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ISSUE 205

May 2019

www.toynews-online.biz

Feature:

Getting the inside track on the indie scene

Interviews:

Spin Master, Mattel, Numberblocks give the low down

Toymaster: TOY NEWS

Who’s who and what’s what at this year’s Harrogate show

Road trippin’

MAY 2019

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ISSUE 205

www.toynews-online.biz

May 2019

Feature:

Getting the inside track on the indie scene

Interviews:

Spin Master, Mattel, Numberblocks give the low down

Toymaster: TOY NEWS

Who’s who and what’s what at this year’s Harrogate show

Road trippin’

MAY 2019

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No. 205 | May 2019

On the road to glory

Editor Robert Hutchins robert.hutchins@biz-media.co.uk

Sales Manager Rob Baker Rob.Baker@biz-media.co.uk

Designers Nikki Hargreaves nikki.hargeaves@biz-media.co.uk

Mandie Johnson mandie.johnson@biz-media.co.uk

Follow us @toynews online

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ell, all things considered, it's not just Funko that has played a blinder this first quarter of 2019, emerging as it has with a 22 per cent surge in sales in what most would consider, a rocky old start to the year for toys. Hasbro did quite the number, too when it revealed that it was its Transformers spin-off Bumblebee franchise - alongside the ever-popular Magic: The Gathering - that brought it to Q1 victory with net revenues hitting $732.5 million, while bods at Mattel must have thought it was 2010 all over again when it saw sales declines stemmed somewhat with its only three per cent decline this year. Is it all a sign of the passing of the Toys R Us storm? It's been a full on month of hitting the road, forging together this issue's big feature piece, and taking an extensive look at the UK's independent retail sector. It's been an inspiring journey from the wilds of Scotland's Helensborough and Glasgow to the coastlines of Cornwall to map out the topics most affecting or influencing the indie bricks and mortar scene thus far. So many of you regailed us with tales of the lengths you are going to maintain your place at the heart of your local communities (one of you has even turned to beekeeping) that you can't help but feel buoyed by this industry's determination. Robert Hutchins, Editor Robert.Hutchins@biz-media.co.uk

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COVER STORY HITTING THE ROAD P11

Contents May 2019 Features

08

EXPLORING MATTEL'S DIGITAL SIDE ToyNews talks to Mattel's head of digital Andrew Chan about the firm's plans for the space

11

THE PLAY OF THE LAND We set out on a road trip to check in on the independent retail scene across the UK

24

GOT YOUR NUMBER? Numberblocks and Alphablocks are bringing new worlds to pre-school learning

Regulars Opinion 06 Rachel Jones Show Guides 28 Toymaster May Show Sector Guides 41 Boys market 49 Arts & Crafts Getting to know... 56 Gary Ryder Back pages 55 Industry Moves 58 Bossing It...

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THE MASTER OF CEREMONIES We dive into this year's Toymaster showcase with a look at what's what and who's who May 2019 | toy news | 5

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Opinion

Counterfeit toys: They’re anything but child’s play Rachel Jones, founder and CEO of the counter counterfeit organisation, SnapDragon addresses the growing issues around fakes toys that are flooding the global marketplace and offers her advice on how best to strike back at the fraudsters

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he rise of the Internet has made it ever more difficult for brands to protect their products from counterfeits. E-commerce sites across the globe are rife with fakes, with fraudsters making big money from stolen ideas. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reported that imports of counterfeit and pirated goods are worth nearly half a trillion dollars a year. Toy manufacturers are a frequent and common target. In 2017 alone, the value of counterfeit toys seized at EU borders was €21 million. Maclaren has found the counterfeit issue so extensive that it has devoted a page of its website to the issue. Counterfeits aren’t just bad for business, they are a genuine threat to consumers, too. In the toy industry, the difference between a product that has gone through rigorous testing, and one that simply has a stolen logo printed on a sticker, can be a child’s safety. In 2015, an analysis of counterfeited ‘Maleficent’ toy dolls showed that they contained 18 times more phthalates than the legal limit. What can brands do to protect themselves? Protect Intellectual Property (IP). It is vital for every brand to know and understand their IP rights because it is without doubt the most effective form of protection for any brand. A trademark in the UK can cost as little as £200, and the basic fee of a European Union trademark registration, which provides protection in all 28 countries of the EU, starts from €850 for a single class of goods. Design rights are the linchpin of creative industries, covering the look, shape and/or function of new products. In the UK, registration is capped at £60 for a first design. Brands can apply for an EU registered community design online for €350.

Patents, on the other hand, can be expensive and difficult to obtain. Free advice on the UK Government’s website will help brands to ascertain whether a patent is right for their business. If a brand cannot yet afford the costs and fees associated with patent fillings, or is still perfecting the details of the invention, provisional patent applications are a reasonable way to preserve IP rights. These are inexpensive and allow a company up to 12 months to continue developing its invention before a non-provisional patent application is required by its owner. Unlike the rest, copyright registration is not obligatory. In 167 countries of the world, copyright arises automatically upon creation, making it the most common IP enjoyed by brands worldwide. In many regions the key to successful IP registration depends on originality and novelty, meaning that maintaining secrecy is vital prior to application. Start-ups are often eager to impress potential investors, which can leave owners vulnerable to disclosing copyrights, trademarks and other IP when speaking about their brand. Taking steps to protect the brand, such as using NDAs and consulting with IP attorneys, could protect a company from costly mistakes further down the line. Although registering IP rights at home and abroad may seem daunting, help is at hand. The Intellectual Property (IP) Attaché Network provides free, confidential advice on global IP-related issues. How should brands use their IP? Once IP has been granted it is not automatically enforced, making it vital to take proactive, protective measures in order to tackle IP abuse and avoid potentially losing your IP rights. Brands that encounter cases of infringement, online or offline, should use their IP rights. In addition, monitor

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the Internet, specifically online marketplaces, social media platforms and auction sites. Each of these portals will have a policy relating to intellectual property, which provides guidance on reporting infringement. Brands should consider how they might, in a non-confrontational way and with non-accusatory language, contact the infringer. The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) has put in place several tools and services regarding the effective protection of IP, including a mediation service and the IP Enterprise Court’s small claims track. As ever, prevention is always better than the cure, so early investment in brand protection will pay dividends in the long run. How can brands use e-commerce platforms to their advantage? Understanding how to use online marketplaces properly is vital for companies looking to protect their brand and products. Many platforms now offer specially created portals where brands can register their own product(s) and IP rights, streamlining the takedown removal process. Several of these platforms exercise ‘repeat offender’ policies, meaning that sellers reported multiple times for IP infringement, whether by one or several complainants, are blacklisted from trading, along with their IP address, identification and any associated bank details. On Amazon alone, sellers will see their trading privileges revoked if they continually abuse the platform’s policy on IP rights. It is worth emphasising to legitimate sellers the importance of remaining vigilant online. Establishing a comprehensive white list of authorised sellers is a useful first step, and can alert brands to suspect listings and/or sellers. One such issue that can arise

when selling on Amazon is known as ‘piggybacking’. This is where counterfeit sellers tag onto legitimate ASINs (Amazon Standard Identification Numbers) to sell their products, duping consumers into believing their product is genuine. While this is permissible for legitimate sellers of the same goods, if brands discover counterfeit products under a real ASIN, then they should report the seller to Amazon, either manually or on their Brand Registry. Some online marketplaces, such as the Alibaba Group in China, have embraced the reality that SMEs don’t always have Chinese registered IP and will accept, on their externally facing platforms, foreign IP. For any brand, big or small, this is a game changer, allowing IP rights holders to fight back against the tide of global counterfeits. Finally, don’t panic! Fighting fakes online can often feel like a never-ending problem. However, by staying on top of your IP portfolio and enforcing rights, IP infringements can be fought. Within the mix of brand protection, online monitoring has a crucial role to play, ensuring that businesses can regularly and consistently defend themselves from the sale and promotion of illegitimate goods. In time, this proactive approach will be rewarded as would-be counterfeiters are deterred, ensuring that a brand’s reputation, products and consumers are protected. Brands don’t have to go it alone. There are many companies out there, such as SnapDragon, which can assist in monitoring online platforms, and even reporting and removing infringing listings. These companies can take some of the weight off a brand’s shoulders, leaving them to focus on other mission critical aspects of their business.

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Interview

We’ll always be a toy business first

Mattel’s head of digital Andrew Chan sees a big future in apps and gaming for the global toymaker and its brand portfolio, despite the firm’s unwavering position in the toy industry. Here he talks to Robert Hutchins about Thomas & Friends, app games and this new digital arm’s global ambition

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attel’s digital arm - one spanning mobile and console games based on the toymaker’s wealth of toy IP - will never be as big as Netflix, its head of digital, Andrew Chan admits, but that’s not to say it isn’t planning on having a good go. The firm currently has the wind in its sails, having recently posted better than

expected Q1 trading results that would appear to indicate that turnaround plans for this one-time number one global toymaker are finally coming to fruition. While the results saw sales dip three per cent to some $682 million with a big decline in the infant sector, the figures arrived as a surprise to most, who were expecting to see something rather more

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severe. This is a company that has, after all, rather publicly struggled in years prior to adapt to changing markets, underpinned most recently by the loss of Toys R Us. Not that you’d know it to look at Mattel now, of course. There’s a certain sense of re-energised determination from the toymaker - led by the optimism of CEO Ynon Kriez, whose rhetoric of turning Mattel into a ‘high-performing, IP-driven toy company,’ is being mirrored in the latest developments to emerge from its headquarters. Earlier this month, the company confirmed a renewed partnership with Disney that will now see it produce toy lines for Pixar properties, past, present and future, while simultaneously detailing plans to roll-out interactive family entertainment centres around the globe. Now add to this that Mattel has every faith that its digital arm can and will - and does today - successfully operate as a standalone company, and you begin to see just how IP-driven this firm really is. Mattel’s digital gaming group, a small outfit of 13 team members operating out of its home in California is responsible for all of the company’s gaming content found across console, mobile and emerging platforms today. A troupe of publishers, marketers and product developers, it is the role of this division to license Mattel’s IP, from Hot Wheels to Barbie, or from Uno to Thomas and Friends to third-party game developers. Already, the unit has partnered with some of the biggest names in gaming, including Microsoft, Forza, and Rocket League and Psyonix (a development com-

pany who has just, by the way, been bought by Fortnite publishers, Epic) and it was just last month that it dropped its newest title, Thomas & Friends: Adventures. It’s a free-to-play game that aims to bring the children’s book series to the digital platform with track building and racing, combined with educational elements that encourage kids to learn about different countries, cultures and languages. It’s a title with exploration at its centre, which, coincidentally is exactly what Mattel’s digital venture is about, too. “We have such a depth of IP, that we thought: 'we have content, we have the toys, we should have a game',” explains head of digital, Andrew Chan. “We wanted to create a holistic programme for people to engage with our brands.” Feeding into Mattel’s chief franchise management officer, Janet Hsu’s remit of

practically all licensing outside of theatrical, this digital arm is intrinsically linked to that licensing space. Feelings are, however, that this gaming and digital arm adds a whole new layer to the business; and one that will help keep its brands in front of fans for longer. “Traditional licensing goes like: you launch the content, you measure the traction, then you go and get your licensing partners. Eventually you build a game,” explains Chan. “That delay really doesn’t help keep the content fresh, and it doesn’t keep Mattel in the spotlight of being a direct to consumer company. Typically, you’re waiting three to four years to tie all of that licensing together. “Through this digital arm, and how it allows us to be across platforms like YouTube and YouTube Kids, there’s some real love for the pace in content that we can now maintain.” Make no mistake, Mattel remains a toy business first. It has underlined that point fiercely. It is simply Chan’s role to make sure that this digital venture is nipping as closely at the heels of that multi-billion dollar business as it possibly can. “We sell a lot of toys,” says Chan. “But as a standalone business, we believe apps and games can get their. We’ve seen it happen before and we have seen toy firms convert their IP into top 100 games; so there is a real opportunity here for Mattel to invest and push mobile gaming towards the forefront. “We truly believe that apps and games can be a big business with great revenue for us.”

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Interview More and more, the physical toy space is being informed by what kids are engaging with in the digital sphere; just look back at Epic’s Fortnite for one example. And, as Chan’s division does push itself to the forefront of children’s entertainment, it’s not a trend that’s escaped the company’s attention. “If we take Thomas & Friends as an example, right now, we are based on the lore of Thomas because Mattel has so much content. But as we go through, we can measure and find out who the most popular trains are, where people are engaging with the new female lead trains, what looks are proving the most popular. “This anonymous data can then be used by Mattel to help guide the physical toys. That’s then a two-way street for us that helps us to build the IP objectively.” Chan tells ToyNews that Mattel has its sights on growing its licensing business by 20 to 30 per cent a year, and that it’s work and investment with third party developers will be a major part of that continued push. The appeal, it would appear from conversations with the team, is the freedom the digital platform allows Mattel to explore how new concepts resonate with audiences around the world. “With apps and gaming, we can cover topics like maths, reading, curriculum subjects,” says Chan. “These are areas that if Mattel tried to build in the physical, we would have to make the kind of large investment that we are not in the position to make. “But when we get audiences of 50,000 plus subscribers across our digital platforms, we

can tap into them and help them grow while we monetise our license.” But it isn’t only existing IP that Mattel’s digital exploration is looking to cover. Over in China, the firm is making headway in the digital development of new IP through an even newer joint venture with the second largest gaming company in the region, NetEase.

This joint-venture is called Mattel163, and it is a full development team of around 65 people all working on building out mobile games. Mattel163 launched in the space with the Uno mobile game, which according to Chan “is doing above projections.” How does it all tie together with the digital operations taking place in California? Quite simply with the one objective of “exponential growth”. “This is how we see our business growing exponentially,” explains Chan. “We will own a development team which we can grow, for certain titles we think are justified. Meanwhile, we will continue our licensing business and grow that 20 to 30 per cent a year, and invest in third party developers to develop new IP.” All together, the globe-spanning digital effort it looking to license around eight to ten game titles a year. In its self-publishing and co-development business it is eyeing around three or four mobile games a year. “How that will all play out, we will have to see. There may be some failures, but there will also be some big successes,” Chan concludes.

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PLAY OF THE LAND The scenery and the dialects may change, but as ToyNews travels the length of the UK this month, to visit toy retailers from across the regions, much of what is impacting the independent toy retail scene remains the same. Pack your sandwhiches and join the trip...

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Scotland

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lose to the Helensburgh coastline of West Scotland where the surfing is good, Wendy Hamilton, the owner of the toy shop Grasshopper Toys has turned her hand to beekeeping. By autumn this year, the independent toy store is expecting to be rolling out its first jars of honey to the local clientele. Hamilton’s side hustle as Helensborough’s leading apiarist isn’t a move driven by money, however. Moreover, it’s her desire to make a positive impact on the local area through a conservation effort that has seen her now home some 30,000 honeybees. By her own admission, the initiative has been a “massive learning curve,”

after all, it’s quite the departure from the usual day job, which sees Hamilton run both Helensburgh’s Grasshopper Toys and the science and learning focused Curious Minds shop. And it’s not one she could have managed without the help of the local beekeeper’s association. “Our customers are loving the idea, and that’s gratifying for us,” Hamilton tells ToyNews. “There will hopefully be some Grasshopper Toys Honey to try later this year, but really we are more interested in knowing that we’re making a good impact by helping our wildlife thrive.” It’s actually all part of a wider focus from the toy shop on its own commitment

to more positive environmental activities; a decision that Hamilton has described as “probably the biggest influence upon the direction of her business this year.” “We have changed our popular Grasshopper Toys gift wrap to 100 per cent recycled paper, and that’s been well-received. We have also introduced a range of bio-degradable glitter and removed plastic glitter from our shelves,” she explains. “We are now seeing a trend towards smaller, ethical wooden toy products from our customers, which is why we have brought in the likes of Grapat and Wobbel. What we're finding is less demand for that LOL dolls scene nowdays.”

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Retail Hamilton and her Grasshopper Toys is just a snapshot of a trend that now appears to be sweeping not just the retail scene in Scotland, but across the UK’s independent retail landscape, and that is ‘diversification.’ Despite the woes of the high street or the struggle that many of the big names have faced this past year, the independent toy shop has met 2019 with steely determination and a ‘lock and load’ attitude that it can, and will, deliver something that the multiples simply don’t have the room to afford. And that, simply put, is quirk. While in Helensburgh, Hamilton has her bees (alongside a breadth of product

that has won Grasshopper Toys various awards and recognition) it’s further south, in the city of Glasgow, that James Neil, area manager of A1 Toys and its fleet of four stores, has made a name for himself as a pop culture connoisseur. In fact, Neil has his eye across a number of sectors and audiences in the expansive ‘toy’ market, from the children’s toys he stocks in his flagship location, to the high end collectables in his specialist toy store. Meanwhile, A1’s sister store, Static Games in Glasgow is Neil’s own specialist gaming shop where Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering is the order of the day.

Likewise for Duncan Conner at The Bus Stop Toy Shop in Largs, just west of Glasgow, diversification into the gaming scene has helped business boom these past few years, highlighting this ability to move with the local culture, as he does, as the secret to helping customers part with their cash. “There’s no doubt that everyone is watching what they spend at the moment,” he says, “particularly those with families. The solution is to diversify and add more strings to the bow.” With such a vibrant and varied independent retail scene, ToyNews takes an aerial view of the lay of the land.

Duncan Conner, Bus Stop Toy Shop, Largs How is business for 2019 so far? We're the first three and a half months in and we’re almost exactly the same for turnover as last year. Given the general economic doom and gloom, I would have bitten your hand off for that at the start of the year. What is shaping the business for you guys? As has been the case for a while, despite our name, our business is more about hobbies and collectables than traditional toys. This year, our big focus is to get ourselves out and teaching people to play the games that are at the core of our business. We’ll be hitting Comic Cons to run stands and organise demo tables, or link up with schools and community groups and go wherever we can to show people what we do and put sample product into their hands. It’s already paying dividends, with people walking through the door here after events we are at. What trends are you guys seeing where you are? Speciality plush and collectables - Funko being a standout - are an ever growing part of our business. Licenses like Stranger Things, Game of Thrones, Attack on Titan, Dragonball and Fortnite are strong at the moment, alongside things like Harry Potter, Star Wars and Marvel. In hobbies, the resurgence of Dungeons & Dragons shows no sign of slowing down. Personally, as a player of *cough* 35 years, I am loving every minute of watching a new generation discovering the game. Warhammer is showing green shoots, too, which is fantastic to see.

hasn’t journeyed through Europe to get here. We need free trade or a common market. Anything else will cause problems.

What are the feelings around the loathsome topic of Brexit where you guys are? Putting my staunchly pro-EU personal politics to one side, while we only deal directly with a couple of EU-based suppliers, if I take a look around the store, it’s hard to spot a product that

What’s the outlook for you guys, confident of the year ahead? It all very much depends on what happens at Westminster. If we do wind up in a Brexit-related recession, well, we got through the last one - I am sure we will survive. May 2019 | toy news | 13

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Wendy Hamilton, Grasshopper Toys, Helensburgh How is business looking for you guys for 2019? It was slow to start, for no good reason. My instinct is the Brexit debacle was making everyone nervous. Sales have picked up well now, I think everyone has given up worrying about it… What’s shaping business for you guys at the moment? Probably the biggest influence on our business this year is our commitment to more positive environmental activities. We have changed our gift wrap, introduced biodegradable glitter and have introduced 30,000 honey bees into our lives. We want to make a positive impact by providing a home for honey bees, as they’re under such threat right now. Our customers are loving the idea and that’s gratifying for us.

What kind of trends are you guys seeing where you are? We are seeing a trend towards smaller, ethical wooden toy products such as Grapat & Wobbel, and less of the LOL dolls scene. What are the feelings around that tiring topic of Brexit there? Frankly, the impact of whether we stay or go pales compared to the damage done by the ongoing dithering and lack of decision. What’s the outlook for you guys, confident for the year ahead? Yes, very confident. We’re in a lovely position and looking forward to another year of fun with our customers and of course our fabulous suppliers.

James Neil, A1 Toys, Glasgow How is business looking for 2019 so far? It started well for us, but coming out of January, sales dropped sharply compared to 2018. Two of our four stores are seeing a huge drop in footfall, both, I think due to competition from The Entertainer, and the general rough retail trading at the moment. That said, Static Games is our specialist gaming shop where we stock Dungeons and Dragons, Pokémon, Magic: The Gathering and a massive range of roleplaying games, trading card games, board games, and more. With Static Games, we are continually overachieving versus 2018 and the store is growing at a fantastic rate, which is great to see. It’s become a destination store for specialist gaming in Glasgow, thanks to the passion of the store manager Adam Davies. What’s shaping business at the moment? Our sales mix is still dominated by MGA’s LOL range, as well as strong sales on LEGO and Mattel’s WWE action figures. The feedback we are receiving right now from customers is minimal. People are always looking for the next release from LOL, but there is no ‘buzz’ on anything destined to be the next big thing. My opinion is there is no innovation coming from anyone right now. Companies are playing it safe with the next wave of an existing product or going back to re-releases on older lines, such as Moshi Monsters and Bakugan.

London Toy Fair had very little to excite retailers. LEGO has some new products that I am not sure if I can mention, and these were the most interesting over the whole show. Any feelings around Brexit where you are? There are retailers I have spoken to that say it can’t directly affect sales, but I don’t agree with that. In times of uncertainty, people don’t want to splurge on unnecessary purchases. Toys, comics and collectables are a luxury. Brexit is something that sits in the back of every adult’s mind as a worry as to how they could be affected by it all. Are you confident of the year ahead? 2019 has been tough, but we’re making adjustments to the outgoings in line with trading conditions. We are part of the Toymaster group and from this we have access to a wealth of experience from people who have been selling toys for a long time. Knowledge and experience is a benefit of a group like this. I am optimistic that sales will start to pick up again, but at which point this year it will happen isn’t something I would even guess at. We’re just about to receive Detective Pikachu products along with Toy Story 4 and Avengers: Endgame, so there’s plenty to pick up in our stores.

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The North...

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f it’s not offering a big enough margin,” says Jonty Chippendale from The Toy Shop in Cumbria’s Cockermouth, in an empassioned speech on the nature of the collectables market today, "it’s not getting through the door.” Forget what you thought you knew about Northern hospitality, because when it comes to toys, this is a people who are very particular about who sits at their table. I am talking to The Toy Shop’s Chippendale about the health of the toy industry at the moment; and while there’s plenty to be optimistic about, this is a managing director who isn’t afraid to call it as he sees it. “And from what I see,” he muses “there’s a tendency for the toy industry to chase after these trends, and an understanding that with trends come very low margins. I made the decision a while ago to stay wellaway from anything that won’t give me the proper margins.”

“When you’re an independent toy shop, you take on the role of counsel, advice bureau and ordering service for people buying toys.” Jonty Chippendale, The Toy Shop There appears to be a distrust behind Chippendale’s sentiments, that things are as cut and dry as they look when it comes to ‘getting the latest hit toy on shelves,’ reasoned by the matter that this year, similar to last, is not a year in which Chippendale will be “pushing the boat out,’ when it comes to risk taking. “This is a year in which we are doubling down and trying to keep the powder dry.”

That’s not to say, of course, that this is a year of dire trading for retailers in the north of England. Chippendale’s The Toy Shop is located in the prime tourist trap in the ancient town of Cockermouth, where - in good weather - the summer months can be just as lucrative as Christmas. The Toy Shop has become somewhat of a destination shop for local LEGO fans over the last few years. This is part of the store’s role of listening to the needs of its local customer base, and delivering “a more bespoke,” service “to keep regulars happy.” This is a train of thought that filters southwards, and into Manchester, where Amanda Alexander of Giddy Goat Toys says that around 50 per cent of her customers come to her for advice and to have items ordered specially for them. “When you’re an independent toy shop, you take on the role of counsel, advice bureau and ordering service for toys,”

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she tells ToyNews. “I enjoy that aspect. It’s how we have become such a part of the local community over the past few years. We are really embedded in the area now.” Of course, the indie toy retailer’s ability to do this often depends on the kind of suppliers they work with. They can only be as flexible as their suppliers allow them to be, after all. “Carriage paid orders is probably the biggest thing to contend with,” continues Chippendale. “I would urge companies to

review these. Smaller carriage paid orders means we can take those bespoke deliveries and better supply our customers’ needs.” Meanwhile, it would appear that the consensus among the region's independent toy retailers is exhaustion with the ongoing bickering taking place some 200 miles south in Westminster. "Aren't we done with this whole fiasco now?" asks Lisa Clay, owner of the Leeds toy retailer, Armadillo Toys. "No one knows anymore now than back when we were sup-

posed to leave the EU. I think most people are sick of worrying about it. We can't do much until it is sorted, and it's not looking like it will be sorted any time soon." But while Clay has a desire to wash her hands of the subject, it's not without the creeping knowledge that just what her business will look like for the rest of the year will be pinned on just what Brexit looks like, if and when it happens. What else are toy retailers from across the north of England telling us? Let’s tour the region...

Amanda Alexander, Giddy Goat Toys, Manchester How has business been for 2019 so far? It’s been a good start to the year for us, actually we are currently up a little compared to last year, so that is encouraging. There’s no one real thing driving that for us at the moment, all I can say is that over the past six years we have become a part of the local community, people know us now and we are their first port of call for birthday parties. What’s shaping business for you guys at the moment? Again, I wouldn’t say there is one thing that is shaping the direction of the business. The business is ticking over and I am enjoying that because I am enjoying what I am doing. Best selling items for me are consistently the under £15 lines, while Orchard Toys, LEGO and Top Model are simply evergreens for us. I think it’s all about variety. That’s the big allure of the independent toy shop. We can respond quickly to things and personal requests, so we almost become a bespoke service for sourcing products. It’s about 50/50 the number of customers who come in looking for help for what to buy or find, a lot of this business is about helping the customer. We can do that and that’s what the supermarkets can’t. Are you seeing any emerging trends among your local shoppers at the moment? Not so much trends. LOL has swept the nation and is steady for me. Not the big lines, but the £10 to £15 lines. There is some nice stuff coming along in the market I think. The Toy Story 4 toy line is looking good - though is it just reinventing the wheel, bringing mostly the same characters back out? There’s a fork in the mix, which looks interesting a concept - marketing something that is essentially a toy made by a child… Toy Story LEGO looks good and the Disney LEGO Minifigures are going to sell well. The Oi range from Fiesta Crafts is good, too while the Playmobil Space promotion and the window display I have had fitted has really helped fuel sales. Hats off to Playmobil for that one, that has done a number for a us.

What are the feelings around Brexit around there? Well, it’s given us something to rant about in the shop. A lot of my customers are remainers, and I have a tendency to talk to much about it… and you can often tell when you talk for too long about it. But that’s where this country is at at the moment. The topic is divisive, but I don’t think it is putting people off spending, it’s just on their minds. What’s the outlook for the year, are you confident for the business for 2019? Confident, yes, but cautiously so. We are well embedded in an affluent area and I can’t see anything changing dramatically unless another toy shop moves into the area. Will we be soaring? Likely not, but business is comfortable to get along and keep me happy, I am enjoying it and that’s what’s important.

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Lisa Clay, Armadillo Toys, Leeds How’s business been for 2019 so far? Business has been almost identical to the way it was last year. Nothing has changed for us. It’s just not like the days of ten years ago, when you’d see big sales jumps and what not. It’s because of online competition, we can’t keep up with what they are doing. We used to be online, but I shut it down because it was time costly to keep it going at the level you’d need it to be. It feels like business is on a slow, downward spiral, all at the hands of online shopping. Not a fast one, but a spiral... What’s shaping business for you guys at the moment? There’s actually little I could pick out as a factor to be shaping the way we do business. I am stubborn, so I have always sold what I think are good toys. I like what I like, and that’s what I sell. So, we have always sold sustainable toys, there’s been no increase in demand that has informed

this, because it has always been there. We will always sell toys that are good quality, educational and durable. We won’t sell something because it has PAW Patrol slapped on it, or because everyone else is selling it, like LOL. We sell things like Melissa and Doug, Top Model, Playmobil and Orchard Toys. What trends or consumer demands are you seeing where you guys are? It’s no one thing, really. We are lucky to be in a nice area with lovely locals and in that, we are now at the heart of that community, which is a lovely place to be. What are the feelings around Brexit where you guys are? Ugh, aren’t we done with this whole fiasco now? No one knows what is happening, no one knows anymore now, or back when we

were supposed to leave, and no one knows now. I think most people are third of talking about it, or worrying about. We can’t do much about it until it is sorted, and it doesn’t look to be getting sorted soon… What’s your outlook for the rest of the year, confident for 2019? Well, how do you answer your previous question? It depends on what can be reached through Brexit - and no on know what is happening.

Jonty Chippendale, The Toy Shop, Cockermouth How’s business been for 2019 so far? It’s been a mixed and cautious start to the year, but that doesn’t mean it’s been a tough start to the year. Easter has been a funny old time this year, with a series of smaller hits, rather than one big Easter spike. Schools have had holidays at different times, so it’s been drawn over four weeks. I shouldn’t think it will be hugely different to last year, though, in the end. What’s shaping business for you guys at the moment? Well, it’s got to be the caution around Brexit. This is not a year for pushing the boat out, I would say, but a year for doubling down and just trying to keep the powder dry. But that’s not to say it’s terrible trading. We’re in a good spot that gets a lot of tourists so actually for us, the summer months can be just as successful as the winter ones, providing the weather is good for us. What trends or consumer demands are you seeing where you are? We’re in the wilds of Cumbria, trends don’t tend to come to us too quickly. We can usually see them driving up the motorway. But actually, I am hesitant about jumping on trends, because trends are usually sold into the trade by volume and do not yield margins. I have long had the stance that if there’s no margin to be had,

it’s not getting through my doors. I say that with the exception of LEGO, because it is LEGO, which is a constant seller. We have actually become a bit of a destination store among locals for LEGO, that is the only major toy brand we really focus on. Our Hasbro and Mattel stock has dropped and they’re not a focus for us. We have an expansive range of varied product lines. It’s what independents are good at and what we are known for. In this regard, I urge companies to look at their carriage paid orders, because smaller carriage paid orders mean that I can get smaller amounts of different stock brought in every three to four weeks, which means I can offer a more bespoke service to my regular customers, and that is what will keep the indies alive. What are the feelings around Brexit at the moment? It’s certainly made everyone more cautious, purely because everything is up in the air and no one knows what the hell is going on with it any more now than they did three years ago. What’s your outlook on the rest of 2019, confident of what's ahead? If you can tell me what the weather is going to be like for the rest of the year, I can tell you our outlook on it. We are affected by the weather, and in the summer when it’s good, we can be as busy as around Christmas. May 2019 | toy news | 17

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The West...

A

mere 15 minute walk from Sutton Harbour, the site of The Mayflower’s final departure point in England before setting off to discover the new world some 400 years ago, is Julian Shelford’s comic and collectables shop. While merchant sailors and fishermen would find a very different Plymouth to the one they’d make port in four centuries ago, for those of us in the present day, Plymouth

now offers itself as a hub of modern and pop culture, and it all starts at Shelford’s Final Frontier. It’s little wonder. Situated on England’s south Western coastline, Plymouth looks out towards the open sea and the many tales of mystery it once brought. On the West Pier of Sutton Harbour itself stands an homage to its unique spot on the world in the form of Brian Fell’s The Leviathan, a

large sculptured sea creature, made up of different parts of marine animals and birds. It’s all very sci-fi. It’s perhaps this, Plymouth’s historic foot in adventure and intrigue, that has informed Final Frontier owner, Julian Shelford’s own take on his role as a toys and collectables retailer - appointing himself as a curator of the weird and wonderful - an explorer of different worlds - and purveyor

Joel Meyer Nicholas, Toyville, Bristol How is business looking for you guys for 2019 so far? We are now in our third year and continuing to grow. 2018 was a good year for us, but sales in 2019 are up. The Easter holidays were surprisingly busy (school holidays tend to be quiet for us as our customers go away or spend their money on days out instead). What is shaping the business for you guys at the moment? We’re still relatively new and looking to grow. Our shop though, is full to the rafters so we’re contemplating a refit that will allow us to fit in even more stock. What trends are you seeing where you are? There’s a lot of demand for greener toys. Consumers are becoming more aware of their impact on the environment and we would love to see less unnecessary packaging and more sustainably made toys on our shelves. We have noticed some improvements from manufacturers with regards to packaging but there is still a very long way to go. We now offer our greetings

cards without cellophane wrappers and that’s been very popular. The recycled toys from Green Toys continue to be a good seller for us. What are the feelings around Brexit? I’m still holding out hope that Brexit won’t happen or that it’ll be soft if it does. Some sort of certainty would be nice, as we do get a lot of our stock directly from the EU, and the new date for Brexit is uncomfortably close to Christmas. What’s the outlook for you guys, confident for the year ahead? I’m quietly confident that we’ll see continued growth, albeit at a slower rate than in 2018. The street art festival that

brings thousands to the area in July is not happening this year, so we may see a dip from that. As it is I’m not sure that our little shop has much scope for growth on Christmas 2018’s sales though. A refit would help with that and we also have our eyes open for a bigger premises. We also have a new EPOS and ordering system in place that I am hoping will make the Christmas period more manageable.

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of the various toys and products with which he can turn a profit. “That’s the job of the independent toy shop,” Shelford tells ToyNews. “They want to be unique, offer a variety of different products, and have the ability to bring those rare and unseen items to their audience of customers, who'll hand over money. “What you don’t want are those stagnant, carbon copy toy shops you end up with when you’re part of a buying group. That makes for a very dull business. We are all about the ranges, stocking the variety, and being known as the destination place for youngsters - and adults - to find the kind of things you won’t necessarily find anywhere else.”

It’s a very romantic vision that Shelford shares, granted, and not one easily adopted when the common narrative is to chase trends. But tapping into a playground craze, suggests Shelford, is not necessarily the best business model. “I think toy shops need to be seen to be doing something different to the place down the road, and trends are as dependent on your locality as they are anything else,” he states. “Down here, toy shops have an opportunity with buckets and spades - being by the seaside. In the midlands, maybe you’re near a train station or a museum… there’s opportunity there with something like train sets, or whatever fits the area.”

But Shelford isn’t the only toy retailer in this West Country region to shun the idea of trends. In Wells, Lee Borastero, the owner of Kids Stuff, a member of the Toymaster buying group, staunchly denies many of today’s trends, such as slime and LOL, the shelfspace that he would rather give to year-round top sellers, like LEGO and Orchard Toys. “We avoid those kinds of fads, that’s not what we want a reputation for,” Borastero tells ToyNews. “We stick with the lines that we know there is local demand for from our customer base. These are the customers who will keep us going through the quieter times - when there’s not 170,000 people heading this way for Glastonbury."

Lee Borastero, Kids Stuff, Wells What’s business been like for you guys for 2019 so far? It’s been good for us, it’s been a good start to the year, despite the stories of doom and gloom that you hear in the media. We have just done our year financials and we are 16 per cent up on 2018. We had a flat period in February but then started hitting figures and surpassing figures after that, which is all good with us. Where we are positioned, we benefit from South Wales being on Easter holidays still, so Easter has been a four week period for us. We’re about to finish up Easter above where we were last year. What’s shaping business for you guys at the moment? Honestly, we just keep doing what we do best, well. We don’t do LOL or Slime and we make sure that we steer clear of fads and put our efforts into the good quality lines and brands that we know sell well and there is a local demand for. LEGO and Orchard Toys lines are always very good for us, we make the most of these in store, while Wow Toys has had a very good year with us. What trends are you seeing where you are at the moment?

Pocket money toys have just been phenomenal for us so far this year, but we are still above the average basket from what we are hearing. We go to the Toymaster meet-ups where we are told that average spend is around £9 or something, but when we tot up our own average basket, we’re looking at around £14.50. We’re impacted by a number of things around here, one of which is the 170,000 people that head this way for Glastonbury. That seems to keep footfall up during months you’d generally expect to see dips, then we get a good share of European holiday makers coming in to get their LEGO fix while they’re away. What are the feelings around Brexit? I am a remainer, but that aside, I think people are just weary of Brexit. Bored of Brexit, is the slogan. We get the odd customer coming in to check prices and then check on Amazon, so you can see that people are still being cautious with money and luxuries like toys. But I am in the camp

that thinks, actually, all of this mucking around in Parliament is doing more damage than leaving or staying could. What's the outlook for 2019, are you confident for the year ahead? 2019 is still going to be sticky, you can’t get away from that. I shouldn’t think we will be 16 per cent up for the whole of the year, that’s likely not sustainable, but there’s no reason for us to not be confident. We have the right stock and I think the right attitude and strategy. Anyone who comes in saying ‘oh, it’s cheaper on Amazon’ we give them the WiFi password and invite them to take a look, because I am confident that it won't be. I've already checked. May 2019 | toy news |19

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“We want shops that give experiences to their customers by giving them something to be excited about; having something different and diversifying.“ Julian Shelford, Plymouth

Julian Shelford, Final Frontier, Plymouth How is business looking for 2019 so far? We’re not looking too bad. You hear a lot about the struggles of the toy industry, but you have just got to look at what you can do, and then do it. Movies are still doing big numbers, but that is becoming a different kind of space nowadays, what with so many movies coming out, there isn’t the one must-have toy line for that one big movie. This year we have already had Captain Marvel, we’ve got Avengers: Endgame, Star Wars coming up… it’s difficult to have one must have toy line. I guess you could look at LEGO and the way it has become the action figure to have, what with all the licences that LEGO is across, it’s become the action figure line to have. What’s shaping business for you guys at the moment? It’s the movies and the older audience stuff for us. It is all about having the ranges in. We have two stores; one in Plymouth and one in Exceter. Both are different, they both have different lines to cater to the local customer base. I think this is the trick that most retailers are missing at the moment. There’s talk about experiential being the next thing to help retail out of a slump, but I don’t think it’s necessary. The experience to give a customer when they walk in your shop is in the depth of range. You look at what the US toy market has compared to the UK, it’s madness the disparity in variety. Walk into a shop here today, and you find it is a carbon copy of all the others around it. You could be walking into that same toy shop anywhere in the country. We want shops that give experiences to their customers by giving them something to be excited about; having something different and diversifying. What are the trends among your customer base where you are?

Trends are as much to do with where you are situated as with what is actually popular. In Cornwall, around summer, it’s buckets and spades. In the midlands, near a train station or museum, it might be train sets. Going for the one-size-fits-all approach of seeling the hot toy of the week is boring. Retailers shouldn’t be afraid to claim their independence, not feel beholden to buying groups. What are the feelings are around Brexit? It’s the uncertainty that is causing the issues, isn’t it? It’s like in a business, if you make a decision one way or another, it’s the getting on and doing it that makes it a success. If you sit around in pandemonium, like we are now, it isn’t going to work. Businesses, the likes of LEGO and Playmobil ,and those passing through Europe, are not going to go out and wilfully damage their business are they? The UK is a strong, strong market for them, why would they want to harm that? I really feel most of what we hear around Brexit is scaremongering.

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The South...

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aul Wohl of Argosy Toys near the seaside town of Southend knows the ebb and flow of the toy industry tide all too well. He’s been moving with it for the past 30 years, 19 of those full time in his high street location. The trick is, he divulges, is to spread yourself over the rest of the year before the money making season kicks in around the Christmas shopping period. “We make all our money in December, lose it again by January and February of the next year,” he jokes. “It’s just how it goes in toy retail.” Of course, for anyone who has spent even the most minimal amount of time in the toy selling game to know their onions, this pattern is pretty common knowledge. Still, it comes as a surprise to Wohl to see so many independent toy retailers still active across the UK, given the run that the likes of Amazon and eBay have given them for the past two decades. “I really did expect, when Amazon first emerged some 20 years ago, with eBay hot on its heels, that we’d be watching the downfall of the independent retail scene not soon after,” he says. “But we just keep on surviving.” Not only that, but Wohl has seen a real change in attitude from his local customer base around the Southend area, with

shoppers suddenly showing a far greater appreciation for the independent retailer, and suppliers seconding the lean with a greater support in the face of growing competition from online platforms. “We work with suppliers that just won’t allow their products to be sold online. They require in-store selling, like Jelly Cat products. These are the kind of products that when you see them in store, you know they're quality, you know they are what they call ‘forever toys’, and they will not allow themselves to be sold via online platforms,” explains Wohl. Locally, Southend appears to have a high population of adult toy fans, particularly those looking for their latest Yu-Gi-Oh or Pokémon trading card fix. It’s a welcome form of custom for the shop owner who makes a point of catering to all tastes of the local clientele, extending into the current demand for sustainability upon the shopping scene. “I am an environmentalist,” he tells ToyNews proudly. “So we try to do what we can to support the cause. We recently got rid of all of our plastic bags and brought in paper bags, to great expense to ourselves. Plastic bags used to cost us 1p each, paper bags cost us 13p each, but that’s a cost that we take on ourselves for the cause.”

The sentiments are echoed over in Hove, another coastal town in the South of England, where Susan Luxford is just a matter of weeks into running her sustainability-focused toy shop, Timeless Toys. Luxford made the move into the toy retail arena having spent a career in charity work. It was when she was watching the way her now three-year-old son play with toys, that she decided to take a leap of faith into the industry, by setting up shop with one key mission. “This led me into the world of wooden toys that have no labels, instructions, rules, rights and wrongs and that do not predetermine play or gender for them. I then realised that there were no shops selling these fantastic brands and their toys within Brighton & Hove,” Luxford tells ToyNews. “I’ve had lots of support locally and further afield from nearby towns. Those familiar with the brands are thrilled to be able to have somewhere to now come and buy these products off-line, whilst those new to wooden toys are appreciating how beautiful these toys are and the quality available. “The role of the indie toy retailer is offering a more personal experience, offering a tactile environment and the time staff can give them in assisting their decision making.”

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Susan Luxford, Timeless Toys, Hove Can you tell us about your business? I have a bricks and mortar shop selling the best wooden toys available on the market today. Plastic-free, planet-friendly, sustainable and ethical toys. The products are handcrafted, and independently produced. Montessori & Waldorf inspired. Powered by children, not batteries. What got you into the business of selling toys? After having my son three years ago, I was eager that he be raised free of gender-stereotypes for as long as I could influence that and enable him to enjoy freely whatever captivated him. This led me into the world of wooden toys that have no labels, instructions, rules, rights and wrongs and that do not predetermine play or gender for them. I then realised that there were no shops selling these fantastic brands and their toys within Brighton & Hove. What inspired you to take this sustainability route? I previously worked in the charity sector for over 10 years and left it to set up my shop. The brands I wanted to bring to Brighton & Hove are already ahead in the toy industry for their sustainability and ethos to best practice. It seemed a natural fit. What has customer reaction been like so far? I’ve had lots of support locally and further afield from nearby towns. Those familiar with the brands are thrilled to be able to have somewhere to now come and buy these products off-line, whilst those new to wooden toys are appreciating how beautiful these toys are and the quality available. What is currently shaping business for you guys? What is the strength

of the independent toy retailer in today’s climate? Being independent to me and the strength of the independent retail sector is standing for something and being niche. I have carefully chosen products for their quality, timelessness, longevity and ethics as a company. I’m not trying to be a one-size-fits-all. People want to be able to shop quickly, where they know the products are excellent quality and not be overwhelmed by choice. What is the role of the indie toy retailer? For me customers are appreciating being able to have a shopping experience for them and their children. They enjoy having the sensory experience as much as their children and seeing products ‘for real’ that they only had access to online previously. The role of the indie toy retailer is offering a more personal experience, offering a tactile environment and the time staff can give them in assisting their decision making. From what you’re hearing and witnessing from local shoppers and your customer base - how big a topic is sustainability for the toy industry? Parents, grandparents and family relatives are appreciating being able to offer something plastic-free, well-made, high-quality and free from phthalates and formaldehyde glues. They are enjoying being able to shop local. I think there is still some educa-

tion needed about only buying FSC made products (I have never been asked where the wood is sourced from) and for some customers it’s still about price and convenience and they are uninterested in paying anything more for ethical toys. Any concerns around the B word.... Brexit...? As most of my stockists are from within Europe, this is of concern, but it’s hard to completely understand how this will ultimately affect delivery timescales, paperwork and prices whilst the terms of Brexit still haven’t been resolved. What’s your outlook for 2019, confident for the year ahead? To be an indie, you have to be willing to adapt, be flexible and open to diversify your business. In being a new business, I’ve tried to take things one step at a time, trying not to do everything at once and in this way, allow adaptability as my business progresses. As long as I keep an open mind, listen and engage with customers and respond that, I am confident. Otherwise I would not have started in the first place.

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Paul Wohl, Argosy Toys, Southend How’s business been for 2019, so far? April was brilliant. January and February were lacklustre, but it picked up in April. Compared to January, February and March, April was just brilliant. It was the late Easter and the weather that helped with that, a lot. That was good for us. We are in a fairly good location, not on the high street, but along a busy road. It’s busy but not that busy with footfall. Because we have been here 72 years, everybody knows us. We don’t have to work that hard at dragging in new customers, because so many people know and come to us. We have become a staple of the local community. What is the strength of the indie toy retailer today? Well there’s still quite a few of us left, isn’t there. It’s because we stock everything, far more than you’d ever need. It works well for us - we have a deep and diverse portfolio of toys, we’re not like those places that you walk into and see 200 SKUs, we have 7,000 SKUs in a 2,000 square foot space. You look at the problems with the high street retailers at the moment, and they are suffering at the hands of landlords and rents. Independents like us have old contracts that mean that rents aren’t anywhere near as high. On top of that, customers, I feel, are tired of going into a shop and not getting the personal experience. They want to talk to someone who knows what they are doing, what they are talking about and have the time to give them that experience. Our biggest concern is Amazon. I thought the indie scene would be dead by now because of it, but we keep surviving. What is shaping the direction of the business for you guys at the moment? We are still doing very, very well with LEGO. It’s the best thing we

have got. Then it is a little bit of everything else, really. There isn’t anything really, really strong after that. Jelly Cat is nice and steady, Top Model is nice and steady. The fashion products are in and out really quickly, which is sometimes worrying. Yu Gi Oh and Pokémon are both good for us. We have got a lot of adults coming in to buy Yu Gi Oh - we are seeing that quite a bit at the moment. We have got in all the Asmodee board games, all the Big Potato board games and older people’s board games and they do tick out quite nicely, but we don’t seem to have - like some shops that do huge amounts of this kind of stuff - but that’s not us. We do a bit of everything across the board. It keeps it interesting, there’s always something for someone. Are there any emerging trends from what you’re hearing from the customer base? Has the topic of sustainability hit you guys yet? LOL is on the decline. Nothing seems to have taken its place, yet. There are a lot of people looking for the new things, then you get the new thing, sell half and then see it drop off. MGA is very good with its collectable range, everything they do at the moment seems to be a winner. When we can get the right LOL, they sell and the whole pink blind pack stuff is doing well. I’ve got an enormous amount of crazes that just didn’t take off. The thing is, I haven’t seen much by innovation in the toy space lately. TOMY used to be really good at that, and there is something that they promise will be good but I don’t know anything about it. Spin Master is bringing back Bakugan, but there’s not much innovation there, as they had it before. A lot of what

we sell isn’t modern innovation anyway… Duplo, Meccano and Airfix, there’s nothing modern there at all. It’s tremendously fast now. Whatever people wanted at Christmas, they don’t want now. And whatever we have now, they’re not going to want at Christmas. Although, Toy Story 4 toys look good. We do sell a bit of Melissa and Doug wooden stuff, and what they call ‘forever toys,’ the toys that don’t get thrown away. And you could say the same for LEGO, couldn’t you… people don’t throw that kind of stuff away. I am an environmentalist, so we recently got rid of our plastic bags, and have started supplying paper bags, which is more expensive to us, but we give those away for free. What’s the outlook for the rest of 2019, are you feeling confident for the rest of the year? I think we can generally tread water for the rest of the year, and then make a bit of cash at Christmas. That’s the way it’s gone every year. I have been here for 32 years, and been in full time for 19 years, which is still quite a long time. That’s the way it goes, just tread water. May 2019 | toy news | 23

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Numberblocks

ON NEW EW KIDS ON N THE BLOCK BLOCK The CBeebies-commissioned animated series Numberblocks and Alphablocks are both sending shockwaves across the current national curriculum, praised for changing the way pre-schoolers are learning numeracy and literacy before their real journey begins. Robert Hutchins catches up with the shows’ creator Joe Elliot to find out what the two hit series are bringing to the pre-school scene

H

ats off to a writing team that credits its viewers with dialogue far and above their reading age; it’s a sign of true respect for an audience. Take the following scene for example: “I have to perform three tasks at once?” exclaims the number 12 as he is seen rocketing through a futuristic trench of an intergalactic HQ.

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Numberblocks

“I can do it [character close up] If I use the fours.” This sly wink to an audience of adults is just one scene of many from a series three episode - the one titled Block Star - of the wildly popular pre-school animation, Numberblocks. It’s also just one example of many of the fun that animators Blue Zoo and creator Joe Elliot are currently having in delivering a series based on teaching maths in an accessible way. The whole episode plays out along the lines of a popular sci-fi franchise, and it’s not the only episode in the Numberblocks series that pastiches popular film or fiction, the show is practically littered with nods and winks of this kind. “Another example of us paying homage to popular culture is in an episode that plays out very much like a Batman story,” explains Elliot. “Our number eight is a very Adam West-y kind of character.” At first glance, it may seem like an odd concept. Numberblocks follows a cast of characters, all of which are numbers with their own characteristics and personalities. One is small, she initiates things and is the first one to have an idea, two is company, and three is a show-off and an entertainer, because three, after all, is a crowd. “We looked to psychology, culture and maths to come up with each number’s character traits,” continues Elliot, a former teacher-turned-interactive game creator-turned-BBC commissioned series creator. “We applied the same process as we did with Alphablocks, by thinking each character through thoroughly, just like we asked ‘who would the letter A be?’ in Alphablocks, we applied the same to the cast of Numberblocks.” The result is not just one animated series in Numberblocks, but a second in Alphablocks (the first of Elliot’s CBeebies projects) that find themselves resonating with UK audiences via CBeebies and those all over the world via YouTube, as they aim to introduce pre-schoolers to mathematical and literacy concepts before they’ve even started school. “We’re hearing feedback along the lines of

”We wanted to deliver something that highlights the magic of numbers and letters, the fun of words and inspires the desire to learn in children by showing them the stories that numbers and letters can tell.” Joe Elliot, creator, Numberblocks and Alphablocks ‘you’ve changed my child’s life,’ and that’s fantastic for us to hear,” beams Elliot. “We wanted to deliver something that highlights the magic of numbers and letters, the fun of words and inspires the desire to learn in children by showing them the stories that numbers and letters can tell.” Story and character is therefore central to both Numberblocks and Alphablocks. As a concept, neither would get away with anything less. There’s no hiding a lack of substance behind the big doe eyes of a cute character, here. Instead, the show’s May 2019 | toy news | 25

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Numberblocks success is very much a product of the effort that Elliot, its team of writers, composers and animators in Blue Zoo pour into each and every episode. “It was all inspired by something I read as a teenager,” Elliot goes on to explain. “It was a strange book called Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, written in 1884 by a mathematician called Edward Abbott Abott. “It was the life story of a square who lived in a flat space. Abbott Abott had really thought it through - and it turns out it was a satirical take on contemporary Victorian Morays - but also the square gets visited by a sphere who tries to explain what three dimensions are like. “Abbott had really thought through what it was like to be a square. So when I was wondering about how to bring the letters of the alphabet to life, or the numbers we use, the first thing I had to do was really, really think it through.” By his own admission, Elliot was no ordinary teenager. His was a youth spent enthralled by mathematics that went on to

“It’s about visualising mathematics, using block maths to teach children about squares from a younger age." Joe Elliot, creator of Numberblocks inform a career path in not only teaching, but latterly, interactive game development - a path chosen for “having spent so much time coming up with my own interactive lessons for class.” In fact, wherever Elliot’s career path has taken him, the compulsion to aid and educate has never been far away. Today, Elliot’s role as the lead creative on Numberblocks and Alphablocks sees him as close to the educational sector as he has ever been. It’s thanks to the accessibility of the subject that Numberblocks presents, in fact, that Elliot and the team now find themselves working alongside the National Centre for Excellence in the

Teaching of Mathematics (NCTEM) who is currently working to overhaul the curriculum to introduce children to the concept of mastery maths. “It’s about visualising mathematics, using block maths to teach children about squares from a younger age,” explains Elliot, sensing that he would need to. “Teachers have expressed how much better equipped for reading and numbers children are, having watched Numberblocks. As a result, there is now talk about changing the curriculum to get kids started earlier in schools; that’s directly because of the show we make.” Elliot wears this like a badge of honour. But while learning forms the foundations of what both Numberblocks and Alphablocks are about, he insists that it’s not the show’s intention, or indeed tone, to force education upon the millions of kids that watch his shows. “We just want to open children’s minds to the fun of numbers and words, offer them the reassurance that, as they start out on this journey of discovery, the water is

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Numberblocks

fine and that they should join in the enjoyment,” he says. It’s definitely struck a chord. Both Numberblocks and Alphablocks are now the subject of a growing licensing roster, overseen by Larkshead Media, that has so far taken the property into books, magazines and home entertainment with DVDs. The latest announcement was the naming of Sweet Cherry as the properties’ master publishing partner, while apparel is in development with a well-known UK nightwear and underwear firm. “Toys will be next, we are just in the final stages of conversations,” says Clare Piggot of Larkshead Media. “And there’s a fantastic style guide that really epitomises what the Numberblocks and Alphablocks are about.” “There’s a real demand from the audience,” adds Elliot. “We teamed with Immediate Media for Numberblocks magazines, with a covermount featuring characters One to Five. It turned out that audiences wanted Six to Ten as well. This became the largest and most expensive covermount seen in the UK. Now audiences are wanting the next run of characters.” There’s an authenticity to Elliot that’s rare in scenarios such as this. Talk of

licensing and merchandising doesn’t seem to interest him much, while prompts and provocations at anything else that deviates from talk about just what Numberblocks and Alphablocks are looking to achieve in the children’s development space, fall pretty much - on deaf ears. “Yes, we have several apps in development,” Elliot offers up, “because both Numberblocks and Alphablocks are so deeply rooted in interactive entertainment, anyway. Blue Zoo Productions is working with us on making those apps, and the idea of those is to, again, present the magic and fun that numbers and letters have to offer. “We want these aspects, the interactive aspect to reflect the episodes that children and parents watch. It’s about making memorable adventures with memorable characters, each of them a surprise that could go off in any direction with whatever words they make, or numbers used.” It’s clear that Elliot’s main concern is providing a service to the audience. Within the Alphablocks universe, there’s ultimately a finite cast of characters to build stories around, given each of the 26 letters of the alphabet a personality associated with the phonic they represent. That’s why ‘A’ is accident prone, always saying ‘Ahh’,

while ‘B’ plays the bass guitar in a band, Elliot takes delight in explaining to me. But how far the Numberblocks lore can be taken is another question entirely, given the infinite nature of the numerical system. “We actually had one little boy, a fan of the show, draw us characters all the way up to 84, giving them each a back story,” he continues. “We didn’t have the heart to tell him that the characteristics weren’t quite what we envisaged, but it goes to show not only the potential for this world, but the depth of engagement from the fans, too. “We have got so much planned for Series Four, things I can’t tell you about yet, but these are going to be big moments.” Sat across from Ellliot in a room within Blue Zoo’s London headquarters, there’s such excitement and anticipation around the teased reveal, that I could just as easily be sat in a room with the writers of Game of Thrones. And given the creator’s enjoyment of bringing iconic scenes of the pop culture space into his own work, the question is, just how long is it until we find ice-breathing dragons pop up in Numberblocks? A Battle of the Last Thirds, episode perhaps? Elliot laughs: “You joke, but it’s cropped up in conversation.” May 2019 | toy news | 27

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Interview

MASTERS OF THEIR TRADE It’s been three decades since seven of the eight toy buying groups across the UK and Ireland came together under the mission statement of ‘helping members trade profitably,’ to form Toymaster as we know it, and it’s still on the path for growth. Robert Hutchins talks with Toymaster’s managing director, Ian Edmunds to learn the history and the future of the group

E

arly this year, the Toymaster buying group announced via the pages of ToyNews that a new raft of garden centres had just joined its books. The move is not only indicative of the kind of landscape we find ourselves in today, in which diversification has become a presiding factor, but testament to the strength of the industry itself: there’s money to be had in toys. Toymaster has known this for the best part of 50 years. The history of the Toymaster buying group reads a little like that of Alfred the Great, the historic figure - and focus of the Netflix series The Last Kingdom - who is often credited with uniting the disparate kingdoms of England some 1,000 years ago. Albeit, presumably with a little less bloodshed and full frontal nudity, although, witness accounts do vary…

The story goes that in 1989 AD, there were no fewer than eight regional toy buying groups in the UK and Ireland. It was in that year that seven of these groups struck upon the terms to combine their efforts to form what the toy industry now knows and recognises as Toymaster today. The seven were united under one simple mission statement, a lore forged by the forefathers of this successful group of buyers and one which is carried by its torchbearers today; to simply “help our members trade more profitably.” Over the past 30 years, the many fingers of the Toymaster buying group have extended into even the furthest reaches of the United Kingdom, accruing a membership base of some 145. While plans are for the group to now maintain its base at this level, growth is still very much on

the cards. Taking into account the number of members with multiple stores to their own name, the Toymaster network of physical retailer outlets across the UK is closer to 250. And there’s room - even in today’s current climate - for a fair few more. Three decades in the toy buying game has put the group in quite the powerful position, but while the Toymaster name is known far and wide across the UK and Ireland, it maintains that member autonomy is at the front and centre of what it does. This is a group built on the strength of the independent retailer, after all. “We offer different types of membership; Associated or Branded, to accommodate retailers who want to trade under the Toymaster banner or not” explains Toymaster’s managing director, Ian Edmunds.

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Interview

“However, whatever they choose, all of our members retain their independence and some of them choose to trade under their own shop name, rather than the Toymaster brand, as that is how their local shoppers know them.” Spurred not only by the collapse of Toys R Us two years ago, and the continued woes suffered by big high street names, like Debenhams, the independent retail scene seems to be benefiting from a charge of renewed spirit at the moment. As suppliers the world over look at the landscape with a keener eye, now, more than ever, it is paying to be an independent retailer. “Every member has their own individual landscape,” continues Edmunds. “Our suppliers still value the independent sector highly, and this is down to developing strong relationships with our suppliers and treating it as a partnership. It is important that the relationship benefits both the supplier and the Toymaster members.” Those benefits come thick and fast, from marketing to invoicing, Toymaster is on hand to alleviate much of the paperwork, “allowing our members more time to focus on the shop floor itself and maximise sales.” “We also provide access to all the major suppliers, with terms negotiated centrally on their behalf,” continues Edmunds. Time was, that Toymaster was working with a pool of some 300 active suppliers. Recent years have seen this number

reduced to closer to 180, owing to the number of supplier consolidations over the years. This, in itself, is merely a reflection of the times. 2018 was a year for a number of acquisitions and mergers, yet, despite the reduction in actual supplier numbers, variety of product available to Toymaster members is still heralded as a major coup of joining the network.

"Our suppliers value the indie sector highly. This is down to developing strong relationships with them, and treating this like a partnership." Ian Edmunds, Toymaster

“We don’t tell our members what ranges to buy or how to display them within their stores, just ensure there is a depth to choose from,” Edmunds tells ToyNews. “The decision on what to stock is entirely theirs. Yes, we can give them suggestions and opinions if they want, but ultimately, it's their store, so they make the decisions. “The guidance we do offer to Toymaster members, is to speak to us at Toymaster and also speak to fellow members. That’s one of the benefits of being part of a buying

group - our members have a network of like-minded retailers that they are connected to and who are happy to help each other.” So how is Toymaster capitalising on this feeling that 2019 really could be the year of the independent toy retailer? For Edmunds, the strategy to adopt now, is ‘less is more.’ “We encourage our members to do fewer things, but do them better. To focus on key brands that are not stocked elsewhere locally, and make them stand out in store.” Of course, part and parcel of this is the growth of the experiential shopping trend; a bread and butter offering for toy retail, and high up on Toymaster’s agenda, too. Edmunds continues: “All forms of in-store theatre are a great way of driving footfall and ultimately sales. The key relationship is still between the member and supplier, but we are always on hand to help and advise. We encourage members to share successful activities with each other so that they can all benefit.” On the topic of whether Toymaster will actively seek out retailer diversification, tapping into a world of gift shops and visitor attractions, Edmunds remains characteristically tight-lipped. “We'll speak to any toy shop in the UK and Ireland, provided they're bricks and mortar stocking toys year-round,” he says. Let’s see where the future takes Toymaster and its mission statement next. May 2019 | toy news | 29

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Toymaster

MASTER CLASS The pilgrimage north, where Betty’s tea rooms is a thing of legend and the Toymaster show party is talked about for months afterwards, is just around the corner… so get your costumes ready and put your game face on for this year’s May show. Here are the exhibiting companies to look out for...

Mattel Contact: 01628 500 111

Mattel is bringing excitement and innovation to Toymaster with a dynamic portfolio of the musthave toys in 2019 Barbie turned 60 this year and continues to inspire girls to Be Anything. Travel the world with Barbie Dreamplane with 15 fantastic accessories, while kids can add magic to playtime with the Barbie Dreamtopia Princess Doll and Unicorn. Meanwhile, Hot Wheels introduces its biggest boosted set ever created; the Hot Wheels Colossal Crash Track Set. Over five feet wide, the set has a double figure of eight design that offers multiplayer racing with multiple cars. For Thomas & Friends, new additions include small push along engines Hong Mei, Troublesome Truck and Rosie, with Henry, Edward and Belle joining the large push-along range. New motorised engines and playsets Super Cruiser and TrackMaster Cave Collapse Set are based on the Digs & Discoveries specials. Fisher-Price continues to let kids be kids with the introduction of Linkimals – an interactive range of toys with technology, Smooth Moves Sloth, Musical Moose, Lights and Colours Llama, A to Z Otter and Happy Shapes Hedgehog all feature in this exciting new range from the pre-school specialist.

From Fisher-Price character brands, the Sunny Day toy range launches, the six-inch Dolls and 11-inch Brush and Bracelet Dolls, innovative Little Wonderbun Assortmen, and Sunny's Hair Dryer Kit for all of that role play fun. April saw the Disney Pixar Toy Story 4 range across action figures and Fisher-Price Imaginext. The action figures range includes the Real Walking Buzz, and seven-inch figures. Fisher-Price’s Imaginext range features the BuzzBot and Basic and Feature Figure Assortments. Elsewhere, Mattel unveiled the BTS Core Fashion Dolls Assortment, inspired by the global superstar boy band.

DANIELLE LOVEGROVE, FIELD SALES MANAGER, MATTEL What can we expect from you guys at this year’s Toymaster show? We've got a broad portfolio across our core IP brands – Barbie, Hot Wheels, Fisher Price and Thomas & Friends, along with new licensed toys from Disney-Pixar's Toy Story 4 range. You won’t want to miss out. Barbie's sales (in her 60th year) are in double digit growth, and her Dreamplane is set to ‘fly’ off the shelves this Christmas. Hot Wheels is debuting a new Colossal Crash track set that is five feet wide, and Thomas has a new glow in the dark theme.

Why is Toymaster an important event for Mattel? It's at a perfect time for us. The members are able to see over 350 toys from our range and in many cases, they will be seeing our first production samples of our hot key toys. How important are the indies to Mattel's business? Very. The core of our business is with toy specialists and our experienced sales team and agents cover the UK and Ireland Independent accounts. What's your best Toymaster memory? This will be my first Toymaster show as field sales manager, so I am really looking forward to creating some new memories.

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Toymaster

Orchard Toys contact: sales@orchardtoys.com

Orchard Toys will be showcasing three new lines at this year’s Toymaster show, with plenty of UK made products for visitors to delight in this season. Orchard Toys is delighted to be exhibiting at the upcoming Toymaster show, where the firm will be showcasing three new lines this year. Let’s Go Lotto is a travel-themed game for pre-school children. With simple gameplay and quirky characters, two to five-year-olds will enjoy filling their transport board before collecting their ticket to win the game. Orchard Toys has also launched a collection of six Mummy and Baby two-piece jigsaws. Large, chunky pieces make them ideal first jigsaws for children as young as 18 months old to enjoy. These illustrated puzzles promote matching skills, as well as improving hand-eye coordination. In addition, Orchard Toys has also expanded its colouring book range. The new range features themed activity books such as Farmyard, Jungle, Dinosaur and Outer Space, as well as More Things To Do and Numbers 1-20. The pages are designed with simplicity in mind, containing bold, uncluttered illustrations, perfect for children aged three years and upwards. The colouring books all include bright stickers as well as a range of other activities, including dot to dot and word searches, as well as letters and numbers to trace. Look out for the this collection and plenty more from Orchard Toys at this year's show.

SIMON PRIEST, SALES DIRECTOR, ORCHARD TOYS What can we expect from you guys at this year's Toymaster show? We'll be bringing six new colouring book titles, a first lotto game and a pre-school jigsaw. We're also offering an attractive deal for retailers visiting our stand, so make sure you do. What makes Toymaster an important date in the industry calendar for Orchard Toys? The independent toy trade is a vital part of our business, so now that the show is open to all independents, as well as Toymaster members, we get to see them all at the same time. How important are independents to your business today? Why should the independent scene be keen to work with you guys this year?

Independents are an important part of our retail mix, they offer great visibility and are often able to stock a larger range of lines. We really enjoy working with the independents and hope they enjoy the rewards of working with a bread and butter brand who consistently delivers good results all-year-round. What’s your take on the health of the industry at the moment? For us business is very buoyant, we are number one in preschool games and jigsaws which is a great position to be in. However, we know not everyone in the trade is seeing such good results, there has been a lot of change and there is still a lot of uncertainty ahead. Any show deals Toymaster attendees can look forward to from you guys this year? We will have a generous mix of offers, including free stock and special discounts.

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Toymaster

Rainbow Designs Contact: 01329 277 300

The Home of Classic Characters will have many of its much loved character collections on display at the Toymaster Show this year. The Very Hungry Caterpillar has taken centre stage this year as Eric Carle’s classic character celebrates its milestone 50th Birthday. In celebration, Rainbow Designs has launched a new nursery toy range featuring a selection of products crafted for the newborn to 18 months age range. New nursery toys include a wooden and plush Ring Rattle, colourful apple-shaped Comfort Blanket with attachable clip and an Activity Toy for sensory play. The new My First Peppa collection will also be on display at Toymaster, including the popular My First Peppa Activity Toy, Chime Rattle Toys and Peppa Comfort Blanket. Meanwhile, the eagerly-awaited official plush collection for DreamWorks’ autumn-premiering blockbuster, Abominable, starring the yeti character, Everest, and his co-stars Yi and Peng will also be on display at Toymaster. The new characters will sit alongside the popular Universal’s DreamWorks Heritage Collection that includes characters from Shrek, Madagascar and Kung Fu Panda. Arriving soon is the That’s Not My… collection of nursery toys, based on Usborne’s best-selling series of touchy-feely board books.

The collection features characters from the picture books the Kitten, the Puppy, the Bunny and the Monkey, as well as some of the newer characters. There are also some new additions joining the award-winning Classic Winnie the Pooh ‘Hundred Acre Wood’ collection this summer. They include a Jiggle Winnie-the-Pooh, Lullaby Winnie the Pooh and Piglet and a Gift Set featuring the tactile Winnie the Pooh Comfort Blanket and Ring Rattle.

MARK STANDEN, SALES MANAGER, RAINBOW DESIGNS What can we expect from you guys at this year's Toymaster show? Retailers will be spoilt for choice at the Toymaster Show, not only have we got some gorgeous new line extensions and fantastic POS kits for our evergreen collections, there are also some exciting new ranges joining the Rainbow family this year. Launching this month is the exciting new That’s Not My… collection of nursery toys, based on Usborne’s best-selling series of touchy-feely board books. We also have the eagerly awaited official plush collection for DreamWorks’ autumn-premiering blockbuster, Abominable, starring the lovable yeti character, Everest, and his co-stars Yi and Peng. What makes it an important date in the industry calendar for you? How important are indies to your business today? Toymaster is a fantastic show that allows us to focus solely on these important customers. Our independent retailers are a vital part of our business and it is a sector we are continuously looking to work with, support and grow. This year sees many of our much-loved characters celebrating milestone anniversaries with year-round brand momentum and awareness and this is something that independents can really

embrace. Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar is turning 50 years old, while David McKee’s Elmer commemorates 30 years and we will also be celebrating 15 years of muddy puddles with Peppa Pig. We are currently running window competitions for both Elmer and The Very Hungry Caterpillar and these initiatives provide retailers with great opportunities to get involved and benefit from these events. What’s your take on the health of the industry at the moment? It is a tough marketplace at the moment but it has been for a few years now and this is certainly not helped by the on-going political uncertainty. That said, 2018 was our best year to date and the licensed plush sector is proving strong. In times of uncertainty, both retailers and consumers look towards the brands and characters that we know, love and have stood the test of time. Luckily, Rainbow has plenty of those within the portfolio, making us a good bet. Have you guys got any show deals that Toymaster attendees can look forward to this year? In addition to the fantastic new ranges, we will have a number of special show deals, offering up to 50 per cent off to allow retailers to offer something special to their valued customers.

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Toymaster

Clementoni Contact: shahbaz.khan@clementoni.com

Clementoni is making its return to Toymaster this year with all-new tech product launches, new licenses and plenty of innovation. Clementoni is excited to be back at Toymaster this year with tech product launches and new licenses across its burgeoning puzzle portfolio. This year, the company is making a lot of noise about its Science and Play Technological range, produced under the Science Museum license. Following the STEM methodology, the range is designed to develop children’s skills and enthusiasm for learning through fun, interactive discovery. Meanwhile, the Mechanics Laboratory line of products continues to grow year on year, and 2019 will see extensions including the Explorer and Space Station, Trimaran and Watercraft and Monster Truck kits. Each set includes between 130 and 200 components, allowing children to get closer to the world of mechanics and engineering. Of course, puzzles continue to be a strong foundation of the Clementoni business, and the licensed range for 2019 will see new launches tied into popular franchises such as Harry Potter, DC and the cinematic release of Toy Story 4 across the Clementoni recognised concepts. Drop by the Clementoni stand this year to find all of this and more at Toymaster 2019.

SHAHBAZ KHAN, COUNTRY MANAGER, UK AND IRELAND, CLEMENTONI What can we expect to see from Clementoni this Toymaster show? We are bringing along launches from two key areas of the business, which is really exciting. These are our Mechanics Lab range with new kits for A/W, including Monster Trucks and Space Stations, as well as some great new puzzle ranges across some of this year’s hottest licenses. What makes Toymaster an important date in the industry calendar for the Clementoni team? Toymaster is a great chance to meet with so many of our customers and to showcase the extent of our range in a focussed environment. Toymaster is also a great chance for toy shop owners to take advantage of our exclusive Toymaster show deals, and to find out all about how we at Clementoni can support them at retail.

How important are indies to your business today? They are incredibly important. With the shocking landscape changes of 2018, it just reinforces just how valuable independent stores are to our business. Clementoni is dedicated to producing product that works on shelf, has a natural demand and is great value for money; therefore providing a great sales opportunity for each and every store. What’s your take on the health of the industry at the moment? It is certainly changing, and it’s not been without its challenges, but as a business, we have spotted the trends, analysed the market and recognised where the purchasing power is shifting to. In doing so, we have managed to strategically grow year on year, despite the great losses of 2018. Have you got any show deals that Toymaster attendees can look forward to this year? Or course. There is an extra five per cent off price list for all members during the show.

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Toymaster

University Games / Paul Lamond Games Contact: 0207254 0100

University Games and Paul Lamond Games will have such a bonanza of both new and evergreen lines on display at the Toymaster Show this year, that you’ll be spoilt for choice Firm favourites and best-sellers Charades for Kids, T Rex, What’s Up, Don’t Say It, Googly Eyes and Yes No! will all be on display at the May show along with many of the new 2019 lines including the award-winning World of David Walliams’ Gangsta Granny board game that launched in February. New autumn/winter lines, including the new Horrible Histories board game and Dinosaurs Galore, the colourful new board game from the World of Dinosaur Roar, will also be on show, as well as new Roald Dahl educational games like Matilda’s Splendid Spelling, Charlie’s Marvellous Maths and The BFG’s Whizzpopping Words. Meanwhile, tapping into that trend for family gaming, the quirky new trivia games ‘Are You Dumber than a Box of Rocks?’ and Tip of the Tongue are sure to catch buyers’ attention along with firm family favourites Perudo, Stupid Deaths, Pointless and Smart Ass all at this year's Toymaster show.

Paul Lamond will also have its range of jigsaw puzzles on display, catering for young puzzlers with its book-led 24 piece Floor Puzzles through to the vast 4,000 piece Educa jigsaws for srious puzzlers. Puzzles for children will include the 100 and 250 piece Where’s Wally series with titles such as Jurassic Games and On the Beach. On display will also be the hugely popular 250 piece The World of David Walliams and Roald Dahl puzzle ranges with titles that include Gangsta Granny, Billionaire Boy, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda. Don't miss your trip to the firm's stand this year.

MARK JONES, HEAD OF SALES, UNIVERSITY GAMES / PAUL LAMOND GAMES What can we expect from you guys this Toymaster show? We have many of our favourites on display, but also a lot of our new and licensed character ranges including games and puzzles from The World of David Walliams, Roald Dahl, The Very Hungry Caterpillar and We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. We successfully launched the award-winning World of David Walliams Gangsta Granny Board Game as well as the quirky and innovative Are you Dumber than a Box of Rocks? Trivia Game. This summer will see the arrival of a number of licensed board games including Horrible Histories, as well as action games. What makes Toymaster an important date in the industry calendar for you? The Toymaster Show provides a dedicated opportunity to spend quality time with many of our independent retailers and to showcase our evergreen best-sellers such as T Rex, Charades for Kids, Googly Eyes and Yes No! as well as new lines we are launching this summer. How important are indies to your business today? Our relationship with independent retailers has always formed an extremely important part of our business model and it is a sector

we value and continuously look to support and grow. We offer a vast portfolio of high-quality games and puzzles for the whole family, from pre-school through to adult, all at good margins. The breadth of our range ensures that there are plenty of key product opportunities for both the independent stores as well as the major retailers, and our dedicated sales team provides a service to our independent account base that is second to none in the industry. What’s your take on the health of the industry at the moment? In general, with the on-going uncertainty of the political climate in the UK still reigning, it is still, very much, a tough high street. This is unlikely to change any time soon and, as we have seen over the last 18 months, there is likely to be further consolidation at all levels of retail. That said, the merging of the University Games and Paul Lamond Games businesses has provided many additional opportunities for us as a joint company and this year is looking very strong for us at present. Have you got any show deals Toymaster attendees can look forward to this year? We certainly do. We will be offering substantial discounts off list prices on many of our key lines for orders placed at the Toymaster Show. So get your pencils ready and make sure you come to see what we're offering.

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Toymaster

Tobar Contact: 01603 397 105

This year’s Toymaster Show sees Tobar leading the way on tech with its range of Pets Alive and Robo Alive products, including Boppi, the twerking llama. Another one for the wish list is the new Pets Alive Unicorn, because this toy packs loads of interactive features, with over 20 ways to interact with this magical product. . Collectables abound too with the new Jellyball range, the Fruzoos taking front and centre, after a great reception at Toy Fair. This range of collectables fuse fruit and jellyballs at a pocket money price. And Tobar know pocket money, what with the Llamacorn

range also proving to be very popular, as it blends Llamas and Unicorns for a winning combination. The loveable Animigos New Born range combine great packaging and a good price point with fantastic shelf appeal. Tobar will be showing the Angry Birds range with a full range of racing and RC vehicles, and Hatch and Race blind bag collectables all themed around the famous Angry Birds characters. There will be plenty of cracking deals to be had on the Fresh Metal egg range designed to have these cars in a metal egg zooming off the shelves..

DAVID MORDECAI, CEO, TOBAR How important are indies to your business today? Why should the indie scene work with Tobar? The independent toy shops are very important to us. We have some great deals to keep the independents competitive and have a great offering for tall of hose who want to specialise this year and beyond.

H Grossmans Contact: 0141 613 2525

It’s a pocket money bonanza again this year, because as usual Grossmans has led the way in variety of slime and putty. Unicorn Poo was a great sell-out range with the mass media coverage on the craze. Now the range of slime and putty has doubled in size with all sorts of innovations. London Toy Fair saw lots of publicity for Dog Poo and if that’s not enough Grossmans has added Mermaid Poo, Dinosaur Poo, Flamingo Poo, Shark Poo and Sloth poo to the mix.

What’s your take on the health of the industry at the moment? Those retailers that can move quickly and give value lines as well as the hottest product will always do well. Any show deals attendees can look forward to this year? Plenty! We have some really good new deals on Maisto Fresh Metal Eggs which will make this a great surprise pocket money buy to rival anything else on the market.

New in is Squeeze beaded poo which oozes through your fingers when squeezed. Squidgies are stealing the show this year and a variety of the squeeze and pop back characters will appeal to those with a love of all things mythical. It’s part of a general increase in the number of pocket money toys throughout the product range from Grossmans this year. Over 150 new lines have been added to Grossman's collection this year, making it your one-stop shop for all things slime and putty, not forgetting an extensive range of outdoor toys including the return of the Nebulus scooter, cost effective quality. There are, as usual, great deals to be revealed at the show.

MARTIN GROSSMAN, MANAGING DIRECTOR, HGL How important are indies to your business today? Why should the indie scene be keen to work with you guys this year? The independent retailers are the original core and heartland of the toy trade, and still very important today, as large retailers only take selected items. The indies normally support the whole HGL range.

What’s your take on the health of the industry at the moment? It has been and will be very topsy-turvey as the retail trade in general is going through a change and everyone is finding themselves affected one way or another. Have you got any show deals that Toymaster attendees can look forward to this year? Yes, loads of deal as we do every year.

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Toymaster

Gibsons Contact: 0208 661 8866

Gibsons will be attending the Toymaster Show in May bringing an exciting array of new jigsaw puzzles and games with them. On the May 15th 2019, Gibsons will have been trading as a British, family business for 100 years. The firm now invites all to come celebrate this momentous occasion at its stand at this year’s Toymaster show. To commemorate the 75 years that have passed since the D-Day Landings in 1944, Gibsons has re-released artist Bill Perring's puzzle from 2004. The scene shows the Allied Forces landing in France with a Spitfire in the foreground, two Typhoons to the right and landing craft approaching the beach in the background.

Greg Giordano has also designed a beautiful 500pc puzzle, In the Garden, featuring an overgrown garden filled with everything from butterflies to blue tits. L’Attaque was the first of the ‘big four’ military-themed games for Gibsons back in the early 20th century and they are relaunching the game to celebrate their centenary. The box artwork has been carefully recreated to mimic an original version of the game, and inside the box are the original rules (as well as the modern version!) as a memento from this historic game from Gibsons' archives. The Toymaster Show will also be one of the first opportunities to view samples of Gibsons’ new Christmas puzzles. Following the success of their first jigsaw puzzle calendar and bauble last year, they have revamped them to bring two brand new designs for July release this year. Alongside these there will also be a 500pc puzzle, Skating at Sunset, finished in a stylish gift box.

REBECCA HERSEE, MARKETING AND SALES AT GIBSONS What can we expect from you guys this Toymaster show? The Toymaster Show will be one of the first opportunities to view samples of our brand new jigsaw puzzle countdown calendar, Christmas is Coming, and our 200-piece jigsaw puzzle bauble, Moonlit Magic. We will also have seven new jigsaw puzzles and our revamped strategic game, L’Attaque, which has been released to celebrate our centenary this year. What makes it an important date in the industry calendar? Toymaster is a great occasion for us to catch up with customers and show off our brand new jigsaw puzzles and games. It is also a fantastic opportunity to network and build relationships.

How important are indies to your business today? Why should the indie scene be keen to work with you guys this year? It is extremely important for us to support the independent toy and gift shops in any way we can. Whether this be by offering POS options and various promotions throughout the year, or through our loyalty scheme that we designed specifically to encourage consumers to support their local retailer. Indies are at the core of this industry, and will always play a huge role in what we do at Gibsons. Have you got any show deals Toymaster attendees can look forward to this year? This year we will be offering our Toymaster customers a choice of free stock bundles worth £80 RRP when they spend £450 on an order for delivery by the end of May. Don't miss that one!

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Toymaster

Hasbro Contact: www.hasbro.co.uk

Hasbro is all about the Power Rangers for this year’s Toymaster show, so don’t miss your chance to find out all the latest. Hasbro will be showcasing its new Power Rangers collection at this year’s Toymaster show. The Power Rangers legacy continues with figures, vehicles, collectables, and roleplay toys from Hasbro, celebrating Ranger teams from Mighty Morphin to the Beast Morphers. Hasbro’s new Power Rangers collection aims to bring teamwork, action and adventure to all fans of the franchise. Core items in the range include the Power Rangers Beast Morphers Cheetah Beast Blaster which is powered by NERF; The Electronic Cheetah Claw toy and the Beast-X Electronic Saber, both of which feature reactive sound effects that respond to kids’ movements as they imagine battling monsters and villains as one of the Power Rangers. The collection also includes the Power Rangers Beast Morphers Mask, allowing fans to mask up like the Red or Blue Ranger. Both masks feature design inspiration from the new Power Rangers Beast Morphers TV show, which is due to air in the UK this Autumn. Visitors will also get a first look at Hasbro’s much anticipated Moon and Me collection ahead of the product launch in Summer 2019, a must see at this year's show.

Bandai

Posh paws

Contact: www.bandai.co.uk

Contact: 01268 567 317

Bandai is thrilled to be back at Toymaster 2019 with new licensed and trend-based product, extensions to its hottest brands and some exciting new distribution ranges.

With a raft of new plush ranges including blockbuster movie collections and new distribution lines, visitors to Toymaster won’t want to give Posh Paws a miss.

New for 2019 is Foodie Surprise, the DIY sweet making kit with various food carts to collect – from Ice Cream Carts to Pizza Trucks, Bubble Tea and Sushi. Foodie Surprise lets kids create real food they can eat and share with friends, and it’s all sugar free. Squishimals are soft plush for girls four to nine, made from synthetic materials rather than foam, which makes them extra cuddly, while tapping into the Unicorn trend, Rainbow Dreams is a soft plush unicorn that lights up with colours of the rainbow. Bananas are the latest craze to hit the market – unique and silly characters are hidden inside each piece of tropical fruit. Series Two launches for SS19 and sees the introduction of Bananas in new colous, and new fruits with new characters to collect. Series 3 includes choc-dipped bananas, more fruits and play-sets.

As the exclusive distributor for NICI in the UK and Ireland, Posh Paws now has a vast array of luxury NICI plush product and other accessories such as girl’s gifts, stationery, nursery gifts and bedroom accessories, from across the many different NICI collections. 2019 will see Posh Paws bring a plethora of popular Disney properties to life in plush form. Aladdin, Dumbo, The Lion King and Toy Story 4 are all among new collections. With all four properties set for 2019 movie releases the ranges are well timed. With the premier of Toy Story 4 in June, retail is already gearing up to be overtaken by Toy Story mania. Posh Paws is readying itself for the launch of Toy Story 4 soft toys which will be on display at Toymaster. Also part of the Disney line up is the Disney Classics plush range, a stable and faithful collection full of favourite Disney characters. May 2019 | toy news | 37

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Toymaster

Flair Contact: 0208 643 0320

Modern day and heritage heroes, join one of the world’s oldest creative brands in Flair’s 2019 Toymaster portfolio. Classic toys are perfect for high street toy stores and a much-loved hero of past generations is ready for new adventures with Flair’s Action Man Timeless classics collection. Sailor, Soldier and Pilot are available in the single figure packs, each with authentic packaging and all the articulation of the original, plus signature Action Man dog tags. Alternatively the three deluxe classic sets have extra accessories for the retro experience. Series Two of PJ Masks, which includes Super Moon Adventure themed episodes, went FTA in April on Tiny Pop. The Super Moon Adventure themed product range continues to grow with this spring’s new Super Moon Adventure Fortress Playset. Packed with interactive features, hero and villain figures can battle it out in Zero Gravity, but beware of the crystal trap beneath the mountain which will snap shut when the loser falls in. The playset comes with two articulated figures: Cat Boy in his space outfit and Luna Girl, ready for battle to commence. The core range continues to drive sales, with the PJ Masks vehicles behind the wheel, while a major focus for autumn, and perfect to track down those pesky night-time villains, is the new PJ Masks

Recreation Contact: 0118 973 6222

Show visitors can receive 10 per cent off orders placed for delivery by the end of July, make sure you pop by Re:creation's stand for full details. With outdoor hits from Wham-O, strong performing LEGO Lights as well as new licensed plush joining its portfolio, Re:creation is a must see at Toymaster this year, where visitors can take advantage of a 10 per cent discount on orders placed for delivery before the end of July. Wham-O is responsible for many legendary brand names such as Hula Hoop, Frisbee and Slip ‘N Slide. Re:creation is set to unlock the potential of the brand’s unrivalled catalogue with the roll-out of an extensive collection of Wham-O products, both evergreen classics and exciting new introductions. Among 2019’s offerings are Aqua Force water balloon launchers for unbelievable outdoor action play. Re:creation is well placed to deliver a tranche of new and innovative plush brands for 2019. Leading the charge are two internet sensations garnering massive followings. Major YouTube property Larva, with over four million followers on YouTube and content streaming on Netflix, showcases the animated daily misadventures of two larvae. The licensed plush collection perfectly captures the characteristics of key characters, while the soon-tolaunch Jiffpom Cutelife plush collection is based on ‘the world’s most followed dog’ Jiffpom, with over 9 million Instagram followers.

Seeker. This can fit up to four vehicles inside the detachable carrier and up to three 7.5cm articulated PJ Masks figures inside the cabin. The Mission Control HQ playset, Super Moon Adventure HQ Rocket Playset and Romeo’s Lab Playset will also all continue as part of the core AW19 range. For pocket money priced creativity, Plasticine is another heritage brand that customers would expect to find in their local Toymaster store. With multiple sticks of the colourful compound that never dries out, FunTubulous, BaSix and Toolz are ideal for self-inspired modeling projects while themed sets such as PJ Masks Figures and Noodle Doodle will add to the choice. New for 2019 kids can make their own animated clay-motion movies with the Plasticine Movie Maker Studio. Make sure you check it all out and more at the Flair stand this Toymaster show.

Other new plush brands include Floofies and Doolallie Flappers wearable plush hats with ear flapping action.These fun animal-themed hats have stormed the internet and also recently scored a hit on CiTV’s Scrambled show. Getting creative with water is the order of the day with Aqua Gelz. This innovative entry to the creative category enables children to design and make their own squishy characters using gels and see them magically transform when submerged in a unique water solution. With The LEGO Movie 2 recently launched, Re:creation’s LEGO Lights range welcomes new additions to key lights and torch collections. These join a range of ever popular Classic, DC Super Heroes and LEGO Star Wars offerings. There's plenty to see at Re:creation's stand this year.

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Toymaster

Vivid Contact: 01483 449 944

Vivid will be showcasing its key lines at this year’s Toymaster Show, and leading the way for the company’s licensed offering is Ryan’s World. A huge hit in the US and following suit in the UK, the Ryan’s World range includes blind bags, squishies, plush, and ‘Mystery Eggs’ which open to reveal hidden surprises. Bouncing into AW19, Boomtrix is the new extreme marble track system consisting of towers, trampolines, stunts and a goal, where players must use their imagination to create the craziest track setups using all the included components. Kids can design a different track every time and share them online. Encouraging STEM linked learning via educational and funpacked science based kits for children aged eight and upwards, and introductory sets for ages four and upwards, Science4You is the perfect range to encourage children to discover the wonders of the world around them. 2019 will see the introduction of new sets including Yucky Science, Manicure Factory, Bath Bombs and the Science of Crystals. The company’s award winning Phlat Ball continues to lead the way for Vivid’s outdoor range, along with the Super Wubble – an extension to the successful inflatable Wubble line - which was recently awarded Outdoor Toy of the Year at the Toy Industry Awards 2018 at London Toy Fair.

Schleich Contact: 01279 870 000

Schleich offers the perfect portfolio of quality children’s figures and playsets for Toymaster stores and will showcase new equine lines for Farm World and Horse Club amongst others at this year’s show. One of the most celebrated collector’s themes within the Schleich portfolio is Horse Club and this year won’t disappoint as new breeds and playsets join the line-up. With the same hand painted detail that the company is renowned for, brand new breeds such as the new Knapstrupper and Paint horses will be top of the wish list for Horse Club collectors. Girls will then be racing to add the stunning new Rider Cafe to their collection which will be available from July and provides just the place to stop, rest and relax after a hard day’s eventing. This 60-piece set includes a full café setting with a new character Tom who is always ready to serve his customers with the many snacks and drinks available. The doors open and close and there is a place to tie two ponies while the riders relax on the chairs and tables. Horse Club will also be supported with its first ever TV advertising in Q3/Q4 in the UK. Meanwhile, Farm World introduces younger children to the colourful world of pony agility with a host of new play sets featuring a girl figure with movable arms and legs, a Classic Pony, a Shetland Pony, lots of obstacles as well as paddocks and various other accessories.

AniMagic’s new collection includes Little Light Ups featuring a sausage dog and French bulldog pups as well as a kitten. AniMagic Goes Wild friends Arty and Peri are baby chicks that chirp with light-up eyes, while Waggles, the sausage dog and his new puppy pal Lizzy the Corgi, will be wiggling into stores for AW19. Meanwhile, Goliath will be introducing over 20 new games in 2019 across the children’s, family and party games categories including Gator Golf, Dragon Snacks, Silly Sketch and more. There is also continuation of some favourite games including top sellers Shark Bite, Foxy Pants and Wordsearch. Sequence is an addictive game that challenges your family and friends, and enjoys over 1000 Five Star ratings on Amazon Crayola will be welcoming more cute additions to its Washimals range in AW19. With the Vet Clinic Playset and Beauty Salon Playsets, kids will be able to play with their Washimals pets at home or on the go. They can be used with the included Crayola markers. And on that note, Crayola Take Note bridges the gap between kids and adults stationary with a fun and innovative range that is perfect for bullet journaling and adds colour and creativity to any writing task.

With the Pony Agility Race Set, kids can practise exercises to get circus-ready. Included is a movable boy figure, a Welsh pony and a tyre and an obstacle that can be transformed into a winners’ podium for those winning moments. The pre-school offering for Farm World and Wild Life will expand for 2019 and Schleich has re-positioned its popular Dinosaur themed world to suit a younger target group. It features new Plesiosaurus or the Dracorex dinosaurs. Schleich continues to roll out fixtures and POS solutions to suit all sizes across multiple retailers in the UK as part of the company’s ongoing commitment to in-store support, allowing stores to enhance customer loyalty and win over new Schleich fans.

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Interview

THERE AND BAKUGAN:

A HOBBY’S TALE

Following months of preparation and surging viewer numbers for its animated series, Bakugan is launching back on to the boys’ market. Robert Hutchins talks to Spin Master’s UK commercial director, Phil Hooper about what the company has in store for this perennial boys’ brand for this year and beyond How has business been for Spin Master for this first half of the year? We’ve had a solid start to the year as we continue to push the boundaries of innovation, inspiring play and delivering fun to children. What have been some of the biggest successes for the UK business so far this year - how is this informing the direction of business for 2019? DreamWorks Dragons was officially the number one biggest animated title of Q1 2019, and the toy line has seen great success so far this year. The launch of the Hatching Dragon introduces further innovation this Autumn set to delight Dragons fans. We’ve combined the

ground-breaking technology from Hatchimals to develop this product offering a truly unique experience. As worldwide toy partner for Monster Jam, our toy line has crashed into the boys’ market bringing awesome innovation and truly authentic designs. With an extensive marketing and retail programme in place, Monster Jam fans can simulate real action and play beyond the events they know and love. Our evergreen brands such as Hatchimals and PAW Patrol continue to grow with new themes including the exciting Mighty Pups which saw the first ever theatrical release for this number one brand. roll into cinemas across the country last month. May 2019 | toy news | 41

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Interview

Can you talk us through some of the biggest brands for you guys this year? It’s a very exciting year ahead with innovative new launches and surprising extensions to favourite lines that will win over the hearts of children and their parents, as we continue to introduce new play patterns and spark imaginations. We’re getting ready for battling excitement with the highly anticipated relaunch of the global phenomenon Bakugan, the adrenaline-fuelled action of Monster Jam has already captured the minds of fans, and as the collectables trend continues there’s lots in the pipeline for evergreen brand Hatchimals, plus much more. What plans have you got around the return of Bakugan - why is now the right time for the brand’s return? It is the official 10-year anniversary of the original series of Bakugan and the relaunch fittingly marks the celebration. The global legacy of the brand aided in the evolution of our approach to entertainment and franchise development, and we are hugely excited to build on the brand’s rich heritage and fan-base. The long-awaited relaunch will be supported by an extensive marketing campaign in the UK for the toy range, card game and mobile app, all with the aim of reigniting the call to brawl among new fans of the brand. Bakugan brings exciting new play patterns to the boys’ market, as well as the collectability factor.

What is Bakugan doing to push innovation in toys and entertainment? The innovative new line, launching into retail this summer, introduces fan-favourite characters to collect straight from the popular TV series, alongside new play-sets for endless battling fun. The Bakugan Battle Planet toy line will retain the essence of what made the original toys so popular, with exciting new features that bring revolutionary card and app play. Innovative marble-like balls with ingenious technology transform into multiple collectable characters when rolled over a magnetic card. The game will bring different levels of play, from beginner to advanced, and allow players to compete against multiple opponents. This will offer enhanced collectability due to its wide range of strategy options. We’re committed to the success of the Bakugan brand and toy line, as children recreate the excitement of the TV show and battle to become the ultimate Bakugan master, so watch this space for the future. What do you make of the current health of the industry - in performance and innovation coming through? How's Spin Master met the challenges of the past years?

We are committed to disruptive innovation and a breadth of product offerings, from popular collectables to the latest technology advancements, which allows us to remain at the forefront of trends that lead the industry. What’s next for Spin Master now? How are you guys going to be setting the industry agenda for the next few years to come? Collectable toys with an element of surprise continue to be top-sellers in the industry. We will be launching exciting new toys in this competitive category, as well as building on the current success of our popular Hatchimals CollEGGtibles and Twisty Petz lines through new themes and product development. We’re also launching brand-new innovation in the Luvabella range this Autumn/Winter that will see a completely new offering in the doll’s category. As we strive for innovation across all categories, we’ve taken evergreen concepts and given them a seamless upgrade for the children of today’s advanced world in our games and activities offerings launching this summer. Meanwhile, we will also be focusing on expanding our entertainment line-up and securing top licenses, so kids can continue to engage with their favourite characters in their own homes. It's going to be an exciting next few years with Spin Master.

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Boys market

ACTION PACKED It’s time to cast our eyes over the burgeoning ‘boys’ market once again, with launches from some of the biggest names in toys all helping to fuel the innovation and engagement with this vastly important sector. Robert Hutchins rounds up the latest products and companies to be rocking the toy shelves this year…

Vivid 01483 449 944

Inspired by the world’s biggest YouTube star, the Ryan’s World product range is already proving to be a sell-out success in the UK since launching in early 2019. Unbox just like Ryan with collectable blind bag and squishy figures, featuring Ryan and all the other characters featured on his channel, including Gus the Gummy Gator, Combo Panda and more… Also available are the Mystery Mini Eggs. Unbox just like Ryan and find all the mystery surprises inside. Micro Wheels is a brand new way to race. These are mini vehicles with max grunt. Featuring new Boost Up Activation, so you can control the speed of your vehicle, the more you pump, the faster your car goes. Collect over 30 cars including common vehicles, special edition metallic, rare glow in the dark versions as well as translucent stunt packs. Collect your cars and race your friends to the finish. Next up, and based on the hit movie franchise, Vivid’s range of Harry Potter figures extends with new lines in 2019. Collect the Harry Potter heroes and villains with squidgy mini figure blind bags, seven pack and exclusive figures in the Christmas Advent Calendar. Or, take a bigger step in the wizarding world with the four-inch collectable vinyl figures to really recreate the magical world of Harry Potter. Meanwhile, Vivid’s Ooshies range expands with new licenses for 2019, with the introduction of Toy Story 4. All new Ooshies XL figures give fans a chance to collect all their favourite Toy Story characters, find Woody, Buzz, Bo Peep and the rest of the gang in these new 2.75-inch scale Ooshies. Watch out for exclu-

sive figures in the Christmas Advent Calendar with a figure behind each door, there’s sure to be plenty of festive fun. Experience a whole new type of extreme marble run system with BoomTrix. Create your own amazing courses with launch towers, trampolines, stunts and finish. Make the biggest, best and craziest chain with all the components using your imagination. The range features the Kinetic Launch which is a great starter set, Multiball which includes a fire goal finish and the largest set the Showdown pack. There is also the Stunt Pack which is a great addition to any of the larger BoomTrix sets.

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Boys Market

Mattel 01628 500 111 Mattel is launching dynamic new products across Hot Wheels, Thomas & Friends, and licensed brands like WWE, DC Batman, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and Fisher-Price Imaginext, and all new DC Shazam! and Disney Pixar Toy Story 4. New for AW19 is the biggest boosted set Hot Wheels has ever created; the Hot Wheels Colossal Crash Track Set. Over five feet wide, the set has a double figure of eight design that offers multiplayer racing multiple cars. In SS19 Hot Wheels launched the awesome new Monster Trucks Range, with the 1:64 Scale Trucks built for competition and ultimate dominance - kids can collect 22 different characters. AW19 launches the Hot Wheels Monster Trucks Monster Mover, a large-scale transporter which stores up to 12 trucks. For Thomas & Friends, new additions include small push along engines Hong Mei, Troublesome Truck and Rosie, with Henry, Edward and Belle joining the large push along range. Also in AW19, new motorised engines and playsets Super Cruiser and TrackMaster Cave Collapse Set are based on the Digs & Discoveries specials. In April 2019, Mattel introduced the Disney Pixar Toy Story 4 range across Action Figures and Fisher-Price Imaginext. Key items include the Real Walking Buzz. Fisher-Price’s Imaginext range features the cool BuzzBot and Basic and Feature Figure Assortments and legacy toys including the Legendary Pizza Planet, Vehicles and figures. DC universe's Shazam, Batman and Joker, as well as WWE Superstars and Wrekkin' Figures also lay the smack down in the space this year.

Hasbro www.hasbro.co.uk Fortnite and Power Rangers make up the thrust of Hasbro’s major launch for the boys’ market this season, across role-play and the iconic Nerf range. The Nerf Fortnite SP-L blaster, inspired by the blaster used in the hit video game title, replicates its look and colours. This Nerf Elite blaster has a detachable barrel to customise for different ways to play: Attach the barrel for distance targeting, remove when you need a more compact look for smaller play areas or when you need to move fast and stay mobile. It’s joined by the Nerf Fortnite AR-L blaster. Power up the motor with the acceleration button and pull the trigger to shoot one dart. It comes with a 10-dart clip and 20 Official Nerf Elite Fortnite darts, enough to fully load the clip and give you 10 backup darts for reloading. Over to the Power Rangers franchise now, and Hasbro has a raft of new launches to delight kids and fans. Leading the line is the Power Rangers Beast Morphers Cheetah Beast Blaster. It looks like a Cheetah Zord, ready to pounce, but can morph into blaster mode for soft dart-firing action. Meanwhile, kids can imagine battling their foes alongside their favorite Rangers when they wield the Power Rangers Beast Morphers Electronic Cheetah Claw. This toy features reactive sound effects that respond to kids’ movements as they imagine battling monsters and villains as one of the Power Rangers, while with the Power Rangers Beast Morphers Beast-X Electronic Saber, kids can unlock Beast Mode for some added play results.

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Boys Market

Bandai sales@bandai.co.uk Following last year’s TV release of the new ITV series Robozuna, Bandai is launching phase two of its licensed toy range for AW19, including role play toys and action figures. Clunk comes to life as Mega Clunk, a 30cm articulated action figure that spins at the waist and includes an interchangeable, spinning arm. Hero role play includes the voice-changing Mangle Mask with articulated jaw, and Mangle’s Flash Welder with over 10 phrases. Bandai is re-launching the toy range for Thunderbirds Are Go in Autumn 2019. Already a hit action TV series on ITV, the show is currently in its third series. The toy line consists of collectables, action figures and vehicles. A new Tracy Island playset has been designed with innovative features and at a more affordable price point than previous versions. Bandai has also unveiled Dragon Ball Dragon Stars figures - a range of poseable figures which will see new characters from the hugely successful movie released earlier this year. New characters from the Dragon Ball world will be unveiled throughout the year. The second wave of Slurpees Snot Suckers is now available with a playset following in AW 19, while Fan Zone is a game featuring over 500 football related questions and can be set to one of two modes – seven and upwards or 14 and upwards - depending on the ease/difficulty of play required. The virtual games master can test players on five football topics to discover the ultimate football fan. The games master does it all; explains the rules, asks the questions, counts the points and gives out the scores, without the need for any additional devices.

Zuru 1604 401 719 Award-winning toy designer and manufacturer, Zuru continues to excel in the boy’s market with innovative new products added to its growing portfolio. Kicking it all off, Bunch O Balloons are self-sealing water balloons, that allow the user to fill 100 balloons in just sixty seconds. As of March 2019, Bunch O Balloons has been supported by a global ‘Splash to Win’ on-pack promotion. The promotion offers consumers the chance to win thousands of summer prizes including a Grand Prize - a brand new car, and the runner up prize of a family holiday for four. The X-Shot Fast-Fill, is set to revolutionise the water blaster category, it’s quick and easy to use, providing consumers maximum performance with a fill-time of just one second. The blaster has been designed to be filled anywhere and is equipped with a superior Rapid-Seal Technology that closes the blaster tank. Zuru has also unveiled Smashers Dino, the third series of the collectable range that provides a new, innovative way to play. Zuru has introduced a new play pattern to the Smashers brand, with The Epic Dino Egg. Launching in July of this year, it focuses on the mystery/unboxing trend and features an exclusive Smash-O-Saur Dino which contains hidden pieces. The pieces are hidden within five different compounds, which children will need to recover from putty, slime, or fizzing bath bombs. May 2019 | toy news | 45

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Boys market

HTI GROUP 01253 778 888 From diecast vehicles and ride-ons, to collectables and role play, HTI Group has a diverse boys’ product offering, including its new boys collectable Micro Motorz which launched in February this year. Under the Teamsterz brand, Micro Motorz series one has already been well received by retailers. The collectable car series has over 20 cars to collect, each with six different surprises. Unwrap the foil exterior to reveal three chambers and a sticker alluding to which one of the teams the vehicle belongs to. Micro Motorz has been supported with a heavyweight marketing campaign, which included a large-scale PR launch at Westfield with the support of TV and YouTube personality Yianni Charalambous, TV advertising, digital advertising and most recently has included a video with the second biggest boys YouTube channel CKN Toys, going out to his 12 million subscribers. The video has already clocked 4.4 million views in one month. The electronic RC Evo Teamsterz Car takes outdoor adventures up a gear – with speeds of up to 3km/hr, working steering wheel, seat belt and windshield, little racers can drive in style to important play dates. The EVO Electronic Quad Bike comes in black, pink or police style and gives little riders a thrilling outdoor play experience. The chunky wheels and easy grip handlebars make it easy to zoom and roam around with friends, providing hours of fun and excitement. Fans of PJ Masks will be excited about HTI’s selection of die-cast vehicles with three hero and two villain vehicles to collect: Cat-Car, Gekko Mobile, Owl-Glider, Night Ninja Bus and Romeo’s Lab. All feature a high-quality die-cast body shell, bringing the TV favourites to life in a unique way to encourage endless play.

Flair 0208 643 0320 The Lords of Gormiti, the ultimate Action Hero and four Ninja brothers all add to an impressive line-up of boys brands from Flair for 2019. Autumn will see the heroes and villains of Gormiti make their mark with a new master toy range packed full of characters from Planeta’s awesome TV series. The line includes all the main characters from the Gormiti Lords to the most evil of Darkans. Added to the action figures, role play and accessories, is new interactive game play, as every pack includes a trading card that can be used with the Gormiti app to unlock exclusive game content. There are basic, deluxe and super deluxe Action Figures to choose from, while the One Tower Playset will be the centre of the action for the collectable mini figures series. Kids can get their hands on the Elemental Bracer; compatible with the action figures; the essential tool with which to defeat the Darkans. Boys can rise up and choose from the huge collection of action figures from The Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles collection. In autumn, new waves of figures will be released, each with unique features that add to the action. These include Deluxe Slide Attack figures that spin and are ready for battle as they slide across a surface. Or, why not choose the 11-inch Giant Shell Storage Figures. Available as Raphael or Leonardo, each has 13 points of articulation and comes with two favoured weapons, two throwing stars and an opening shell to store them in. Four Shell Hog Motorcycles and the two-in-one turtle tank complete. May 2019 | toy news | 47

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Boys Market

Posh Paws 01268 567 317 With superheroes, dragons and dinosaurs on offer, Posh Paws has plush ranges for all boys to enjoy this season. As the official plush partner across EMEA for the 2019 release of How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, product is available now from Posh Paws. The range includes small, medium and large versions of the key Dragons from the franchise, as well as a collection of bag clips. As an added extra the medium and large plush come with cool glow in the dark features to really bring each dragon to life. Marvel movies have always taken the cinema by storm and with that success Posh Paws presents a heroic collection of Marvel plush characters both old and new. The Posh Paws Marvel range consists of 10” and 18” versions of classic characters including Thor, Spiderman and Hulk and new favourites including the amazing Black Panther. Also available are CDUs of small seven-inch collectable plush and also XL soft toys for even more action-packed fun. For fans of Jurassic World, the Posh Paws’ Jurassic World 2 collection is a must. At the heart of the collection is the eight-inch Jurassic dinosaur assortment in CDU, plus larger 10-inch plush presented in a gift box. For impactful displays at retail and to satisfy the most ardent Jurassic World fans, monstrous 14inch and 21-inch options are also available.

Schleich 01279 870000 Action, fun and a lot of new adventures: the Schleich Dinosaurs range will also inspire a younger age group in 2019, strengthening its boys’ market offering even further with new additions to its core Dinosaur themed world. Thanks to the revised product range, boys from the age of four can already look forward to exciting adventures with the impressive prehistoric giants, such as the brand new Plesiosaurus or the Dracorex. A makeover of three absolute bestsellers has taken place: the popular Giganotosaurus with movable lower jaw and the Dimetrodon will be available for the first time in new colours. The Spinosaurus is also available in a new design: in addition to a new painted design, it also has a movable lower jaw and has been modelled according to the latest scientific findings. It has now become apparent that this dinosaur used four legs to move rather than two as previously assumed. There are also two other impressive new additions: thanks to its wings, the flying dinosaur Dimorphodon is able to reach lofty heights and immediately catches the eye with its striking orange painted design, the stripe on its back and its wide open mouth. The Animantarx has a thick armour that protects it from its enemies: two really cool giants of the prehistoric era that little dinosaur fans will absolutely adore. In the second half of the year, Schleich will also launch two never-seen-before prehistoric giants: the Plesiosaurus, a new underwater dinosaur with a bendable neck, will be available from July. And at the same time, the dangerous Dracorex will make children’s bedrooms an entirely new world for exploring.

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Arts & Crafts

CRAFT WORKS It’s time to take a look at the burgeoning arts and crafts sector once again; a space filled with big hitting names, as well as smaller start-ups, each looking to leave their own signature marks in this integral part of the toy industry

Hasbro www.hasbro.co.uk

You won’t find a brand more synonymous with the arts and crafts sector than Hasbro’s Play-Doh, drawing on its rich heritage in the space to launch innovative new lines under the umbrella. Play-Doh Stamp ‘n’ Top Pizza Oven is ideal for kids aged three years old and upwards. There’s a pretend pizza party waiting to happen with the Play-Doh Stamp ‘n’ Top Pizza Oven. No batteries or electronics – just imagination. Stamp a pizza crust in the oven, then go wild creating and customising as the cheese crank shreds Play-Doh compound into grated cheese, while the oven playset has plenty of molds all around it to make pretend pepperonis, silly veggies, and lots of other outrageous toppings. When it’s ready, display it with the pizza paddle or on the pizza stand and slice it up with the cutter. It also comes with three creation cards that show step-by-step how to make a variety of play food pizza creations. Next up it’s the Play-Doh Popcorn Party Play Food Set, complete with everything kids need to make creative Play-Doh popcorn masterpieces. Pre-schoolers can use the machine to crank pretend popcorn into the three buckets, which come in small, medium, and large. Next, mix it up with silly snack mixes. They can add fun play food toppings like pretend pretzels, crazy candy, and more with the candy-themed stamps and molds. This Play-Doh popcorn party set comes with six cans of compound in both small oneounce and standard two-ounce sized cans. The two creation cards feature step-by-step instructions for four fun things to make. Completing the line-up is the Play-Doh Tootie Ice Cream Set, for kids aged three and

upwards. Tootie is a unicorn ice cream maker with the power to poop ice cream and make silly Play-Doh sundaes. As she dispenses Play-Doh colours from her you-know-where, this unicorn toy makes laugh-out-loud sounds and even changes her facial expression. The large four-ounce can of Play-Doh Colour Swirl compound features two colours in one can for colourful ice cream creations. This play ice cream set also comes with two classic Play-Doh colours in two-ounce cans, as well as a plastic ice cream cone, two dishes, plastic knife, and spoon. She’s a magically funny gift for kids and she’s sure to bring silly fun for the whole family. The set includes the Tootie the Unicorn playset, shape rail, ice cream cone, two dishes, knife, spoon, one can of Play-Doh Colour Swirl compound, and two cans of Play-Doh modeling compound. May 2019 | toy news | 49

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Arts & Crafts

Vivid 01483 449 944 Crayola will be welcoming more cute additions to its Washimals range in AW19. With the Vet Clinic Playset and Beauty Salon Playsets, kids will be able to play with their Washimals pets at home or on the go. They can use the included Crayola markers to bring the Washimals to life with beautiful designs, before cleaning them off to play again. Meanwhile, Crayola Take Note bridges the gap between kids and adults stationary with a fun and innovative range that is perfect for bullet journaling and adds colour and creativity to any writing task. A new addition to the creative food play category is YoPop, the frozen yoghurt treat maker. Making tasty and healthy frozen treats at home is easy with YoPop. Simply add yogurt and your favourite flavours (such as raspberries or chocolate chips) to YoPop, then pop on a pouch and push down to fill it. Choose whether to enjoy straight away or freeze for later. YoPop will benefit from a strong TV and influencer campaign from launch across summer period.

Bandai sales@bandai.co.uk Bandai is growing its position within the Arts & Crafts category this year with the introduction of new creative play sets and activities. New for 2019 is Foodie Surprise – the DIY sweet making kit. With various food carts to collect, from Ice Cream to Pizza Trucks, Foodie Surprise allows children to create real food that they can eat and share with friends. Each food cart becomes a mould for children to create their themed sweets and each kit includes collectible characters for added play value. Notably all ingredients are sugar free and Takeout boxes are available as additional sweet-making packs which can be used alone or in conjunction with existing carts. It will all benefit from a heavyweight marketing campaign including TV, digital and events. Next up, the Pretty Pixels Eraser Maker allows children to make their own designed erasers using pixelated templates and microwave heat as opposed to an iron. With erasers remaining a collectible favourite, Pretty Pixels provide endless create-and-collect opportunities. Available in Deluxe, Starter, Mini, and Refill Packs, the range features different themes from animals, fairies, cute and cool; with moulds and design sheets to create erasers of varying sizes to keep kids occupied for hours. Sticker Fun brings an easy and fun way to sticker. The high-quality stickers use a special adhesive to enable the users to stick, remove, and re-peel. Each sticker fun pack comes complete with sticker stamper and two sticker tubes with themes including Animals and Smileys.

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Arts & Crafts

Character Options 0161 633 9800 Arts, crafts and fun fashions go hand-in-hand with Character Options' new sparkly sensation, Blinger range this year. Blinger is the innovative, easy-to-use and fun fashion tool for kids to add sparkle and shine to their hair, clothes, accessories, stationery and more. The entry point product is the Blinger Diamond Collection with its Blinger tool, plus 75 stick-on diamantĂŠ gems that once applied will stay on all day. The set has been billed as perfect for creating a funky look to any accessory, all they have to do is load, click and bling. Once blinging becomes their thing, then refill sets of 75 extra gems will add to the sales opportunities. Each has five discs of gems to load into their Blinger and with clear, pastel and bright colourways to choose from, the stylish transformations will be endless. Blinger will be available from this July and will be launched with TV, print and a raft of global influencer activity.

My Little World 01473 487748 My Little World is a new introduction to the arts and crafts sector. The cardboard craft sets offer children aged four to nine a chance to colour in their chosen theme, before transforming it into an imaginary world, opening up opportunities for child-led, imaginative and creative play. The sets are available in eight themes Airport, Christmas Time, Emergency Services, Fairy Village, Space Station Foxtrot, Village High Street, and two Scotland landmark-based sets - My Little Scotland Nessie and My Little Scotland. Each pack contains 12 cards featuring characters, which have names and bios to spark imaginations, buildings and extras which make up that particular world. The elements are also double sided, with characters displaying different emotions on each side. The sets include 12 colouring pencils and plastic card stands. My Little World is sustainably sourced with all elements except the pencils manufactured in the UK and fully recyclable. The packaging is made from recycled board, cards from responsibly sourced paper, and pencils are safety tested. My Little World is illustrated by co-founder Tim Frost, an experienced and talented designer who has previously worked on animations such as Peppa Pig, Hey Duggee, Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom and Moshi Monsters. His designs are instantly recognisable and provide the perfect base for imaginary worlds. May 2019 | toy news | 51

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Arts & Crafts

Flair 0208 643 0320 Flair is putting creativity for kids high on the agenda with inspirational new craft based brands on the menu for late summer. With Mini Delices it’s simple to create and decorate your own sweet treats in hundreds of tasty varieties. Already the number one creative food brand in France, budding young cooks can become mini patisserie chefs with the fourin-one Chocolate Workshop. The lazy Susan turntable is the centre of the action and sits atop a Bain Marie. Use the cute moulds and mini accessories to create different types of chocolate sweets and lollies and then decorate with your favourite treats. The wrappers and mini gift boxes will be the icing on the cake when it comes to serving them to friends and family. Also in the collection is the Mini Éclair Workshop, which turns everyday bread into delicious chocolate filled and topped fancies. Once shaped and decorated, the mini eclairs can be displayed on the cake stand style shelves or packed into teeny cake boxes ready to give away. Presenting the perfect way to show your sparkling style is the Glitterific Glitter & Vacuum Studio. As the ultimate mess-free craft tool, Glitterific inspires creativity and imaginative play as kids can customise their crafts, fashion and more. They can glitter up any item using a special glitter dispensing and vacuum wand with the glitter cartridges and the sticker sheets included. Once their design is complete they can switch mode to vacuum the excess glitter. Less mess means more glitter! For more information about these and other inspirational creative play brands including Spirograph, Mr Frosty and Plasticine please call Flair on 0208 643 0320 or email.

Tobar 0 1603 397 105 Its heading for summer and Tobar has the perfect outdoor craft project in its new The Colour Your Own Cardboard Playhouse. Kids can simply slot together the house while all parents have to do is to let them loose with crayons and pencils on the pre-printed design. Tobar has loads of kits to make your own slime of different types and textures, or there is a kit to create your own candles. Feeling artistic? Then perhpas you should take the chance to paint your own piggy bank or take a look at the great sewing kits to make your own sock monkey or rabbit, teddy bear or puppy. If jewellery is more your kind of thing, then choose the best selling kit to make your own Friendship Bracelets. Little warriors can even choose a kit to paint their own sword and shield, combining artistic play with role-play, a winning combination for the development of all children.

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Arts & Crafts

Galt Toys 0161 428 9111 Colouring books, stickers and DIY trinket making sets are a staple of the Galt Toys product range, a brand that has aligned itself with the arts and crafts world for the past 180 years since the firm was first established as an educational stockist. This year, Galt Toys is continuing to delight the market with its own take on the arts and crafts sector, kicking off with art and craft activity ranges such as its reusable sticker books themed around farm yard animals and dinosaurs, as well as its Water Magic Sets, spanning farms, fairies, animals and more. Activity Packs range from the popular Make A Face or Charm Bracelets all the way to the Glider Planes, Fairy Princess Face Paints and Cute Charms. Meanwhile, the Paint & Draw line-up includes the kind of accessories any young artists needs to get to work on their own masterpieces, including safety scissors, chunky crayons, finger paints and a lot more. Craft Kits include First Sewing, Paint a Tea Set, Fabulous Foil and Mega Mosaics, with a whole portfolio of titles in between. Galt Toys is a Good Toy Guide-endorsed company, recognised for its dedication to the educational and developmental advancement of children through toys and play.

Melissa and Doug www.melissaanddoug.com Melissa and Doug is an expert in the arts and crafts sector, with a portfolio of brimming with products across basic art and craft supplies, sewing and weaving, fashion design, painting, paper crafts, stickers and temporary tattoos. Melissa and Doug’s Stamp-A-Scene sets allow kids to create their own stories, whether its a simple farmyard setting to something entirely more fantastical. Each set comes with its own washable stamp pads and a choice of coloured pencils. Kids can stamp out the story’s setting, add characters and props and develop their storytelling skills through art. Melissa and Doug’s Wooden Stamp Sets, meanwhile, span themes from Dinosaurs, Vehicles and Princess, to the likes of the Alphabet, Safari Animals, Zoo Animals, Pets and more. Melissa and Doug also boasts and extensive range of drawing accessories, including pens, pencils, the The Scratch Art Rainbow Box of Mini Notes and plenty, plenty more.

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UK’s first Punjabi Indian inspired fashion doll

RRP £27.99

Includes 11” doll and story book introducing Satty and her family Trade enquiries info@apnedolls.com

apnedolls.com Apne Dolls Ad_v1.indd 1

07/05/2019 11:38


Appointments

Industry moves This month, Sambro has named a new CEO in the former Vivid man, Tony Hicks, Learning Resources strides for growth with a new head of sales and Amscan is doubling its licensing efforts as it welcomes back a familiar friendly face SAMBRO The former Vivid man, TONY HICKS has been named chief executive officer of the UK based international toy company, headquartered in Bury. Hicks joins the team with 25 years of experience delivering growth strategies for businesses across Europe, Asia and North America. He brings significant toy industry experience from his time with Vivid Toy Group, where he led its turnaround and subsequent sale to Goliath. Hicks has also had a stint at the US toy company LeapFrog, developing the firm’s international business. He has been welcomed to the role by TOM FALCON, chairman of Sambro, who said: “We are delighted to have Tony on board who shares our ambitious growth plans for Sambro." Hicks commenced his new role with the firm on May 1st. LEARNING RESOURCES

Europe, the Middle East, Africa and India. He joins having gained his years of experience with the likes of Goliath, and Clementoni as well as Jumbo Games. Meanwhile, SIMON TOMLINSON has seen his role as head of marketing expand to head of Amazon and marketing. He is now responsible for managing and developing Amazon accounts for the business across Europe and India. AMSCAN INTERNATIONAL The balloon and dress up specialist has welcomed ALLISON MOORE back to the role of licensing manager EMEA. She previously worked at Amscan from 2001 to 2010 within its marketing and product management team. In her new role, Moore will support licensing director Mel Beer to develop and manage the licensing portfolio of partyware, balloons and costumes, becoming the first point of contact for licensors. She will work closely with Amscan’s licensing assistant, Tricia Smith.

ORCHARD TOYS ROBERT MANN has been The educational toy outfit has appointed to the role of export appointed MICHAEL RADZIO as sales manager for the UK firm, its new head of sales, crediting him marking his return to the toy with a ‘wealth of knowledge and experience in the space after a four year spell working as an international toy market.’ In his new role, Radzio international business consultant. will be responsible for developing and growing Mann comes in to replace trade, retail and e-commerce accounts across 1 23/04/2019 TN-MAY19-AARDVARK STRIP.qxp_Layout 14:22 Page 1MARY WATSON,

who after 19 years with the company, is stepping into retirement. While Mann has been welcomed to the team by the firm’s managing director, Simon Newbery, the company has also expressed its gratitude to the many years of service Watson has given. ENTERTAINMENT ONE After 12 years with the company, ANDREW CARLEY has stepped away from the Peppa Pig licensor and his role as EVP of global licensing. The long-standing licensing executive decided to look for his next challenge in the licensing field last month. During his time with eOne, Carley has been instrumental in building the firm’s UK presence to what it boasts now. He played an integral part in building the Peppa Pig brand into what it is today, having started around a dozen UK licensees to more than 3,000 around the world. MATTEL The global toymaker has appointed a new senior vice president and general manager of its American Girl brand in the form of the industry marketing veteran JAMIE CYGIELMAN. Cygielman will come on board to lead the American Girl brand across its global consumer base through toys, content and experiences.

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01709 834777 • chris@aswift.com • aswift.com MaY 2019 | toy news | 55

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Getting to know...

Getting to know…

GARY PYPER Gary Pyper has spent 20 years inventing and making toys, having started out designing a new line of Sindy dolls, and a successful stint at the inventing house, Seven Towns. Pyper has just launched his new venture Fun-Damental Invention and tells ToyNews all about it Can you tell us about your background? How did you get here? Well, Seven Towns has given me a great springboard. I was running the creative side of Seven Towns, which is a team of inventors. But I was also running all of the sales, out and about meeting everyone. They have been really supportive of my move. I think both I and they thought I was a lifer. Some of the guys have been working there for about 30 to 40 years’ they’re the old school toy guys, who are just geniuses. I started out with an Industrial Product

Design degree originally, then went to work for a giftware company, New Moons, who specialised in seasonal giftware, stationary and apparel. They needed someone to go to China, and at 22/23-years old, I volunteered myself to go out to the factory. Next thing I knew, I was there for six months, never came home, doing all the manufacturing, approvals, and learned my trade doing that. For the next three years, I worked between here, Hong Kong, Taiwan and China. It was a baptism of fire, but amazing because I learned how to make stuff.

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Getting to know...

New Moons took on the Sindy dolls license for giftware and they wanted to make the doll. I had never made a toy before, but I gave it a go. Next I know, I am in a Chinese model shop approving sculpts, creating hair styles and designing fashions, making a doll range. That was my introduction to toys, some 20 years ago and I haven't looked back. Since then, I’ve always been in the toy business. So can you talk us through FunDamental Invention? Fun-Damental Invention is a classic inventing house creating new concepts and intellectual property to license into the toy and game industry. I have got a long history in action games; things like Greedy Granny… and on the last count I had a hand in inventing around 100 products that have gone to market. That’s a fair few, across all genres really, from old classics to action games and beyond. I will be inventing in every category, hopefully. With Fun-Damental, we have created a new studio which is now fully equipped to create full 3D engineering prototypes and sales samples. The plan is to grow, build a full complement of designers and become a respected and established inventing House. I will be traveling to all the major international tradeshows including Distoy, Los Angeles, Chitag, and then Nuremberg and New York where you will find me dragging a giant case full of exciting new concepts Toy inventing is actually a really tight community. It’s a very small world. And I’m lucky enough to consider many of my

competitors also my close friends. In fact friends who I see more than my mates from school. Is that community growing, or is it destined to remain tight knit? I think the ability now to have the means to produce your own things via Kickstarter and things is making it easier, so you are getting lots more inventors. But there is a particular type of skill in how to become a toymaker. That is something you learn when you are an established inventing house. It is difficult, even with recruiting and trying to find those real model maker skills. I have to have the idea, know how to build it, know how much it will cost, predict how the factory will make it. There’s a lot to learn. But definitely with things like Mojo Nation and Chitag, it’s a very supportive community to help newcomers learn. A lot of people still don’t know that you can be a toy inventor. I believe toy invention is sometimes not taken seriously by the traditional designers. I'm sure my friends still think I am an elf… Everyone you meet considers it the coolest job in the world. What do you make of the health of the industry at the moment? What the most interesting thing is now, is that people aren’t reliant on TV ads. This means they can take risks, and launch it socially. But then, the problem is social media becomes a bit of a slave. People are starting

to design products which appeal to a sense of novelty rather than things that have an ongoing play value. I do think that it is really exciting now that people can just have an idea, make it and have instant feedback about it. That comes with another problem really, that once you have an idea and do tell people about, you have nothing ownable. It’s out there and it’s kind of done. What are you looking to bring to the toy space? What’s the mission? The mission is to - like with any toy inventor - develop mass market product, which is always the aim, and to get some perennial items in the market for a long time. The most important thing is you have to try and do this for kids. The thing I would love is a game in every house. When you go in someone’s house and there’s a game that they don’t even know you invented. That’s so cool. My endgame is to create a classic which is enduring and it isn’t a one minute wonder, something that comes out over and over again, and influences generations. It’s to leave a legacy. It’s what I try and do, to find new and exciting and unexpected ways to play that push things a bit. I think, as an inventor you have to do that, otherwise you’re not inventing. I’ve got lots of things, but if I say to my grandchildren, ‘oh yes, I invented Seagull Splat!’ it’s not like Jenga is it… It could one day be… A game that lasts longer than me is the dream.

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Bossing it

Bossing it… with Wow Stuff’s Richard North Each month, ToyNews catches up with an industry bigwig to ask a series of personal and prying questions. This month, it’s Wow! Stuff founder and CEO Richard North’s turn for a grilling

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EDITORIAL Editor: Robert Hutchins robert.hutchins@fbiz-media.co.uk +44 (0)203 143 8780 Designer: Nikki Hargreaves nikki.hargreaves@biz-media.co.uk Production Manager: Claire Noe cnoe@datateam.co.uk

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MANAGEMENT

hat have the past 12 months been like over at Wow! Stuff ? It’s been… weird. We are bucking the trend with what seems to be this current downturn in the industry, and so significantly, that it’s a bit weird. We were up 50 per cent last year and we will be up over 100 per cent this year. I suppose you can make your own luck. We went through a difficult period from 2012 to 2014, where we recruited the wrong people from a different industry, with no toy industry experience, and boy did it show. So, we have changed all of that, and we have a great team of people. And it is all about the people. We now have great brands, working with great licensors and performing brilliantly in innovation. We have a dream team of 60 people in the company, and they all love it.

W

You’re the industry ‘floating head’, thanks to the Harry Potter Cloak of Invisibility… what's the health of innovation in the industry? I like being called a floating head. I am going to agree with Trump for the first time in my life. We have got to stop the counterfeits. We have harked on about it since we came into toys in 2011 and got copied by a lot of factories out of China. A lot of unscrupulous distributors and retailers at the top of the chain just didn’t care, either - as long as they made money. I’d like to think things are changing and there is groundswell to stop the counterfeiters now. We do need to change, and I think change is coming. I think you are going to see some significant

new laws come out over the next 18 months that will have a big impact on our industry, and I'm excited because we live for innovation. You talk a lot about toys having the ‘wow’ moment for kids. Do you remember having your own ‘wow’ moment growing up? I do. I remember getting a yellow skateboard called a Fordham skateboard when I was about nine or ten… 40 plus years ago. I’m not skateboarding these days, but I remember it well: red wheels and special bearings that you had to have to be part of the cool crowd. It was in the detail when you were a kid - you learned from your friends what was the right toy to have and you had to have it. My Christmas Day ‘wow’ moment was the Star Wars Kenner figures and a thing called Cyborgs that fired missiles out of its back. All those feelings stay there with you, at the back of your mind. What’s the best moment of your career? Blimey… big question. Being taken seriously by one of the biggest licensors globally to do a global deal, and being entrusted that we could deliver that deal. That was with Warner Bros and Harry Potter. That faith they put in us, we doubled down on our faith back to them and said ‘we are going to absolutely deliver for you if it kills us.’ That kind of trust goes beyond a regular business transaction. This industry is all about people and we connected with the people. In this business, people don’t do deals with corporations; people do deals with people.

Media Director: Colin Wilkinson colin.wilkinson@biz-media.co.uk +44 (0)203 143 8777

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58 | toy news | May 2019

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2019

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