ToyNews December 2018

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No. 201 | December 2018

Humbug to Black Friday, it's Christmas!

Editor Robert Hutchins

Sales Manager Sophia Freeman

Production Executive Matthew Eglinton

Designer Mandie Johnson

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n more than one occasion this month, I've had myself forcibly removed from numerous fine toy shops, to curb the propensity I have for ‘erratic spending’ this time of year. Short of being marched to the nearest cashpoint and forced to stare my bank balance in the face, there’s little that can be done when this festive fever takes a hold… and having been out and about, visiting retailers these last four weeks, the feeling is that Christmas is well on its way. There’s a vigour among the indie retail sector that - even amid the noise of Black Friday and its hideous cousin Cyber Monday - seems to say 'this is our year,' when the local store reclaims the shopping season. I'm no naive ‘digital denyer.’ Already, the British Retail Consortium has said that Black Friday weekend is likely to register the same level of growth as 2017, with some figures suggesting online transactions have soared by 46 per cent. Well, to that, I say humbug. My local videogame shop has swapped out copies of Red Dead Redemption II for boxes of LEGO because this is the season for toys. To sell toys it takes the magic touch, and I think this year, our independent retailers bloody well have enough for a very merry Christmas. Robert Hutchins, Editor

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Contents December 2018 Features


SEARCHING FOR DICKENS We go on the hunt for a Dickensian Christmas as told through the eyes of toys


BIG INTERVIEW: OI LICENSING The Oi book series is making its play for licensing in a deal with Fiesta Crafts

Regulars Opinion 06 Trudi Bishop 07 Morwenna Ellis 08 Frank Yang

Market Data 39 Generation Media 40 WildBrain


Product Guide 51 Puppets 58 Bath toys 62 Logistics


Back pages 66 Mojo Nation 68 I ndustry Moves 69 Team of the month

PRO GREEN(HOUSE) Toy Fair 2019 is bracing for an influx of Greenhouse exhibitors. We talk to some.

MYSTERY SHOPPER: A CHRISTMAS SPECIAL The mystery shopper is back this time tackling London and Cambridge in the search for magic

December 2018 | toy news | 5


Plastic, so drastic: If recycling's not the answer, maybe design and packaging is? By Trudie Bishop

We are all now unfortunately overly familiar with the images of straws being pulled from the noses of turtles, or whales washed up with bellies full of plastic waste, or the floating vulgar plastic islands in the Pacific Ocean. David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II brought the plastic issue to the mainstream consciousness and has helped start overdue debates in multiple industries around plastic pollution. As horrifying as these images are, I believe it is better for them to be front and centre rather than out of sight, out of mind - otherwise the debate and actions on reversing this ecological emergency may not happen. As 90 per cent of toys are made of plastic with an average lifespan in the toy box of just six months, we as an industry have an obligation to try to ensure the world the children we are creating toys for is still around for their own children... and their children’s children. The good news is, toy companies are starting the journey to a more sustainable future. LEGO has been one of the most vocal and openly dedicated to moving to be fully sustainable by 2030, committing $155 million into a new Sustainable Materials Centre. Meanwhile,

the Belgian Ecobirdy has found a way to recycle toys into kids’ furniture and is also raising awareness in schools around recycling and sustainability. Hornby has also recognised the need to change and is beginning to invest in research in more eco-friendly packaging. These are all great steps in a long journey. Recycling is certainly a good start. But I don’t believe it is the answer. It is another form of energy consumption and currently there is a disjointed approach to waste management in the UK which is causing a slow down in progress for sustainability. Reducing or repurposing products and packaging is a more forward-thinking approach to this issue. Starting now, small steps can be taken by individual companies starting with clever packaging design and materials. Much of the packaging on a toy ends up in landfill and hopefully recycling bins. Packaging design does not need to be created just for on shelf impact or unboxing appeal alone, but incorporated into the overall play pattern of the toy giving additional life to both the toy and the packaging. By making the packaging smaller, costs can be saved and more can be displayed on shelf. The task we have at hand is huge and potentially expensive for individual companies to tackle on their own, but if we work together as an industry, perhaps we can all forge a way forward to a more sustainable future for our children's children.

"Attenborough's Blue Planet II has brought the plastic issue to the mainstream." Trudi Bishop is the founder of Bee Licensing and a long serving toy and licensing industry personality, having held previous positions with Cartamundi and LeapFrog.

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Do your research: Why constant research is key to a successful product By Morwenna Ellis

There are many ways to cut a cake. Similarly, there are many methods of conducting research when you are developing a product for a child. Research as a service is a hugely broad sector, as it can be carried out at all stages of development, as well as before a concept is even born, and after a finished product is manufactured. But knowing when and how you should commission it can be tricky. Based on our experience of differing levels of product success at Fundamentally Children, we have a number of tips that should help you make sure you have the right knowledge at the right time. We often evaluate products at both the prototype and finalised stage of development; we are after all the home of The Good Toy Guide. However, we’re increasingly working with our clients to provide research to support them from market exploration and concept stage, through to product, packaging development and far beyond. Investment in the early stages can save a great deal of wasted time and money in focusing resources into a product that might not be what the market wants. By considering the audience upfront and bringing those insights into your process, the end product will

be much closer aligned to the requirements. It even gives you a head start in the marketing strategy. It’s important to ensure learnings are taken from previous research projects and applied to the understanding of changes in product evolution or market development. Research shouldn’t be a one off for a product launch, it’s an ongoing cycle of evaluation. The ability to track and monitor what’s happening to the market, the audience and the brand over time is essential for sense checking any strategy, the needs of the audience and a product’s fit and appropriateness. Commissioning a brand tracking study in the early stages of development or pre-launch is a fantastic way to benchmark your business against competition; it helps you monitor growth in awareness and brand health, allowing you to be reactive to any changes in audience relevance; and make changes before you start to see the impact in sales and delisting, by which time it might be too late. Brand tracking will give you a clear monthly visual of performance, invaluable for any business who wants to stay top of mind, and top of sales charts, particualrly when it matters the most. In short, research should be something explored at all stages of the product cycle; used to develop, sense check, evaluate and monitor products and services continuously, allowing you to be informed, agile and proactive. Then you can really enjoy that cake.

"Research helps you sense check, monitor, be agile and enjoy." Morwenna Ellis is head of research at Fundamentally Children where she leads the research team by providing clients with insights from their core users and purchasers.

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How is LEGO constructing a toy business in China, brick by brick? By Frank Yang


s the Chinese middle classes grow, so does the country’s toy market with a growth of 19.9 per cent between 2012 and 2017. Not only this, China is a major toy producer with an estimated 80 per cent of global toy production occurring on the mainland. For the toy industry, China is both a huge potential market and a major manufacturing base. LEGO’s ongoing success in protecting its intellectual property in China, then, is highly encouraging.

Piecing together a victory But LEGO’s battle to protect its IP in China has been a long one. The recent decision in LEGO’s favour follows the firm’s success in two previous litigations concluded in November 2017. The earlier cases were introduced by LEGO as a first effort to fight imitators in China. In these early cases, the court found that two Chinese companies had copied LEGO in the design of the packaging under the BELA brand. The court eventually ruled that the two companies must stop using copied outer packaging materials to promote their products as well as the related unfair competition acts. Despite the victory, no court order was issued to prohibit the manufacturing and distribution of the BELA branded products themselves. LEGO’s second claim was lodged against a further four Chinese companies which have been manufacturing,

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promoting and distributing copycat LEGO construction toys at least since 2015. The infringing products manufactured and distributed by the defendants cover a wide range of LEGO product lines and are often presented to the market shortly after the rollout of the LEGO original products. These duplicate LEGO toys are promoted under the trade mark LEPIN, which still remains the subject of the opposition proceeding raised by LEGO. The retail prices of LEPIN toy products, according to the major e-commerce websites in China, range from 1/6 to 1/10 of those of original LEGO products sold in China. Trade marks or copyright? IP comes in many forms, and the extent to which LEGO has been infringed in these cases, combined with LEGO’s solid IP portfolio, means the company had a range of means by which to close pursue infringers. In pursuing the LEPIN brand, LEGO did not base its claims on trade mark infringement, although its trade mark LEGO has been successfully recognised as a wellknown mark in a lawsuit in Beijing which may confer a higher level of protection during enforcement actions. In this instance, the claims focuses on the infringement of LEGO’s copyright. As copyright is not protected by way of registration in China the same as in the UK, LEGO


LEGO’s victories should be encouraging more foreign intellectual property holders to enforce their copyrights against Chinese imitators. was required to prove its copyright ownership to build its case. At this point, it’s worth noting that each of the LEGO building sets LEGO claimed were being infringed was recognised by the court as a ‘three dimensional works of art.’ Works of art is a specific form of copyrighted provided under the Chinese Copyright Law. It refers to two-dimensional or three-dimensional aesthetic works created in line, colours of other means. A typical interpretation of 3D works of art provided under the law is sculpture works. By using this discretion, the court apparently granted LEGO’s construction toys the same legal position as sculptures and statues. No more playing around As China becomes an ever more central player in the

global economy, so its legal and intellectual property norms are moving towards greater harmony with the rest of the world. The Chinese government and courts are as concerned as businesses are that IP in China can be relied upon. It’s perhaps unsurprising then, with infringement established, the court in this case demanded the defendants pay around 4.5 million RMB as damages to cover the losses of LEGO. The amount, while it sounds substantial, is incomparable to LEGO’s losses, suggesting that Chinese courts remain cautious of rewarding punitive damages in infringement cases. A solid IP strategy from here While the substantive impact of LEGO’s victories on other LEGO imitators remains to be seen, the copyright enforcement strategy adopted by LEGO in these cases is highly commended. LEGO’s victories should be encouraging more foreign intellectual property holders to enforce their copyrights against Chinese imitators. In regards to the protection of distinctive appearances of toys, LEGO’s cases also suggest that a 3D works of arts could also be a considerable option in China, apart from registering them as designs or figurative trade marks.

Frank Yang LLB, BA is a senior associate at Marks & Clerk, an intellectual property service providers, encompassing patent attorneys, trade mark attorneys, lawyers and consultants. Marks & Clerks has a global network.

December 2018 | toy news | 9

Quick look

AR educational action figures find route to UK retail in 2019 The Canadian toymaker Today Is Art Day is making a move for the UK retail space when it heads to London’s Top Drawer next year to present its Art History Heroes and AR integrated The Historical Figures action figure lines to companies and consumers


anadian toymakers and the team behind the Today Is Art Day and The Historical Figures ranges of educative action figures is making a play for the UK market. The company’s founder David Beaulieu has detailed to ToyNews his plans to launch the ranges to global audiences by attending the firm’s first trade show outside of the US when it exhibits at Top Drawer in London next year. Today Is Art Day launched onto the scene in 2014 with an Instagram account making history and artwork accessible. In 2017, the company launched a range of educational action figures of some of art 10 | toy news |December 2018

history’s most eminent figures including Van Gogh, Frida Kahlo, Leonardo Da Vinci and more. Following a successful Kickstarter campaign to develop an art-world inspired board game, the team has just launched its second brand - The Historical Figures, this time tackling AR technology in order to present ‘portals to the time and places of the world’s most famed scientists.’ The next step for Today Is Art Day is to bring its collection of Art History Heroes and The Historical Figures to UK retail. “We have just chosen a 3PL for inventory and shipping in the UK and we now have some inventory in the UK,” Beaulieu

tells ToyNews. “We are attending our first trade show outside the US next January by heading to Top Drawer in London. “The UK is right on our radar. For now, we are starting small and we will try to feel the temperature of the water in the UK first. We’ll see how it goes and this may grow bigger in the UK and in Europe.” The Historical Figures work via a free app that once downloaded can be used to scan action figures of Einstein, Tesla or Marie Curie to present an AR doorway into their labs or lecture halls. Through a mobile device, these can then be explored to bring history to life in an immersive and fun new way.

Quick look

"Games could fix UK schooling,” says edu-start-up Panjango The emerging games company believes its new Top Trumps-style card and board game line will open kids’ minds to the possibilities of life after school by presenting the chances schools don't


oard gaming could be the solution to ‘fixing the country’s broken educational system,’ according to the card and board game startup, Panjango. Panjango is the umbrella brand for a new Top Trumps-style card game and a fast and fun board game both or which are designed to get players thinking about what the world of the future will look and where they want to be within it when it comes to jobs. The idea has been born out of the belief that the education system is “outdated and broken and not adequately preparing young people for life after school.” By gamifying and contextualising learning and skills, Panjango wants children and students to realise their ‘purpose in life much earlier.’ The Panjango portfolio starts with a Top Trumps-style game that encourages players to think about the kind of job they want when they are older, an expansion of the pack has them thinking about jobs of the future. Robot rights lawyers, re-wilders, Martian botanist - the jobs force players to think about where the world is headed and what skills they have that could be used in the futuristic roles. “Students - even high academic young people - are leaving school without any practical knowledge, skills and experiences that are needed in the modern world of work,” Jon Maiden, Panjango’s co-founder and a former arts education charity director, told ToyNews. “What society needs is people who can go out in the world, see a problem and solve it. What schools are currently developing is young people who can remember information to pass exams. In the world of Google, that is not useful.” The stat that Panjango likes to bring out at times like this is that only 16 per cent of the population is satisfied with the job they have.

“That’s appalling and we want to help young people find their purpose much earlier on in life,” said Maiden.

By gamifying the learning process, Maiden and the team believe they have struck on the perfect tool to encourage wider thinking about learning, skills and careers. It is all ‘wrapped up’ in what the firm calls a “fun game, first and foremost.” The nature of the game is why Panjango also thinks it is perfectly positioned to become a popular family game played at home, as well as a tool for education used in schools. “We have just got our ecommerce site up and running and are making direct sales through there, but next year we will be looking for UK retail distribution,” explained Maiden. “I think the nature of the game means it will work initially in independents, but I would lie to think that eventually we can get the traction to be considered high street as well. “Gaming is a hot sector at the moment and we are bringing something wholly unique, fun, educational and potentially life changing for young players to that space.” December 2018 | toy news | 11

Retail news

Wow! Stuff grows demo division roll out as sales increases are billed “minimum expectation” Launched ten year ago, the company has redouble focus and investment in its demonstration division to deliver “outstanding results” to current retail partners


he reported 20-fold increase in sales where Wow! Stuff ’s Demonstration Division has been implemented in partnering stores is just the “minimum expectation” of revenue driven by the company’s redoubled efforts in in-store entertainment this year. Last month, the firm revealed that in areas in which its demo programme was implemented the heaviest, the Division had secured and delivered “more sales per square foot of retail space than any other business driver.” While Wow! Stuff’s Demonstration Programme is now in its tenth year, it was only recently that new investment and focus was placed on the division, with it now falling under sales director, Jon Birch’s remit. Following some “exceptional tests in different channels,” the division is being expanded into 2019. The Demo Division will now be key in “driving substantial growth around the world.”

“We have already started to roll the Demonstration Programme out around the world, educating key retailers about what is involved in creating the right environment for demonstration to be successful,” Birch told ToyNews. “The current results are outstanding and customers love the theatre we create. “We have a number of pop-ups and select retailers that we work with each year, but this will expand throughout 2019 and beyond. We are looking for retailers who are open minded about what is probably the oldest sales method in the world: face to face and person to person.” Wow! Stuff’s demonstration division originally launched with Hamleys back in 2008. The team is made up of more than ten full time demonstrators. “To use the phrase of the moment, it is an experiential offering for a bricks and mortar retailer’s customer,” added Birch. “We bang on about the sales per square

foot being so high, but I am sure 99 per cent of retailers just cannot get their heads around the increases it brings with the right products and the right team delivering it.”

Indies can counter ‘soulless UK high streets,’ says Brighton's award-winning Whirligig After opening three stores in as many years, owner of the award-winning independent, traditional toy retailer chain, Peter Allinson has designs for another successful 2019


ward-winning toy retailer, Whirligig is backing the efforts of the independent retailer this season, citing that it's ‘the ones that are taking action now, that will prosper long into the future.’ The UK’s high street has taken a knock this year with a number of big name chain and department stores caught out by the shifting consumer and shopping landscape, a move to online shopping and more demand from their shopping experiences. According to the winner of the Let Toys Be Toys Good Practice 2018 Award, Whirligig’s Peter Allinson, the retailers that put the effort in now will reap the benefits later down the line.

“Those who don’t will suffer just like the High Street names we see suffering now,” he told ToyNews. Based in Brighton, Allinson and the Whirligig name has expanded across the south of England, opening three further stores in the past three years. Allinson has teased that the company, one which specialises in traditional and educational toys, has further plans for 2019, too. “It’s the retailers that can distinguish themselves and give something a bit different to what we are currently seeing on the high street that will really prosper,” Allinson continued. “Shoppers

have had enough of these soulless department stores, it seems, and this is where independents can really step up.” December 2018 | toy news | 13


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It’s this time of year that we all get a little bit nostalgic and that traditional idyll rears its head as we aspire to the Dickensian Christmas. But what actually is it, and how can we find it in the toys we play with today? Robert Hutchins takes a step back in time


y phone battery was dead: to begin with. Of that, there was no doubt. Not that it mattered much to me now; I knew where I was headed - Benjamin Pollock’s Toy Shop on Covent Garden - and I was certain that given the world I was about to enter, technology would have been of no use to me there. December 2018 | toy news | 15


Well, that’s not quite true. I was going to want - and need - to take photos. A lot of photos... I mean, lots of them. Surely Simon, the member of staff I had been in correspondence with would have a spare plug socket lying around, allowing me to recharge my link to the modern day world? Afterall, the shop must have been updated in some regard since its grand opening of 1850; For pity’s sake, Simon and I had been talking over email just the day before... I, like plenty others, tend to get a bit nostalgic around this time of year. It’s simply inevitable that as the nights draw in early and your evening commute becomes dotted with the soft glow of warmly lit public houses, we all begin to crave something a bit… traditional. “I’m putting a feature together, searching for the Dickensian Christmas, as told through toys…” went my line of correspondence with Benjamin Pollock’s ‘contact us’ page. I hit send, sat back in my chair and pondered - what the hell does that even mean? The truth is, I didn’t know. This year will mark only my 32nd Christmas. Of 16 | toy news | December 2018

those, for around ten of them have I been only acutely aware of this notion - state of mind, maybe - of the Dickensian Christmas ideal. For precisely none have I ever understood what the bloody hell a Dickensian Christmas was. Yet, here I am pitching a seven page feature to one of London’s oldest toy retailers on the narrative of searching for exactly that, 'through toys.’ Because, after all, if there’s anyone closer to the heart of what Christmas is all about than the toy industry, it could only be the script writers of the Eastenders Christmas Special. And quite frankly, that’s lost a lot of its charm in recent years. The response was swift and the invite forthcoming from Simon Seddon, one third of the impassioned trio that runs Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop day to day, and - having met him more than once now - hand on my heart, one of the industry’s most to be cherished personalities. And so the scene was set, I was off to Covent Garden, the beating heart of London’s Theatreland. But why? Why was I heading to a toy theatre shop that having originated in

Hoxton in 1856 and “opening really around 1880,” according to Seddon’s recollection of the shop’s history, would have missed the era of Charles Dickens - who died in 1870 - by a good ten years? Well, despite outward appearances, I am not foolish enough to walk into this completely blind, and if I am in search of a Dickensian Christmas, it seems obvious that there was to be no better place to start than with Charles Dickens himself. Dickens’ love of the theatre is best documented, and perhaps most endearingly so, in the London biographer Peter Ackroyd’s own best selling title, Dickens - the source upon which I will now pin the outline of my own trail. By the time Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop arrived on the scene in the mid ‘50s, the toy theatre trade of the Victorian era had not yet been completely overshadowed by the “emergence of ‘novelties’ like magic lanterns or gramophones,” reads the potted history of Pollock’s on its own website. Some 30 years before it, we can, thanks to Ackroyd’s most vivid account, “picture a six year old Dickens working and con-

Dickensian structing a toy theatre, complete with the sheets of characters to be cut out, pasted onto cardboard and glued to wires or sticks… pushed onto a small stage… while Charles read and acted out the scenes…” The process hasn’t changed much since, and some 200 years later, back in Covent Garden, Simon Seddon is talking me through much the same construction of one of the many delightful theatre scenes those reminiscent of their Victorian predecessors - that adorn the walls of Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop. “We are all about the history, the heritage and the tradition of Pollockry,” he tells me. “It’s what we are known for, and when people come into our shop they are usually astounded at what we have to offer.” Even just a glance around the shop and it’s no surprise as to why. Benjamin Pollock’s is a true piece of Victorian history preserved and landed in the centre of London’s bustling entertainment district. So, a Dickensian Christmas is all about being traditional? Absolutely not, comes the retort from Seddon. “You have some toy shops today that go for that aesthetic,

but scratch the surface and you see, it’s just a veneer… It’s about authenticity.” Ornately decorated miniature theatres sit in a glass cabinet where a handwritten price card marks them at £350. Around the room, slightly more accessible lines, priced around the £25 mark, feature an array of historical or fantastical scenes. Among them, a Dickensian theatre itself is propped in the corner. “We like to make sure that whoever you are and whatever you are looking for or whatever budget you might have, you take away an experience from Benjamin Pollock’s,” continues Seddon. He is tidying as he talks to me. He is prepping the store for a visit from Heart Radio the following day and voices his concern that Stacey Solomon is going to ‘start handling everything in the shop.’ “Not that I mind,” he laughs. “But putting this store together is like putting a puzzle together. Everything has its place and it all has its place for a reason, and that is to give that theatrical experience to our customers so that they leave wanting to take a piece with them.”

In that regard, Pollock’s isn’t doing too badly. It’s weathered the past 162 years of retail and is in a healthy position with a global audience of not just shoppers, but actual fans. Pollock’s has an Instagram account, it also boasts some pretty impressive ties to the art world, including Charlotte Cory and historian and author Alan Powers. Through the store’s contacts it has even just started recording and releasing a series of podcasts, hosted by Simon Seddon himself and exploring the worlds of art, history, architecture and of course, Pollockry. But then storytelling comes easy to this shop; whether it’s the exuberance of the history it sits within, or the potential for imagination that sits upon every shelf, Pollock’s very much feels like a storyteller’s shop. It wasn’t merely coincidence that the 19th Century, Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson once said of it: “if you love art, folly or the bright eyes of children, speed to Pollock’s.” But let’s leave Seddon postulating for just a moment, because isn’t that the role of toys and play in general: to be the

December 2018 | toy news | 17


gateway for the imagination? That answer is easy to come by. But not only this, toys and play have also been strongly linked to literacy development in children and the later appreciation of literature itself. Research from the psychologist Jerome Bruner, published via The Genius of Play has recently revealed that “children learnt emergent literacy skills during pretend play, specifically learning about the different situations in which reading and writing may be needed.” The worry begins to emerge when that same piece of research goes on to suggest that “pretend play among pre-schoolers today is on the wane.” Where some 200 years ago, the likes of Charles Dickens and his six year old peers were encouraged to ‘act and put on entertainment,’ in 2002 it was discovered that pretend play accounted for just ‘nine per cent of pre-schoolers’ free-play. The usual suspects have been lined up to which the finger of blame has been pointed; technology unsurprisingly among them. But is that necessarily fair? The likes of LeapFrog and VTech have managed to bring technology and storytelling together wonderfully in recent years, while developers are finding new ways to bring literature and technology closer together day by day.

Yoto is a tech start-up that has recently partnered with The Roald Dahl Story Company and Hachette Children’s to bring some of the world’s best-loved kids’ books to its smart tech children’s speaker. The speaker allows children to play stories, listen to podcasts and engage with literature within all the sensibilities of the 21st century. It’s all part of ‘adapting the traditional for the connected homes of today,” suggests Yoto’s CEO, Ben Drury. Can we, in that case, suggest that even something as 21st Century as a connected smart speaker captures the essence of the Dickensian? I’ll revert to Ackroyd for confirmation that “as well as reading and writing, a young Charles Dickens had an ear for listening,” and the later description of the man “very much of his contemporaries,” in order to draw my conclusion here. The real question is, would Dickens have listened to podcasts? “Gosh… I’m nervous about how it all turns out, hearing myself on a podcast,” continues Seddon, returning us to Covent

Garden. “But we have just recorded a fascinating talk with the historian and author Alan Powers on the story of the Harlequinade and its relationship with the world of toy theatres.” Guessing my next question before I even take an inwards breath, Seddon takes hold of a piece of wrapping paper that hangs by the shop counter. It’s patterned with a cast of theatrical characters. He points to one of them. “This is Harlequin,” he tells me. “Harlequinade is a piece of traditional pantomime in which Harlequin played a leading role.” December 2018 | toy news | 19

Dickensian Today, we all know Harlequin for her role in the DC Comics universe - the significant other (or daughter, depending on your era) of The Joker and the soon to be star of her own stand alone movie. “It’s interesting to think of her as the first super hero - or villain - in a way,” muses Seddon. “Particularly as this [Harlequinade] all emerged at a time when the idea of the celebrity was starting to emerge, too.” I am transfixed by the historical context with which our minds are now drawing parallels between the Victorian Britain of Charles Dickens and the comic-book mad world we live in today. It’s no secret that Dickens’ own celebrity was cemented when the writer was in his youth, serialising what came to be known as The Pickwick Papers - and even Oliver Twist - in monthly instalments of publications such as The Morning Chronicle. Given that Penny Dreadfuls and other such works had given life to the serial story some years ahead of him, it would be too much of a leap to suggest Dickens conceived the notion of the weekly - or monthly - comic book, but he certainly per-

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We can, thanks to Peter Ackroyd's most vivid telling, picture a six year old Dickens, 'working and constructing a toy theatre, complete with sheets of characters being pushed out onto the small stage while Charles read and acted out the stories. Today, some 200 years later, the process remains much the same. petuated its popularity amng his modern day audiences. Stronger than that however, is that according to Ackroyd “if there was one theatrical art which truly inspired Dickens, it was that of pantomime.”

It’s odd to think that audiences today share in that “jocund world” as he called it, of pantomime through the superhero movies of the 21st Century. Or is it? From Harlequin, the superhero genre sprung and in 1940 the character made her first appearance in the DC Comics universe, six years after the first release of what was some 70 years after that to become known as the DC Universe. Around the same time - in 1939 - Stanley Lieber, or his pseudonym Stan Lee - had taken up a role with Timely Publications and would soon give rise to the world of Marvel comics. Stan Lee died in November this year at the age of 95. The world mourned his passing and continue to marvel themselves at the man who gave his characters not only extraordinary powers, but everyday headaches, too. He humanised comic book superheroes, much in the same way Dickens gave lives to “the wretched folk” of London’s underbelly. For this, both will go down in the annals of literature's greatest. In doing so, Lee’s impact on the world of entertainment has been profound. And that includes upon the toy market; it’s what was


to earn him his spot in the Toy Industry Hall of Fame this year, and on the week of his passing, Steve Pasierb, president and chief executive of The Toy Association eulogised the comic book hero. ‘The imagination of Stan Lee touched lives around the globe for generations,” he said, “while the creative magic he has spun through will live on forever. Stan understood so well that entertainment and play are vital to the human soul. “As we prepare to induct Stan into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame this February, it will still be a celebration, but we will dearly miss a true superhero in the galaxy of entertainment and toys.” What Lee did - holding on to those characteristics of the era of pantomime, farce and folly - blended with pathos - to set a new stage on which the objects of our affection play out their lives today - is arguably truly Dickensian. Marvel has even tapped into the consciousness of the global audience to become the highest grossing film franchise of all time, hitting $17.5 billion at the global box office - if that doesn’t attest to our love for the same kind of pantomime enjoyed by Dickens 200 years ago, what does?

Last month, The NPD Group reported that the Marvel Universe was among the top five performing IP of the year, with toys supercharged by the release of Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War. At the same time, action figure sales saw “significant increase on the previous year,” helping the industry to hit $11.6 billion. This Christmas, the NPD predicts that £1.2bn worth of toys will be sold. Of that success, you can be sure that the action figures category will take no small role. Whether they take the form of Marvel’s superhero action figures, DC Comics’, Power Rangers or any of the other best-selling action figure lines of today, it matters not in this context. All that matters is the imagination that is being exercised by their playful use. Yes, the stories have changed. Where a young Charles Dickens was once performing miniature renditions of The Miller and

His Men or The Exile of Siberia in the front room of his childhood home in Chatham, today’s children are re-enacting Thor: Ragnarok or Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice in their own. But do our Christmas narratives really differ that much? The truth of it is, today we find ourselves attached to our Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant in the home place, or flocking to the iMAX to catch the latest superhero franchise on the big - really big - screen. But as long as storytelling remains at the heart of our engagement, with these flourishes of the 21st Century; or companies and individuals continue to find those routes to deliver the childlike wonder of stories themselves, the essence of what is Dickensian can never really be far away. It’s something to ponder at least. The only one who could tell us the truth of what a Dickensian Christmas would look like has been as dead for the past 200 years. December 2018 | toy news | 21

Big interview

22 | toy news | December 2018

Big interview

Kes Gray and Jim Field the author and illustrator duo behind the popular pre-school book series Oi, don’t do things by convention. In fact, that’s the entire basis of their best-selling children’s titles, as well as their approach to business. As the pair embark on a licensing programme that finds them working with Fiesta Crafts, Robert Hutchins talks to Gray, one half of the team to find out more


t was with the arrival of a strong-willed and determined little frog upon the preschool scene around four years ago now, that the rules of convention were turned somewhat on their head. Kes Gray and Jim Field’s creation, Oi Frog, and its protagonist, was tired of the accepted norm: cats sat on mats, frogs sat on logs, and dogs, they sat on frogs. 2014 marked time for a change - Frog was about to take the rules into his own hands. No more would cats sit on mats. No, cats will

now sit on gnats, goes the story’s narrative. Dogs will not sit on Frogs, but on the logs that once belonged to frogs, and frogs… well, it would seem that a frog can sit just about wherever it pleases. The title was a resounding success and one that went on to inspire not just one, or two but an entire series of follow up titles centred on the three main characters, Frog, Cat and Dog as they met new animals and continued a mission to change up the order of convention.

December 2018 | toy news | 23

Big Interview

“Make no mistake about it, Oi is here to bring noise to the toy space. It starts with the ‘in your face Oi’ speech bubble which is now a successfully registered trademark, and will continue with Frog, Dog and Cat all ‘placed centre stage of a galaxy of Oi animal illustrations’ and all at the licensors’ disposal." Kes Gray, Author of the Oi book series

With it, both Kes Gray and Jim Field one the children’s author of the Oi book series, the other the illustrator bringing the world to life on page, in their own little way, did much the same: begin the process of switching up the order of things in the pre-school sector. Earlier this year, Oi Goat, a mini book and the fifth in the Oi series from Gray and Field - one that will soon be joined by Oi Duckbilled Platypus - was released and

chosen as a special World Book Day 2018 title. In just four years, over one million Oi books have been sold, and with the encouragement and expertise of the book series’ publisher Hachette Livre and Maximum Licensing, it has embarked on a licensing programme that next year sees it enter the toy space with Fiesta Crafts. This, by the way, is all without going anywhere near a television or digital, long or short-form content series; which, if you take just a quick look at the pattern for pre-school IP over the last five years, is a pretty unconventional move itself. We did mention that Kes and Gray don’t like to stick to the norm, didn’t we? “Oi Rob,” reads Kes Gray’s introductory email, as if to prove the afore made point in one fell swoop. There’s definite character in the author’s tone, and one that isn’t simply reserved to the pages of the multi-award winning book series he has penned. “Make no mistake about it, Oi is here to bring noise to the toy space,” he tells me. It starts with the ‘in your face Oi’ speech bubble which is now a successfully registered trademark, and will continue with Frog, Dog and Cat all ‘placed centre stage of a galaxy of Oi animal illustrations’ all of which will be “at the licensors’ disposal,” as the team continues its IP journey.

2nd best selling picture book author

26 | toy news | December 2018

“There are many directions the brand can go,” says Gray. “It will become a loud and infectious invitation for the consumer to engage.” But Oi very much isn’t just about being loud. It’s about being funny. The books aim to “allow children to learn without them realising they are learning, with fun and silliness driving every story and rhymes peppering every page with phonics in spades,” Gray continues. “We like to think that the Oi series works for many people in many directions. It’s a bedtime giggle, a read alone chuckle, and a classroom hoot.” There’s a poetic rhythm to the way Gray talks. It’s perhaps the result of spending so much time with his head buried in the literature of the pre-school sector; alternatively perhaps, it’s a natural tool that has allowed him such success within it. Whichever it is, he certainly isn’t using artistic license on the truth. The Oi book series really is working for a great many people. Oi Dog won the Laugh Out Loud Picture Book Award of 2017 and was shortlisted for the Sainsbury’s Children’s Book Award and British Book Awards in 2016. Oi Cat, meanwhile, was the Independent Booksellers Children’s Book of the Season

Big interview and Oi Goat, as we know, is a World Book Day book of 2018. “Consumer awareness of Oi is growing apace,” continues Gray. “In publishing terms, all of the retail stars have aligned for the Oi books and characters. In just four years, more than a million Oi books have been sold, and overnight the public have taken Oi to their hearts.” “We decided to launch the Oi Licensing Company irrespective of a TV platform because a brand platform that is equally compelling has grown from its publishing roots. We have the enthusiasm and licensing expertise of Sarah Fletcher and Maximum Licensing on our side, as well as the full support and encouragement of our publisher Hachette Livre. “Should TV happen - and we very much hope that it does - it will be a very welcome addition to the Oi licensing programme.” For now, Oi Licensing, Gray and Field are happy to keep it ‘old school,’ and work from the vibrant and only growing publishing platform that they have together. It’s certainly served them well so far, it’s delivered them a toy partner in Fiesta Crafts for one - a company that knows the pedigree of an IP when it sees it.

To date, Fiesta Crafts has been very selective in the IP it works with. The world of children’s literature is its go to source of inspiration and in recent years has plucked from it a highly commendable partnership with the Roald Dahl Story Company on a series of Roald Dahl puppets and play sets. And that’s about it. It would seem, then, that Oi is in some extremely good company with a toy firm that knows exactly what it wants from a pre-school property. “Fiesta Crafts and Oi share key strengths, particularly in schools where educational engagement is key,” says Gray. “We will work hard with Fiesta Crafts to cement Oi’s position as an educational resource. The lessons that we learn will be harnessed to develop high quality, educational and creative play for the home environment too.” That hard work has already begun. Fiesta Crafts has now detailed the full range of Oi products in the portfolio, spanning Oi Magnetic Rhymes, Magnetic Phonics and Magnetic Creative Writing Sets. The tranche of activity toys will teach kids about rhyming sounds through sound, picture and word matching tasks, develop their understanding of phonics and sounds and encourage them to create their own stories using pictures and word pieces as well as their own literacy skills developed through play. “We are so excited to be joining up with the Oi Frog, Dog and friends with these three brand new Oi magnetic charts: rhyming, Phonics and Writing,” Rob Trup, marketing manager at Fiesta Crafts, tells ToyNews. ‘Each is stuffed with pieces of all the favourite Oi characters whose books have been delighting children (and their adults) and selling out fast. We already know children love to play with our existing range of interactive magnetic charts, helping them to learn and now, with the added joy of the cast of Oi characters, they will be even more engaged.” Using the 25 reversible magnetic pieces in the Magnetic Rhymes set, children will be able to develop their

literacy skills as they complete the suggested activities. Meanwhile, the Phonics set offers up 60 magnetic pieces with which to develop literacy skills, and completing the set is the 48 piece Magnetic Creative Writing set. “By noisily championing learning in school and creative play in the home,” continues Gray, “we very much hope that Oi will become a call to action for generations to come.” Of course, given the competition that Oi now finds itself among in a crowded pre-school space, Gray, Field and the team are aware the journey won’t be without its hurdles along the way. “The hurdles for bringing a new brand into the toy space are at the very least, retail distribution and consumer awareness,” Gray states. “For Oi, the two are growing hand in hand. Oi toys will have the potential to become a gender neutral, multifaceted brand that both children and parents take to their heart. “The Oi brand is in its infancy and the opportunity for licensees to help it grow extends in many directions. Both Jim and I will be fastidious guardians of the brand, and if needed - when needed - Oi product ideas will never be in short supply.” December 2018 | toy news | 27

News analysis

Industry told: Traditional toys will be back with a bang Experts in the sector from companies like Le Toy Van and UGears have cited a ‘push back against technology and screens’ as a key driver for the success of the traditional toys market this year; Kids want to be hands on with their toys again By Robert Hutchins


espite the continued advances of technology and ‘screen time’, traditional toys appear to be making a resurgence, according to a number of experts operating in the field of wooden and construction toys, this year. Executives from leading companies in the traditional and wooden toy sector such as Le Toy Van and UGears have told ToyNews that while competition from technology and continued pressure from the video gaming market may be strong, the ‘traditional’ sector is “back with a bang.” “I wouldn’t be the only one to say that we are now witnessing the great revival of 28 | toy news |December 2018

the traditional toy segment,” Daria Dubets, founder of the Ukrainian wooden toy and model company, UGears, told ToyNews. “In our age of electronics people still want to be creative with their hands and mind, seeking that rewarding feeling of constructing something with their hands, and get inside the world of mechanics.” A recently launched window display and pop-up zone in Harrod’s this season has helped fuel sales for the wooden toy specialist Le Toy Van in the run up to Christmas this year. The partnership with the iconic London retailer has been hailed by the firm as a ‘testament to the strength

of the brand,’ as well as the traditional toy sector over all. Success in the sector has been put down to a number of reasons: a consumer push for wooden and sustainable toys, a nostalgia that traditional toys deliver and the feeling of a new age of maturity among today’s shoppers. “We have a very diverse creative team, each rich of our own background and cultures which makes the magic happen,” Marie Bureau, marketing and product development manager at Le Toy Van, explained.“We always look for up and coming trends but also create our own trends by

News analysis blending the traditional with a contemporary twist.” While award wins are landing aplenty for the like of Le Toy Van and its Wooden Popcorn Machine or Wild & Wolf ’s own brand Petit Collage and its sweep of three wins in this year’s Made For Mums Awards, it isn’t just the younger years sector that is seeing this revival and surge in popularity. “Even the board games are back and their more recent versions are now treated as a chance to help kids addicted to computer gaming, socialise more,” said UGears’ Dubets. UGears itself is tapping into this growing tabletop gaming market through a Kickstarter campaign to help fund a range of build-your-own devices for tabletop gaming. Elsewhere, the firm has partnered with Disney to bring UGears branded Disney themed model sets exclusively to The Disney Store. “We are working with loads of amazing clients from great independent toy and gift shops to High Street names, big museums, catalogues, craft channels and many more. The stamp of approval in the UK was becoming the supplier of John Lewis in 2017.” UGears’ models present a mix of builds drawn from real-life mechanisms and fantasy designs. The company works on the principle that every design has a story. “If it’s based on a prototype, you can trace the history and its peculiarities all the way to Victorian time and the golden age of industrial revolution,” said Dubets. “If the model is an invention of our designers, it

has a story of in-house creation - with every detail and accessory having a meaning.” Over in Brighton, the independent toy retailer Whirligig Toys has been catching the media’s attention this past month. The store specialises in “delivering something very different to what you’d find in your Smyths Toys,” the shop’s founder, Peter Allinson told ToyNews. Whirligig Toys specialises in traditional, mechanical toys or according to Allinson “toys that encourage exploration in some way.” His dedication to the cause has not only recently earned Whirligig the recognition of the Let Toys Be Toys movement

- handing Allinson the Toymark 2018 certificate earlier this year - it’s also earned him Parliamentary praise. Whirligig was named among the top 25 UK businesses in the Independent Retail Awards 2018 at an event held in the House of Commons this November. On top of this, Whirligig has had a stellar past four years, opening a new shop each year as the indie retailer begins to build a chain across the south of England. Driving the success of the firm, is the UK consumer’s appreciation of the traditional toys it has to offer. “It’s all indicative of a bigger picture,” continued Dubets who is herself a champion of sustainability and the move towards it in the products she makes for the changing mood of the consumer. “The tide is changing and the alarming climate change reports are pushing consumers towards more sustainable and natural options," she said. "We are proud to be part of that change, offering not only a more sustainable option, but also an artisan one. It’s not only about the quality of the product, but also the quality of the idea - especially in the toy market, where the product can help the development process.” UGears is now working across five continents with a raft of 85 models in its portfolio. The firm has promised further development and more to come in the years ahead. December 2018 | toy news | 29

Kickstarter Q&A

THE HOME OF PECULIARITIES Last month, the madcap comedy series Oddbods made yet another leap from TV into toys with the launch of a Kickstarter campaign to fund its very first board game title Oddbods GoKards. Robert Hutchins talks to brand owners One Animation about the process of bringing a pre-school IP like Oddbods to this home of crowdfunding


t the start of November, the popular animated series Oddbods made its leap from the TV screens and into the land of tabletop gaming through a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for the development and roll-out of its new board game, Oddbods Go-Kards. Created in partnership between One Animation - the series producers - and the board gaming specialist, Playware, the initiative made short work of its money raising efforts to reach its £11,471 goal within the 30 | toy news |December 2018

month-long campaign, surpassing the goal within a week. Oddbods Go-Kards has been designed to capture the madcap antics on the Oddbods world and challenges players to navigate obstacles and tasks strategically planted throughout the track while taking opportunities to prank their competitors in a race to the finish line. With the global board games market expected to post a CAGR of 23 per cent from 2018 to 2022, the move seems to have been

a very smart one. Strategy board games are, after all, posting the highest growth of all making it the right time for One Animation to be tapping into the growing trend. With the game now fully funded, it won’t be long until Playware and One Animation begin shipping and delivering the game to its backers… from there, the story is to only develop further. ToyNews catches up with Anabel Higgin, marketing director at One Animation to find out more.

Kickstarter Q&A

The game looks great - how did the partnership with Playware come about? What makes them the ideal partner for this? The Oddbods has an extensive broadcast footprint (180 countries, 45 broadcasters) and an extremely strong and loyal online following (six billion views, six million subscribers) so it made absolute sense to go where our audience are and leverage the power of our fanbase in the consumer products space today. Board games offer brands some great potential to go for some strong, immersive interaction with fans and we wanted to craft a game which would be highly innovative with broad appeal. We were impressed with Playware from the outset, the team demonstrated a great afinity with the brand and had some great ideas as to how the energy, humour and quirkiness could be translated to a family platform where everyone can play together. Why did you decide to take Oddbods to the board game medium? Why does it lend itself so well to this sector? Oddbods follows the comedic adventures of seven hilarious, highly individual, quirky and immensely relatable friends as they survive the perils of everyday life together. They find joy and celebrate in their

own and each other’s individuality, it's a very powerful message in today’s society. The nature of each of the Oddbods lends itself perfectly to a board game: The objective of Oddbods Go-Kards is to race your way around the track and be first to cross the finish line, avoiding mischievous Pogos’ many pranks that can throw a spanner in the works, orderly Jeff’s disruptive rules which may change the course of the game at any moment, brainy Bubbles’ creative intentions which may give you the upper hand until rough and tumble Fuse comes crashing down to send everything scattering. We have also conducted extensive research which has informed our decision that the brand is perfect for the family games arena. Through our studies, we have found that 77 per cent of parents have watched Oddbods with their kids which is significantly higher than the norm for a pre-school brand. Parents enjoy watching Oddbods because their personalities are so relatable and the humour is accessible to all. Meanwhile, kids adore the fun facial expressions, colours and hilarious storylines - so it’s the perfect brand to encourage together and inclusive play. After all - what could be better than a fun, fast paced, hilarious and altogether wholesome family board game? Especially at this time of year?

December 2018 | toy news |31

Kickstarter Q&A

You guys are one of only a handful to bring a pre-school IP to tabletop gaming through the Kickstarter platform‌ What has audience reaction been like so far? Why did you choose Kickstarter? Board games are currently enjoying a time of unprecedented popularity - the social interaction of playing a game together around the table is increasingly appealing and this togetherness is something that Oddbods embodies perfectly. The global board games market is expected to post a CAGR of 23 per cent 2018 to 2022 with games of strategy posting the highest growth of all and so we wanted to develop a game that is adaptable to all family sizes and delivers a new experience every time the game is played. Oddbods Go-Kards is a smart board game that grows with you and your family. As a modular game, it allows you to not only build the board out to the size you want it and in the order you want for a different gaming experience each time, but players can add or remove complexity 32 | toy news |December 2018

depending on the length of game you want or age of players so that you can easily transition from a simpler family friendly and super fun game for kids aged seven and upwards, all the way through to a high strategy game for board game pros. Already, board game critics and our millions of fans across the globe love the game, we have reached full funding in just six days and we have a whole host of marketing support still to come. Watch this space. What will the plan be for the game should it hit the goal on Kickstarter will you work on retail distribution? Well, we have already surpassed our target. We hit our goal within six days and still have a good few weeks remaining. We are all very excited to now see where this leads for the future, 2019 is looking like it will be a busy year for us here at One Animation and the team at Playware‌ Given your success there, do you think more larger companies and IP owners should now be looking at the Kickstarter platform in this way?

That's a tough one to answer, from our perspective and the strategy we implemented, Playware has been a fantastic partner to help us navigate the Kickstarter place. Kickstarter or IndieGoGo or crowfundling platforms like them, they are of course a different animal to typical retail and so often require various pieces to already be in place for success like ours to be achieved. We benefit from the fact that our talented animation team has created such an incredibly unique IP - Oddbods appeals very much to both parents and kids, the show's characters are unique and add a unique angle to the game and gaming sector. Of course, we also benefit from a huge broadcast and digital following. One Animation and Playware's Oddbods Go-Kards board gaming project has now been successfully funded on Kickstarter and will commence its first phase of shipping to backers from May 2019. Both will be developing an ongoing strategy for the game from that point, so in the mean time keep checking in with ToyNews for updates.

The Greenhouse Area

In Bloom Year on year, London Toy Fair’s Greenhouse Area grows in strength and size, showcasing the latest innovation from the toy industry’s breakthrough and start-up companies. 2019 promises to be no different, with extended exhibitor space already confirmed. Robert Hutchins chats with the companies hitting the Greenhouse Area next year.

3Style Scooters Name: Michael Brand, marketing director Company: 3Style Scooters Specialty: 3Style specialises primarily in 3 Wheel Kids Scooters, although we are slowly expanding our range into general wheeled products for children and adults. Why is the company one to watch for this year? We have been hitting 50 per cent growth year on year since 2015 and have just secured investment to keep us on target for 2019. What toys will you be launching at Toy Fair 2019? We will be highlighting the relaunch of our product ranges, the culmination of a year’s re-design work as well as possibly featuring two new licensed scooters from two top UK brands (a first for us in the licensing space). What are you looking to achieve at Toy Fair 2019? We would love to make contact with a bricks and mortar retailer or distributor who will go down in our company history as being our first physical distribution partner. With the growth in demand for the product and refresh of the brand, the time to get on board with 3Style really is now. December 2018 | toy news | 33

The Greenhouse Area How many times have you exhibited in the Greenhouse at Toy Fair? This is the first time this year, and we’re really looking forward to it. The Greenhouse represents value for money but it also fits where we are at in our growth; it’s a great scheme to allow first time exhibitors a place at the table at such a prestigious event and those attending know what to expect in the Greenhouse section. What are the most interesting trends you’ve seen in the industry recently? The explosion of the mini collectables is really interesting, being old enough to re-

member the introduction of Football Head collectables in the late 90s (as well as Monsters in my Pocket and Battle Beasts). I am not surprised that this style of collectables is popular, only that it has taken so long to grow as a segment of the kids’ toy market. The question is, how long will it last? How do you adapt to these trends? While not directly relevant to us, I think every brand has to wonder how current trends could possibly be utilised, referenced or leveraged. Little collectable scooter anyone? But in all seriousness, maybe there’s a promo to be made or a social post

to capitalise on the trend? It could be an important part of the company voice to be up on these kids’ trends, so staying up to date on industry news, as we do, is always important. What new trends would you like to see at Toy Fair? As we’re a manufacturer and exhibiting there’s not too much we’re looking to see, but we’ve always got our eye on the market, seeing what developing trends we may be able to join in on or to ensure we don’t miss any chance to bring a great product to market at the right time.

Stora Enso Biocomposites Name: Elisabeth Bergvall, business development manager Company: Stora Enso Biocomposites Specialty: Biocomposites made from eco-friendly materials. What are you guys bringing to Toy Fair? We specialise in renewable materials for all types of toy products. We offer biocomposites made from wood fibres blended with polymers - a great solution for the future - better than pure plastics, for our kids and the planet. Our injection moulding grades gives you the ability to change material in existing products without re-designing. Why is the company one to watch for the coming year? We are offering a green, cost-effective and versatile material for toy products with the ability to reduce CO2 emissions of up to 80 per cent. We are compounding our biocomposites DuraSense in Hyltebruk, Sweden, in the heart of the wood industry, with a capacity of 15,000 ton granules per year and have realised products made from our biocomposites within a wide range of product segments, like furniture, kitchen appliances and storage solutions among

some - now we are looking for partners in the toys industry. What will you be launching at Toy Fair 2019? Some of our first collaborations within the toys industry, products represented in various toy assortments. What are you hoping to achieve at Toy Fair this year? Creating knowledge and spreading the message of DuraSense - as well as having interesting discussions with potential partners and customers. What are the most interesting trends in the toy industry you’ve seen recently? Interest in renewable and natural materi-

als. More and more companies are moving towards renewable materials within their toy products and the consumer demand is increasing rapidly. How does your company adapt to these trends? We are right in the midst of it. The enquiries for our materials are high and we are realising products made from DuraSense by the day. What new trends would you like to see at Toy Fair 2019? We would like to see innovative materials and techniques; 3D printed and extruded renewable solutions, products for the next generation, simplifying playing again, natural products and new raw materials. December 2018 | toy news | 35

The Greenhouse Area

Lionstrike Ltd Name: Dipesh Morjaria, founder and CEO Company: Lionstrike Ltd Specialty: Lighter footballs for children. We manufacture lightweight leather footballs that are specially designed for children. Our footballs are 25 per cent lighter than standard leather footballs, and so are much easier to kick and more fun. Why is the company one to watch for 2019? We have gained a great deal of support and endorsement from the public, and have now improved the product to the point where it is very strong, long lasting and very popular with kids. Our growth has been truly amazing, so we are now very excited to bring our product to Toy Fair and agree our first B2B deals.

Toy Fair 2019? We will be launching our best-selling range of Lionstrike footballs - size three and size four footballs, in white, yellow and orange, These already sell very well direct to consumer via Amazon, eBay and our website, in seven countries. What are you hoping to achieve at London Toy Fair this year? We have strong sales direct to consumer and so I want to agree deals with retailers and distributors who are interested in our product. How many times have you exhibited in the Greenhouse? We are making our debut this year! I understood that this is the key place where buyers come each year to see what is available. I am keen to hear buyers’ feedback on the product and whether they think that there is an opportunity with the company they represent.

What toys will you be launching at

Why is the company one to watch for the coming year? With patented invention and the message of sustainability, we have been called the LEGO alternative, as our models are made of wood, assemble without glue and are self-propelled without batteries. We are pure mechanics and creativity. What will you guys be launching at Toy Fair 2019? We are presenting a new category, UGears Games, unique mechanical devices to tabletop games. What are you hoping to achieve at Toy Fair this year? We have grown from a start up to a fullgrown company now supplying John Lewis among other amazing clients. We have done sme great collaborations - like releasing exclusive models for Disney in 2018. We are looking forward to welcoming the old friends and meeting with the new prospective ones both big and small. We are excited to be launching the new category - UGears Games, which is tapping into a great and amazing 36 | toy news | December 2018

UGears Mechanical Models Name: Daria Dubets Company: UGears Mechanical Models Speciality: Sustainable mechanical construction kits for kids and adults that are self-propelled without batteries and assemble without glue. world of tabletop gaming. How many times have you exhibited in the Greenhouse at Toy Fair? This will be our third year. This is where people know we are and the company is great. It’s like coming back to old friends, seeing how businesses have grown and sharing the latest news. What are the most interesting trends in the toy industry you’ve seen recently? Sustainability and creativity. We are back

What are the most interesting trends in the toy industry you’ve seen recently? I’m quite new to the toy industry but in the sports industry, where we operate, there’s a shift towards child-friendly activities. For example tennis balls that don’t bounce high, cricket sets that are light but sturdy, plus a movement by governing bodies such as the FA to set up child friendly programmes such as Wildcats to encourage kids into sport. How does your company adapt to these trends? Lighter footballs are a genuine benefit to children who want to play football. They are fun, accessible products that kids will use again and again. What new trends would you like to see at Toy Fair? We want to be part of a movement that encourages further outdoor play. It’s too easy these days for children to be in front of screens, so more products that get kids out of the house (with theis screens if necessary, e.g Pokémon) the better.

to the times when people love to build things with their hands and use their mind for it. This is great in many ways, as it’s educational for kids and helps to relieve stress for adults. And what’s the most important, people want to do it in ways that are not harming our planet, so sustainable materials, like wood are leading the game. How does your company adapt to these trends? We are those trends. Our model kits are challenging, but rewarding to assemble and the designs are unique creations of our team. Our model kits are made of FSC certified plywood and use only rubber bands for self-propelled motion. What new trends would you like to see at Toy Fair? We would really want to see the old one grow stronger – the move from plastic to sustainable materials. Last year sustainability, was “The Word” at Toy Fair, much more than it had been the year before, so we hope this year it will become an action.

The Greenhouse Area

Marbel Ltd Name: Joe Rushworth, sales manager Here are Marbel we specialise in the distribution of a wide selection of toys for various children’s markets including traditional wooden, educational, licensed and collectible toys, as well as covering the gifting sector. What toys will you be launching at Toy Fair 2019? We have lots of new launches from some of our range of brands. Hape will unveil a whole new category, introducing ‘Junior Inventor.’ The concept behind which allows children to immerse themselves in exciting science experiments through the medium of mechanical functions. Hape will also reveal extensions to their preschool ‘Kitchen & Food’, ‘Music’ and particularly for the 4Y+ market additional Quadrilla products. But to be sure you don’t miss out on all of the exciting new launches head to stand B50 at this year’s London Toy Fair. What are you hoping to achieve at

Toy Fair this year? We hope to gain a positive reaction from all our brands new launches for 2019. It is also a great opportunity to reconnect with existing customers and clients as well as potentially making new ones. Why did you decide to exhibit in the Greenhouse for Toy Fair 2019? Because as one of the biggest shows for us it really is a great way to kick off the new year, setting the pace and current trends for the rest of the year. What are the most interesting trends in the toy industry you’ve seen recently? Particularly within the integration of traditional toys and those with technological enhancements which certainly has a strong presence within the toy industry at the moment.

Company: Marbel Ltd Speciality: Traditional wooden toys, licensed and collectable toys.

How does your company adapt to these trends? This is certainly the case for Hape Toys, the wooden toy brand who are continuing to filter the use of mobile app technology into their toys. For example the crank powered train which allows the user to power the train forwards, backwards and to stop via there app. The principle can also be expected from some of their new lines for 2019 which you can also look out for. What new trends would you like to see at Toy Fair? I would like to see more environmentally friendly toys with less packaging. Also interested to see how smart interactive toys are developing. December 2018 | toy news | 37

Generation Media

HO, HO, HOW’S YOUR AD SPEND THIS CHRISTMAS? Sangita Sivanesen As we enter the final month of 2018, Generation Media’s Sangita Sivanesen rounds up another strong year for toys and games and asks, where will viewership be falling this festive season? Source BARB May 2018


riting this article, it feels very surreal to now be in the last month of 2018 – what a year indeed. 2018 has been an incredible year for the toys and games industry, with toy manufacturers not failing to deliver on exciting and innovative product ranges – much to the joy of all children particularly now in the last few weeks before Christmas. From an advertising perspective, this year has come with its fair share of challenges – particularly for trading within Kids TV as the viewership continues to observe year on year declines. When it comes to media consumption and choices, children are increasingly diversifying with a plethora of devices and technology at their disposal. It’s no secret that digital online media channels are a significant contender to linear TV as means of consuming video content, with platforms such as YouTube and Pop Jam attracting higher levels of impacts with increasing dwell times. Looking at the figures for the latest fully consolidated month of October, children’s equivalent impacts observed a significant 27 per cent year on year decline. To demonstrate the viewership decline in a like for like comparison, let’s take Peppa Pig for example. Since being first introduced in 2004 as a programme on Channel 5, Peppa Pig quickly grew to not only become a national success but a global phenomenon. I think it’s safe to say that you are unlikely to come across a toddler who hasn’t seen or heard of Peppa Pig in some way, shape or form.

In October 2009, Peppa Pig on Milkshake recorded an average of 1.49 CH4-9 TVRs – looking at this in the 000’s this is an average audience of 62,000 Children aged 4-9 per episode. Bringing it to the present of October 2018, Peppa Pig on Milkshake recorded an average of 0.9 CH4-9 TVR’s – dropping a significant 40%. This is equivalent to 29,000 Children aged 4-9 per episode which is a 29% drop versus 2009. This only goes to show how kids viewing on kid’s commercial channels has depreciated over the years. Despite lower levels of inventory, demand for ads space on the commercial kids’ channels continues to be high with October featuring 354 Toys & Games campaigns. So, why is demand for ad space on commercial Kids TV channels by toys and games advertisers increasing despite the viewership deterioration? This is simply down to cost factor with the low CPT’s associated with Kids TV. TV remains the most cost-effective way to build mass awareness over a short period of time, making it a very commercially attractive media choice for advertising. TV has long been and will continue to be an integral part of the marketing mix for advertisers to promote their brands. However, as children of all ages are increasingly device and media agnostic, it is increasingly important for toys and games advertisers along with their media agencies to be devising unique cross media propositions that stand out and capture their audience’s attention. For more assistance on media solutions to best target the youth sector please contact us on the below details.

ToyNews PlayTime is provided by Generation Media 0207 307 7900 |

December 2018 | toy news |39


EYEBALLS AND DIGITS: DID HALLOWEEN TRICK OR TREAT YOUTUBE? This month, WildBrain’s Will Mahmood turns back the clock to take a look at how Halloween impacted on YouTube and YouTube Kids' viewing figures as well as gears up for this year’s big event… yes, Christmas!


h, remember October… WildBrain certainly does, not in the least because it marks the beginning of the busiest quarter for kids’ viewing across YouTube and YouTube Kids. The reason for this doesn’t need explaining to you, of course, but just to be sure it’s because it's this time of year that the two largest tent pole events for kids’ creators: Halloween and Christmas, occur in quick succession.

40 | toy news |December 2018

This month, WildBrain’s Will Mahmood takes a look back at this year’s spooking season to document just how big a calendar event Halloween really is becoming in children’s entertainment stakes… yes, stakes… You-tubular bells In October, new Halloween content generated one billion views. In the week of Halloween alone, the week commencing October 29th to November 4th, viewing peaked at 378 million views and was up 21


Last 90 Days Total Overvew for 'Halloween'

per cent year on year. Ryan Toys Review emerged as the number one creator for new Halloween content, despite recently losing the top spot for overall kids’ viewing to Nursery Rhyme channel, Cocomelon. Ryan’s success looks to have been driven by the volume of uploads, as well as quality. Another large YouTube native channel Kids Diana Show, generated all of their Halloween viewing from one upload: a mock Trick or Treat reenactment, compared with Ryan’s Toys series of Halloween themed videos. October’s Top Toy Videos Although Halloween is an important tentpole event in October, the top videos of the month were not Halloween themed. Number one was Power Wheels Barbie Camper Van with 103 million views to

Brands looking to maximise their exposure from the festive surge should be scheduling their channels to upload from November 20th, when viewing on Christmas themed content begins to rise up the charts. Will Mahmood, WildBrain

Viewing of Children's Content - Christmas 2017

date and created by Kids Diana Show. It’s currently the tenth largest kids YouTube channel, with 12 million subscribers. It received 584 million views in October. The vlog video shows Diana going for a camping adventure in her neighbourhood. This specific video has generated 103 million views to date and follows a trend the Diana Show has capitalised on: grown-up role play videos. In the past, we have highlighted the channel for other role-play toys, including cleaning toys, and this format consistently resonates with pre-schoolers. In number two is Happy Doctor with 80 million views to date. It’s created by Las Ratitas, the Spanish channel. The video features the Nenuco Happy Doctor playset, a Paediatrician toy set which includes a baby doll. Las Ratitas is Spain’s third-largest kids’ channel, run by a family. It was started in 2015, and has amassed nearly two billion lifetime views, and it generated 327 million views in October. Like Kids Diana Show, Las Ratitas’s most popular videos focus on grown-up role play-style stories centred on relatable scenarios. In at number three, it’s Rapunzel Doll with 68 million views to date. It’s another Kids Diana Show that rather than the stable of grown-up role play, features a large Rapunzel Doll, reflecting the enduring popularity of princesses. Holidays are coming It’s now all about gearing up for the next major tentpole, of course, it’s Christmas. On YouTube, this year the Halloween period started around October 11th and continues into mid November. Looking forward to Christmas and the month of December, advertising dollars now pour into the platform, creating higher revenues for creators and publishers. Brands looking to maximise their exposure from the festive surge should be scheduling their channels to upload from November 20th, when viewing on Christmas themed content begins to rise. Toy brands should look to marry both seasonal themes with current trends. Whether working with influencers or creating their own content, brands should also use their own data from analytics to leverage popular searches and characters in their seasonal content. December 2018 | toy news | 41

Photo by Guillaume Bourdages on Unsplash

Mystery Shopper

A TOY OF TWO CITIES With a work expenses form in their pocket and a passion for being impossibly pinickety, the ToyNews Mystery Shopper has made their return to the UK’s toy retail scene with one aim and one aim only… to recall every brief encounter of their shopping spree this time from Cambridge to London. What they are searching for this time - that magical touch


hile continuing the Dickensian theme of this month’s special Christmas issue was of the utmost importance to the editorial team here at ToyNews, it didn’t quite have the strength to see the budget stretch to a trip to Paris to enable us to truly play out our Tale of Two Cities narrative to the full extent. That’s why we have delivered you a retelling of this venerable Dickens novel, catching the train instead to Cambridgeshire before following the line all the way back to the the UK’s capital city to scour the wares of the toy retail scene in search of that magical something. An hour’s journey outside of London’s smoky plume and the green flats of the Cambridgeshire - Essex borders present 42 | toy news | December 2018

Mystery shopper

you a wide terrain in which to play, cavort and, of course, shop. Dancing in and out of Cambridge’s yellow brickwork or simply just finding somewhere to park in the centuries old market town of Saffron Walden; it’s become part of that annual Christmas shopping ritual. And it’s this time of year that the High Street begins to become the destination of hustle and bustle - whether you are in the thick of it in the city, or in the more genteel and picturesque market towns like Saffron Walden. Whichever is more your cup o’ tea, you can rest assured the independent toy retail sector is ready and waiting, poised for the oncoming sharp end of the year. And it’s why, with the return of the ToyNews Mystery Shopper in this Christmas special that the task was made all the more pleasurable, because from the ground level we can report that the independent retail sector is looking very good indeed.

From our reporter’s own snooping, we can tell you - at least from our selection of retailers this month - that toy sales are on the increase, Christmas is in the air and the magic of in-store theatre is starting to take effect and reflect what we are all looking for from shopping today, an experience. Spirits certainly seem very high among the indies this season. “Toys are selling very well,” one retailer told us, having recently swapped his inventory from video games to board games, LEGO, collectables and more. Meanwhile, Peter Allinson of Whirligig fame recently told ToyNews “that the independent sector is thriving - where it is taking the time and putting in the effort - and seeing the rewards for it, too.” And so it is, that our Mystery Shopper finds themselves landed on the train line from Cambridge to London to have a good old shop… Let’s find out what they had to report back.



at opposite the world-famous Trinity College in Cambridge, this 140 year old bookshop has quite a bit more than just a touch of historical class about it. It’s the kind of bookshop in which you find wizened old ‘book clerks’ running the wheeled oaken ladders around the dark wooden bookshelves, the kind that reach from the floor to the high ceilings; shelves ready to buckle under their own weight. It’s the kind of place where inspiration doesn’t just sit between the folios of the works that line the room, but jump out at you and slap you in the face while yelling “buy me, now.” It’s also, “in only the last few months,” the friendly chap behind the counter tells me, the kind of place that stocks mountains and mountains of board games. And that’s everything - from the most niche pockets of tabletop gaming with the likes of Far Eastern-imported strategy tabletop card games, through to your more child-friendly

Bananagrams pouches or Junior Scrabble, Pass the Pigs and more. The younger years’ selection is as inspired as its solo play adult card games, its fantasy board games collection its Dungeons and Dragons-style role play games and all the party games in between. A chalk board in the corner of this downstairs cove of treasures tells me that the next gaming evening is this weekend,preceded by a ‘band in the bookshop’ night and followed by a poetry launch event. And the surprises don’t end here. I wander around the room and find a series of alcoves, each dedicated to a different pocket of popular culture. One is filled with graphic novels and superhero merchandise, the other is shelf upon shelf of Harry Potter toys, scarfs, figures, dolls, cloaks, pens, jelly babies, the list goes on. The shop itself could have been plucked from Diagon Alley and landed in the centre of Cambridge, such is its atmosphere of intrigue.

“Our games section just started to grow and grow until we decided we would open up the downstairs of the shop to it,” the till operator continues. “Now we have pretty much everything for all ages.” He isn’t wrong. I spy Orchard Toys games in one section and Asmodee’s Pandemic and Ticket to Ride amid other classics in the other. ‘Let me know if I can help you find anything,” he offers up to me. I tell him I will, before settling myself in for a good hour of looking around the shop. Score: 4/5 December 2018 | toy news | 43

Mystery Shopper



’m not really the person to be asking…” the shopkeeper tells what must have at the time been my face of sheer perplexion. The question was only ‘what kind of toys do four year old boys like?’ I wasn’t asking for a solution to the Irish Border. I had to count to three. It was all I could do to stop myself from replying “Oh? Should I ask the butcher instead then?” Now, I get it. It was a Sunday, and in a sleepy market town like Saffron Walden you’re key staff deserve a rest, too. But given you’re working in a toy shop, with just two pay days before Christmas and surrounded by some of the most exciting and latest toys on the market - and this shop’s offering is extensive - the first question anyone sat behind that till should be prepared to answer, is about toys.

I didn’t want to let the conversation go, however. I mentioned the price of LEGO and to his credit, the shopkeep pointed me to a collection of farm toys. “I know these are cheap,” he said. ”Anything with the blue label is cheap…” He then walked over to the Schleich POS and picking up a triceratops, said “These are expensive, but they are good quality." I agreed that they did look good and wondered how he knew my budget. He must have given me the Derren Brown when I came in the door, reading my mind as I entered. Iwas, however, feeling frustrated. With two floors of toys to offer,

all I was shown was the cheap ‘blue label’ farm toys, and a triceratops that could have been but most likely wasn’t outside of my budget. “What about science kits?” I asked. I knew they were downstairs, I had already seen them. “Oh, you don’t want them, they’re too old.” he told me. It wasn’t for a child, I thought. It was for me - I wanted to cook up some chemistry for this guy’s sales patter. Score: 2/5




had to think on my feet. The shopkeeper was one step ahead of me, constantly. He was just about to order me a few copies of the Warhammer Adventures children’s book series into the store. It was my own fault, I had used it as the opening line of my conversation with him. Game On has an extensive range of Warhammer. From the figures and constructable and paintable sets, to the latest role play titles. There's even a large collection from the Warhammer Black Library. Now I will admit, I have been in this shop before. In fact, I have watched it evolve and have seen it move through the times. To avoid having to admit I don’t really want the Warhammer kids’ books, and that I was just testing him, I quickly change the subject. “It’s always fun coming in here, it’s always changing…” I start. He smiles back at me. “Yes, we are moving away from video games, because people are buying all of

44 | toy news | December 2018

that through digital downloads today. We are moving more into toys. Toys are great!” He seems genuinely happy to be surrounded - and he is surrounded - by toys. Collectables sit on the counter, LEGO spans an entire wall, a Sylvanian Families stand sits in the corner, behind which is another room filled with board games, Warhammer, RC toys. If you’ve ever seen it in the pages of ToyNews, it’s currently being stocked in this Saffron Walden hideaway. “I have been trying to get hold of LEGO for years,” the shopkeeper continues. It seems like he has finally got through. The shop is brimming with the stuff. By the door a cute elf sign reads ‘43 sleeps to Christmas.’ The shopkeeper has a beaming smile.

It’s fascinating - he is genuinely happy. “Toys are really good,” he repeats, and it’s clear this shop owner has the magic that physical shopping experiences need. It simply comes down to a love for the profession. Oh, I managed to avoid the awkwardness about the books. I explained I was only curious. He explained that Billy Piper and David Tennant recently narrated a series of Warhammer audio books and that should I at any time want something ordered in, let him know. Oh this guy is good… Score: 5/5

Mystery Shopper



t was at some point between my eye being drawn to the graphic novel ‘Unnatural’ featuring a cover image of a half-pig half-woman looking seductively over her shoulder, and when I found myself leafing through a book on London’s Wiccan society, that I wondered where the lines between pop culture and actual cult following had become so blurred. I think it was in the upstairs of this store, the flagship Forbidden Planet that stands proudly on London’s Shaftesbury Avenue, where a glass cabinet exhibited some of the more high-end and high-value replica horcruxes from the Harry Potter film series. I never knew how much I wanted a Salazar Slytherin Locket before I walked into this shop, or how much I was willing to consider paying for one. I didn’t, because my focus was soon shifted to a wall of Funko Pop! Figures, spanning every animated or live action TV

series to have graced our sets over the past… some 30 years. There was Legend of Zelda memorabilia adorning one wall, rows of t-shirts on another… the shop had the feel of a geek’s garage of boxed merchandise; a warehouse belonging to JJ Abrams. But it wasn’t just pop culture items. It had plenty to offer by way of toys, too. Star Wars figures and lightsabers sat alongside Jurassic World play-sets and Marvel action figures, even a collection of WWE figures lined a shelf in front orf me. And this was just the upstairs. Downstairs housed a library of graphic novels, books on witchcraft and London’s secret symbols. If the upstairs was the light entertainment - your aperitif, perhaps then downstairs was a main course of monkey brains - to say, it was a bit intense. But despite the breadth of the wares it did house, something was missing. The me-

tallic flooring and the shelves upon shelves of licensed product all made it feel… a little underwhelming. Yes, I could find any kind of pop culture merchandise I could ever desire, but could I find a staff member to converse with? I could not. The atmosphere was just rather... cold. Score: 3/5



hen, in around 2012, the Waterstones boss James Daunt decided that devolution of power to each store’s manager was the way to fuel the Waterstones franchise to success, it brought something very special to the idea of the High Street shop. Waterstones quickly became the boutique store, unique to each area it operated in, servicing the local customer and not the overarching whim of the retailer’s CEO. What this means for a shopper like me, is that walking into this London Waterstones, I find myself presented with a store that could proudly stand alone as an independent retailer. What’s also worth noting is that over the last few years, the brand is really starting to do a nice job with toys, too. A wall of plush characters greeted me as I walked into the children’s section of the shop. Paddington

Bear, Moomins, Winnie the Pooh - all the classics, sat with their respective literature in a cosily welcoming den of this city store. Stepping into it, I am immediately transported from London and into a world of literature, toys and inspiration. A member of staff spots my eyeing a selection of puzzles in the Gruffalo zone where there's a number of shelves dedicated to the books of Julia Donaldson. “We’ll be getting more in for Christmas.” she tells me, “it’s all happening…” I can already see it in action. There are science kits, arts and crafts kits, even LEGO sets and an entire section dedicated to board gaming. All of it enveloped in a world of books and stories. The staff member beams at me and asks if I need help looking. No thank you, I respond, knowing that actually I have already found what I'm after. Score: 4/5 December 2018 | toy news | 45

Mystery Shopper


On paper, the Moomins Shop has it all and as one of London’s premiere sites dedicated to everything Moomin you’d think the magical feeling would be abundant… But, do you ever get the feeling you’re being ignored?


y hunt for ‘something magical’ has led me to the heartland of magical creatures in the form of Tove Jansson’s Moomins and the London store dedicated to them. Climb a set of steep steps in this Covent Garden nook and you’re immersed in a vista of fields and hills, mountain sides and woodland - all of which is populated by these iconic creations, the Moomins. One - the one with the top hat that I’m told is Moominpapa - perches on a floating cloud dangling a sign from his fishing rod. I realise I’ve entered a world of eccentricity. Floorboards creak and dip as I walk across an attic room that is filled, beam to beam with Moomin memorabilia. Plush Moomintrolls and Little My from Aurora sit in a basket by the window. Next to that, a wooden Moomin play-set sits next to stacks of wooden pre-school toys, board games, puzzles, children’s dining sets, adult dining sets, luxury dining sets, vastly expensive collectables, DVDs, a wall of books, trinkets - you name it, this shop

46 | toy news | December 2018

has got it. And there’s a 100 per cent chance that it will have a Moomin on it. It’s enough to give any Moomin fan a hernia from excitement… but did it have the ‘magic’ I was looking for? The guy with the haircut munching a slab of chocolate behind the till while his co-worker blocked my access to the book

case next to him, dictated that there was more to be desired. My feeling of inspiration turned to frustration as one of the two obliviously stacked the shelf I was trying to reach. I gave up after numerous attempts and turned my attention to ‘chocolate muncher’ at the till. Now, I know conversation with shopkeepers tends to be on the same cycle of topics… How long have you been here for? Where are the yoghurt coated raisins? Have you run out of cod liver oil? (I served on year in Holland and Barrett…) They are inane, I realise, but a necessary part of the job. There's a civil duty to engage back with the customers. “Are you guys a pop-up shop?” I asked. “We’ve been here seven years,” the responder shrugged, “so if we’re a pop-up…” What? We’re what…? I wondered. I waited… smiled, and said: “It’s the first time I have seen the shop, it’s great…” If only to diminish the intensity of the eye contact maintained throughout I was praying for a response. The response never came. Was I imposing? I felt I was imposing... I had better leave... Score: 1/5

Mystery Shopper


7 CHARING CROSS UNDERGROUND ARCADE Underneath the bustle of London’s Charing Cross is a quiet and demure shop that will open your mind to and change the way you think about magic and theatre entirely. Let’s take a look around the 120 year old Davenports…


f you ever find yourself in London’s West End with a Wednesday afternoon to spare, you could do a lot worse than take a journey in to the world’s oldest Magic Shop, Davenports. Good luck finding it and when you do locate it in Charing Cross’ underground arcade, good luck plucking up the courage to delve into the gaping chasm of London’s underworld and descend those steps towards what will inevitably change the way you think of magic for good… It’s not only thanks to J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter that Davenports has become such an esteemed London site. Established in 1898, it is the longest-standing, family-run traditional magic shop in the world and reportedly the source of Rowling’s inspiration for various elements of her own Diagon Alley. Now, I am going to admit. From its initial look, Davenports doesn’t seem like it has much to offer. The red room is lined by glass cabinets which house books, DVDs, decks of cards and various, intricate tricks - all of which have the look of a car boot lot that's somehow landed in the middle of this shop. The wares seem to have come straight from the early ‘90s and have not seen the light of day since. A youngish man arrives from behind a curtain behind the counter and asks if I am looking for anything in particular. It’s

the kind of moment that should I utter the correct secret phrase, I know I’d be shown a mind-expanding collection of God-onlyknows-what in a secret room out the back. Later research revealed me to be correct - it was a Magic Studio housed out the back where workshops and magic schools for children are held, as well as regular meetings of the London Society of Magicians. Back in the present and all I could explain to the shopkeeper was that I was curious about finding magic. He briefly talked me through the shop and the close up magic tricks from beginner all the way to professional that could be found within the glass cases. It still all looked like a bunch of sun-faded DVDs and books to me. From behind the counter, the keeper plucked a deck of cards and placed it on the glass top. Telling me to think of a card he made the entire deck disappear before me… “And that is a really simple trick,” the told me. From then on, I was reluctant to leave the shop.

Despite there being little by way of actual visual stimuli, the store instead offers a quiet and confident ‘feeling’. Was it the confidence that only a store more than a century old could hold? Perhaps it was basking in its own accomplishment it's knowing that drama, lasting impressions and indeed magic is not always about having the most dramatic or garish in-store theatre. Sometimes a far greater theatre is created in the minds of the audience than they could ever be shown. If you’re looking for real magic, Davenports will open your mind. Score: 5/5 December 2018 | toy news | 47

Kids Insights UK

EYES ON THE WORLD Each week, the team behind Kids Insights UK, US and Parents Insights survey 400 children and 200 parents to gather the latest, up to the minute insight on children’s and parent’s market trends. Each month, this is presented to the company’s now growing list of international clients. ToyNews catches up with CEO Nick Richardson ahead of the launch a its new regualr in-print feature


rom a hotel room in Chicago, Nick Richardson, CEO of the market intelligence company, The Insights People, is penning a set of responses to ToyNews’ onslaught of questions about the firm. Richardson heads up the UK-based operation from its HQ in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. His work has taken him to the States where a partnership with SuperAwesome has just been forged. The deal will see The Insights People ramp up its US operations in the first quarter of 2019, presenting an exciting time of international growth for the outfit. It also signals the start of what is expected to be a very busy year ahead for the company. Back on home soil, it’s just signed an expansion of its partnership with the Association of Town & City Management and Richardson is currently finalising a further deal to grow the effort in the UK for next year. In his spare time, Richardson now finds himself responding to ToyNews’ emails. The reason being is that from January 2019, The Insights People will be looking to bring its market intelligence expertise to the toy industry with a new regular column. In each, Richardson and the team will be exploring topics and market sectors, whether that’s pre-school brands, parenting trends or… well, the topics are limitless. As such, ToyNews thought now is as good a time as any to get to know the team a little better. 48 | toy news |December 2018

Can you tell us about The Insights People? Who are you and what do you do? The Insights People is a comprehensive market intelligence company which provides data and insights on kids, tweens, teens, parents and families. We essentially have three parts of the business - the tech team, the product team and the commercial team. The product team is very much the nucleus of our organisation. It is responsible for working with our team of researchers, strategists and future thinkers to produce our reports. Our tech team - headed up by Richard - turns the vision into reality. We also have a great board which includes the Howard Blumenthal who was Nickelodeon’s first head of production and created PBS’s US game show, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? What are you guys bringing to the toy industry? I think what we are doing goes beyond the toy industry, and I think this is what makes what we do so valuable to companies who are in the toy industry - we provide a comprehensive understanding of kids and parents and their ecosystems. Unlike traditional data sources which tend to focus

on sales data or are only produced once a year, we are bringing real insights in real time, providing our clients with data-inspired insights. Our reports also include insight-led commentary, which is packed with context and provides clients with insights which may shape their longer term, bigger picture strategies, as well as data and insights which are highly practical which can be implemented in day to day operations to improve ROI. We are now not only doing this in the UK, but in the US too, with other regions to launch in 2019. Why is it more important that the industry - engages with what you guys offer? The ecosystems of children are evolving faster than ever before, and that brings key challenges for business leaders across all elements of their business - from advertising, content licensing and merchandising, to marketing, product and sales. I believe a lot of this change is being driven by fragmentation of media and the impact of technology, which in turn is enabling kids to be more individual than ever. The nucleus of the children’s ecosystem used to be the TV. Today, for younger

Kids Insights UK children, it is the tablet, for older children it is the smartphone. As a result, it has never been harder for brands, retailers and manufacturers to reach their intended audience. Ten years ago, the approach to marketing was based around buying X amount of TVRs and listing to the then-three key retailers - Argos, Toys R Us and Woolworths. Fast forward to today and it has not only changed significantly, but it continues to evolve at a rapid pace. So, how is that future shaping up? Our belief is that everything is connected. If a child is spending longer gaming, then they have less time to play with toys. One area we predicted we would see in 2018 is the gamification of content. We are privileged with some of the work we do with clients to see the latest innovations, and I think, as we see technology enable children to take control of the content they consume, through TV, VOD or even books, we are going to see some really exciting opportunities for toy brands. Our data shows that two-thirds of children aged four to six play with toys when they watch TV, and the opportunity to integrate toys and content is incredibly exciting. Can you talk us through the past 12 months for you guys? The last 12 months have been incredible and we are extremely honoured and proud to be working with some of the biggest and most respected brands in the industry, which includes the BBC, Hasbro, SEGA,

Turner and Warner Bros. There is not one specific element which is driving the growth - it’s a team effort with each area of the business focusing on knowing what they need to do and then making it happen. Looking at our tech, we launched our first portal last December at the Children’s Global Media Conference. That portal not only proved the concept but enabled us to get so much recognition – we were featured on the BBC News Channel’s Click and our technology won a number of awards. We also got lots of positive feedback from clients too. In November, we launched our version 2.0 portal, which will be the foundations of all of our future tech – that speed of development has really inspired our clients. We can now invest more in all elements of our business.

A BIT OF INSIGHT Kids Insights UK Each week, The Insights People surveys 400 UK children between the ages of four and 18. This equates to 20,000 children a year. By collecting the data continually, Kids Insights can provide all data to its clients in real time via its online portal. The portal also enables clients to view, filter and interrogate the data to their own specific needs. Kids Insights also produces four insight led reports, every 12 weeks - this provides insight led analysis of our data and hundreds of other data points and resources.

Parents Insights Every week we survey 200 different expecting and new parents (of children between the ages of 0-4) which equates to 10,000 a year. We can, provide all of our data to our clients in real-time via our online portal. The portal also enables clients to view, filter and interrogate the data to their own specific needs. We also produce four insight led reports, every 12 weeks – which provide insight led analysis of our data and hundreds of other data points and resources which our team review daily. To receive a free report visit toynews and futueforecast

December 2018 | toy news | 49


LIKE A GLOVE There can be no better gateway into the world of theatrics and role-play than that of puppets and when it comes to encouraging imagination, you really couldn’t look much further beyond the latest products to hit the shelves. Robert Hutchins takes a look at the lines boosting creative play this year

The Puppet Company 01462 446 040

With a rich heritage in puppets, the Puppet Company knows a thing or two about the market - and if you managed to catch Dr Ranj on Strictly Come Dancing the other month, you may have spotted a few recognisable faces amongst the ensemble. Yes, the Puppet Company has made quite a name for itself not just among toy retailers but seemingly on the entertainment circuit, too. This season, however, will see the firm focus on the trade it knows best, with a complete line up of new items designed to get the imaginations working. Completely new to the range is the Puppet Buddies Animals Badger glove puppet. Made in soft fabrics that are very different from the Puppet Company’s normal materials, Badger boasts a soft touch and finish. He is part of a collection of 30 Puppet Buddies animals spanning farm, pet and wildlife characters. He is joined by Crocodile, Cow, Black Bear, Border Collie and more. Also new is Chimp, joining the medium primates puppet line up that already boasts the likes of the popular Orangutan. Chimp is a medium sized monkey complete with mouth movement, velcro on the hands so that it can hang around your neck and he comes with his own banana. This product is modelled and designed for maximum impact and, at medium size, can be used with ease by both children and adults, making for the ideal Christmas entertainment to be used all year round.

Gloria is new to The Puppet Company’s collection of knitted sock puppets, a cast of larger than life characters with friendly faces and big mouths. Gloria is a fun, knitted sockette puppet with a squeaker in its tongue and is suitable for children aged 18 months and upwards. Gloria is joined by the also new, Humphrey and Narg. December 2018 | toy news |51


Fiesta Crafts 0208 804 0563 Fiesta Crafts loves to create traditional toys with a contemporary twist. A toy designer and manufacturer since 1990 dedicated to making toys that help children develop their creative, imaginative, communication and language skills, Fiesta Crafts is known for its quality of design and build. In fact, it won the firm a string of awards and secured its popularity in over 30 countries across five continents. It also develops a nice selection of hand and finger puppets, bringing storytime to life. Developed in partnership with the Roald Dahl Story Company, Fiesta Crafts’ Roald Dahl collection spans the best-loved children book titles from the celebrated author, including James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda and The BFG. The firm also carries a number of Fairy Tale classics, such as Rapunzel, Puss in Boots hand and finger puppet sets, The Jungle Book hand and finger puppet sets and The Little Mermaid. They join other items such as Caveman and Cavewoman, Toy Soldier, Unicorn, Pirates, Knights and Dinosaurs. Endorsed by the Good Toy Guide, Fiesta Crafts’ puppet collection is exhaustive, each encouraging kids to retell their favourite fairy tales and bedtime stories with their own imagination and creativity. The puppet range is complemented wonderfully by Fiesta Craft’s collection of puppet theatres. A puppet theatre is a wonderful toy that brings joy to children of all ages, reads the company’s description. Children love to entertain and Fiesta Crafts’ hand and finger puppet theatres let them captivate and enthral their audience with retelling of the classic stories and their own inspired creations.

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Melissa & Doug Melissa & Doug has made it its mission to inspire and champion childhood wonder in everything it does, including its fantastic line up of puppets and puppet theatres this season. The range is extensive, boasting everything from the comedic Chef or Policeman hand puppet to the educational Farm Friends puppets collection. Four adorable hand puppets make up the family-friendly collection of Zoo Friends Puppets this year, starring Elephant, Giraffe, Tiger and Monkey. The four simple glove puppets in an animal theme make it easy and fun to act out scenes, practice new vocabulary and spend time playing together. Puppet play is great for developing fine motor skills and self-confidence and Melissa & Doug has just the line up to enjoy it all with. Fairy Tales, Heroes, Palace pals, a builder and even Cheerleader all feature in the raft of products, while the tabletop puppet theatre lets a child’s imagination take centre stage. Roll up the velvet curtain to start the show. Roll it closed after the grand finale and flip the reversible backdrop for an enchanted kingdom or brilliant sunrise. The tabletop puppet theatre assembles in seconds for instant show time.


BigJigs 01303 212 691 Tabletop theatres, Puppet theatres, magnetic theatres, finger puppets and more, when it comes to matters of inspiration , BigJigs has never been one to go small on anything. That’s why, this season, the toy firm boasts a large collection of puppets and puppets accessories - enough to make any theatre production envious. Kicking off the range is the company’s Table Top Theatre. A bestseller for the firm, the theatre is sized to allow children to sit behind the stage and direct. The wooden frame comes complete with a red silk effect curtain and a chalk board to inform spectators of the next show time. Just add any number of finger puppets from the BigJigs Toys range and the stage is set for creativity. The set is joined by the Tidlo Puppet Theatre, a stand up theatre that features open and close curtains and a chalkboard to advertise today’s showings. Made from high quality, responsibly sourced wood, it retails at £63.99. The magnetic theatre, meanwhile, makes clever use of magnetic rods to move the cast around and is set to bring not one but three classic shows ot the stage. The stage comes complete with all of the figures and scenery for The Three Little Pigs, Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella. Now, the stage is set - you’re going to want some characters next, and BigJigs has just the assortment you’re after. From Pets Finger Puppets - featuring rabbit, cat, turtle and dog to Goldilocks, Red Riding Hood or even Royalty finger puppets, there’s enough to play out any kind of story. The BigJigs Finger Puppet Theatre retails at £11.99.

Folkmanis Puppets

Widely regarded as on of the world’s most innovative puppet-makers, Folkmanis Puppets consistently designs beautifully crafted toys that inspire creativity, promote hands-on discovery, encourage interaction, teach fine and gross motor skills, help develop early language, and become a child’s lovable companion to be treasured for years. The company’s line includes a virtual menagerie of plush pets and friendly wildlife friends with new designs constantly on the drawing board. Folkmanis Puppets believes imagination is the key to a healthy childhood, encouraging play and discovery to develop the skills necessary in life. The company has been making innovative and engaging specialty puppets since 1976, delighting imaginations and winning nearly every industry, child development, and kid-tested award, many repeatedly. Among some of its newest lines this year are the Sitting Polar Bear, the Small Black Bear, the Small Bison, a purring cat and a Chipmunk in a Watermelon. These are joined by Daisy Duck, a Frog Lifecycle puppet collection, a screaming goat and a jackalope. The innovation doesn’t end there, there’s also the mini mouse, mini octopus and mouse in a pumpkin, alongside a flying pig and a woodland animal set. Folkmanis’ puppet collection really isn’t short on imagination. November 2018 | toy news | 53


Haba HABA’s company philosophy is based on one principle: children are the most important things in life. Instilling fundamental values, helping them become independent and develop into creative and imaginative people is not the exclusive job of parents; in addition to the people in their life, the environment and the objects around them play a major role in their development from the first day on. For several generations, HABA’s toys have proven their worth with high quality design, with over 15 HABA employees focused on the development of its toys and games selection. Inspiration is drawn from nature, travel, work, all to deliver its range of products. HABA has an extensive collection of puppets including glove and finger puppets as well as an array of puppet theatres, encouraging kids to use that childhood imagination to create entire worlds. Glove puppets in the range include the likes of Glove Puppet Connie, Glove Puppet Policeman and Glove Puppet Fairy Tale Little Red Riding Hood, featuring the cast of the iconic tale in a woodland setting. They are joined by Glove Puppet Hansel, Glove Puppet Gretel, Glove Puppet Monster Maz, a witch and a Play Glove Friends of the Enchanted Forest. HABA’s glove puppets range from fairy tale characters to cute animals and even features a line of musical characters, such as Donkey, Elephant, Goose, Crocodile and Monkey. Meanwhile, Haba’s puppet theatre line features the HABA Puppet Theatre with a removable curtain and the ability to convert from a theatre into a toy shop, and the HABA Doorway Theatre that adjusts to fit in different sized door frames.

Tobar 01603 397 105 Not on to miss a market, Tobar has its own collection in the world of children’s glove and finger puppets, starting with the Farm Animal Hand Puppet and working towards the novelty Unicorn Puppet and Safari Finger Friends. The Farm Animal Hand Puppet range comprises four plush animal designs like lamb, pony, pig and cow. Each fits hands of many sizes and stand at 24cm tall. For something with a bit more bite, the Dino Hand Puppet is a flexible plastic hand puppet in the shape of a tyrannosaurus rex head. Simply slide a hand into this dinosaur head to manipulate the muzzle and jaw. Complete with detailed reptilian skin, pointy teeth and a blood red tongue, this dinosaur makes it very tempting to reenact scenes from popular dinosaur stories. Next up, the Fairy Tale Finger Puppets feature six assorted characters with painted wooden heads, woollen hair and clothing made from colourful fabrics. There is a Prince, Princess, Fairy, Witch and Dragon as well as a Scarecrow. The Finger Frights are rubbery little creatures and childhood classics. There are wide variations in the design, colour and facial expressions while the box features a shaped top that can be used to display three pieces with the option of a pack of ten. The Unicorn Finger Puppets arrive in packs of three. Just slip each one of the flexible unicorn heads onto a finger to instantly make it a puppet. Each face is highly detailed, from the bright mane and twinkling eyes to mythical creature’s horn. The pack includes white, pink and purple Unicorns. Finally, the Safari Finger Friends are flexi finger puppets in the shape of a giraffe and an elephant’s trunk.

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WowWee/Trends UK

WowWee, the team behind Fingerlings, has launched a new augmented reality app for mobile devices that will transform any setting into an Untamed Arena. The fully integrated experience allows users to turn a living room, park or playground into an Arena in which to let loose its dinosaur themed, tech-infused finger puppets, Untamed. Built by HappyGiant, one of the leaders in AR games and experiences, Untamed Arena provides a complete AR experience, equipped with 3D toy recognition that allows players to experience their toy in a new way, and fully immerse themselves in the game. The app supports all Untamed Raptors and T-Rex toys and is available for free on iOS devices. Kids looking to throw down with their Untamed companions will now have the added opportunity to scan their real life creature using their mobile device and unleash it into an augmented reality world where they can challenge friends and foes to battles in real time. “There’s a ton of AR tech, but Untamed Arena really stands out as a fully fledged AR battle platform that’s unlocked by the purchase, enhanced by the toy and maintains the core brand promises of the Untamed line,” said Davin Sufer, chief technology officer at

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WowWee. “By working with HappyGiant, we created a cutting-edge AR app with really great detection and tracking, and we plan to keep innovating and pushing the bar with the latest and greatest AR features that are available. Fierce and unpredictable, Untamed knows friends vs. foes. Are you brave enough to handle them? In untamed mode, they roar, hiss and chomp! In tame mode they nuzzle, purr and love to be near you. Complete with snapping jaws and gripping claws, these interactive dinos react to touch, motion, and sound with over 40 different sounds and animations. Meanwhile, Fingerlings Hugs are softies when it comes to affection. Their long arms are perfect for nice big hugs. Swing them, pet them, and rock them to sleep... or record what you say and watch them repeat in funny ways, then throw them in the air for a silly remix. These cuddle monkeys never want to let you go. Building on the tremendous success of the Fingerlings brand, WowWee is launching the next wave of friends to play with. The Fingerlings BFF are best Friends Forever. They come with a mini monkey friend that can hang onto their tail or your pencil. Fingerlings are adorable baby animals that are curious about the world around them-starting with you. These interactive pets love to hang onto your finger, blink their eyes, turn their heads, blow kisses, swing by their tails, and talk in monkey babble. These dynamic duos come in a variety of colours - adopt them all and have even more fun monkeying around! The Fingerlings range is available from £14.99rrp

Bath toys

SPLASHING ABOUT As any parent will tell you, bath time doesn’t mean the end of play time… in fact, it can be quite the opposite. Robert Hutchins rounds up the latest products aimed at taking the sting out of that daily ritual; it's more than just rubber ducks

TOMY 01392 281 927

TOMY continues to lead the bath category with a raft of exciting multiple-toys-in-one toys from TOMY Toomies, as well as innovative bath products from Boon. TOMY Toomies will follow the success of its sell out Foam Cone Factory with Peryn’s Shower and Scrub - retailing at £17.99, Children simply pull the lever on the tub and watch the bath fill with foam. Once it’s full, turn the handle on the side of the bath to see Peryn fall into the water. Yuri the Turtle - £19.99 - is another roleplay toy that creates fun, foamy hairstyles for Yuri’s octopus pal. Fill the turtle up with bubble solution and pull the lever for a soapy hairdo. Meanwhile, the stylish brand Boon offers cool, modern mums simple, affordable and time saving products ‘that are true to their purpose.’ The range offers a collection of bath toys that are designed to create lots of bath time fun and make parents’ lives easier. Under its collection are the popular Pipes - selling at £9.99 - which come in five shapes that can be used individually or put together to make a chain. They also stick to the wall so the water goes back into the bath and not on the floor. 58 | toy news | December 2018

Also from Boon is the popular Frog Pod - £12.99 - which makes bath time fun and tidy-up time even better for parents. The Frog Pod comes with a wall-mounted base that helps drain the toys to reduce mould and mildew build-up.

Bath toys

Zimpli Kids 0845 459 1818 Zimpli Kids has a brand new product taking its Gelli Baff to the next level this season with the introduction of Gelli Factory. Gelli Factory has been described as ‘the perfect bath buddy’ and allows children to mix and make their very own Gelli Baff. Simply add water to the dispenser, sprinkle in the Gelli powder, stir and watch it transform into a colourful goo. The Gelli can then be dispensed into the cups for the ultimate bath time fun. Head of marketing at Zimpli Kids, Jessica Coy, said: “Children love experimenting and this is the perfect bath product to do just that. Different colours, scents and even Glitter Gelli Baff can be used with the Gelli Factory to create a unique sensory experience at bath time.” Gelli Baff is perfect for pre-school children to work on their sensory and motor skills, little ones can’t wait to squeeze it between their hands. Gelli Baff, like all Zimpli products is 100 per cent safe, boron free and easily disposed of.

IMC Toys 01904 720908 Since launching this August, strong sales have rapidly propelled IMC Toys’ Bloopies range to become a number one in NPD’s Bath Toy category in the UK, where sales have exceeded expectations, forcing IMC to treble production in order to meet demand. Ideal for any bath time play, Bloopies squirt water out of their mouth and snorkel when you press their belly, they even blow bubbles when you play with them in your bubble bath. The range features six different characters to collect, each with their own unique swimsuit, diving fins and snorkel. IMC’s CMO, Manuele Potente, said: “The company strongly believes in the success of this unique line in its category. Sales data in Spain and Italy predicts real success.” The range is supported with a string of TV and digital campaigns, while earlier this year, the range won Gold in the Made for Mums Toy Awards 2018 in the Bath Toy category.

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Bath toys

Fat Brain Toys

Is it a penguin, is it a toy… Yes, it’s both actually because it’s Fat Brain Toys’ award winning Waddle Bobbers. Stack them, float them, send them down the slide - it’s a penguin party on the Waddle Bobbers iceberg. Each of the little penguins in this fun bath toy play set have weighted bases so children can spin them and make them wobble outside of the tub. Take them inside the bath and watch them as they float on the water. Both the penguins and the iceberg are sealed, so parents never have to worry about water getting inside, simply fill up the tub, set the iceberg adrift and send the penguins racing down the slide. The set arrives with six floating penguins and aims to encourage bath time exploration, the innate understanding of buoyancy and inspire imaginative play. The iceberg base features grippies on the bottom for use outside of the bath. Fat Brain Toys’ bath time range is joined by the Splish Splash Pool in the Tub, a set that allows kids to decorate the tub wall with a collection of squirter play figures and foam decor stickers. Encouraging water comfort, bath play and fine motor skills, kids can bounce Kitty and Monkey off the diving board into the pool, before seeing who can squirt water the furthest. The kit includes 43 colourful foam stickers, Kitty and Monkey squirters, a beach ball squirter and a suction cup mesh storage bag.

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Tobar 01603 397 105 Tobar’s popular range of bath toys spans everything from Unicorn bath Squirter to one called simply The Floater (and no prizes for guessing what that is…) Bath time has become a staple of the Tobar collection as the firm boasts nearly 30 SKUs in the category. Leading the line up are the educational bath toys, including the Water Xylophone with five notes that float, alphabet and numbers bath stickers and the counting rubber ducks. For a bit of fun, the company has the Fishing For Floaters bath tub fishing set, Water Flutes, the Clockwork Submarine and the award winning Clockwork Mermaid. The Clockwork Mermaid actually swims in the bath. Simply wind her up and let her loose in the tub and watch as she swims the distance. The joint bronze winner of the Best Bath Toy category in this year’s Made For Mums Toy Awards, the Clockwork Mermaid comes in three different colours and promises hilarity at any bath time. Even yours… Tobar has an extensive range of clockwork bath toys for this season, from fish to snorkelers and everything inbetween.

Bath toys

Skip Hop New arrivals in the Skip Hop collection of bath toys include the Skip Hop Zoo Count and Play Bath Puzzle and the Skip Hop Zoo Paddle and Go Owl. Both add to this already brimming collection of bath time toys as the firm grows its offering for the coming year. The Skip Hop Zoo Count and Play Bath Puzzle is a colourful puzzle and bath book in one and features double-sided artwork. Little ones will love the mischievous monkey on one side and the friendly owl and bee on the other. It also features number graphics for learn to count time. The water resistant pages float and stick to bath tiles while a stroller ring keeps it all together when bath time is finished. Complementing the puzzle book this season is the Skip Hop Zoo Paddle and Go Owl, featuring the signature Skip Hop owl character that’s ready to move with the wind of its clockwork mechanism. Kids can simply wind up the wings and watch the owl paddle and float in the tub. Lightweight and easy for little hands to hold, the colourful bath toy is a fun way for youngsters to learn cause and effect as they paddle away. Other lines in the Skip Hop bath toy selection include the likes of the award winning Zoo Fill Up Fountain and the Skip Hop Zoo Light Up Surfers Bath Toys.

Halilit Aimed at children aged 18 months and upwards, the Edushape Floating Blocks are a unique set of ‘wet and stick’ soft blocks that can be used by any little builder in or out of the bath tub. Through its clever design, the set allows children to stick the board and blocks together while they float on the water. The set comes complete with one construction board, 15 floating blocks and a storage net bag. Elsewhere under the Edushape brand umbrella is the Edushape Magic Creations Dinosaurs, Let’s Dance and Traffic Fun, all designed for bringing creativity to bath time. They are joined by the Edushape Fish N Spell and Edushape Magic Mirror Shapes. Throwing its net out even wider, Hallilit is distributing a line of Battat bath time toys, too. These arrive in the form of Battat Barnyard Bath Buddies, Battat Sea Bath Buddies, Battat Dinosaur Bath Buddies and Battat Best Friends Bath Buddies.

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As client services director at Import Services, the UK's leading supply chain and logistics company, there's little Mike Thomas doesn't know about the business of shifting things; whether that's good out of warehouses or the UK out of the EU. ToyNews talks to Thomas about the practicalities of Brexit, the advancing logistics world and that downward pressure from retail 62 | toy news |December 2018



orking on the docks at Southampton, it could easily be said that Mike Thomas, client services director at Import Services is about as close to Brexit as any member of Theresa May’s cabinet, past or present. Depending on the way things have played out since May’s delivery to the nation on November 14th, it may even be arguable that Thomas knows a great deal more of the true implications of an EU withdrawal. Well, certainly when it comes to logistics any way. Sitting on the board of directors of Import Services, one of the UK’s leading port-centric logistics companies, Thomas knows a thing or two about moving things out of Europe. He knows about bringing them into the UK, too. And, through his thorough knowledge of the supply chain services knows just how to get all of those

products into the hands of retailers and ultimately the consumer, in modern, real time. Bloody hell, ToyNews is going to start campaigning Mike Thomas for Prime Minister, isn’t it - we hear you all cry. It’s not a bad idea. But something tells us Thomas wouldn’t like to leave the world of logistics any time soon. His expertise certainly seems to go beyond ‘just a day job.’ It’s why, when Thomas starts talking to you about bonded storage and AEO accreditation as your greatest defence against a tumultuous Brexit, you’re pretty happy to let him take the reins on the conversation. And the upshot of that to begin with, is that when it comes to the steps that you ought to be taking - or at least considering - as part of your supply chain service, as we near that crunch date of March 29th 2019 the first is in bonded storage.

Dealing with Brexit "I think bonded storage really is something that should be taken very seriously at this juncture, not knowing how the EU withdrawal deal will come through,” says Thomas. “Bonded storage is the ability to hold product VAT and duty free stock holding in the UK. “The physical stock is here in the UK, but not released into the market. There are a number of bonded operations around for 3PLs. Of course, companies can look at their own warehousing operations to achieve this. For Import Services, we have had quite a demand from our client base and other enquiries looking at just how we would go about helping them in the case of a hard Brexit.” Hold on, you may be saying. This all sounds a little like the whipped up news stories of ‘stockpiling’ that circulated the mainstream media only the other month. “It’s about looking at the practical approach,” continues Thomas, “a hard Brexit would be difficult to envisage at this stage, but it could still be the case at this point in the negotiations [all at time of writing - Ed]. “We are quite privileged as we are clustered around the container port of Southampton and our location is very much geared towards the transportation, principally from the Far East, of manufactured toys, products, gifts - fast consumer products and the juxtaposition of the container port and our own facilities, with bonded storage, enables us to tackle a hard Brexit scenario in the best possible way. “We have got the ability to work within a hard Brexit environment - whatever guise that takes in the future and the bonded storage of product offers the ultimate flexibility.” To tick off another box, Thomas reminds us that “you can also re-export it without any VAT or duty implications, or forward it to market wherever that location would be.” It’s a little late to be thinking about AEO accreditation, he warns, if that’s not something you already have in place. It’s something you’re going to want to have at your disposal however, but, says Thomas “any provider that has an Authorised Economic Operator accreditation, which is recognised in the highest level of customs December 2018 | toy news | 63

Logistics within the EU as a badge for ultimate audit control of stock, inventory, customs reporting and more, is a particularly useful asset to have at your side as we head towards March 29th.” In layman’s terms, this badge will offer you the likelihood of a much smoother transition of product across borders. “We are a third party logistics business looking after the interests of our clients supply chains, and because we have an AEO umbrella badge, our clients act within our own facilities and they benefit from the AEO accreditation that we can offer the supply chain.” Highlighting areas of concern regarding Brexit isn’t Thomas’ style. Perhaps we’ve all become tired of the media circus that has hounded this pursuit for the last two and a half years? Perhaps Thomas is mostly focused on the practicalities? “The areas to think about in terms of Brexit start with the pricing model that the UK benefits from,” says Thomas. “We have a very competitive edge on distribution back to the continent and there is no heads up on any change to that pricing model, unless Brexit really does, over time, make a sea change in terms of our trading partnership. “The privilege of us having more vehi-

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cles coming into the UK than going back out gives us a very competitive distribution profile. So, we can completely distribute products as we do everyday across continental Europe from our Southampton hub.” It’s this that is the reason a number of US clients and - increasingly - overseas interest have started to look at the UK as a hub for the EU, rather than having disparate warehouses across the EU marketplace. While this is currently the size of it now, what will it look like after Brexit? No one can tell, yet. Not even Thomas. There are no changes on the early horizon, he states. But the long term effect is an unkown. The man’s mantra stands thusly, however, that “business will continue whatever,” it will simply take a little more thought about how to move product from A to B while avoiding those potential pinch points, traffic issues in the case of hard borders. “But traffic will find different routes to market to ease that flow.” Right, enough now on hard Brexit, hard borders, backstops … the world of logistics has so much more on its plate, too you. Not in the least is the changing world of retail and making practical this on-demand, fast product culture we each inhabit now.

The advances in logistics There’s a time in every journalist’s life when the topic of Advance Shipping Notifications crops up and it’s their job to begin to make sense of it. It’s ToyNews’ turn to have a stab and simply put, it’s the latest move in digitising the logistics sector. And why does it need digitisation? Why because of the way in which our orders are changing of course. “We have had a tremendous amount of change in just the last 12 months,” explains Thomas. “If I put base zero from last year’s season to this year’s season, the percentage increase of SKUs of individual items per order has grown massively, the frequency of orders has increased and the volume per order has decreased. “We are a good bellweather of what is happening in the market. Orders are required more frequently and in a ‘just in time’ environment, add to this the fact that the real spike to the peak time of year grows more acute every year - it’s all driving a lot of changes in the logistics sector.” For one, is digitisation. Bring in the Advanced Shipping Notifications… Import Services has moved into a place where it is now sending ahead of its consignments, an ASN - an electronic bill detailing the product that is on the move, before the physical


products arrive. “By doing this,” says Thomas, “we are making everyone aware of the passage of goods before it takes place and it will pass through all the chain and checkpoints, allowing for smooth transition.” And with both Brexit and on-demand consumers to deal with, anything that makes the process of shipping all the smoother, is all the more welcome. “We set our stall out very clearly at Import Services to invest very heavily in systems capabilities, so tracking and tracing, advanced shipment - all of the communications we have with our key end customers from Amazon to Tesco, we send advance electronic information to ahead of deliveries.

"This is the new world of retailing, one we are all entering.” The problem with the way we are placing our orders as consumers, and demanding it the next day, is murder on any logistics system stuck in its ways of the 90s even early 00s. Of course, there won’t be many of those - suffice to say Import Services remains a leader in the field of advancing its system. “We are looking at the various technical ways in changing the way we pick, the way we process, engineering that process into productivity,” says Thomas. “We see a pattern of smaller orders and more frequent orders required very swiftly that is not going anywhere but one way. That velocity of volume to the market in a peak period

as we head towards Christmas requires us to work on productivity to be able to give our clients what they need. Automation is a key part of how we are thinking now for 2019 and early in 2020 when our new dock facilities will be coming on stream. We are taking steps with additional warehousing operations and facilities. Evolution is a constant process we embrace at Import Services. With tech becoming more affordable, that will be something we look at as we head into the 2020s…” There you go, as if to sum up the character of the man, Mike Thomas is a man who likes to look at the practicalities of getting it all done, even in the face of the adverse weather of change. Well, it is his job after all. December 2018 | toy news | 65


FINDING YOUR MOJO For the toy industry’s inventor community body and start-up outfit Mojo Nation, 2018 has been a big year indeed. From its inaugural Play Creators Festival to the return of the Mojo Nation 100 most influential designers of the year, co-founder Billy Langsworthy has had little time to play. Now, with the launch of the Play Creators Awards, things are looking to be even busier for 2019


t’s been quite the year for the team over at Mojo Nation, the UK toy industry’s dedicated body to the toy and game design and invention community. In little over two years, the outfit, led by Billy Langsworthy - a former ToyNews pen-pusher - has seen a swathe of successful events sweep London as Mojo works to keep the torch of creativity burning bright among the UK toy industry. How has it done this, you may ask? The answer is long, and for brevity - and to rescue your ears from Langsworthy’s own flavour for a full blown fable (honestly, only pick up the phone to him if you’ve cleared your diary for the day…) ToyNews can tell you. It’s all about hard work. This past year has seen the start-up launch a series of events including the Play Creators Festival and the Mojo 100; one a two-day event comprising a conference and a toy and game pitching session to some of the industry’s biggest names, the other, a celebration of the 100 most influential designers and inventors working in the children’s space today. If that’s not enough, Mojo Nation has recently announced that the licensing legend(placed number two in this year’s Power 50) and founder of

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Start Licensing, Ian Downes is joining as its non-executive director as the team eyes its next step in the world of licensing. Oh, on top of all of that, the Play Creators Festival is already expanding with the addition of the Play Creators Awards. Taking place on the evening of Monday, September 9th in London, the Play Creators Awards will celebrate those in the toy and game design community that have excelled over the last 12 months. So that’s whether it’s an R&D team responsible for a smash-hit line, a design agency that’s taken a brief and soared or an individual responsible for the next industry-shaping products, the Play Creators Awards are all about shining a spotlight on the industry’s top architects of play. “We’ve already outlined a commitment to celebrating the achievements of the toy and game design community with our annual Mojo Nation 100 publication, but we’re taking this to the next level with the Play Creators Awards,” said Langsworthy. “As the only event of its kind in the UK, we are looking forward to recognising some supremely talented individuals and teams in a relaxed, fun and informal setting, in what is shaping up to be a highlight of next year’s Festival.”


Nominations are now open and the categories are: Toy Designer of the Year Whether bringing innovation to an iconic toy brand, or responsible for the industry’s latest big hit, this award celebrates a figure that has done outstanding work in toy design over the last 12 months. Game Designer of the Year (Kids Games) This award is for designers behind the best and brightest in the world of kids’ games. Fun, silly, educational or all of the above, we’re looking to celebrate the brains behind the games. Game Designer of the Year (Tabletop) With the tabletop space booming, it’s only right that we also celebrate those creating the next big thing in board games. Whether it’s the next big gateway game, a Spieldes-Jahres contender or a title responsible for pushing through an exciting new mechanic, this award is for those doing something special in the tabletop space. R&D Team of the Year In-house at a toy titan, or leading design at a thriving SME, this award celebrates teams working in Research & Development that have achieved extraordinary things over the last year. Invention Studio/Design Agency of the Year The secret weapon for many toy firms, design agencies and invention studios are the unsung heroes of our industry. This category celebrates a firm that deserves recognition for exceptional work over the last 12 months. Toy Designer of the Year (Licensed Product) The first of two awards recognising excellence in licensed product, Toy Designer of the Year (Licensed Product) celebrates creators that have brought much loved

characters and IP to life through great toys. Game Designer of the Year (Licensed Product) This award is for a designer that has given an IP the tabletop treatment in impressive style via a great licensed game this year. Play Innovator of the Year Whether it’s via AI, robotics, VR, AR or voice tech, the Play Innovation of the Year award celebrates designers driving innovation in the toy and game space through the integration of the latest and greatest tech. Rising Star Award Who are the design legends of the future? Perhaps someone leading one of the industry’s many exciting start-ups, or a young

star within your team? If so, nominate them in the Rising Star category. Design Icon Award This award celebrate an iconic figure that have helped shape the industry, truly leaving their footprint and a lasting legacy in the world of toy and game design. The finalists for each category will be announced in May 2019, before a panel of experts select winners over a series of roundtable judging sessions. To nominate, or for information on tickets, head to the Play Creators Awards site at Mojo Nation.

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Industry moves This month, Wow! Stuff has made a double appointment, Funko has tapped a former Bioworld executive, Mojo Nation has welcomed a familiar licensing face and Ravensburger has promoted an industry favourite to a new role within the firm FUNKO

WOW! STUFF The former head of buying at Tesco for toys in the UK and central Europe, DAWN LAVALETTE, has joined the toy company as its commercial director. In her new role, Lavalette will oversee global sales and major UK and international customers, as well as implement new systems to help the firm’s products reach more retailers across the globe. Meanwhile, JON BIRCH, sales director and shareholder at the company has been promoted to managing director with an extended remit to oversee the Demonstration Division. Simon Gardner, Wow! Stuff’s chairman and former CMO of Hasbro, said: “We have seen a near 50 per cent growth in the business so far during 2018 and it’s our resolute focus on building a world class leadership team which has made this possible.”

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The pop culture specialist has tapped the former Bioworld executive RICH SMITH as its new softlines sales manager for EMEA, joining the team at its London office. The appointment comes as Funko looks to ramp up its Loungefly and softlines business here in the UK. With over 15 years’ experience working on licensing and accessories at Bioworld International and Icon Live, Smith brings a wealth of experience to the team, which will help it amplify the softlines business across EMEA in the years to come.

BEN BRAMWELL has been promoted to the role of senior international product manager for children’s games. It’s a step up from his previous position of marketing manager for the UK. In his new role, Bramwell will be responsible for driving the sustainable growth of the children’s games segment for the global business, while retaining responsibility for all segments of the games business in the UK. Bramwell will take up the new position on January 1st 2019 and Ravensburger is actively seeking to recruit his replacement.

MOJO NATION Start Licensing’s IAN DOWNES has joined the toy industry inventor body as a non-executive director. In his new role, Downes will add valuable licensing expertise to the company as well as oversight and initiative to Mojo Nation’s existing portfolio of events, including the Play Creators Festival. Downes has been a staple of the licensing industry for over 20 years, and is director at Start Licensing, an independent licensing agency that represents the likes of Aardman. “I am delighted to join Mojo Nation,” he said.

NICKELODEON MARIANNE JAMES has been promoted to the role of vice president of Viacom Nickelodeon Consumer Products for UK, Northern and Eastern Europe. James will take on an expanded role, having previously led consumer products and commercial partnerships for the UK and will continue her commercial partnerships role for Nickelodeon UK in addition to her new cluster responsibilities. She will report into Mark Kingston, SVP, international, VNCP, and Alison Bakunowich, SVP, Nickelodeon, UK.

Team of the month

GIBSONS GAMES This month, we get up close and personal with Gibsons Games to find out about their biggest successes of 2018, what they have in store for us for 2019 and of course to get all the latest gossip on Ros and Wendy from sales…the customer order dream team Can you tell us who is in the Gibsons team? There are 17 of us in the Gibsons head office, plus our Chairman Michael Gibson who pops in from time to time. Our Product Development Manager and Head of Marketing are currently on maternity leave, so there are 20 of us altogether. What have been the highlights of 2018 for you guys? There have been lots of highlights in 2018, but the few that stand out the most are: Taking part in the Toy Trust Triathlon in June as the six team members smashed the challenge, winning the Best Strategic Game Award for Civilization at UK Games Expo as we had worked so hard on the re-release of this epic game, and finally, growing our team by four new members. We are lucky to work with a bunch of fantastic, passionate people who are not afraid to rise to a challenge while having a good laugh. We are proud to be planning our centenary celebrations in 2019, too. What have been the biggest successes of the past 12 months? 2018 has been an exciting year for us on the product front. We have launched a number of new board games including our quick play game Pixit and our family game Crystal Hall. We are also extremely pleased to have launched the first ever jigsaw puzzle countdown calendar, perfect for puzzle enthusiasts to get stuck into during the lead up to Christmas.

What’s the best part of working in the toy and game industry? It’s friendly and collaborative, most people who work in the toy industry remain in it because it’s welcoming and fun. There is a great deal of innovation in the industry and perspective that comes from us all knowing how to play. What are the biggest challenges? This year, we have spent a lot of time trying to uncover innovative solutions to reducing our packaging and carbon footprint. We have had to undertake lots of research, from visiting factories and customers to attending jigsaw puzzle festivals and holding surveys. We feel we have finally reached a solution… now the next step is to launch them in January. The team is stuck on a desert island, what’s your plan of action?

We are a small team, so we are used to working closely with each other. Operations would direct the team with a plan of action, while Product Development would build a sturdy shelter. It is no secret that we all have big appetites, so I am sure the prospect of having to go a few hours without refuelling would spur the team on… Who would be the first to couple off? Probably Ros and Wendy from the sales department. They are unstoppable when it comes to taking customer orders… imagine what they could achieve as a power couple! #Rendy Who would be the lone survivor? Geoff, our Business Development Director. If anyone has a problem, Geoff can always solve it.

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Final word

Here’s to the pioneers


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Ben Callicot has spent a decade in the toy industry, designing, innovating and launching products on Kickstarter. With such a CV, it seemed the right time for him to launch The Toy Pioneers Club, an online community for the like-minded…

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have worked within toys for over ten years now, and I can say with a degree of conviction; it’s an exciting time to be a part of the industry. I started my time in the industry as a toy designer, and most recently as head of product for Primo Toys, where we launched a $1.6 million coding robot on Kickstarter. With a short stint contracting for the invention house Seven Towns, and launching my own toy startup PL-UG sandwiched in between, I have been fortunate enough to experience nearly all sides of the toy space. During that time, I can’t remember seeing so much innovation coming through as I do now. I really do think the industry is in the best shape it has ever been. With the rise of the maker movement, ability to build in low batches and launch through crowdfunding platforms, we are seeing a wave of start-ups and ideas coming through that we just wouldn’t have had before.


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This is the reason I have launched The Toy Pioneers Club; an online community for the world’s most forward-thinking start-ups. It’s a home for the dreamers, the forward-thinkers and the innovators. It’s for those that are putting the child user at the centre of their universe. For the industry to evolve, there needs to be a pathway for value driven companies to follow, as they are most attuned with the ever-changing consumer habits that go on to become trends. The aim of the club is to be a peer to peer network providing the tools, resources and connections to enable them to go on a build radically better products and businesses to the ones that exist today. Pioneers come in all shapes and sizes, so if you’re a start-up that wants to grow, an industry expert that wants to share, or a service provider that wants to help then register your interest with a few details at www.toypioneersclub, and let’s continue the conversation.

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