?? What’s the first thing you’re doing when restrictions lift again? The pandemic happening has helped me to feel more in tune with myself. I’ve been defining my feelings and emotions more and, as my work tends to reflect things I am working on personally, that has probably come across. I would say it has also helped me to realise the importance of a more healthy work/life balance too. As restrictions start to lift I look forward to adventures. Releasing my nearly two year old on the beach will be a dream. If anyone would like to follow Katie, she is active on instagram @katieabey
What further plans have you got for the games sector? Have you got further plans for the children’s sector over all? I have another puzzle in the works with Gibsons and a few children’s books booked in to work on this year too.
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s s a l C g n Boardi The skateboarding scene has seen a resurgence over the past year with a number of contributing factors that led to the first sell-out year on record for many of its brands. From the Olympics to the pandemic, ToyNews takes a look at what’s been driving sales across the board, and how toy shops can land their own skateboard trick
kateboard GB, the official organising body for the UK’s skateboarding scene, was abuzz with excitement in the lead up to the National Championships last month, the first in-person skateboarding competition since Covid-19 stripped us of the Tokyo Olympics last year. Across the board, interest in skateboarding had already been subject to a sweeping surge here in the UK, with the number of active participants in the hobby somewhere between seven to nine per cent higher than the year prior throughout 2020. Before the pandemic had struck, Skateboard GB estimated that the country’s population of skateboarders was around 750,000. By the height of last summer, the industry had seen its first sell-out year. Stories that independent skate shops had sold out of complete decks (skateboards sold as ‘complete’ with board, trucks, and wheels) by certain brands began to circulate the industry, while shops - some with a 20 year history in the hobby - were seeing their best sales to date. Something had triggered a resurgence for the sport of skateboarding, and it’s a special something that is persisting, even now. “We thought, when the pandemic really struck, that the independent skate shops would really suffer,” Neil Ellis, head of digital at Skateboard GB tells ToyNews.
“But it went the other way. People were finding time to take up the sport again, as well as the space to do it. We saw a surge in popularity, from groups of girls taking up the sport - which is absolutely amazing, to generations coming back to the sport after time away. “And throughout it all, we have been doing everything we can to promote the sport and show that people can enjoy it and enjoy it for longer.” It’s according to Ellis that the sport had all of a sudden hit a sweet spot. The ill-fated Tokyo Olympics had whipped up a media hype and what Ellis calls a ‘pre-legacy’ growth in the sport, while the on-set of a pandemic that would go on to see sweeping
changes to the way in which people lived their day-to-day, paved the path for a natural return to the hobby. “In the lead up to the Olympics last year, I had never been so busy in my life,” recounts Ellis. “Literally half of my week was replying to emails and doing interviews. Then, when Covid hit, that all fell off a cliff. It was then that natural growth took over. There was nothing influencing it, apart from the fact that people were locked down and not meant to be having contact with other people. They were alone, with time and space, and skateboarding is a great thing to do to fill all of that.” A sport historically dominated by males aged 14 to 25, Skateboard GB reports that not only
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Neil Ellis, Skateboard GB
has the scene witnessed a growth in the girls’ demographic, influenced, it believes, by the likes of the UK’s own Sky Brown, Team GB’s youngest Olympian and famed skateboarder and dancer, and the toy partnerships that she has secured (including with Mattel’s Barbie and Spin Master’s Tech Deck), but at a grass roots level, too with parents encouraging younger kids into the sport. “Because the sport has only been around since the ‘70s, we’re seeing this group of parents who did it as a kid and went on into normal life, got a job, stopped skateboarding for ten or 20 years, now encouraging their seven and eight years olds into it,” says Ellis. “We call this the rad mums and dads market. They enjoy it because they can pick up a board and get back into it with
their children as something the family can enjoy, which actually says a lot about the resurgence of the nostalgia trend that is happening right now.” In fact, it’s merely an extension of the surge in the kidult space, too. A pattern has long been emerging that ‘play’ is lasting long into adulthood and societal sensibilities have certainly changed to accomodate and even encourage the idea that parenthood isn’t all council tax and electric bills. It can be LEGO just as much as it can be skateboarding, too. Meanwhile, the significance of the growth in the girls’ market cannot be overstated. “That’s a demographic that has grown about 20 per cent,” says Ellis. “It’s been absolutely huge, and that’s year on year. It’s amazing to see happen. I put it down to a number of things; skateparks have started having girls only sessions, while there are a number of young influencers coming through the ranks. All of which is helping this sport grow at a grass roots level all of the time.” Tapping into the younger audience of skateboarders is something the toy industry is well versed with, and across the UK business, a number of companies have found themselves well-established within the market, the likes of TKC Sales, Ozzbozz, and MV Sports, included.
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“Ozzbozz has always been known as an outstanding outdoor brand, and this year has proved no different,” says CEO of H Grossman, David Mordecai, talking to ToyNews about the strength of the brand’s range of vinyl skateboards. “In fact, we think that our new items have proved even more popular than we expected this year.” The outdoor market - not limited to skateboards alone - has been the focus of a bit of a boom over the past year or so, driven, like all hobbies spanning the toy space have been, by an increased audience that have turned to play as a means of beating the frustration of the pandemic. Scooters too have been subject to climbing sales figures, while companies have been quick to highlight the increased interest in the skate scene in general, reflected in their own numbers. “We have very much seen the evidence of a surge in interest in skateboarding in the popularity of our own ranges,” continues Mordecai. “Our range of neon plastic skateboards, in bright colours, are very attractive to younger children, and the difference in sizes across our skateboard range makes them accessible to all ages and all skill sets.
“The fact that outdoor events and skateboard parks are opening up all of the time indicates that the engagement with the hobby from younger families could be about to grow further. The social media exposure to skateboarding and the official recognition given by the new Olympic status will be opening the sport up to a new generation. “Also, there are far more facilities for people to skate safely.” It’s part of Skateboard GB’s country-wide work to help with the development of these kinds of facilities, and Ellis is part of a team that partners with local councils to encourage the opening of safe, and good quality environments up and down the country. In the past year alone, engagement with the hobby, from a community level, has really stepped up. “We look to help councils try to create the best facilities they can, so people in that local vicinity can get the best experience of skateboarding,” explains Ellis. “Whenever a sport is in the Olympics, there is a pre-legacy and a post-legacy growth. A good example is gymnastics. Following the 2012 Olympics, there was a waiting list of 723,000 people wanting to get into gymnastics. We’re not necessarily expecting those numbers for skateboarding, but it’s about recognising that these things are going to happen.” The team at Skateboard GB is now in the midst of establishing an award scheme with UK skateparks, through which it is
encouraging facilities such as first skate lessons and local community groups across the country. It’s also putting a lot of emphasis on its work with distributors to provide mainstream retailers the kind of quality products that are going to make a child’s first experience of skateboarding a good one. “There are various things we are trying to do to facilitate this tidal wave of skateboarders coming into the sport,” says Ellis, who urges that retailers now thinking about getting into the scene, do so by first looking into the many brand options available to them. “I’m not necessarily saying that toy shops should go with higher end brands or distributors,” says Ellis. “I just think it’s about being aware of what is out there in the market. Whether you’re a small shop or a chain, we know you can be pressed on time and obviously want the best value to make the best margins. “There are a lot of skateboard distributors who can provide full setups with 50 per cent margin for £30. If anyone is considering putting skateboards in their toy shop, then feel free to come to us and sound out your options. We are really about making people’s first and ongoing experience of skateboarding the best it can be. “And the better experience a customer has with their first skateboard, the more likely they will be to return to that shop. It’s that consideration for that longevity.”
David Mordecai, H. Grossman
With the sport on the verge of being placed on the world’s stage for the first time this summer, Ellis and the Skateboard GB team are hopeful that eyeballs will turn into investment in the coming year. Core to this, of course, will be the UK’s performance at Tokyo this year and the weight of expectations for a medal being carried on the shoulders of the country’s youngest Olympian - 12 year old, Sky Brown. But whether or not Brown does return home with metal this year, it won’t negate the biggest win the industry can expect, and that’s that skateboarding is kicking up some real credibility, championed for its emphasis on explosive activity, as well as its positive impact on mental wellness. “One of the best things about skateboarding,” says Ellis, “is that you can go to a skatepark and see a 39 year old, a five year old, a group of girls, some older lads, and they’re all cheering everyone on. It’s a lovely feeling, I still get butterflies when I land a trick, and I’m almost over that hill.” Spring/Summer 2021 | toy news | 23
Sticking to the code The Children’s Code of Conduct and what it means for connected toys We’re living in a world in which children learn to use an electronic device before they learn how to ride a bike, yet one in which children’s safety online is only now getting the attention it deserves. Here Tianna Powell, data protection officer and information governance manager, The DPO Group, talks on the topic the Children’s Code of Conduct and what its implementation this September means for the children’s space
t’s a startling, yet recognisable fact that one in five internet users in the UK today is a child. With screen time among kids on the rise, and connectivity increasing as brands introduce greater means for crossplatform engagement, the statistic is destined to grow. However, the online world was not designed with protecting and safeguarding children in mind. The Children’s Code has been introduced to remedy this. From September 2, 2021, toy designers, manufacturers, and retailers will need to adhere to a set of 15 standards by law.
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This could see companies having to change the way they collect and store children’s data, if they are to continue trading. Companies that fail to comply with these standards could face enforcement action by the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) and fines of up to four per cent of their global turnover. The aim of the Children’s Code is not to prevent children from accessing the digital world, but to protect them within it. Data such as names, dates of birth, and other sensitive information such as the location of the child’s computer or device will all need to be handled correctly.
A games manufacturer, for instance, will be expected to implement high privacy settings by default. This means that a child will effectively have to ‘opt in’ if they want their personal data to be visible or accessible to other users of the game. They will also need to refrain from collecting any more personal data than is absolutely necessary, at any stage of the game.
This means, of course, that many companies involved in designing, manufacturing, and selling online services such as apps, online games, connected toys, and devices, will need to have the right systems in place to deal with information requests from parents and children. Those that are unable to deliver on that could face some pretty large penalties. How can companies stay compliant? The first step is for a company to understand how they currently use children’s personal data and what their current level of compliance is compared to what the Code expects of them. This can be done by conducting an audit and what is known as a gap analysis. Secondly, the company would need to list out all of their products and services which collect children’s personal data and conduct a Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA) at a risk-based approach. This process will help companies understand where their high-risks lie and provide a baseline for working through the standards. Some companies may choose to have a data protection agency audit their business and provide the gap analysis and risk
assessments for greatest peace of mind. However, not all data protection agencies have the capability to understand the particular complexities that come with handling children’s data. It’s therefore important to take particular care to look for data protection agencies that specialise in The Children’s Code of Conduct. There is also plenty of information available on the ICO website. As toy companies blend physical and digital play more and more, how is the code safeguarding children as this hybrid play continues to evolve? The Code is the first step towards protecting children online as it puts an expectation on companies to ‘think privacy first’. It also puts restrictions on how toy and game manufacturers can use and share this data - in particular how companies involved in hybrid toy design will be able to continue using data to mix play in the digital and the ‘real world.’ In a nutshell, companies may find they need to keep children’s data contained and not automatically migrate it across to new platforms or initiatives as they develop their products.
In a world where children now learn to use an electronic device before they learn how to ride a bike, it’s important that products and services are designed with the child’s best interest in mind and not the profits of a company. The Children’s Code is here to make this the law. If you’re a toy designer or manufacturer and would like to know more about how The Children’s Code affects your company, please visit The Children’s Code. Spring/Summer 2021 | toy news | 25
The Insights Family
Green age waste ban With greater purchasing power comes greater social responsibility… or words to that effect. Undeniable though, is the increasing demand and interest in sustainability and eco-consciousness among target audiences. Here, The Insights Family’s founder, Nick Richardson explores the issue
igures from the latest Kids Insights data shows that over half of UK kids aged three to 12 have “a lot” of influence over the toy purchases their parents make. In addition to this, UK kids spent a collective £709m of their own money on toys and games in 2020. However, children’s purchasing power has changed with growing interest in the environment. Sustainability is becoming a way of life for many consumers as more people are choosing to buy greener, healthier, ethically sourced, and more environmentally sustainable products. Eco-friendly products accelerated their infiltration into toys in recent years and companies - the likes of Hasbro, LEGO, Mattel, MGA, Playmobil and Clementoni included - also understand that a clear and transparent environmental strategy can give them a competitive advantage while staying relevant. This trend will increasingly affect families’ purchasing habits and toy brands are strongly recommended to emphasise their environment friendly credentials when planning their marketing campaigns. The increasing penetration of smartphones and tablets among children is stimulating social activism while also driving eco-friendly product purchases. So-called ‘Greta effect’, named after Greta Thunberg following her “how dare you” speech at the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit, raised the awareness further.
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There is also a large eco-influence coming from parents. According to our Toys & Games Global Report 2020, over a third of UK preschool parents think that it is important for their children to take care of the environment – a year-on-year increase of 56 per cent. Over a third of parents hope to teach their child to take care of the environment before they have even reached their fifth birthday. Brands have already started to work on producing eco-friendly toys, or at least use more recyclable packaging. According to our Kids & Family Industry Report 2021, 69 per cent of toy companies believe they can make a difference in the sustainability sector. As a good example, LEGO is another toy manufacturer which has made substantial progress and commitments to change by 2030. The company introduced reusable plastics for bricks and is said to be considering the idea of a LEGO subscription service. In an effort to improve the brand’s sustainability, a rental service could reduce the fossil fuels required to make LEGO, all while keeping eco-conscious parents happy. LEGO is also making a switch towards paper bags instead of single-use plastics. Meanwhile, Mattel introduced its own MEGA Biobloks at 2020 Nuremberg Toy Fair with the aim of reaching its 100 per cent recycled materials goal by 2030. Likewise, Clementoni revealed its Baby range made from 100 per cent recycled materials in January 2020 as part of its very own sustainability push.
The same with Amazon, the favourite online shop of two million kids aged three to nine in the UK, has revealed plans to roll out 500 electric delivery vans in the UK as part of its Climate Pledge. From manufacturing to distribution, there are opportunities for corporations to make improvements to their sustainability practices to engage sustainable consumers. What does this mean to you? Brands need sustainability to be incorporated into long-term business strategies, with public transparency and accountability surrounding these targets, to show their loyalty and awareness.
The Insights Family
We believe the brands that will succeed at appealing to the sustainable consumer will be the ones who make it straight-forward and rewarding for customers to change the way they consume, purchase, or behave. Children’s influence on their parents and brands continues to grow every day. Therefore, understanding what attitudes kids hold in real-time and how this affects their purchasing decisions is a critical advantage for brands. With the purpose to provide children, parents, and families with a voice to shape their worlds, The Insights Family is highlighting why brands need to pay attention to trends like this and carefully reflect on consumers opinion. The Insights Family® has released its Kids & Family Industry Report 2021 where we have shown how companies are also responding to societal needs, with 64 per cent reporting their business decisions will be affected by a drive towards sustainability. To read the Kids & Family Industry Report 2021 and learn more about the attitudes, behaviour, and consumption patterns of kids, parents, and families, and to get freemium access to The Insights Family® real-time data portal, please visit: https://try. theinsightsfamily.com/toynews The Insights Family (formerly The Insights People), is a global leader in kids, parents, and family market intelligence, providing real-time data on their attitudes, behaviour, and consumption patterns. Every year the company surveys more than 362,100 kids and more than 176,800 parents. Spring/Summer 2021 | toy news | 27
With the UK’s non-essential retail now well and truly back in business, ToyNews catches up with a selection of independent retailers, from Herne Bay, via London, and into Holmfirth, to find out how those first few weeks back in toy selling have really been
Kids Korner Melvin Smedley, 01227 369 951
n the seaside town of Herne Bay, Kids Korner has been open to the elements for the last 18 years, watching warm sunshine transform into Dickensian London mists with a bit of everything in between. Melvin Smedley talks us through life as a toy shop owner on the coast I’ve lived in Herne Bay all of my life. I must have spent 18 months living outside of town, that was when I was two and my parents moved us to Bognor Regis. It wasn’t too long until I was back where I belonged, though. Kids Korner opened its doors in 2003, meaning next month will be our 18th anniversary. Though, I’m not sure it really counts, seeing as we have been closed for the best part of six months of the last year. But we are reopen, and so far, so good. The key part of reopening was parents and grandparents turning around and saying that the children were burning holes in their pockets; pocket money, Christmas money, birthday money - they wanted to save it all up and come spend it in a toy shop. Rather than something online, they wanted to walk around a real shop and pick up what they wanted. And what is it that customers are wanting the most right now? Well, having opened for a week and a half (at the time of writing) there’s not been anything specific other than Pokemon. Everything else we’ve sold is a case of, kids haven’t been in a shop for so long that anything that catches their eye is gold. But Pokemon has been consistent. No matter what the age group, from six year olds to the mature adult; Pokemon sells. I have to try and keep ahead of the game, but Pokemon has been in short supply. What I’d like to have come through has been a struggle to get and there have been people after orders, of which I’ll get a fraction actually come through, so I’m letting them down, but I’m doing it gently. A lot of the demand, I think, is from the new releases, new monsters, new cards, but also the value that is attached to the cards today.
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There’s an audience that understands the high value of certain cards and are willing to spend good money trying to get their hands on them. They’ll collect hundreds of cards to get their hands on the valuable ones, and they’ll sell those hundreds of cards online and make their money back. At 50 years old, I’m too late to get in on this game now, but if I were younger, I’d be giving it a go myself. There’s such a big market there, too. You get the five year olds who don’t care what they get, they just like the pictures or the shiny cards, then you get the older, adult collectors. That’s a market that has been steady for us since they launched Pokemon GO five years ago, while Pokemon has been a steady seller almost since the day I started doing it, 18 years ago. And that audience continues to grow. I have people phoning me up and coming from miles away because I have certain decks. The furthest someone has travelled is from 35 miles away and they’ve come to me just for my variety of Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! It’s just unfortunate that the profit margin on these cards is really low. It’s a case of stack them high, sell them cheap. Or in this case; stack them high, and make a little bit of money in return. Herne Bay is a seaside town, so our outlook for the summer is stuff for the garden, beach, or the pool. Last year, we came out of lockdown and into the sunshine summer. Footfall was really good as a result, compared to the usual. I am expecting us all to have more of a summer staycation season this year, what with the travel restrictions and costs associated, so all we need now is good weather. Listening to the news, people in 2021 are valuing contact with their family and friends more than ever before. Many people would have lost loved ones, many people wouldn’t have had hugs and cuddles with children and grandchildren, so I think the emphasis this year will be on enjoying life with those closest to you. You can see a scenario where gift-giving becomes a key part of social reconnection. The first challenge toy shops face, however, is rebuilding the confidence of the shoppers that have shied away from the High Street.
The confidence needs to come from remembering that shops are there to be used. People have become too accustomed to buying online. The second part is that the government need to guide and assist this going forward. Our business rates are far higher than those out of town, or in a warehouse, or in industrial units, and the government needs to help us to stay here, or see us outpriced by the internet. It’s a vicous circle that we are all in; we battle against wages, against interest rates, and now against price rises. Paying an electric bill can be a real stinger when all you’ve done is light up an empty shop. Independent retailers need long term plans in place for business rates, something effective that will encourage people to go to a shop, or so that people are encouraged to open a business on the high street. The British High Street is a staple destination that needs to be preserved and invigorated. A healthy high street means a healthy and happy lifestyle for its local customers. Inject a high street with a bit of vibrancy, and see people’s quality of life improve. You don’t get that online. And we need to be helped to deliver that. Look at me, I’ve become a voice of the high street. From 13 years in insurance brokerage in London, to running a toy shop for the last 13 years. It’s funny to think that Kids Korner wasn’t even my idea...
Cachao Toys Jennie Hogg, 0203 417 9898
family-started business that opened its doors in 1996 as a chocolate shop, Cachao’s winding journey into toys has cemented its place among London locals. We catch up with Cachao’s owner, Jennie Hogg The day the shop reopened its doors on April 12th was fantastic. We had a constant stream of people and their compliments were so lovely, all saying they were happy to see us survive. April 13th, and the shop was quiet. It’s odd. We’re two weeks into the reopening (at the time of writing) and we have seen a small amount of footfall. However, the people that come in are making decent sized purchases, and the bottom line has generally been good. There is a positive atmosphere and I am happy with that. We have a core community of local shoppers coming in, but actually, lockdown has proved to me that you never do know how far your net can be cast. Because I took the time to get my website up and running, I have ended up with an international customer base, as well as the community you just think of being within your tiny postcode. It has been a really huge compliment and amazing to find that we have an online presence that I believe has been achieved through our top Google reviews. The website has allowed me to gain customers across the US, Canada, Australia, France and Italy. As a result, the online platform is going to be maintained. I’ve put far too much effort into it to not keep it all going. Actually, a website was always on the cards as something I wanted to do. Until August 2019, I had a second shop in Primrose Hill, you see. It was difficult and took up a lot of time, so I thought that when that one goes, I will concentrate on the website. Financial situations didn’t allow for anything top spec, and I was still facing time restrictions. Then lockdown happened. I thought, ‘now’s the time, I have to do it’. So I spent every day uploading every product I could. It really took off from there. The fact that my landlord gave me a rent break during lockdown, and that we were turning over quite a bit when we reopened, I managed to save a bit of money and invest that into the site. The website is now synched with my till system, which has made the whole process so much smoother. The key thing about Cachao Toys is that we are not trend followers here. I never have been. I cater for so many different ages and people that I don’t follow crazes. For me, a craze is a thing that gets thrown away after a couple of months. For me, that’s a really bad environmental situation that I am not into.
Instead, I always try to find something that is a bit different and quirky; not because it is different, but because things like that usually stand out, usually have a lot more care about how they are produced, and are more thought through. I like anything that really stimulates the imagination and creativity, or old fashioned play. Something that can grab the attention and hold it. It really bothers me when I see all these toys in a charity shop that just get chucked out. It kills me. I’m not into waste, or that things have to be cheap so that they can be bought in bulk. It’s a model that is just so bad for everything. It might not be good business, but it’s good for the environment. My customers, on the whole, are on the same wavelength. I have a fraction of the products that Smyths up the road from me does, and I am sure the prices are nowhere near the same, but my customers tend to value that they have my full attention. Will I see an increase of these customers as we look at a British summer of staycationing? It’s hard to say. The fact I’ve not any competition around me makes me slightly more confident, and I am banking on outdoor parties and garden gatherings this year, big time. But I think the counterside to that is, this summer we won’t have trade from tourism, which could be a problem. But as a big picture, I think the reaction I have had from my own customers so far - with people telling me that they have been waiting for the shop to open to purchase the items they’ve already seen online, from me directly,
makes me optimistic. I love seeing customers in the shop, unable to keep their eyes straight for their appreciation of all the things there are to look at in store. I truly think shoppers have missed that. They may not have a reason to buy something, but they know they want to. I also believe that shoppers simply have to keep supporting toy shops, for the reason that they create so many memories for children. Children need to have the inspiration, to be able to play with things. Ordering a load of crap off the internet is not going to create memories. You can’t inspire a child through online purchasing or ordering off Amazon. You want to see children with noses pressed against the glass; that’s what we’re in the business of.
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Imagine Toy Shop Maggie Tibbenham, 01484685955
ith a bright green car used to make free deliveries or travel to local fairs, Maggie Tibbenham has become a fixture of the local community, while her toy shop has become a central part of the Holmfirth village centre. The toy shop owner talks to us about the joy of reopening and the strategy for what comes next. The reopening of our shop, Imagine Toy Shop, has really been brilliant. Since the reopening of non-essential retail on April 12th, it has been absolutely incredible, more than I ever expected. I was a bit worried over how it was going to be, I had ordered loads of products for the reopening, just to really show ourselves off to people, all the time thinking ‘I am taking a risk here. How busy is it going to be?’ But come opening, I did not stop. Last Saturday, I didn’t have time for a drink, for the loo, I couldn’t eat. It was better than at Christmas time. Mind you, I am a village toy shop and, of the whole area, I am the only one. But people were queuing down the street. It was seriously overwhelming. Seeing the faces of children running in was fantastic. In pre-pandemic life, logically you would have parents saying maybe ‘don’t spend that money, save up for something else’ or ‘you don’t have to spend that much if you don’t want to’. But now they are jusying ‘yes’ to everything. And it’s not just pocket money, these children have been saving and are being allowed to spend loads, and no one is stopping them! Least of all, me. I just hope it is going to stay. I am worried. My worry is that if people start feeling brave enough to travel after their vaccines in June, July, August, they will start going away from their local again. The problem with people is that they forget. When you are in a situation, you are mindful. But when it passes, you fall back into old ways. I’m not being pessimistic about it, so hopefully this new post-lockdown mindset remains.
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I have even found new customers through lockdown, some confessing that they have lived in the village their whole life, and only just discovered the shop. But I have worked hard at marketing the shop throughout this pandemic. I have been doing Click and Collect for the local area, and I have made that quite a large local area. I’ve even been to Leeds with free delivery, which is an hour away. I also have a shopping app. Yes, a shopping app. It’s a brilliant thing, and I was one of the first to start using it. It’s on the Wix platform and is called Spaces. You can use the platform to create your own app for your shop. I started this at the start of the first lockdown and it has worked incredibly well. Meanwhile, my local delivery service has made me faster than Amazon; I just jump in the car and I am there. And local people realise, ‘my goodness, she does better service than Amazon.’ I am seeing quite a large group of new customers from that. It makes sense to me to continue with the online platform and build that up. I will still be online and I will still deliver. I want to be multichannel and I don’t want my customers to forget that I am. People do prefer to come into the shop and browse, and they have missed being able to do that. I have such a massive assortment, the shop is packed, so they will always find something in store that they won’t online. Imagine Toy Shop is now 18 years old. I bought it two years ago and have changed it a lot. I have really ramped up the social media aspect, and started the online trading. I get involved in local events such as fairs. I pack my car - which is crazy green so everyone knows it’s me - and go to different places and do all the fairs. I feel you need to - if you have weeks that are slower - do whatever you can do. Sometimes instead of waiting for your customers, you have to go out and get them.
I suppose that all stems from my previous career as a business manager at Selfridges for Harvey Nicholls. After having my son and a few years off work to raise him, I saw the opportunity to take on this toy shop. I adored the place and wanted to make it better, and it happened. It is history in the making. Attending these fairs will now be a big focus of mine for the summer. It’s a great bit of advertising for me and it boosts business, as well as being great fun. It works well because even if I have a quiet period, I know I have something booked. The only problem I do have to mention right now, is getting product. Brexit, Covid, and where toys are manufactured - whether it’s China or Europe - are both causing headaches in getting product on time. I have to look for what’s trendy and popular, and take the summer months, for example - when kids are off, you need to have the popular products. Let’s say it’s Push Poppers. I ordered a few boxes and didn’t go mad, but you see I should have ordered more. I used to be able to just order more and they’d be in the shop within a week or ten days. But it’s just not working like that at the moment, which is very frustrating. I’m sorryto mention Brexit, but it is proving to be a headache for getting product. Then again, I do say that running a toy shop isn’t always about selling and making money. It’s about being there. I encourage kids with all sorts of activities. I enjoy being creative, so I am all about ‘Imagine Make Something’, ‘Imagine Invites…’ ‘Imagine Goes…’ Imagine does this and that, so I keep myself very involved in the local projects going on around here, as I feel that it my role as a toy shop. My next step is to make sure that customers know this; know where I am, that I am online as well as in store, because it is extremely important that you are seen.
A magnetic attraction Since bursting onto the scene in 2016, Magformers has built a strong business in the construction category and galvanised the magnetic toy sector with its award-winning products. ToyNews catches up with Magformers UK managing director, David Kelly, to see what’s in the pipeline for the growing company
ive years ago, you’d have been pretty hard pressed to find a dominant name within a magnetic construction toy space that had, for some time previously, been subject to a period of languid sales and docile interest. In 2016, however, something happened to the market that shook it up with an injection of the enthusiasm that it not only needed, but very much deserved. That something was Magformers, and it’s thanks to the South Korea-based but internationally reaching brand that the magnetic construction toy space is once again electric with activity and innovation. Not only has the firm invigorated a STEM toy market, but given first hand proof that the construction toys market isn’t all about clickable bricks. But even a brand name as successful and synonymous with the sector as Magformers has become these past four years isn’t immune to the impacts of the global pandemic, having, like many, had to showcase its agility and adaptability throughout a year of uncertainty. We catch up with Magformers UK’s managing director, David Kelly, to learn more about its plans for the coming year, how Covid-19 has influenced its own innovation, and how even the smallest changes can lead to big rewards. Hello David, thank you for talking with us this month. Can we kick things off with an overview of what Magformers is bringing to the STEM and construction toy space in general? As a brand, Magformers consistently offers high-quality toys that deliver a blend of fun, creativity, and educational value. All sets always have those qualities, but the proportions change depending on the individual set design - however, there is a STEM aspect to each one, with a strong emphasis on maths. Since we launched in the UK in 2016, I believe we have completely re-invigorated the magnetic construction category, which had all but disappeared at retail. We have proved that there are successful alternatives to construction toys which are model-led, where children build the model on the box then never make it again. Parents in particular notice the frequency of repeat play with Magformers and this underpins the value of the toy.
It’s quite humbling to think of the many ways in which things have changed over the past year and a half. How has business been for you guys over the course of the pandemic? It has been an exceedingly difficult and drawn out 12 months for sure. Our first priorities were, of course, that all of our staff, families and friends remained safe and well while we ensured that our business continued to operate. Many retail partners were closed and general sales, although robust, were about level compared to the previous year. In fact, 2020 was our best ever year in terms of profitability. It is a constant battle trying to increase gross profit margin while cutting expenditure out of the business and trying to maintain sales, but I have been delighted with the way we’ve embraced those changes and quickly adapted to the shifting retail landscape. We were one of the first companies to produce free lesson plans and worksheets for consumers and retailers back in March last year to aid home-schooling and we did see a surge in sales from our online partners. Now I am thrilled to see non-essential retailers opening their doors once again and look forward to a busy second half of the year.
How has Magformers UK adapted to the pandemic and the consumer and retail trends that have emerged from this period? Thankfully, we were in a strong position to adapt. I had already moved into our own managed warehouses with a dedicated inhouse team, so I wasn’t affected by thirdparty costs or operational impacts there. Most of my staff were already working remotely to some degree, so we were geared up to handle that aspect of business. Many staff were furloughed and we are thankful for the furlough initiatives of the government. However, when staff are not actively working in the business it does have an impact on both sales and operational efficiencies - it really tests you. Spring/Summer 2021 | toy news | 31
Overall though, business was mixed. Our larger partners with strong web platforms performed incredibly, but we did lose business with some of our smaller, niche partners who rely more on local shopping habits. Overall, it levelled itself out in terms of sales. Right, David. Onto the big question. What is Magformers bringing to the construction toy space for 2021? What key launches have you got for us this year? The R&D for 2021’s portfolio was pretty much completed before the pandemic. We went to our global head office in South Korea in late 2019 and our brief for new products for the UK market was to develop sets with increased play value, larger numbers of pieces and lower SRPs. That is a challenge when using expensive components like we do, but the team has done a good job. Our new Magformers Cube House 20-piece sets feature little characters with swappable clothes and there’s a new Carnival Plus Set and WOW Plus Set, marking improvements to two of our global best-sellers. Last year we launched Stick-O, which is primarily aimed at children aged 18 months and upwards, and is very much focussed on smaller children learning through play still using our rotating magnet system. The pieces are larger, chunkier and are competitively priced and we hope to see new sets later this year. My vision is to bring more ranges into our portfolio to reach even more retailers. This year will see us distribute a new creative puzzle collection called Puzzly-Do! I wanted to launch a new range that offers high retailer margins, low SSP’s, creative on-trend designs and is environmentally friendly, while maintaining our core values of being fun and educational. We’ve done a cracking job and can’t wait to see Puzzly-Do! out in the marketplace.
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To what extent has your portfolio been influenced or shaped by the trends to have emerged from the pandemic? This year we have been delighted to introduce the Dothams UVC Steriliser Storage Box, which has been developed by our parent company Gymworld Inc and is lab-tested to kill Covid-19, salmonella, e-coli and 99.9 per cent of bugs. The spotlight that the pandemic has shone on germ transmission makes the Dothams steriliser box essential in the home, workplace, nurseries, schools and leisure facilities. Our Magformers and Stick-O products were used extensively during lockdowns to help with home learning/schooling, especially around the KS1/KS2 maths curriculum. And this has shifted even more focus on developing more educational resources around all our ranges. Can we talk about the growth of the Magformers brand over the past few years? What has been behind the success of the brand, and how will you guys maintain this success for the coming years? Magformers expanded rapidly from when I took over in late 2015 and saw huge growth as we established the brand. In that time, we found out which sets really drive sales, so we must try to build on that. In previous years we have had a huge influx of new product development. But the downside was that a lot of those sets were a premium retail price, so not applicable to many UK outlets. In South Korea, where our parent company is based, larger and more expensive sets sell phenomenally well, but the UK market is very different.
Overall, the key has been to identify the sets that work best in the UK and bring something new to those products, or develop similar lines without departing too far from the core Magformers values that work for both consumers and retailers. We have developed some new in-store branding with large scale department stores and we are exploring some exclusive sets for the UK. So what does that look like in terms of expansion? How will Magformers continue to grow and expand? How will this position you in the STEM/ construction toy category? It’s always a challenge trying to expand in the construction category where a certain Danish company (sorry, I forget the name!) dominates the aisles. For us, just creating another five to 10 strong SKUs and developing more into educational channels could easily double our turnover. We try and be as flexible and proactive as possible. We are small, but we certainly carry a punch! One retailer has sold over 30,000 units of Magformers across just four SKUs so that shows we certainly have a following. The way Magformers and Stick-O pieces connect through our Rotating Magnet System - and therefore the creativity and versatility that the toys bring over conventional brick, block and stacking construction toys – mean we offer something unique and different. That enabled us to grab a space in the construction/STEM category and now the challenge is to keep growing our market share. Can we explore the Magformers ethos and approach towards innovation in the toy space? What core messages does Magformers maintain within its product development, and how will you continue to innovate in the space?
Ultimately, we are an educational product disguised as a toy. Across Asia, Magformers are used in schools and play centres to encourage 3D Brain Training, especially in maths. In some countries we are actually part of the school curriculum. So all product development always considers educational value and play value. We were accredited by the influential Stem.org organisation over two years ago, recognising how innovative and STEMfocused our toys are. Recently, we have tried to introduce more play-value within certain sets by introducing characters and themes, which will be exciting to see develop. However, across the board our success is certainly down to the incredible quality and design of every Magformers product and ensuring children’s safety. We simply will not compromise on that, meaning we cannot create ‘cheap’ Magformers products. We are immensely proud of our 100 per cent safety record and this will always be at the forefront of product development. Looking at consumer trends; sustainability and a rediscovery of the value of play are core among consumers today. What is Magformers doing to promote these aspects? We have always been advocates of learning through fun and play. To create a product that a child simply thinks is a ‘cool toy’ - while at the same time the parent sees their child learning about nets, geometry, shape recognition etc - is a great asset. With Magformers you can build a simple cube in a couple of seconds with just six of our squares or understand Pythagoras’ Theorem in about three minutes with 50 of them! That is pretty cool. Magformers and Stick-O are both made to the highest standards using
the best possible materials - it’s why we are a premium-priced toy. A set can be bought and used for years and years at a time without losing any of its original characteristics, reducing damage and ultimately, landfill. We have removed a lot of unnecessary packaging. And we continue to explore alternatives for the plastics we use in manufacturing our toys - but that is trickier because of our quality and safety considerations. In which direction will you be pushing Magformers for 2021 and beyond? How will you secure the brand’s position as a sector leader for the future? We can never be complacent and never be satisfied. I often ask: “If we never produce another new product, then what can we do to still ensure growth?” By asking these questions we can really delve deep into understanding what we need to do to try and keep innovating and ensuring the brand has a future.
It always comes back to product and we are lucky that we do have genuinely great products and even small changes and developments can reap great rewards. What do you think the future holds for the construction and STEM toy sector, and how will you guys be leading that? Well, there will always be a future as construction and STEM is effectively traced back to early civilisations, so a life without it would mean no future! Our future builders, engineers, architects, scientists and mathematicians will all be inspired by the toys they play with as young children. Igniting that curiosity and that passion and playing a small part in their development is a wonderful honour for the STEM sector. Just think, the first person to walk on Mars could have played with a Magformers set as a child! That would be something! There lies the vision: to be part of something much, much bigger than us - and to ensure when our products have been purchased that every customer is a happy one, of course.
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Stimulated brain sales At the on-set of the pandemic, demand for STEM toys went into overdrive across the UK. For Brainstorm Toys Ltd, it was elementary; provide the market with a portfolio it had been curating throughout its longstanding history with the toy trade. We talk to marketing manager Debra Tiffany about playing it smart
rom STEM toys and kits that proved essential items over the pandemic, to outdoor toy and play innovations, as well as a range of Klikbots that span not only the creative arts sector, but the resurgence of the fidget toy market, too, Brainstorm Toys is home to some of the most exciting products on the toy and game scene right now. That’s before we’ve even had the chance to lift the lid on the company’s plans for the sustainable toy collectable EUGY and the expanding line-up of characters it is bringing to the UK courtesy of Dodoland this year.
With so many strings to its finely tuned bow, it stands to reason that Brainstorm Toys boasts a reputation that has long been cemented among the nation’s toy retailers for products entrenched in the pillars of play value. Whether it’s the firm’s latest sciencefocused launch, the Night Sky Projector and the 20,000 stars it paints across a bedroom wall and ceiling, or its toy that encourages children to See the World through Others’ Eyes, there’s an integrity of product that sits at the heart of the company’s portfolio. ToyNews catches up with Debra Tiffany, marketing manager at Brainstorm Ltd to
learn more about the toy maker’s plans for the year, the value of play, and why the STEM toy category is only just scratching the surface of possibilities. Hello Debra, thank you for talking to ToyNews this month. Can we kick off with an overview of Brainstorm’s role in the science/discovery toy sector? How has the sector fared over the past year and how has business been for you guys in that space considering the home schooling/ consumer’s rediscovery of play and importance of educational play etc? As the nation’s parents watched Boris’ speech last March with mounting dread, they quickly did what us parents do and looked for ways to make their lives easier, and for many that meant outsourcing educational support in the form of STEM Toys. The positive impact on the educational toy category was two-fold; not only did demand for our educational lines surge but parents and children rediscovered learning through play and how engaging and educational toys can be. Consequently, demand for educational toys is at an all-time high and we expect that to remain the status quo as families look to supplement their child’s education at home. Can you talk us through the key product launches for 2021? What trends are you guys tapping into through your products this year? How have consumer mindsets shifted and how has this impacted the product you guys are developing? We are extremely lucky here at Brainstorm as we have a brilliant product development team who consistently deliver STEM toys under our Brainstorm Toys brand. We haven’t really changed the way we develop products as our ethos is to create timeless products that help children learn about core subjects, we are all endlessly fascinated by, such as space, for example. We are launching the Night Sky Projector this year and so wish we could have seen reaction to it at Toy Fair as it is one of our best projectors to date. The images are 3.65 metres wide and ultra-sharp and it’s such a small piece of kit for something so powerful too. You can project the solar system, constellations, the moon and even 20,000 stars onto your walls and ceilings. Spring/Summer 2021 | toy news | 35
Among the relatively recent releases from Brainstorm Toys is the sustainability focused EUGY, which appears to be gaining a lot of traction. Can you talk us through this line? What is it and what it is bringing to the collectable, construction toy space? The industry as a whole has, of course, a responsibility to become more sustainable and that is of course reflected in reducing plastic, packaging etc. Introducing an ecofriendly line was totally new to us but when we initially saw EUGY, which is created by a brilliant New Zealand based company called Dodoland, we knew it would be huge as it was unlike any other environmentally friendly toy we had seen. As well as it being 100 per cent recyclable and using non-toxic glue, the simple number sequence employed to create so many different 3D models is just brilliant. We have yet to speak to anyone who hasn’t tried it and then immediately gone on to add more to their collection. And that’s also the thing about EUGY, the collectability factor, we continue to add new characters and this year are introducing three cute Christmas lines. What are the long term plans for EUGY? How will you continue to develop this range? New products are being added all the time. We started the range with 10 models back in 2019 and now the collection for 2021 is at 40 EUGY models with plans for so many more. We have a great relationship with the Dodoland team and are always speaking with them about what could work for the UK market and are excited about the coming year and beyond.
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You guys are recognised leaders in STEM toys. What’s the secret to success in this sector? What does the design team look towards for inspiration when innovating in this space? What do you think the future of the STEM toy sector looks like and how will you guys work to lead that from the front? As well as our Brainstorm Toys brand we also own The Original Glowstars Company brand. And the key to the success of all of these products, aside from the fact that they are all high-quality, is their timelessness. We aren’t reinventing the wheel, rather shining a light on core subjects like Space in new and innovative ways. Our development team is constantly asking questions about different subjects, for example, Lucy Preston, created our popular See the World through Others’ Eyes toy after having a family discussion with her kids regarding her husband’s colour blindness, wondering what it would be like to see through the eyes of different people and animals. It was so exciting seeing a product come to life on the back of that conversation. As for the future of STEM Toys, this year has shown that the category is an essential element of the sector. Kids are bombarded with information via screens but giving them a hands-on experience with toys and showing different subjects in action brings it to life for them. In addition, as we compete with tech, we have to become more and more innovative and I think the key is also educating via stealth which we toy firms speak of a lot.
Another exciting brand right now Brainstorm seems to collect exciting brands - is Klikbot. What is driving the popularity of Klikbot right now? What does Klikbot deliver to the market? What plans have you got for this brand as it continues to surge in popularity this year? What’s great about KLIKBOT is the fidget toy element – these new figures come with articulated limbs that literally klick, klick, klick into place – it’s really quite addictive. This precise mechanism makes them perfect for stop-frame animation too. They can be moved into all sorts of positions and they’re a great impulse purchase. The new KLIKBOT KREATURES range is awesome as it also connects together to create larger KREATURES. There are so many categories that both StikBot and KLIKBOT span; collectability, STEM, creative and pocket money to name a few and that’s been fundamental to its success.
The popularity of the StikBot Central YouTube channel is also key. We are supporting the brand with TV advertising throughout the year as well as developing social media campaigns with key influencers to further enhance brand awareness. Can we talk about the wider Brainstorm Toys portfolio? How are you working to deliver innovation in this portfolio? What key trends or core messages are you tapping into with the line-up? We have added to our Outdoor Adventure range again this year. The range has always included outdoor essentials for kids such as a compass, binoculars etc but now more than ever children are discovering the great outdoors and so we want to make products that are educational but really useful too. This year we are launching Paracord Wristbands so children can make eight wristbands using super-strong paracord like you would find on a parachute. Two of the buckles include a built-in compass and the paracord can be unravelled and used for all sorts of things from a shoelace to a spare tent rope. Spring/Summer 2021 | toy news | 37
Why should retailers be excited to work with you guys this year and beyond? We hope by now that our reputation in the industry is cemented and retailers know that we consistently deliver on new product development and cost effectiveness. We never rest on our laurels and are always working to expand not only our ranges but also bringing new products via distribution partnerships. We are proud of the relationships we have across the industry and thanks to our team being relatively small, retailers can be assured a personal service as well as marketing and PR support and a huge range of POS solutions. We continue to TV advertise across several key lines and keep customers up to date with our schedule to help maximise sales.
Thank you, Debra. Before we let you go, is there anything you’d like to shout about right now? Yes, during lockdown many people have been using their time to make home improvements and do room makeovers. This has highlighted the fact that as well as being used for play,
What do you think will be the next big steps in the science/STEM toy space and how will you work to align yourself with those? The STEM toy space is vast and there is room for everything from pocket money to AI. It’s so fast moving and so an exciting category to be in, but we will remain true to our ethos of developing toys that stand the test of time and fill a demand for traditional educational subjects that will always endure. TN-SPR21-RAVENSBURGER:TN-SPR21-RAVENSBURGER 07/04/2021 09:50 Page 1
parents are using lots of our products in their child’s bedroom décor. We’ve been so impressed with how some of the lines have been incorporated, the most popular being a space themed room including items like My Very Own Moon and The Original Glowstars Company stars and planets.
THE HANDMADE TALE Fiesta Crafts has become a name synonymous with the make and do sector, thanks to a portfolio of arts and crafts ranges spanning it all from 3D construction craft kits and masks to family games; all of which took its turn in the spotlight this past year. Managing director, Andrew Bacon tells ToyNews why demand is set to continue
Hello Andrew, thanks for chatting with us this month. To kick off, how has business been for Fiesta Crafts over the past year? How have you guys adapted to and navigated through the pandemic? Initially when the pandemic hit, the sales dropped off immediately, but then online sales, sales to garden centres and our exports helped things recover. This only improved further when the shops were able to open again at the end of the first lockdown. We eventually had a great Christmas period and sales in the first quarter of 2021 have continued to do well, despite the shops being closed. Our products have proved popular over the past year and we have seen particular growth across our educational products which were invaluable to parents when home-schooling. As well as educating, parents have also been looking at ways to keep children entertained away from screens and so our crafts ranges have seen increases across the board and we have adapted and enhanced existing craft ranges which has driven repeat purchase. We have also kept costs down, which has been key to maintaining consistent sales. Can you talk us through the product portfolio for 2021? What trends are you tapping into for the year ahead and what has inspired these this year? Even as we emerge from lockdown, arts and crafts products will remain popular as parents and children have discovered new ways to engage their children in creative activities. I think they have also seen how they support learning and development too and understand the importance of crafts as an educational aid. We are increasing our crafts ranges including the introduction of our 3D Construction Craft Kits as our 3D Mask Kits have been so popular since last year. There are lots of different sets including Build a Train Station, Build a Hospital, Build a Firestation and Build a Princess Castle and each allows the child to follow a simple number sequence to create their own 3D Model. It’s a great quality range that also can be used during imaginative play when built.
A major trend of the last 12 months has been in the consumer’s relationship with toys and traditional play. What new mind-sets do you think consumers are coming into 2021 with? How will you guys work to help maintain this renewed way of thinking, playing, and shopping? Consumers have been unable to spend much time visiting places over the past year, which has increased their appreciation for activities and toys for children to keep them busy at home. And let’s not forget that parents are grateful for toys that take their children away from screens for periods of time. I think that consumers are coming into 2021 with perhaps the mindset that toys should be as educational as they are engaging and by that I don’t mean traditional STEM toys, but toys that allow children to develop crucial skills such as creativity, motor and social skills. It’s therefore a really exciting time to work in this industry which is renowned for its creativity and we are busy developing new lines based on products that have proved popular for us during 2020.
I think parents will also come into this year prepared for every eventuality and poised to turn teacher at a moment’s notice, and so we will continue to add to our educational ranges such as the phonics, fractions and spelling sets.
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Interview The sets combine many different benefits from a toy with the sense of satisfaction from constructing a puzzle, the ability to follow instructions, and the role play from using their imaginations with the finished article. These are all values that we believe in when creating and producing toys. What are the latest developments in the craft sector? How are you guys evolving with the innovation in this space to maintain your position as frontrunners in the sector? We are just focussing on what is selling well for our customers and innovating new crafts that fit well into that category. Fiesta Crafts is renowned for its traditional craft ranges that come with a modern twist and all of our new launches have been well received in the marketplace, and have helped us open doors with new customers who recognise the value of them.
What are the latest developments for Fiesta Crafts, have you got any expansion plans in place or new category launches, portfolio expansions on the horizon? We have launched our new 3D Construction Craft Kits range with an initial four SKUs but this range can just run and run as the play possibilities are endless with it, really. We have also increased our 3D Craft Make a Mask Kits. Having launched several lines including a superbly popular Unicorn and T-Rex mask at the start of last year, we have now expanded to include more animals as well as introducing a 3D Colour In Make a Mask Kit. This has just launched with Colour-In Unicorn Head and Colour In T-Rex Head initially but we have plans to grow this line during 2021. What have been some of the most popular lines over the last few months and what has driven this popularity? Our 3D Craft Masks - they are fun to make and great to play with and a brilliant price point. Kids love dressing up and using their imaginations and this year they have had more opportunity to use their creativity. Our Discover the World Game has also been popular as it’s a great family board game and having exhausted the tried and true traditional games, families have been on the lookout for new board games to play and we have benefited greatly from that. 40 | toy news | Spring/Summer 2021
The new 3D construction craft range looks brilliant, can you talk us through the development of this line - what inspired the range? Why was it important to be crossing the categories with this line ie. construction, crafting, play-sets, role play all in one? Yes, they are due to arrive soon and many of them are already pre-sold, so I do think they are going to be very popular. We were inspired by the popularity of our other craft ranges and creating products that are challenging but not too difficult to put together and have good play value when completed.
We do have some exciting projects that we are working on for 2022, but you will have to wait and see. Why should retailers be excited to work with you guys for 2021 and beyond? We believe in producing toys that children get a lot of play value and learning from. Both parents and kids love our products, often buying three to six variations of the crafts at the same time. By keeping costs down and adding in more SKUs to each range we can offer retailers great margins and continuity.
What’s the next big step for Fiesta Crafts this year? We are bringing in 14 new products throughout the summer months Including a new Pop-up finger puppet theatre, Children’s pendulum clocks, new magnetic charts, and more masks. We also have a Santa mask to be brought out for the Christmas period, which we are really excited about. Thank you for your time this month, Andrew. Before you go, is there anything you’d like to shout about right now? We wish all retailers great sales for the rest of 2021 once they are able to open again. It has been a tough time for many stores but I am very optimistic for toy sales for the rest of the year. Spring/Summer 2021 | toy news | 41
Innovation is turning new ideas and fresh ways of thinking into practical reality. Tamara Strange
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All shook up: Putting your best foot forward on the evolutionary spring The word innovation is often over-used, but little truly understood. Generation Media’s director of innovation, Tamara Strange asks the question, what does it mean, and why is a media innovation strategy so important for the toys and games market in particular?
nnovation is fundamentally about change. It’s about generating new ideas and turning fresh ways of thinking into practical reality. It’s about progress, and not standing still. Learning and innovation go hand in hand; like the former, the latter requires us to be open-minded, to have a shared understanding of how we tackle it, and the creation of collaboration-led, measurable action points to prevent it being a mere buzzword. It’s not difficult to contextualise how important change is; we operate in a media landscape in which the products and services available to clients are evolving at a faster pace than ever before. The telephone took 50 years to reach 50 million people, while the iPhone took five years to reach the same milestone. Fast forward a bit more to modern day, and Pokemon GO took just 90 days to reach 50 million. The evolutionary spring requires us to be on the front foot with new platforms, and open to embracing new ways to reach our audiences. One of the first things any would-be innovator needs to note is that a data-driven approach is vital. At Generation Media, we use the data to underpin all of our media planning, to ensure that we are operating in the right place, at the right time, and resonating in the right way. Our sister company Giraffe Insight’s ongoing panel study, KATS, has shown us just how much the pandemic has accelerated what was already a transient landscape. We have seen platforms such as TikTok rise up 557 per cent for children and noted that 48 per cent of TikTok users are now parents, we’ve seen SVOD overtake linear TV, and we’ve monitored the digital versus traditional gap as it moves exponentially towards digital, as well as witnessed new platforms such as members-only audio platform Club House burst on to the scene. As toy brands, it is key to be not only on top of these trends but ahead of them. It is also important to get all parts of the classic media funnel, from the mass awareness at
the top, to engagement, to online checkout, working coherently to form the most effective, creative, and sale-driving media campaigns, with content and innovation surrounding the process. Not only is the landscape around us shifting; our audiences are changing, too. Adult demographics have had to become more tech savvy during the pandemic, becoming proficient with online checkouts as Amazon surged 40 per cent; embracing social media to communicate, and exploring new functions on existing platforms, as evidenced by the new reels function on Instagram being quickly adopted, for instance. Advertisers’ strategies have to be flexible to reach them effectively. At the same time, our kids’ audiences - who have always led the way as early adopters - are evolving faster than ever before. The way this group is adapting to pandemic conditions has meant consumption habits, likes, dislikes, and trends have changed on a weekly basis. Not so long ago, it was possible to mostly meet KPIs through a robust TV spot campaign, gaining mass coverage to stimulate toy sales. Today, a much more agile and diverse approach is required to successfully reach, and genuinely engage and resonate with audiences to generate sales and brand longevity. Strategies have to be bespoke and nuanced. They also require a careful cost/ benefit analysis in order to decide upon the right activity mix for a brand. As toys and games specialists at Generation Media, we use our tools, data, and expertise to refine this blend, and use a winning formula of value and insight and innovation, ensuring that the linear media planning process is transposed with zig zag thinking, always with results at the centre of our thinking. For both our own business and those of our clients, we focus on the four Ps of innovation, as defined by Francis and Bessant. They are commonly used to understand innovation in economic entities but can be applied to any business,
and stand for Product, Process, Position and Paradigmatic. We ensure that we are working effectively in all of these areas to be truly innovative for our clients. We also practice what we preach, and believe in the mantra that innovation means constantly learning. Our award-winning team of Toys and Games specialists take part in monthly innovation forums, we’ve created a suite of creative collaboration tools, and we dedicate time to lateral thinking to ensure we are constantly thinking beyond the traditional for our clients. While we pay close attention to past data, we also focus on looking forwards, to upcoming trends - for instance, should we be considering VR, AR, or an influencer led content hub to build a coherent 360 campaign? When planned correctly, an interweaving strategy that connects coherent innovation with a results- driven approach can be both brandenhancing and commercially successful – there’s no reason why you can’t have your audience as the stars of your ad campaign in an outdoor AR unit in a city centre, then use this to create shareable content for an online campaign - you just need to have a one stop shop that can design and execute this. We ensure innovation is not just a frilly add-on, but something that helps to form a robust all-round strategy. It zigzags across the awareness you are generating through mass media while helping to meet business objectives, generate sales and take you to the next stage of your brand journey. We run bespoke innovation workshops for our clients to ensure their innovation strategy is sound, and to keep them ahead of the curve.
For more information and to discuss what we could do for your brand please get in touch for a virtual coffee. Email email@example.com Spring/Summer 2021 | toy news | 43
Finding Neverland There’s no shame in admitting it, toys, games, gaming, and play doesn’t have to have an age limit; something that a growing portion of the UK population can attest to. Last year, the UK’s kidult market hit new heights, fuelled by a pandemic that left grown ups and kids at heart with a lot more time on their hands to revisit their old passions. Given the audience size, it’s a market that can’t be stopped
factoid that gets overheard often when you spend any length of time within a city setting, is that you’re at no point, more than seven feet away from a mouse. The same could probably be said for Funko Pop! figures. In fact, the statistic is likely somewhat higher. Higher still if you swap out specifics for the term now used to categorise a demographic of people that appears to be expanding at an alarming rate. If the most recent NPD figures are anything to go by, the UK’s ‘kidult’ sector, that is the adult audience of toy fans, appears to be, well, breeding like mice. Accounting for a staggering 27 per cent of the total toy sales here in the UK for the year end 2020, the kidult sector is one that can be, by any means, no longer ignored. What started decades ago, with the advent of the pop culture consumer products scene has shifted from an underground following of ‘ultra-nerdom’ to a mainstream - if not staple - sector within the UK toy space. Time was, tell a room full of adults about your collection of Transformers toys or your Mage level in the latest tabletop campaign, you’d be faced with stifled chortles and a lifetime of social isolation. Today, those selfconfessed are our celebrities, our pop icons, and our sports stars. And that’s OK. These days, when it comes to the topic of adult collectors of toys games, there really is no kidding around. Take the pop culture gift and consumer products specialist, Fanattik, for instance. In its last financial year report, the firm found itself up around 123 per cent. We’re all aware that 2020 will forever be classed as a ‘freak’ year for sales figures, with online shopping helping drive sales in sectors that wouldn’t necessarily be replicated on the high street, but how would you account for the 40 per cent growth, year on year, that Fanattik has enjoyed each year before Covid-19? “Traditionally, we never supplied toy retail, our focus was always on the gift trade,” Fanattik’s managing director, Anthony Marks, tells ToyNews. “But enquiries from the toy sector dramatically increased last year, retailers were looking for something different to add to their online offering, and the ones that trialled our range never looked back.” 44 | toy news | Spring/Summer 2021
It’s become a common narrative across the toy industry that the kidult audience is being recognised and catered to at a growing pace by companies and retailers once more aligned with the traditional children’s audience. There’s a reason that the Toymaster catalogue has started including Wizards of the Coast’s Dungeons & Dragons, just as it has welcomed Games Workshop into the fold in recent years, and why Pokemon Trading Card Game sales are in the midst of a world-wide resurgence, and why the local toy shop is just a likely to stock miniatures painting kits as it is Jellycat plush toys for pre-schoolers. The audience for toys today is multi-generational. “The genie is out of the bottle,” exclaims Marks. “Just look at the success Playmobil has had with its Back to the Future range. The retailers we are speaking with throughout Europe say that they will always have shelf-space for the latest blockbuster, but the iconic film and gaming brands cannot be ignored anymore.” Late last month, Fanattik released details of a major new partnership with Hasbro and its Wizards of the Coast segment through
which it will launch a range of licensed gifts and collectables based on its Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons gaming franchises. It’s a marker of success for the firm that has managed to carve a reputable name for itself in a market notoriously protective of its favoured IP. Marks has high hopes that the range will replicate the success retailers saw with Fanattik’s Yu-GiOh! ranges when the collection launches in Q3 this year. “We do not go for the latest film or game release, it has to be a brand with multigenerational appeal, an existing fanbase that due to the market’s focus on the latest game or film release, finds itself being ignored,” says Marks. “The Kidult sector has been growing year on year, and the pandemic gave it a major push forward. With no new film releases, for example, fans were going back and watching their old favourites and introducing those films to family members who missed it, or were too young to appreciate them the first time around. “There are also millions of new gamers that have been created by having to spend more time at home, and that’s an audience that cannot be ignored either.”
Here be dragons. And dungeons Exploring the magic of the RPG It’s the title that gave life to an entire genre of tabletop gaming and one with a rich 50 year history in shaping and influencing modern day pop culture. ToyNews explores the current interest boom in Dungeons & Dragons and how retailers can set out on their adventures with the timeless title Spring / Summer 2021 | toy news | 45
f it wasn’t the hit Netflix title, Stranger Things, or the news of an upcoming feature film and series based upon the IP itself that made you sit up and take notice, then perhaps it was the long overdue inclusion in the Toymaster catalogue this year that finally directed your attention to the widely celebrated Role Play Game title, Dungeons & Dragons? Perhaps now, with its arrival on the mainstream scene well and truly sounded, you’re contemplating giving the dice a roll yourself? Well, you’d be in good company, because across Europe, increasingly larger audiences are igniting their imaginations, and taking those first steps upon the path that, for almost 50 years now, has been signposted ‘Beware, here be Dragons.’ However, while you’d be far from the first to wander this deep into the woods, it doesn’t make the path seem any the less daunting, does it? This is a journey filled with mystery and intrigue, afterall, and one that sets us on a route, armed with nought but a pocketbook for guidance. But the reality is, Dungeons & Dragons is far from unexplored territory for many retailers, sitting as comfortably on the shelves of your large department stores as it does of your local hobby retailer. It’s a franchise as widely recognised as Doctor Who, and as long-established as the Rubik’s Cube; rich with a heritage of half a century of shaping and influencing the modern day pop culture scene, and one that continues to breathe life into the fiery cauldrons of the hobby audience even today. To put some numbers on it, Wizards of the Coast - the Hasbro-owned publishing 46 | toy news | Spring/Summer 2021
department behind the D&D franchise - has made no secret of the brand’s growth in the last seven years. In 2019, it saw sales in Europe grow by 65 per cent year on year, while in 2020 it recorded an impressive 105 per cent growth on top of that. What’s more, these audiences aren’t just playing the game in its traditional sense - engaging with the title’s emphasis on storytelling and character development - but are now watching it on platforms like YouTube and Twitch at a steady rate, as well as enjoying its plethora of TV and film adaptations, that have cemented its status as a pop culture staple.
In fact, Dungeons & Dragons has moved far beyond the tabletop upon which it forged its place in the history books of pop culture, and firmly into the realm of the wider entertainment business.
“The game has always been popular, but we reached new heights in 2020 and will continue to grow and build on this success,” Dan Barrett, senior brand manager, D&D, at Wizards of the Coast, tells ToyNews. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves and risk falling into the chasm of excitement, let us regroup a moment, focus our footing and navigate this topic in a sensible fashion. Let’s start this story from the very beginning. The opening chapter - What on earth is Dungeons & Dragons? The Wanderlust of adventure may have been curtailed by a global pandemic this past year, but that shouldn’t reduce our chance for adventure to the same fate. And indeed it hasn’t, as Wizards of the Coast has reported a strong uptake in newcomers and sales across the Dungeons & Dragons franchise over the last 12 months alone. “Dungeons & Dragons is a collaborative storytelling (or roleplaying) game set in worlds of swords and sorcery,” explains Wizards of the Coast’s Barrett. “You and your friends each create your own fantasy character, then guide your group of heroes through quests for treasure, battles with deadly foes, daring rescues, courtly intrigue, and much more. “It’s a game of imagination and make believe, with rules giving a little structure to the stories, that is a lot of fun for players of all ages.” Now, one of life’s inevitabilities is that if you’re going to take up Dungeons & Dragons, you’re going to need a Dungeon Master, responsible for leading the storytelling and refereeing the gameplay. Seasoned DMs will guide you through lanyrinthine narratives and atmospheric journeys, that will take players into new worlds by setting tones and scenes around them. “As the story unfolds, the DM will describe the situation the characters are in, and the players will describe what they want to do next,” explains Barrett, who has a mental rolodex of character creations of his own. “The DM will describe what happens, perhaps asking them to roll some dice to determine if their action was successful (ie. casting a spell, leaping over a chasm, or making an attack). This pattern then repeats throughout the adventure.” But seasoned Dungeon Masters don’t simply fall from trees, and those taking their first steps into the genre aren’t likely to know too many to start out with. And for that Demogorgon, sorry, demographic of people, Barrett reassures, Wizards of the Coast has you covered. “Everything you need to play your first adventure is included in either D&D Starter Set or the D&D Essential Kit,” he says. “So you can absolutely start playing without anyone in your group having played before. The D&D Starter Set and D&D Essentials Kit both offer everything you need
for your first several sessions in one easy, self contained package, and are designed for new players and new Dungeon Masters. “From there, you’ll want to get the Player’s Handbook (the foundational text that all D&D players will need) and then other rules or adventure books. “And key to enjoying D&D as a new comer, is not to worry about getting the rules exactly right, just focus on having fun. The way you ‘win’ at D&D is if everyone leaves the table having had a great time.” How to game your dragon Those with a particular itch to scratch will quickly fall into the D&D lore, through no fault of their own other than, as Barrett describes it, the ‘innate human desire to tell stories and play games with friends.” A fact to which the rise of the kidult market or the billion dollar global video gaming market can attest, is that society allows for game playing long into adulthood. Role playing games are merely the analogue extension of the immersive worlds laid out in the pixels of the video gaming industry. And that’s OK.
“Dungeons & Dragons also provides a structure for the games of pretend we all played as kids, allowing us to extend them way into adulthood,” continues Barrett. “And in that way, D&D is more a timeless classic than a trend capturing the zeitgeist. It’s a great way to spend time with friends or family, and can be played in-person or online. “During the pandemic it has helped immensely with our need for social connection.” That would certainly account for the rise in popularity of the game over contemporary platforms such as YouTube and Twitch, through which many a new player has been introduced to the game. In much the same way as the global interest in chess grew organically via the medium of Chess.com and Twitch, so too has the compulsion for role-playing tabletop gaming. But, in fact, the game’s importance and impact upon culture pre-dates any of that. “Dungeons & Dragons has always had an important place as both a game and a franchise, since it defined the role-playing genre nearly 50 years ago with our brand of storytelling,” explains Barrett.
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“D&D is also the basis for a lot of modern video games, where you’ll see character creation and customisation, the concept of levelling up, and so on, today. In entertainment, creators who grew up using D&D to hone their storytelling now want to include it in the popular media they’re making today, and all of this means that D&D has had, and continues to have, a huge impact on our popular culture.” Role play gaming will, then, forever be inextricably linked to the video gaming space. To bring Wizard of the Coast’s other hit tabletop franchise, Magic: The Gathering into the spotlight momentarily, it was as early as the late 1990s that the title was seen as one of the world’s original esports, with professional competitions broadcast on ESPN television, long before internet livestreams put such events into the bedrooms of the world’s gaming engaged on a daily basis. “It’s wonderful that so many people want to both share and watch Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons gameplay online, and that the platforms facilitating this are so readily accessible,” says Barrett. “Watching others play online has been an important source of acquisition for D&D, as new folks can quickly see how fun and easy to play the game is, while being entertained by a great liveplay show such as High Rollers or Oxventure.”
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D&D has broached licensing, too.
On the topic of new platforms, it’s somewhat surprising to hear that D&D is also ‘exploding in popularity on TikTok,’ where, according to Barrett, “a younger generation is discovering how the game offers them a great way to be creative and express themselves.” And with views now upwards of 2.5 billion and counting, it’s certainly not a platform to be sniffed at.
Epilogue - An adventurous franchise Holding your swords aloft, you let out a blood-tingling cry of victory that sounds down the high street, rattling the windows of your local bakery; Dungeons & Dragons has won your heart and firmly established itself within your offering. It’s an historical day. And what’s more , the first of many, many more for a gaming IP that is fast becoming a major fantasy entertainment franchise itself. It’s an idea that Wizards of the Coast is very excited to realise in the coming years. Barrett enthuses: “We’ll have broadreaching entertainment such as the upcoming movie, and a TV series is being explored. We also have multiple digital games in development. Among these is Dark Alliance, a co-op Action RPG for PC and consoles, coming June 22nd. “These digital games and other media will offer many different points of entry to the world of D&D, ensuring we’ll bring new fans to the franchise for many years to come. “D&D has been leading the tabletop RPG category since we created it 47 years ago, and Magic has been doing the same for Trading Card Games since 1993 - and yet, both still have so much potential. We’ll continue to grow both games as we introduce them to new audiences and explore them through other formats such as digital games and TV and film. “As we continue to to grow and broaden the audience for both franchises, and launch new IP alongside them, Wizards will cement its place as the world’s leading fantasy entertainment company.”
A booming enterprise Now in its fourth decade serving the sci-fi and fantasy collectors and collectables market, Eaglemoss has become an authority on the topic of pop culture and kidult sectors, supplying some of the most detailed models to be found on the scene today. But there’s a whole lot more to the company than Star Trek busts. Here, ToyNews catches up with head of Hero Collector at Eaglemoss, Ben Robinson to learn more about the company’s plans
aglemoss is a cap with many feathers. A bow with many strings. A Trident with the pre-requisite number of prongs; that being three. It is a triforce of the geek and pop culture scene, acting not only as a direct to consumer platform, but a fan subscription service, and a distributor to independent and mass retail channels across the UK. If it’s high end collectables, comic books, licensed gifts, toys, and other consumer products all deeply rooted in the growing kidult and pop culture space that you want - be you a casual collector, an entrenched nerd, or a toy shop tapping into both of those - then Eaglemoss has to be on your list. In fact, it likely already is.
Established in 1975, Eaglemoss pre-empted the ‘kidult’ market by a decade or two, recognising early on the power that many sci-fi and fantasy properties had to capture the imagination of generations to come, and firmly establish itself as a leader in the collectables field. Since the publication of its first ‘partwork’, the business has been in a state of continued expansion, and today holds claim to having produced, marketed, and distributed more than 150 collections across more than 30 markets over five continents and in 13 different languages. Spanning London, Paris, New York, Moscow, Sao Paolo, and Warsaw, Eaglemoss is well-placed to tap into the global ‘kidult’ and pop culture sector as its demands Spring/Summer 2021 | toy news | 49
Kidult Market broaden to include more innovative and engaged consumer products. This year, for example, the company is tapping into the demand for pop culture-inspired advent calendars, an extension of the toy advent calendar trend that has been gaining momentum here in the UK over the course of the last few years. Here, ToyNews catches up with Ben Robinson, head of Hero Collector at Eaglemoss to discuss the company’s latest releases, its plans for the growing kidult market, and what the Eaglemoss name brings to a sector brimming with superfans. Hello Ben, thank you for talking to us and indulging our pop culture obsession. To kick us off, can you give us a bit of background on Eaglemoss? Who are you, what audience do you cater to, and for long have you been doing it? Eaglemoss was founded in 1975 and is a global leader in licensed collections. We have a long history of figurines, die-cast models, and partwork magazines. We’re lucky enough to work with characters and licenses from Marvel, DC, CBS, AMC, BBC, Disney, James Bond, Universal, and many more. Our core audience is built up of fans and collectors who care passionately about the brands.
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A motley crew, if ever there was one. Can you tell us what Eaglemoss is bringing to the UK pop culture space in that case? How does it encompass that market and ignite the passion within the UK scene? The overarching objective of the company has always been to create products that have
real appeal for fans. It’s very important to us that we don’t just do the obvious products but create things that are authentic and have the kind of detail that fans appreciate. We are experts ourselves and work closely with licensors throughout the development process to make sure that the end product is not just high quality, but authentic and show all the love we have for the brands ourselves. The adult market - or ‘kidult’ space has seen steady growth here in the UK over the past few years, and last year accounted for 27 per cent of total spend on toys (according to NPD). How has this been reflected in sales growth at Eaglemoss? What strength of the UK’s ‘kidult’ sector have you witnessed? We’ve specialised in the adult collector market for decades so its success isn’t a surprise to us. What we have found is that the growth of online sales is making it easier to reach those grownup fans. I think it’s fair to say it’s often been difficult for them to find products that show the level of care and attention that’s important to them. There’s a generation of people who grew up with these amazing properties. They haven’t given up on them as they’ve got older but their expectations have only gone up. They want products that are really designed for them. That’s something we pride ourselves on understanding.
What do you think has been key to driving the growth in this space? What is it that businesses like Eaglemoss bring to the table to give that market credibility? More than anything it’s about our own level of fandom. The people we sell to can smell anything cynical a mile off. We’re really careful to make sure our products feel just right, whether that’s a specific detail on a super hero’s costume, the exact colour of a die-cast spaceship or including some detail that a fan will instantly recognise, and appreciate. Those are the kind of things that only someone who knows and loves the brand as much as the fans, would know to include. Can we talk through the Eaglemoss portfolio for 2021? What are the key launches from you guys this year across the pop culture portfolio? We hear you have a range of advent calendars launching - can you talk us through these? We’re entering the advent calendars arena for the first time this year, which is a very exciting time for the company. We’re launching these fantastic introductions with three iconic brands: Doctor Who, Star Trek and The Beatles; with each one featuring detailed, high-quality collectable items hiding behind each of the calendar doors. They’re really nicely designed and we think they’ll bring a smile to every fan’s face.
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Kidult Market The Doctor Who calendar has a classic TARDIS design which opens out to reveal its 24 doors, the Star Trek offering takes the distinctive form of a Borg cube/ship (as seen in Star Trek: The Next Generation) and The Beatles inspired calendar comes in the form of four trays encased within an outer shell featuring iconic Beatles artwork. They’re just things that make you happy. Why has the advent calendar market become an important one for you guys, and what will you be bringing to the space? What sort of growth of the market are you expecting to see in the coming years? We always want to make new stuff, and we know we can bring something special to the calendar market by targeting collectors. Every item in these calendars has been specially designed and is exclusive. We’ve brought all our expertise and love for these brands to bear. One of the things we hear a lot is that people are nervous about buying things for fans because they think they might already have it. The great thing about these advent calendars is that you can absolutely guarantee that the content is brand new, and there is stuff in there that will make true fans smile. That and Christmas are a pretty good combination. We’re so pleased with the final products, so we’re looking forward to revealing them to fans. What retail partners are you guys currently working with? What are your plans for the UK retail scene? One of the unique things about Eaglemoss is that we offer an omnichannel solution – with bestsellers sold through key retail partners, like HMV, adding to sales through
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our own e-shop and high-end model kits through our subscription service. We try to cater for different audiences across the various channels and because of our product development heritage we’re able to play across a wide range of categories. Our retail expansion is going well in the US where we just have our first launch with Walmart and in other European markets through our network of distributors. So, Ben, can you tell us what the next big step for Eaglemoss might be here in the UK? We’re super excited about the next 12 months with plenty of new licences and product lines launching. We’ve only just dipped our toe in the water with our retail range and despite the difficulties that Covid-19 has brought, we’ve still been able to expand our business, which is testimony to the products we’re bringing through.
And just before we let you get back to the day job, is there anything you’d like to add? Alongside our advent calendar launches, we’ve also got some really exciting products coming. We’ve got some classic sci-fi brands in The Expanse and Stargate. We’re just launching a new Hero Collector Museum made up of detailed replicas that are designed to sit on your shelf and we’re also growing our horror offering. We have some amazing subscription offers that mean you can build extraordinary models of the Eleanor Mustang, the Ghostbusters Ecto 1, the Titanic and the Enterprise from Star Trek: The Next Generation. There’s more Star Trek on TV than ever so we’re excited by the opportunities that will bring. We’re also developing Marvel statues based on the Disney+ shows, so 2021 is shaping up to be a busy and exciting year for us.
The Toys of Summer Don Henley fan or not, it’s a catchy song and it’s a snappy headline for this issue’s showcase of new products ready to set the tone for a summer season of re-energised toy sales
Ginger Fox 01242 241765
Building on its successful range of TV licensed games, Ginger Fox has been busy coming up with fresh, new ideas to bring fun into the living room. Whatever your taste in quizzes or game shows, Ginger Fox has a license to thrill. Put your foot to the floor in the Top Gear Board Game and compete against friends and family to become the ‘Grand Champion’. Players race classic Top Gear vehicles around the track, completing Top Gear or fun themed challenges as they go, pranking their fellow racers, whilst trying to avoid hazards and making the best upgrades to their vehicle, all racing against the Stig and each other. Next is PopMaster Board Game, based on the official PopMaster Quiz, a cornerstone of Ken Bruce’s National Radio Show for over two decades. Like the radio show, players answer questions based on popular music from 1950s through to the present day. Players scan the QR codes for a final ‘3 in 10’ head-to-head round - read by Ken himself. Bring home the nation’s favourite game show and face off against family and friends, racing to reach £1million, in Who Wants To Be A Millionaire Board Game. Put yourself in the hotseat and take on the iconic money ladder using only your wits and digital lifelines. The game includes over 700 questions and access to lifelines via a smart device. Based on Channel 4’s show, Ginger Fox’s best-selling Taskmaster Board Game brings the very essence of this popular show into your own home... or preferably someone else’s, as things can get a bit messy.
Following on from the huge success of Taskmaster Board Game, the team brings the Taskmaster Game Expansion Pack, containing 40 new ludicrous task cards, including 10 exclusive video tasks set by Alex that update throughout the year. Another new twist is the 10 Prize Task cards raising the stakes of the game - the illustrious winner takes all prizes. Included in the pack is your very own Little Alex Horne to indulge your every whim. Based on the hit BBC2 show hosted by Richard Osman, comes Ginger Fox’s 2021 ‘Gift of the Year Branded Gift’ winner, House of Games Party Game. The ultimate test of knowledge and skill, team up to tackle trivia or face off against each other in the iconic Answer Smash. Who will be the House of Games champion in this competitive compendium of games? Finally, fans of The Chase can test their brain power in the card game Beat The Chasers, based on the popular spin-off series where one quizzer takes on two, three, four or all five Chasers to win a cash prize.
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0800 038 5195
Magformers UK offers exciting new brands Magformers UK Ltd, the owner-distributor of the award-winning Magformers and Stick-O magnetic construction toys, is expanding its business as the exclusive distributor for the new kids’ and family brands Puzzly-Do and Dothams. Puzzly-Do launches in the UK this spring with five Dubbly-Puzzls themed jigsaws with beautiful illustrations on one side, which can be flipped over to reveal a line drawing on the back. Children can use the 10 felt tips included to colour-in the reverse side and make them unique. The launch contains five themed sets: Ocean Friends, Farm Friends, Forest Friends, My Sweet Shops, and My Vehicles. Puzzly-Do! sets are made using recycled and recyclable high quality board and feature large, easy-to-handle pieces. With four to six puzzles in each box, the sets can be shared by more than one child at a time encouraging interaction, extended learning and hours of endless fun. Puzzly-Do features low SSP’s with high margins for retailers and represent real value for money. And with striking, eye-catching UKdesigned packaging, they are billed as making brilliant birthday or Christmas gifts.
Fight Covid-19 with Dothams The Dothams UV-C Steriliser Storage Box is a new technology for every home and workplace in the fight against germs and viruses. Laboratory-proven to kill bugs including Covid-19, salmonella, e-coli and staphylococcus, the Dothams box sterilises toys, phones, tablets, keys, wallets and other everyday essentials using a powerful, Koreanmade UV-C light housed in a 50-litre capacity rigid frame box. Listed as stylish, safe and practical, the Dothams box eradicates 99.9 per cent of all known germs and viruses. Users must simply plug it in, load it up with toys or other household and workplace items, close the lid and allow its UV-C LED light to get to work. With enhanced cleanliness and sanitisation set to become the ‘new normal’ for years to come, the Dothams steriliser box is championed as a household and workplace essential for all.
New Magformers sets The 2021 Magformers range includes several exciting new sets. The WOW Plus Set is an 18-piece upgraded version of the best-selling Wow Set. Magnetic wheels have been replaced with click wheels for more stable vehicles and the driver character is detachable with interchanging helmets for a bit of variety. The 48-piece Carnival Plus Set is an upgrade to much-loved Carnival Set and contains improved fairground ride accessories and new detachable boy and girl figures. A sturdy crosshatch base and clip-on fairground ride leg supports can make building rides super fun and easy. Also check out the supercute new 20-piece Cube House Sets with their own play characters.
For more information about Puzzly-Do!™, Dothams®, Magformers® and Stick-O® please contact your local Magformers representative or head office: firstname.lastname@example.org telephone 0800 038 5195.
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Ravensburger 01869 363 800
With impressive growth in 2020, Ravensburger will continue to build sales for the award-winning GraviTrax system with lots of great new additions and high-profile marketing throughout the year. The GraviTrax universe will expand yet again this spring with three new exciting extensions; Balls & Spinner, with which kids can launch up to six marbles at once; FlexTube, allowing them to connect between different levels of tracks; and Dipper enabling them to dip down between different levels. Easter marketing support for the brand includes activity on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube channels. Extensive consumer research conducted in 2020 allows for sophisticated campaign opportunities to better target GraviTrax consumers. The opportunities are endless with GraviTrax and a big focus for 2021 is engaging with the ‘real’ GraviTrax fans as part of the ‘I am a GraviTraxxer’ initiative. Keep an eye out for new news and even more product launches later this year. The brand will be fully supported with a 360 degree marketing campaign, an always-on digital approach and asset rich content developed to enhance retailer online listings.
Galt Toys 0161 428 9111
Galt Toys is launching a host of new and enriching products throughout 2021, representing its ongoing commitment to inspiring children’s learning through play. There is plenty of hands-on fun to be had with the latest additions to its Activity Packs and Creative Cases. Budding palaeontologists can create a string of 10 roar-some lights with Dino Lights, while the scented Soap Making Kit allows young crafters to make themed soaps perfect for gifting. Galt’s Stationery and Water Magic ranges provide engaging and portable mess-free activities. The new Travel Activity Case contains over 80 pages of fun with a reusable sticker book, activity book, colouring pad, dot to dot pad, 10 colouring pencils and sharpener in a handy carry case. Its popular Water Magic range is also growing to include the enchanting Nursery Rhymes. New to the Play and Learn range, the colourful Memory Friends game improves memory through tactile learning while encouraging expression and language skills. The Alphabet Animals Giant Floor Puzzle, a welcome addition to the Puzzles range, is an extra-large 30-piece puzzle that teaches the alphabet with an adorable animal frieze that can be put on the wall as a look and find guide. The First Years range provides new ways to encourage early development and babies aged three months and up will love tummytime play with the Water Playmat. The new Roly-Poly Toys are perfect pals for sensory play. Each rocking toy has a unique texture and makes a jolly jingle sound as they sway, without rolling out of baby’s reach. New for 2021 is Nature Lab, an exciting and excellent value addition to the Explore and Discover range. Young scientists can grow plants from seeds, go on an exciting scavenger hunt and so much more. Based on the bestselling Horrible Science books written by Nick Arnold and illustrated by Tony De Saulles, the new Bulging Box of Experiments is bursting with 20 eye-popping, brain-bulging experiments and a lab coat for extra imaginative play. The Ambi Toys brand is getting an exciting redesign and repack for 2021. The all-new box designs feature 100 per cent recyclable packaging, offering better visibility and optimised box sizes. Single-use plastics have been removed and plastic ties replaced with paper ties for greater sustainability. The colours have also been updated to match the original vision that first captured children’s imaginations over 70 years ago.
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Spin Master 01628 535 000
An education in play
Pocket money pick-ups
Spin Master is kicking off the summer season with a number of educational toys and games that are great for children of all ages. Many of the educational toys on offer are perfect for inter-generational play. For example, educational toys from the Meccano and the Rubiks brands can be used alone by older children or under supervision for memorable parent-child playtime. While for younger children, Kinetic Sand has an excellent range of playsets that encourage experimentation and promote educational play. The Kinetic Sand Sandwhirlz set includes 907g of sand in three colours along with six shapeshifters, two extruder tubes, a scoop and more. Kinetic Sand is the original mesmerising sand that never dries out, allowing children to play again and again. Inspired by the drop and squish play pattern and ASMR on social media, the Sandwhirlz Playset makes it easy to customise play with the shape shifters and tools. Also perfect for younger curious minds are the new Guess in 10 World of Animals and Around the Town packs. Described as ‘The Quick Game of Smart Questions’, Guess in 10 challenges kids aged five and upwards to ask questions to help them guess the animal or place shown on the game card. Each card in the packs features hints and clues that might teach little ones, and maybe adults too, something new. Guess in 10 helps promote social and communication skills, problem solving, decision making, and creative thinking. For older children, Spin Master offers a number of excellent educational toys and games. The Rubik’s Perplexus unites two mind-challenging puzzles into one. Similar to the original Rubik’s Cube, the puzzle twists to align the tracks then by rolling the steel ball, users maneuver the ball through the inner maze. The Rubik’s Perplexus helps build problemsolving skills through challenging and engaging gameplay, and is the perfect size for on-the-go fun. The Meccano 25 Model Supercar is another great educational option for older children and adults alike. For years, Meccano has created imaginative construction sets that inspire the next generation of innovators. This model can be built in 25 different ways so encourages decision making and helps children to explore concepts from science, technology, engineering, the arts and maths.
Spin Master offers a wide range of pocket money and collectable toys for children of all ages. Younger collectors that are just starting out will love the PAW Patrol Mini Figures, whilst older collectors have the pick of toys from brands such as Monster Jam, Tech Deck, Twisty Girlz and Hatchimals. Monster Jam has an exciting selection of trucks in its range. The official Monster Jam 1:24 scale trucks feature intricate details and graphics that embody the style of the real thing. Alongside this, Spin Master also offers a smaller size truck as part of its collectable range. The 1:64 scale die-cast trucks are similarly authentic but smaller and compact in size. Even at this size they still feature the official BKT Tyres, stylised chrome rims and authentic detailing that children love. Alongside the popular 1:24 and 1:64 scale trucks, Monster Jam is also introducing a new line of collectable mini trucks this year. Compact and smaller than ever before, the 1:87 scale trucks each have unique detailed designs and are hidden within concealed packaging to add to the fun and mystery of collecting. Spin Master has launched a range of refreshed PAW Patrol toys to accompany the new season of PAW Patrol Moto Pups, including the collectable Moto Pups Mini Figures. Each tiny figure comes in an Adventure Bay Tower container that conceals the true identity of the Moto Pup until it is opened, adding to the excitement of collecting. Once revealed, children can use the container to help play out their own epic PAW Patrol missions. Spin Master offers all six of the PAW Patrol pups, plus the newest team member, Wildcat, to add to children’s growing PAW Patrol collections.
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In addition to the new Monster Jam and PAW Patrol lines, Spin Master also has a range of great collectable pocket money toys from its Tech Deck, Hatchimals and Twisty Girlz brands. The Tech Deck Ultra DLX Four Pack brings authentic 96mm fingerboards from real skate companies straight to children’s collections. The Four Pack includes one complete Tech Deck fingerboard and all the parts needed to build three additional boards. They feature graphics from the biggest skate companies in the world and are interchangeable to encourage individuality and creativity. The Twisty Girlz dolls bring style to any kid’s collection. With the new theme of ‘Girls Night Out’, each Twisty Girl transforms from a fashionable doll into an actual wearable bracelet. Each Twisty Girlz features a different stylish outfit and cool hairstyle and comes with a secret Twisty Pet which can also turn into a blingy ring.
Similarly cute and stylish are the new Hatchimals Wilder Wings Pixies. These stylish Pixies each have their own unique fabric wings with bold patterns, and every character comes in a new style of egg with a different look and two themed accessories. Kids who love collecting will also enjoy the new Wilder Wings CollEGGtibles. These feature beautiful large wings that are interchangeable, offering children the opportunity to experiment with over 10 styles of Wilder Wings, including angel, flower, bat, cloud, split wings and more.
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Jumbo 0161 428 9111 Jumbo continues to launch a host of inspiring puzzles and games throughout 2021 including a beautiful brand new range, Falcon Contemporary. Featuring carefully selected artists representing a wide range of styles, these 1000-piece puzzles, including ‘Piccadilly Circus’, ‘Flora and Fauna’ and the topical ‘Life in Lockdown’, shine a spotlight on the finest in modern artwork and designs. The range uses only 100 per cent recycled cardboard, has been developed with smaller, more compact boxes and is free from plastic shrink wrap all in order to create a more sustainable way to puzzle. The exquisitely illustrated Falcon de Luxe range is expanding with new releases including the charming 500-piece ‘Covent Garden’ and ‘The Dining Carriage’, and the delightfully nostalgic 1000-piece ‘The Milkman’ and ‘The Hairdressers’. 2021 also brings a hilarious new puzzle from Jan van Haasteren, the leading puzzle brand in The Netherlands with a growing UK fanbase. The 1000-piece ‘South Pole Expedition’ will undoubtedly deliver raucous humour and irreverent illustrations. Jumbo is releasing ten 1000-piece Wasgij puzzles in 2021, including Wasgij Original 36 – ‘New Year Resolutions!’, Wasgij Mystery 20 – ‘Mountain Mayhem!’, and Wasgij Destiny 22 – ‘Trip to the Tip!’. Wasgij is the original brainteasing jigsaw which challenges puzzlers to use the humorous illustrations, and their imagination, to piece together the ‘solution’ to what’s on the box.
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The Disney Classic Collection is spreading movie magic with three stunning 1000-piece adult puzzles including ‘101 Dalmatians’, ‘Lady and the Tramp’, and the enchanting ‘Cinderella Movie Poster’. The Disney Pix Collection has also added 1000-piece ‘Pixar’ and ‘Frozen 2’ puzzles, featuring iconic Pixar characters’ colourful snapshots. Keep puzzle progress safe and secure with Jumbo accessories. The Portapuzzle and Puzzle and Roll ranges provide tidy storage solutions allowing puzzlers to store and transport their favourite jigsaws conveniently. New for 2021, ‘Stratego Assassin’s Creed’ is the eagerly awaited special edition of the legendary strategy game. Players are transported back in time to Twelfth Century Jerusalem to commence battle between the legendary Assassins and their nemesis, the Templars. The coming year’s excitement doesn’t end with these releases. April witnessed Falcon de Luxe introduce ‘The Bandstand’ and ‘The Blacksmith’s Cottage’, while Wasgij welcomed a ‘Holiday Fiasco’. There are also plenty more titles to come in June and September, while festive puzzle fans will be delighted to learn the popular Christmas editions for both Falcon and Wasgij will be launching in June, too.
Vivid Goliath Web: www.vividtoysandgames.co.uk Vivid Goliath is preparing a fully-charged portfolio of toys, dolls, and play sets for the coming season, tapping into the STEM Toys sector while continuing to serve its traditional dolls and role-play markets with a formidable line-up of products.
Smart toys The focus around STEM and STEAM related products continues to grow with the importance and power of play becoming a key consideration for parents. Moving into 2021, Science4you continues to deliver inspiring, fun and educational science kits for children across a variety of classic and innovative new themes. There’s new emphasis on offering products and play experiences to a variety of age groups with the addition of Science Junior products; spanning the human body, space, or discovering the sort of skills needed to become a vet. My First Science Kit (£19.99) is the entry-level kit for budding scientists and one with which parents can satisfy kids’ inquisitve minds with 26 mini experiments introducing the science of colour, plants, crystals and dough. This autumn/winter will see the introduction of Be a Youtuber (£24.99), unleashing the creativity of viral experiments that kids can share with friends. Kits will teach children how to start their own channel and create exciting moments on video with crazy dough, erupting volcanos and magical visual experiments. A key focus for Science4you is the growth of its Eco-Science range, which puts the environment, sustainability, and learning right at the forefront. Children can learn about renewable energy, plants, weather, climate change and more. Alternatively, they could become an eco-astronaut with the 15 experiments in Green Science (£19.99) as kids grow their own plants and learn about their role in the environment, as well as launch an incredible recycled rocket. The range is also expanding into the climate change arena allowing budding ice explorers to discover the science behind climate change. They can learn all about ice fossils, simulate sea level rise and understand how it impacts the future of our planet. STEM focused product stimulates education and creativity through play; developing important skills like concentration, memory and creativity. Products in the Eco-Science range are made with 80 per cent less single use plastic and use recycled materials. It includes six eco-experiments with 20 pieces of content and a 36-page educational book, meaning
children can learn about renewable energy, plants, weather, climate change, and much more. It’s all about discovery. Each Science4you kit delivers the right balance between fun and learning, with a range of exciting, creative experiments and the educational context, led by school curriculums, to allow children to really understand the science behind play. Science4you will continue to be supported by a strong TV and digital campaign across the AW21 season, targeting both children and parents with engaging content across the product range.
Dolled up Vivid’s talent for picking out hot new brands in the YouTube space is enhanced with the launch of the Love, Diana range for 2021. The star of YouTube’s Kids Diana Show is the top creator in the world with over 4.8 billion views a month globally (Tubefilter, Oct 2020), more than 85 billion lifetime channel views and with her growth and popularity destined to only continue to rise. Vivid will be working with some key industry leading suppliers to launch an all-
encompassing product range based around Diana, her family, and their adventures; focusing on the positivity of friendship, family, creativity, and the power of play. The Love, Diana launch range will focus around four key categories: collectables, role-play and dress up, fashion dolls, and cosmetics with the full range available and on shelf from January 2021. With Love Diana’s popularity continuing to grow, autumn/winter 2021 will see the Diana fashion dolls given a Series Two refresh; the range will go on to include all-new outfits and accessories across both six-inch and 13-inch varieties, allowing for more mash-up fun and imaginative play to be had by children. New lines introduced will expand into twoin-one fashion accessory playsets, where an accessory can be opened to unveil additional play value inside for double the fun. The fashion doll range is modelled on content created on Diana’s hit Youtube channel and has been designed to prove that children really can ‘Play It, Be It’. Expect all of this and more from the vivid Goliath team for 2021 and beyond. Contact the team for more information.
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Basic Fun Tim.Ives@basicfun.com
Funrise 0118 925 3270
From fully functional rollercoasters to Tonka tough construction vehicles, the Basic Fun collection is looking to pack a whole lot of action, not only this season, but this whole year. First up there’s the dynamic K’NEX Thrills and More collection, which launches for autumn/winter 2021. This action-packed segment introduces a series of K’NEX projects which always build bigger than the box. There’s the Amazin’ 8 that presents children with the challenge of building a 2.5ft tall, chain-link, spiralising rollercoaster. There’s also the Typhoon Frenzy, a two-in-one build, with 19ft of track to construct, plus, the three-in-one Classic Amusement Park Building Set and the Six-Foot Ferris Wheel. And if that’s not enough for you, next up, Basic Fun’s collection of Tonka tough construction vehicles places kids right at the very centre of the action. A must-have for any action-packed storyline is the Tonka Mighty Machines Lights and Sounds assortment. This new line-up of emergency vehicles includes a Fire Truck, a Police Copter, a Police Car, and a Rubbish Truck. Each vehicle has a robust design and realistic light and sound effects. New arrivals from Tonka in the second half include the Dig & Dirt playset, which comes with a whopping 500g of Tonka Tough Dirt and a mess-free sand compound that mimics real construction site conditions. Also new for autumn/winter 2021 is The Claw. With its demo packaging, claw grip wheels and lights and sounds effects, this Tonka toy is going to drive itself off the shelf just like the Steel Classics range. Elsewhere, and Basic Fun is shedding some light on its arty line-up, with Lite Brite - a classic activity that combines peg art with light. Kids can follow the pre-designed pattern templates or design their own bright and colourful masterpieces. The result? How does a series of beautiful pictures that glow sound to you? Once complete, the magic is only set to continue, as children select from four different electronic light shows to enhance their art. Lite Brite helps to foster creativity and supports the development of hand-eye coordination, motor skills and cognitive development. Available in the range is the popular Ultimate Classic Set, which comes with over 200 multi-coloured round pegs. There’s also six templates included to follow on the tablet and an Art Guide with more pictures to follow, meaning that children’s creativity can continue to go exploring long after the parents have exhausted theirs. Meanwhile, all-new for 2021 is the Lite Brite Mini, a compact version for creative kids on the go. The Mini version offers families instant entertainment for restless children – wherever they happen to be. There’s also the Lite Brite Peg & Template Refill Pack, which can be used with both the Ultimate Classic Set and the Mini. This top-up pack contains 100 pegs in six different colours, as well as eight new templates to follow. Lite Brite will benefit from dedicated TV support over the Easter holidays, ensuring demand and making this a brand that retailers and buyers can bank on heading into autumn/winter 2021. There’s all of this and a whole lot more under the Basic Fun portfolio this year, so be sure to check it all out by getting in touch with the team today. For more information Lite Brite please contact Tim Ives, Head of Sales on 0118 925 3270 or email Tim.Ives@basicfun.com
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SalesUK@Funrise.com The Funrise UK portfolio is action-packed, thanks to the company’s thrilling range of Cat construction vehicles. Getting the action started is the Cat Massive Mover RC, a rechargeable, remote controlled machine and the ultimate RC for any action lover. Kids can’t help but get swept up in the immersive vehicle play, thanks to the level of detail and innovative functions. The Cat Massive Mover RC comes with allterrain performance, real payload suspension and lights and sounds, as well as high-traction rubber wheels. What’s more, there’s two modes of play to enjoy. Torque Mode allows the Massive Mover to haul and dump heavy loads of up to 10lbs. In Torque Mode the Massive Mover will also climb steep inclines of up to 45-degrees. Or, if preferred, this cool machine can be slipped into Speed Mode, which will see it reach top speeds of 19.3KPH (12MPH). Meanwhile, the Cat Power Haulers assortment features Motion Drive Technology which allows for interactive play that brings the action to life. With Motion Drive Technology, children can activate a host of features by pushing the vehicle backwards and forwards, and moving the bucket and dump bed. Kids are guaranteed a fun, realistic Cat experience every time they play. There are four Power Haulers vehicles to choose from: Cement Mixer, Dump Truck, Excavator, and Wheel Loader. In addition, and ideal for the most robust of action toy play, there’s the Cat Steel range. These sizeable realistic vehicles are built to last and come with an impressive lifetime guarantee. There’s a Dump Truck with a fillable dump bed; once filled kids can drive the Truck to its unloading destination. There’s also the Wheel Loader; kids can control the articulated arm and bucket, moving it up and down to scoop up dirt, rocks or sand, haul it away, and dump out the payload. For more information about Funrise’s Caterpillar range, please email SalesUK@Funrise.com
01620 674 778
0208 643 0320
Simba Smoby is speeding ahead with an action-packed line-up of die-cast and RC vehicles that’ll have all movie buffs in a spin. From the big screen and onto the toy shelf is Simba Smoby Toys UK’s collectable die-cast brand Jada Toys. Celebrating the best in action film merchandising with scaled replicas of the most memorable wheels, these die-cast action vehicles feature an impressive level of detail. A must-see in the collection is the awesome 1:24 scale die-cast range inspired by Marvel’s superheroes. From Spider-Man to Iron Man, through to Black Panther, Groot, Black Widow, and Venom, Jada Toys takes the iconic appearance of each character to deliver a fun, instantly recognisable range that is packed with Marvel appeal. Each Marvel vehicle comes with a 2.75inch figure of the character that inspired it. A popular choice in the range is the Groot 1963 VW Microbus, with tree vines painted along the van’s side panels. Or, for something a bit fancier, there’s always the Black Panther Lykan Hypersport to take for a spin. Plus, movie buffs young and old will now be able to re-create the on-screen action from Spider-Man thanks to the incredible SpiderMan 1:12 RC 4 x 4. The classic Dodge Charger Daytona has been souped-up to create a 4 x 4 monster truck with an awesome Spider-Man inspired design. It even comes with a Turbo Speed function. What more could you ask for? Meanwhile, the Fast & Furious die-cast collection, which launched in autumn/winter 2020 is enjoying greater traction this year thanks to the upcoming release of the F9 movie. Fans can collect popular cars from the eight-film, multi-billion-dollar franchise, as well as new additions from Hobbs & Shaw.
Action doesn’t get much better than a classic battle of good versus evil, and Flair’s MonsterVerse Godzilla vs. Kong, and Ben 10 collections put fans right at the centre of it all. Stomping straight off the big screen and into the toy aisle, Flair’s epic collection of MonsterVerse figures continues to grow, with new movie figures added to the range in celebration of the latest box office release. Building on an already terrifying selection of Classic Toho figures, Flair introduced a detailed assortment of sixinch articulated movie figures back in January 2021. Having launched with five figures to collect, Flair has since unveiled a special monster character - Mechagodzilla! The news came following the announcement that Godzilla vs. Kong would see the return of this formidable character. Like the other six-inch figures, Mechagodzilla features an impressive attention to detail, including removable chunks of flesh so fans can re-enact the most gruesome, action-packed battle scenes. There are also larger articulated characters available, which offer great value for money, allowing fans to recreate the action on a bigger scale. Look out for the 11-inch Giant Godzilla and Kong assortment, as well as the 13-inch Mega Godzilla and Mega Kong figures, which have lights and sounds features, and a unique mechanical battle action for ultra-impactful roleplay and imaginative play. From monsters to aliens, Flair and Just Play presents an extended offering from action hero Ben 10. Ben Tennyson is the ultimate boy-hero who gained the ability to transform into one of 10 different aliens when he discovered an alien watch. Already a smash hit on the small screen, Ben 10 took to the big screen last October in his very own movie: Ben 10 Versus The Universe. And, with this renewed thirst for all things Ben 10, comes a new wave of toys for kids to collect and recreate their favourite on-screen action in the playroom. While fans can look forward to the imminent arrival of the metallic figures, there’s plenty of existing lines to ramp up the creative play. There’s Ben 10’s seriously cool Transforming Omni-Cycle, which can be switched from cycle to flight mode in the space of seconds, thanks to its collapsible wheels. Another must-have for any Ben 10 fan is the Omnitrix Creator Set, which lets kids mix and match parts to create their own custom Omnitrix or Antitrix with over 100 combinations. For more information about these brands and the other fabulous collections from Flair and Just Play please call 0208 643 0320 or email email@example.com.
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Halilit 01254 872 454
Character Options 0161 633 9808 Character Options is schooled in the art of super-fun learning, and with the autumn/winter 2021 launch of the new Smarty collection, kids are going to be spoilt for choice when it comes to STEM-based play. New for the second half, Character Options is adding a selection of innovative tech toys to its STEM toy offering. With kids drawn to technology, the Smarty range presents kids aged three to five years old with an exciting way to play (offline), as they also learn STEM concepts and develop social skills. Smarty JoJo is the cute, character plane that teaches pre-schoolers onthe-go as they zoom through the air. This super-charged learning toy uses Smart Technology that identifies colours, “magically” naming the shades where JOJO lands. Kidspeak conversation calls out feelings, helping children learn to recognise their own emotions. Fun missions to play out help teach children directions, shapes, and opposites, while motion sensors encourage active physical play as kids learn. Smart JOJO features more than 150 random actions and reactions, making every experience different. What’s more, Smarty JOJO is bi-lingual, so kids can toggle between two languages as they learn. Another toy that has been vetted by educators to match national curriculum content is Smarty FLUTTER, which has been developed to offer pre-schoolers an immersive play-and-learn experience that engages them with directional and colour-related command. Like Smarty JoJo, this cool STEM toy features fun sensor-based technology and more than 150 random actions and reactions, helping to teach directions, colours, shapes, emotional intelligence and more. There’s also Smarty PAD, which offers children aged three to five years old a new interactive approach to pre-schooler education by gamifying the standard curriculum. Smarty PAD is an interactive LED tablet, which is lightweight but sturdy. It contains 12 Smart games and an age-appropriate, educator-vetted curriculum. Motion sensors give Smarty PAD an innovative spin, encouraging unique sensory play. Vibrant LED visuals complement activities, including colours, coding, ABCs, and numbers up to 25. With more than 100 different responses, kids rarely play the same way twice! Smarty PAD is bi-lingual, empowering kids to play and learn in two languages.
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With price points starting from just £1.99, Halilit is thrilled to have added the cute Dodo collection of puzzles and games to their offering for 2021. Featuring adorable animal designs their 16-piece Single Puzzles are ideal for impulse purchasing, and with an SRP of just £2.99 the two in one Colouring Puzzles provide perfect pocket money entertainment. The Dodo range offers puzzles suitable for children from 18 months, with 2-3-4 puzzle sets featuring fun and recognisable themes such as modes of transport and the Puzzle Duos designed to encourage little ones to match up popular animals with their food and habitats. For pre-schoolers age three years and above the collection includes fantastic gift boxed sets of four puzzles in one that will also enhance their knowledge of categories such as seasons and professions. Additional Dodo lines already set to be top sellers are the Observation Puzzles which, when built, reveal a border of individual images for the child to look for within the main image - a build and seek puzzle that provides plenty of entertainment. With popular educational themes such as space, the world and much more, the Dodo range has already got off to a flying start this year. Halilit is also looking forward to releasing a new collection of toddler toys in autumn/winter 2021 from the well-established Taf Toys nursery brand. Adding an ‘Easier Learning’ angle to their usual portfolio, the new toddler offering coincides with the launch of Taf Toys’ new Savannah Adventures collection and features newness like the Savannah Sort & Stack, a combination of stacking toy and shape sorter in one, providing further opportunities for counting and shape identification. Other stylish wonder box launches include the North Pole Ball Drop, and the Kimmy Koala Wonder Tissue Box – a sensory delight for inquisitive little ones that encourages them to feed in and pull out organza tissues and crinkle blankets to their heart’s content.
Bossing it… with Tim Ives This quarter, ToyNews is catching up with Tim Ives, the new general manager for the UK and ROI at Basic Fun to learn what the role means to him, his ‘best of’ career highlights, and the serendipitous nature of launching Lincoln Logs to the UK
Hello Tim, congratulations on the latest news and the new role with Basic Fun! What does that move mean to you, how will you help shape Basic Fun!’s future from here? This new role means so much to me! I was one of the original members of K’NEX UK and I’ve been with the company for more than eight years. In that time, there have been so many exciting developments (not least the Basic Fun! acquisition in 2018), and the company has seen significant growth. We’re now a top 40 toy company in the UK, and with the double-digit growth we’re currently looking at this year, we’re well on the way to achieving our longer-term goal of becoming a top 20 company. We’re moving into such an exciting phase for the business, with many positive changes being implemented at present. We’re adding some incredible IPs to the portfolio and our brands such as K’NEX, Tonka, Care Bears, Lite Brite and Cutetitos continue to blow our expectations out of the water. So, to be able to take on wider responsibility for the business at this time is a great opportunity - I see so much potential, and I can’t wait to build on the incredible success that we’ve seen. Of course, I’m also delighted that I’ll be able to carry on working closely with Holly and Lynne. With their help and with the
valued support of our retail partners, I’m confident that the business will continue to go from strength to strength. You’ve been with the company from the get-go. What do you enjoy most about working for Basic Fun!? It is all about the people first. We have a small, close-knit, super effective team working closely with our US colleagues and of course fantastic product. Basic Fun! is renowned for exciting product development and the company works hard to keep up with and create new trends… as well as reignite brands too - Fisher Price Classic, Care Bears, Tonka, K’NEX all continue to grab headlines! Going into 2021 and beyond we have an exciting portfolio that taps into most core categories. The toys we bring to the market appeal to all ages and are recognised throughout all age groups. And I think the most exciting thing for me is that we’re only at the start of our journey with so many brands: Care Bears celebrates its 40th anniversary next year and consumers can’t seem to get enough of our Master Toy plush range. Then, hot off the heels of sell-through success for the Steel Classics collection, there’s Tonka’s 75th Anniversary. And not forgetting K’NEX which unbelievably enjoys its 30th anniversary next year – so perfect timing for lots of exciting brand developments!
We’re bringing back old favourites such as the best-selling Amazing 8 Roller Coaster in the new K’NEX Thrill Rides collection. We’re also introducing a new multi-build subsegment, K’NEX Classics; each set comes with a colour-coded instruction manual to make various models. Plus, we’ll also be unveiling our vibrant, eye-catching waterfall packaging. But there are opportunities for growth, too. We’re only at the cusp of seeing the real potential with Lite Brite, where over 1.4m units were sold in the US last year. Plus, there are so many new waves arriving of our award-winning Cutetitos. Plus, we’ve got some great new IPs for 2021, too. There’s our Monopoly Surprise Collectables – our multi-purpose collectables that kids must peel’n reveal to discover the surprises hidden within. These surprises include heavyweighted, exclusive tokens, unique coins, new Mr. Monopoly expressions, and chase tokens, which can be used while playing Monopoly! This September, we’re also launching Bitty Boomers, the miniature, wireless Bluetooth speakers that are shaped as popular characters, including Spider-Man, Venom, Darth Vader and The Child. Already hugely successful in the US, these speakers can be synced for extra boom. And I can’t say too much at this stage, but there’s an extra special helping of innovation for the pop culture aisle in the second half. Spring/Summer 2021 | toy news | 65
What was the single funniest moment of your career to date? It would have to be dressing up every year at the Toymaster Show. Everyone makes a huge effort and some of the costumes are pretty special. Usually taking place in May, it is a good time to relax after the busy AW period and catch up with colleagues in the industry. What has the past year taught you? In spite of the challenges, you’ve always got to try and remain positive.
You’ve had a long career within the toy industry to date, working across TOMY, MGA, K’NEX, and Basic Fun! What is it about the industry that has kept you passionate about it for that time? In the toy industry, there is always so much going on, so much is continuously changing, and there is always so much to do… it’s impossible to get bored! Of course, I also love the people and I can’t wait for a bit of normality to return so that the industry can come together once again for customer facing meetings, toy fairs and socials. What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in the industry over that time? How do you think they have influenced your approach to the market/industry today? Undoubtedly the shift from bricks and mortar to rising demand for online which has been accelerated even more with the pandemic. For this reason, Basic Fun! is also changing its approach to provide improved richer content and SEO copy for retailers and we have had to be nimble, taking a 360-degree approach to PR/marketing which includes significant digital activity. However, nothing can beat in-store theatre, branding, product in kids’ hands, events and character experiences and this will continue to be on our agenda when the time is right! Can you tell us Tim, do you have a memory of a favourite toy? Did your relationship with toys growing up influence where your career has taken you to date? Growing up in the US, one of my favourite toys was Lincoln Logs. It’s funny that 45 years later we are about to introduce this 66 | toy news | Spring/Summer 2021
classic American toy, with over 100 years of heritage, into the UK. Like all the classic toys we manufacture, Basic Fun! takes exceptional care in reproducing them “just as they were” which evokes great childhood memories but also appeals to an entirely new generation. You can’t beat a classic! With the greatest respect to your current role, what is/was your dream job or the proudest moment of your career? I couldn’t think of a better industry than toys. It’s fast-paced, constantly changing and there are some great people. So, I have the dream job! With the help from my team, my proudest moment is the way we all faced the challenges over the past year, adapted to the way we worked, and went on to achieve exceptional growth.
Do you think the toy industry is headed in the right direction? I’d argue that it’s not so much about the “right” direction – it’s just an exciting direction. For Basic Fun! We’re not only starting to see the blending of categories like Cutetitos and Care Bears being plush and collectables, Tonka combing vehicles and compounds, but also of whole sectors (e.g. youth electronics). This has huge scope for collaborative opportunities that would never have really been seen in toys previously. The positive implications that this has for innovation, pop culture and cross generational appeal, as well as new product development is immense! And we are really starting to scratch the surface of that potential with Bitty Boomers and some other exiting new launches, which I can’t yet talk about!
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