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ISSUE 211/12

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November/December 2019

TOY NEWS

BECOME A

MASTER MAGICIAN WITH THESE MINI MAGIC KITS!

NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2019

THAMES AND KOSMOS UK BUILDING ON STRONG MAGIC SALES WITH EXCITING NEW LINES APPEARING NEXT SPRING

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ISSUE 211/12

www.toynews-online.biz

November/December 2019

TOY NEWS

BECOME A

MASTER MAGICIAN WITH THESE MINI MAGIC KITS!

NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2019

THAMES AND KOSMOS UK BUILDING ON STRONG MAGIC SALES WITH EXCITING NEW LINES APPEARING NEXT SPRING

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No. 211/212 | November/December

It's all a kinda magic...

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

Sales Manager Sarah Norwood Sarah.Norwood@biz-media.co.uk

Designer Nikki Hargreaves nikki.hargreaves@biz-media.co.uk

Follow us @toynews online

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n the spirit of the season, this month I've found myself subsumed within the magic of showbusiness, diving into the magicians hat for a look at a sector that's undergone a 'global renaissance' this year. It's not just anecdotal evidence to the fact that magic tricks have seen an upsurge in sales this past 12 months. Our cover star of this November/December combined issue, Thames & Kosmos has told us it will expand its magic portfolio owing to the surprise demand for its oering, while Marvin's Magic has seen sales increase 25 per cent over the last year. It begs the question, what's going on? Is this a by-product of the much-reported push-back against the onslaught of the digital age that has seen families lean on analog entertainment as a respite from all the pixels and wi-ďŹ hotspots? Well, perhaps... But it's important to note what social platforms like YouTube or TikTok have done, and will continue to do, for toys and games, long into the future. An instant platform with the potential to showcase talent to the world's stage, social media demands constant creativity of its users. As more and more outlets like them emerge, I'll wager we're only just scratching the surface of what the YouTuber scene has in store. If it can continue to foster real creativity in its users (as SuperAwesome's Dylan Collins promises us), it could make for an exciting few years. Robert Hutchins, Editor Robert.Hutchins@biz-media.co.uk

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Contents November/December Features

Regulars

SOUND AND VISIONARY

Opinion 06 Trudi Bishop 07 Steve Pasierb 08 Victor Caddy 09 Majen Immink

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German outfit Tonies has made its mark on the toy scene this year, so ToyNews decides to have a chat.

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FAME IN THE FINAL FRONTIER We take a deep dive into the YouTuber scene to witness its impact on the toy industry this year.

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A GLOBAL RENAISSANCE Sales in the magic tricks sector have seen a surprising upsurge this year, we dive into the magician's hat.

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RETAIL PANEL A relaunched Retail Panel dissects the high street issue amid the rise of online shopping.

Market Data 40 Kids Insights 43 Giraffe Insights Sector Guides 47 Pre-school Toys 57 Ride-ons 60 Action figures

Back pages 68 Industry Moves 70 Bossing It...

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Opinion

Ticked off: Why I’m trying to remove the cynicism from CSR forms By Trudi Bishop

Corporate Social Responsibility has been around for many years in various interpretations for companies, ranging from giving cash or employee time to charitable causes, to ensuring workers have a safe, fair work environment. CSR is a broad and varied subject that now, due to more emphasis on plastic pollution and the climate crisis is often closely linked with a company’s sustainability strategy. I'm known to be critical of some companies' approach to their CSR and sustainability strategies, as so often CSR can be treated by the board as a ‘box-ticking’ exercise to uphold a good share price passed onto either a member of staff who is close to retirement and needs a job to complete until the end of their time, or passed to a junior needing to add some experience to their portfolio. Meaning: it's not given the weight or budget it requires to run a business in a truly sustainable way. I see large toycos shouting about their recycling schemes (pushing the guilt and work on to the

consumer to recycle) but not following this up with more substantive action. It feels like ‘green-washing’. The fact that recycling or making your packaging/ product recyclable should be the last step in your sustainability strategy is beside the point (for now). But the deeper I get into sustainability and CSR, the less cynical I am trying to be. Despite many companies still treating their CSR policy as a way to keep shareholders happy, at least they're doing something. Whether they're sending staff to work in soup kitchens, doing charitable bike rides for the Toy Trust, donating cash, or reducing their office waste – away from the cynicism; these are all important small steps toward a better future. With the world in such a desperate place ecologically I wonder if it's better to cling onto little actions and hope little steps lead to larger ones? Maybe the staff wearing the CSR mantle will be moved to educate others, so they can lead change from within? Thankfully, there are true leaders who show that CSR is something to be taken seriously, such as Unilever and its latest move, but while the economic system is still run on profit before planet, I will continue to try put cynicism aside and hope the small actions will lead to large, genuine changes.

"CSR is often seen as a box-ticking excercise, but I have hope." Trudi Bishop is the founder of Bee Licensing and an active campaigner on behalf of sustainability within the toy and licensing industry. She is a founding member of the Products of Change industry group.

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Opinion

Played in Manhattan: New York Toy Fair is about putting toys and games on the world stage By Steve Pasierb

As a member of the global toy community, your travel plans are probably already coming together for Toy Fair New York, taking place February 22 to 25 2020. Now entering its 117th year, the event has sold out all available exhibit space, with nearly 1,000 toymakers from six continents on-board. Opening doors to the US and global markets, and welcoming some 30,000 industry professionals, while unveiling innovative toys and games, Toy Fair New York will continue its trajectory of global importance. In fact, it will experience significant growth in 2022, when expansion of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center is complete. Along with an expanding exhibit hall, meeting, event, and public display spaces will come opportunities to forge partnerships, launch events, deliver enriching content, and more. Toy Fair 2020 will showcase the rise in “kidfluencers” whose impact on toys grows by the minute, and we’ll be tailoring spaces and opportunities just for them. Importantly, significant show resources

are dedicated to helping around 1,000 members of the press navigate the marketplace in search of toys that will be trending throughout 2020. The Creative Factor educational series, now in its 17th year, helps to connect up-and-coming design students with mentors, contacts, and practical advice. An expanded Creative Factor will offer workshops, roundtables, and tech demos covering the impact of the toy lifecycle from concept to consumer. In recent years, major entertainment companies have partnered with the show to host their media upfronts, summits, and brand activations. 2020 will welcome licensing executives from Universal, Netflix, Nickelodeon CP, Marvel, Sesame Workshop, Sony Pictures, Warner Bros. CP, and others, resulting in multiple agreements coming out of the show. Buyers who want to make the most of their time in New York are encouraged to check out the show’s floor plan and product zones to map out a visit, while the hottest trends of 2020 will be announced by The Toy Association in a Toy Trends Briefing on day one. With great anticipation leading up to the show, we can’t wait to welcome our international guests from over 100 countries for another dynamic Toy Fair.

"New York Toy Fair opens doors to US and global markets." Steve Pasierb is the chairman and managing director of the Toy Association, the US toy industry body and organisers behind Toy Fair New York, the annual showcase for the world's biggest players in the global toy industry.

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Opinion

Stick to the code: Why we should be discouraging copycat products in the market By Victor Caddy

Copycat toys look like the real thing. They have a different name, of course, but the message conveyed is usually the same, and the clever use of similar imagery and colours on the packaging sends subliminal messages to the unwary consumer. In reality, lookalikes are cheap and inferior, and then there’s the issue of safety standards. In a recent study, the BTHA purchased 200 toys from online stores and found that 58 per cent were illegal to sell in the UK as they failed to meet safety regulations, and 22 per cent had serious safety failures. Inferior lookalike products don’t just hit profit margins - they also tarnish reputations. Many consumers simply do not realise they bought a fake. Even if they do, they may think it is just the same product in an unofficial guise, without the premium pricing of properly branded toy. By the time they realise their mistake, it is often too late. Last December, trading standards officers in Lincolnshire seized fake versions of the LOL Surprise! Doll that were being sold locally after they received complaints from angry parents who thought they were buying the genuine product.

But, here’s the problem. Lookalike products should be illegal but copycats are clever and determined when it comes to finding weaknesses in IP protection. By adopting a different name, copycats avoid trade mark infringement; by adopting different artwork, they avoid copyright infringement (which requires proof of copying) and design registration isn’t always available for toy and game manufacturers and tends to be neglected. To help toy and game developers get just rewards for their hard work, and toy and game manufacturers just rewards for their investment in bringing new toys and games to market, we’re discouraging the manufacture, stocking and sale of fake toys and games, to make it easier for consumers to spot and avoid fakes. Of course, we need the support and goodwill of the industry – and, judging by the feedback we have had so far, we have that in abundance. But we need more than just goodwill – we think that, if the industry supports this initiative, we can discourage manufacturers from creating copycat products and retailers from stocking them by the use of a collective or certification mark that can only be used by those who adhere to the code. Our vision is of a pioneering industry that promotes a fair and safety conscious trading environment that recognises and rewards the intellectual investment of toy and game creators, even where the law may be too blunt an instrument to be of much help.

"Our vision: to promote a fair and safety conscious market." Victor Caddy is a partner at Wynne Jones IP, a firm specialising in copyright and protection. Caddy has over 25 years as a specialist trademark and design attorney. He once appeared in an episode of The Sweeney.

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Opinion

Lights, camera, and action: The power of the toy influencer in today's industry By Majen Imminck

Influencers have become a core part of the toy industry, whether they’re unboxing the latest surprise or reviewing the latest licenced toy - we can’t deny the benefits of having the YouTubers and bloggers of today onside. So this year, the BTHA will be trying something new for London Toy Fair: a dedicated Influencer Day. Taking place on Wednesday, January 22, the day will see Influencers given a dedicated tour of the show floor to meet exhibitors and get a sneak peek at what will be released in 2020. On top of this, we’ll also be running a Content Creation Zone, providing space for influencers to record videos with the wide range of toys and games being showcased at the event. For exhibitors, the value that an influencer can bring to the launch of a product shouldn’t be ignored. A recent study found that 77 per cent of children trust YouTuber recommendations over traditional advertising, signifying that the relationship between an influencer and their audience is indeed a strong one. Eight-year-old Ryan Kaji is probably the world’s bestknown toy influencer. He’s the star of Ryan’s World, a channel with more than 22 million subscribers. Since the channel first started in March 2015, over 1,500 videos have been uploaded, racking up more than 34 billion

views. That's some very impressive numbers and a real insight into the audience numbers these channels are reaching today. An established channel like Ryan’s World just goes to show the potential long-term success influencers have and the benefits of working with them early in their careers. With stars like Tiana formerly of Tiana Toys and Me growing older and moving on from the toy space, this opens the way for younger channels with smaller audiences to fill their shoes. Up and coming sibling channels ABC Children’s Toys Review and Toy Bazaar are prime examples of “micro-influencers” that can provide opportunities for mutually-beneficial partnerships for a fraction of the cost of a channel with millions of subscribers. Influencers large and small have demonstrated their incredible value to the toy industry and we’re excited to be holding our first Influencer Day at Toy Fair 2020. It will give exhibitors opportunities to create new working relationships with these valuable forms of media and help them choose what to have on display accordingly. Toy Fair 2020 is once again being held at London Olympia on Tuesday, January 21 to Thursday, January 23. To find out more about Toy Fair 2020 and the inaugural influencer day, visit the Toy Fair website or follow the official Toy Fair Twitter.

"The relationship between influencer and audience is strong." Majen Imminck is the head of operations and events at the British Toy and Hobby Association and in charge of organising London's Toy Fair. Imminck successfully build on the show's achievements year on year, and has headed up its Influencer Day initiative.

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We have started to realise that we have the potential to be a world toy, and the UK is an absolutely integral market for us to do that from. Patric FaĂ&#x;bender, Tonies

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Interview

SOUND AND VISIONARY The German outfit, Tonies is credited with pushing the boundaries of audio innovation through its flagship Toniebox audio storytelling system. Robert Hutchins catches up with the team behind the product to learn how it is engaging a generation though audio play

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hen FAO Schwarz launched its premiere UK destination within London’s Selfridges to the public just last month it was a carefully curated portfolio of partners with which the US retailer decorated its expansive floor of toys. Among them, was Tonies. A German outfit that has been performing particularly well across its motherland, and stretching out across Austria and Switzerland over the past six years, Tonies has only recently really made itself known upon UK shores. The storytelling audio toy box that interacts with a range of more than 250 character figures who recount their corresponding

stories to children when placed on the speaker, has made quite an impact on UK audiences in the short two years that it has been in the market. The product has been the recipient of a Made For Mums Toy Awards accolade, and found itself within the pages of Fundamentally Children’s Good Toy Guide, while the very fact that a giant, larger-than-life Toniebox and Tonies character now stands proudly in FAO Schwarz’s flagship London store can impress upon us that Tonies has only just started its work on the UK children’s market. Tonies’ Toniebox is somewhat of a rarity in the modern day tech toy market, in that it knows

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what it wants to be. The Toniebox is an effortlessly simple children’s product that makes use of some of the most up to date NFC technology out there. It will never tell you this, of course, because waxing lyrical about its intuitive tech isn’t the Tonies way. Instead, the Toniebox is all about presenting itself as the most engaging mode of play possible. “It all started with my two daughters, six years ago,” Patric Faßbender, co-founder of Tonies, tells ToyNews. “We had a situation that my kids were listening to audio plays and audio books, that would break very quickly as they got thrown about and used. It was very frustrating, so I was looking for an alternative to this concept. “I was surprised by the fact that CD sales and cassette sales are still very popular in the kids’ space. I’ve never been convinced about the listening devices and iPads, iPhones and Smartphones for kids in this age group. I didn’t want to give my kids a smartphone, and luckily there are a lot of parents who feel the same because the response from parents has been very good.”

In Germany, we are talking with almost every brand or IP owner in the kids' space regarding licensing partnerships. It's a great way to get their brands into the kids' bedrooms. Patric Faßbender, Tonies

It was from here that Faßbender, in partnership with his business associate, Marcus Stahl began to develop a product that would allow children to ‘engage with stories and audio in a classic, physical way… but through something new and innovative’ “It had to be something that fit totally with the way children listen to audio content, that was the starting point,” continues Faßbender. “The tactility and physicality of the Tonies and the Toniebox is paramount to this. Storytelling and

listening to stories is so important to kids for their concentration, developing their language, so it was important for us to engage them in this activity.” While Toniebox features the most up to date near field technology that allows its figures to tell stories when placed on the speaker port, the product is launched to be be the antithesis of today’s reliance on ‘screens.’ In fact, this screen-free product channels the child’s focus on listening to the stories and using their imagination, while the physicality of the highly wellmade figures, means kids can heighten their emotional connection with each character through imaginative play. “A child can build a relationship with these characters and have the toy in their hands to play with how they wish, and take them on their own stories, before finishing the day by listening to them on the Toniebox,” says Faßbender. “The play aspect helps them emotionally bond with the stories, which is a powerful concept.” Some of the most notable among Tonies’ current library of more than 250 Tonies

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characters are the likes of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s The Gruffalo, The Gruffalo’s Child, and Stick Man, as well as Raymond Brigg’s festive phenomenon, The Snowman alongside a whole host of Disney stories such as Cars, The Little Mermaid, The Jungle Book, and the Lion King. With more in the pipeline, licensing and IP partnerships with global children’s entertainment brands is a major area of the Tonies business. “In Germany, we are having conversations with almost every brand owner or IP owner in the kids’ space, regarding licensing partners,” says Faßbender. “And it’s really good to see because it is a great way for them to get their content into the kids’ rooms. “Of course, we have got a product that is now a platform that gives brand owners and their characters and stories access to their target audience through audio and play, this is why they are interested in talking to us.” Toniebox comes from a place where storytelling is celebrated. The narrative is the central component of the product, and

the attention to audio detail and the depth of engagement offered through its audio content could only have been developed by a firm deeply invested in stories as a mode of entertainment. It comes as little surprise that it’s a team of booklovers behind the finish of the final product.

We're positioning ourselves to build and grow with key markets like the UK. Working in the UK is fantastic for us, it is a really good point from which we can travel the world. Patric Faßbender, Tonies

“It might have been different in the UK, but in Germany in the 60s and 70s, it was very popular to listen to audiobooks and

audio plays. When I was five or six, I started to listen to audiobooks and I loved it,” says Faßbender. “I loved to read and listen. It is all about the stories at the end of the day. We tried to find all the stories that kids love, and that is hopefully the starting point of developing something much larger.” From Germany in the 70s to a Europespanning business making in-roads in the UK and US markets, Faßbender’s journey with books and storytelling has taken him on a global adventure. Tonies now has a network of local teams such as the UK outfit based in London, where all UK business is conducted. “We are really positioning ourselves to grow and build in markets like the UK,” he continues. “We have key accounts with people like John Lewis, FAO Schwarz and others about to come in the UK, as well as toy and book partners in other countries. Having local teams means we can react to local trends and demands quickly. “We have started to realise that we have the potential to be a world toy, and the UK is an important part of this. From the UK, it gives you a leverag on the English speaking market, from which the next step is the US market. By October 2020, we will be in the office in Los Angeles, and there is a lot of strategic logic to it. From the US, you have the chance to develop into other countries and regions. “We talk like we have big plans, but for the time we love being in the UK. It is really a great country and a good point from which to travel the world. Of course, we could never have imagined this success. When we started out in Germany, we invented the product for our own kids, now we’re looking at the world stage.” The sense of what Tonies has achieved in its short time isn’t lost on either Faßbender or Stahl, who admit that the biggest issue they face now is tempering the constant flow of new ideas of directions in which to take the business next. “We now have to make sure we don’t go chasing too many ideas,” says Faßbender, a man brimming with concepts and ways in which to develop the product next. “We have to be selective and develop only the ones we think will land. We have to make them work for us, but, and as the success of Toniebox highlights, they have to be relevant to the audience,” he concludes. Nov/Dec 2019 | toy news | 13

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THESE COMPANIES WILL NOT BE SENDING OUT CHRISTMAS CARDS THIS YEAR… …Instead, they have generously supported the Toy Trust by donating their Christmas card budget to the industry’s charity Since its foundation in 1990 by the BTHA, The Toy Trust has made a real difference to voer a million children and their families in the UK and right across the world. With your help £6 million has been raised over that time. The Toy Trust is an institution in which the toy industry can take real pride 100% of funds raised for the Toy Trust reach the people who need it every penny goes to children’s charities, as all administration costs are cleared by the BTHA or supported by no change volunteer activity. All of the money helps children through a huge variety of projects, many of which would not be possible without our assistance

Toy Trust funds help disadvantaged children and their families to; 

Alleviate suffering

Support children through awful experiences

Encourage achievement through adversity

Purchase vital equipment

Provide care

Bolster existing initiatives

Initiate brand new projects

Satisfy basic needs

The Toy Trust makes a real difference to children’s lives everywhere, all year round.

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These companies wish all their customers, suppliers and friends a merry Christmas and a happy New Year

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FAME IN THE FINAL FRONTIER As FGTeeV becomes the latest YouTube-born IP to land its own toy line with Bonkers Toys, Robert Hutchins peers into the blackhole that is the platform’s online content to explore just what is going on in this bold frontier of entertainment

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hile there’s little to suggest that Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was anything other than a satirical take on the midnineteenth century’s societal drug abuse, and certainly not a foreshadowing of the coming age of the social media platform, it’s with fresh doubt that I, myself, only just emerge - brain intact - from an eight day bender of YouTube algorithms. In the name of research I have chased the elusive White Rabbit down its contemporary hole of online content and discovered the veritable Mad Hatter’s Tea Party of short form content that today holds the attention, vice-like, of children growing up in the digital era. Were Carroll to have written the adventures of Alice in modern times, I can only expect that Cheshire Cats, pipe smoking caterpillars and maniacal Queens would easily give way to your Ryan’s Worlds, FGTeeV and Little Baby Bum’s of the YouTube landscape today. The numbers in which digital audiences are being drawn into these holes are enormous, and of course, to where children gravitate there’s usually an absurd amount of money to be made. The potential for success to be found among the algorithmic laws of YouTube’s children’s content is a matter that the toy industry is growing increasingly aware of. At this year’s Brand Licensing Europe, The NPD Group was handed the stage to suggest that the toy industry begin to look beyond the stars of linear TV and at where the viewer numbers are really totting up:

at the YouTube creators of today as more modern inspiration for IP revenue. At the time of my resurface back into the real world, Ryan’s World - to use just one example of today’s wave of YouTube stardom - had posted its newest video, in which the seven year old was building an imaginary fort with his father. Within an hour, the video had hit 7,744 views. Just three days before, the channel had posted a video in which Ryan conducts a series of

"YouTube stars are the new celebrities and role models that are driving sales and demand for merchandise. Bonkers Toys has spotted the massive potential for toy lines in this space." Deborah Stallings Stumm, Bonkers DIY science experiments at home. At the time of writing, it was climbing towards 4 million views. These numbers are but a fraction of the kind of figures an average Ryan’s World

video will clock up over the course of a few months, and a single drop in an ocean of the cumulative viewing figures for the Ryan’s World YouTube channel itself. On top of this, the content output from Ryan’s World is staggering; one could find oneself navigating its constructed world of make belief for days on end before having to rewatch a single dose of Ryan. As a content machine, it’s well oiled. As an IP for the toy industry, it’s a cornucopia of potential that’s managed to divide opinion on ethics from the commercialisation of Ryan’s own childhood, to the pushing of that commercialisation upon our most susceptible; children. Throwing personal opinion to one corner - no matter which side of the argument you do land - just for the moment, the biggest take home message from Ryan’s YouTube stardom is that commercialisation is not only viable, but being actively achieved. Love it or loathe it, Ryan’s World is among a slew of online IP that have changed the game irrevocably. It was the US outfit Bonkers Toys that got its hands on the Ryan’s World master toy deal first, having established itself as an entity with the primary objective of developing toy products based on the way kids are consuming entertainment today. Four years ago, Bonkers Toys may have been accused of predetermination by use of its moniker; today, it’s the prime example of how far a little foresight can get you. “YouTube creators, social media influencers and gaming apps are at the

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core of today’s entertainment for kids and teens,” Deborah Stallings Stumm, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Bonkers Toys tells ToyNews. “YouTube stars are the new celebrities and role models that are driving sales and demand for merchandise. The Ryan’s World and FGTeeV fans of today have a magical connection with these creators and Bonkers Toys saw a massive and untapped potential for successful toy lines.” The gamble - and by anyone’s standards, putting faith into the online success of one seven year old child and his parents could be considered so - certainly paid off. Today, Ryan’s World toys are among some of the most sought after, not only in the US from where the brand originates, but here in the UK, too. This year’s DreamToys Top 12 toys for Christmas pick even featured items from the range, while - distributed across the UK by Vivid - the expanse of collectable figures, play-sets and vehicles, is more than making itself known. Ryan of Ryan’s World has by definition become the face of a seismic shift across the toy scene; securing audiences in their tens of millions at a time, is quite literally child's play, and now - all of a sudden - the YouTube creator has a very real presence within the toy market. “The YouTube creator and influencer effect is certainly a reality in today’s toy market,” continues Stallings Stumm. “Finding ways to integrate these new channels with popular and innovative play patterns will be hugely important for successful toy lines going forward. “That said, not all influencers and gaming apps, regardless of their subscribers, downloads and views, will work well for toy lines. Bonkers Toys is very selective about the brands and channels with which we partner.” This much is very true. In fact, it’s a small portfolio indeed that Bonkers Toys boasts, spanning Ryan’s World, the more video game content-orientated FGTeeV, and Slither.io. For anyone unfamiliar with FGTeeV, its premise is rather convoluted. It originated as a game streaming channel that quickly monopolised on its younger skewing, child-focused content. It’s a supremely slick and well-produced example of its genre that has developed within it its own cast of character ‘presenters’. Think,

Mr Tumble and his extended Tumble family for YouTube streamers. As a 30 something year old operating on the outskirts of this particular field, much of the channel’s content is lost on me, however, there’s an average of 4 million viewers per video to whom it is regarded as the pinnacle of light entertainment today. And who can argue with that? Already, the line up of collectables and figures based on the FGTeeV IP has been

"Unlike a movie or TV series, one of the benefits of YouTube is that content can be continuously viewed and is constantly refreshed, creating potential for a much longer product lifecycle. Deborah Stallings Stumm, Bonkers

the benefits of YouTube is that content can be continuously viewed and is constantly refreshed. This creates potential for a much longer product life cycle. On top of this, the creativity of the YouTube creator is at the core of the success of each toy line. Bonkers is dedicated to developing toys that are truly authentic and on-brand for each creator.” With success on this scale now within better reach of practically anyone, it’s little wonder that YouTube stardom has become such a sought after prize. And in a world in which content consumption is as fragmented as it is, YouTube begins to make a lot of sense and by extension has become a fertile ground for creativity. But it certainly isn’t alone in the market, and following its recent fine at the hands of the Federal Trade Commission for its breach of COPPA (the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act) - who has since stepped in with a welcome review of YouTube’s data collection practices - this particular playing field has sprouted a number of competing platforms. “In the same way the non-kids’ creator market has multiple platforms to engage their audience (Snap, Tiktok,

a success at US retail for Bonkers Toys. Now with UK distribution secured through Jazwares, the firm's expecting a similar result here. “YouTube and social media are very important sources of IP for the industry, but retail sales have proven that just having a big-name talent behind a line does not guarantee success,” continues Stallings Stumm. “Bonkers has a specific process we utilise to ensure each brand is developed and designed to maximise the potential. “Unlike a movie or TV series, one of

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Instagram, etc) the kids’ and family space is following the same trend,” explains Dylan Collins, CEO of the leading kids’ digital engagement platform, SuperAwesome. “The explosion of creator popularity for Rukkaz (the video platform for kids/ family creators) is a great example of this. Hundreds of creators (with a combined following of almost 180 million YouTube subscribers) have now signed up.” Collins has been on a recent mission to put to bed the concerns surrounding YouTube’s run-in with the FTC, the legislative revision of its data collection practices, and the impact that this could have on the creator sphere itself. In addition to a $170 million fine, YouTube has since been instructed to develop, implement and maintain a system that allows channel owners to identify themselves as making child-directed content. This will immediately block all data collecting practices used by the platform, which in turn will result in lower

ad revenue on those particualr videos. No audience data to show the corporates, no return investment through advertising. Resultantly, YouTube creators have been quick to voice their upset, while what this

"The YouTube COPPA fine was a good thing. It will unlock more money for kids' content creators over time because it has made the rules very clear on how advertising can and can't be done." Dylan Collins, SuperAwesome

means for the viability of sustained content output from them has been thrown into question. After all, what longevity does an online content creator have if it can’t monetise and fund its output on a kind of scale it has been so far? The answer, as Collins readily states, is plenty: “Believe it or not, the YouTube COPPA fine was a good thing. It will unlock more money for kids content creators over time because it has made the rules very clear about how kids' advertising could and could not be done. “And with this in mind, content creators and influencers absolutely aren’t going away, they’re more important than ever. I think you’re going to see a range of new platforms for kids and families emerging over the next couple of years,” he adds. What’s certain is that YouTube isn’t the only player in town anymore - for the time being, it just happens to be the biggest. Now with the rise in competing children’s content platforms well

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underway, the interest lies in watching just how susceptible to competition the platform becomes in due course. “A kid-specific digital platform will probably breakout in the future once regulation settles and companies can navigate the law and keep unsuitable content out,” says Ryan Magnon, the CEO of Panda Mony Toys, the company behind the original action figure IP, Alter Nation and its animated YouTube series. “Whether it’s from YouTube or someone else, they’ll have to make a focused effort to address this specific market regardless of if they’re also addressing a general audience.”

"It seems like an established license today is no more or less risky than an original one. It just comes down to the hook that's going to resonate with the current generation." Ryan Magnon, Panda Mony Toys

The continued optimism, however, is that creativity will thrive within the online frontier. Panda Mony Toys itself subscribed long ago to the belief that YouTube can open doors for original IP; precisely the opportunity that the independent US operation is taking with its action-adventure Alter Nation brand. A short form animated series that will continue to drop on YouTube throughout the course of the year, Alter Nation is centred on a group of evil-battling mutant characters. The IP is Panda Mony Toys’ attempt to not only spice up a market of action figures that, in its words, has become stagnated by companies chasing the same comic-book and blockbuster licenses, but use YouTube and its animated series to build a wider licensing programme. It's yet more evidence that platforms like YouTube and social media continue to inspire a creative defiance in artists to keep pushing accepted norms today. 20 | toy news | Nov/Dec 2019

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“We got the ‘you can’t do that”’ from a lot of people in the toy industry. Among other things, they said you can’t make an action figure without an established license, but we knew better because we had a ton of toys that were never comics, cartoons, or movies,” Magnon tells ToyNews. “Battle Beasts, Super Naturals, and the Skateboard Gang were pretty popular at my school. Maybe their success was too modest for the big companies, but it’s fine for us. Besides, we believed that if we had a great toy with great characters, content partners would come, and they have.” Alter Nation is a passion project to shift the balance of power over the kids’ action figure market from the Hollywood studios and into the hands of the smaller creators. It’s without doubt a movement born out of both frustration with and desire to innovate against the accepted norm, and make use of the privilege offered to a generation in which creativity now has far greater potential to grasp tangible rewards. “It seems like an established license is no more or less risky than an original one,” says Magnon. It just comes down to a hook that’s going to resonate with the current generation.” Strip away the commercial aspects of the YouTube movement just for a moment, and what you're staring at is a platform that can showcase raw talent to the world in an instant. If this social media sphere can instigate a better diversification of the content we all consumer, that seems like an attractive rabbit to chase down the hole.

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Across the UK, Europe, Asia, Australia and the US, magic is seeing a phenomenal resurgence in popularity, with sales ‘booming’ on an international scale. Robert Hutchins dives into the magicians hat in order to uncover the tricks within Nov/Dec 2019 | toy news | 23

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ix minutes of nerve-wracking torture is how best it can be described. Some 18 years on, live TV has yet to better the moment that This Morning presenter Eamon Holmes met David Blaine, the US export that had seen a meteoric rise to fame on the global stage. If you want to be a magician, as the famous Penn and Teller saying goes (and I think we all know which one did indeed do all the talking here), you have to want to first entertain your audiences. Granted, there was little by way of entertainment - in its most traditional sense - going on when Blaine sat mute opposite a visibly pained Holmes back on his first This Morning appearance in 2001, but it was an exchange that captured the attention of the UK all the same, and subsequently made for the career of our own legend of breakfast television. Of course, Blaine went on to continue to capture the attention of the world’s media, leaping from one death-defying stunt to another, including entombing himself in all manner of scenarios, and one stunt in which he seemingly held his breath for 17 minutes. Whether it was considered magic, illusion, or even anything close to entertainment by his harshest critics, Blaine certainly ignited the collective imagination. It’s a far cry from the days of the old tissue up the sleeve, magic wands, cups and balls, and Debbie McGee of the Paul Daniels brand of magic, yet forever linked intrinsically by the common thread that all magic and magicians sew through generations of audiences: magic, afterall, is all about the showmanship. But Blaine’s height of fame was in the early 2000s. Audiences have since changed, and, thanks to the never-ending run of reality TV talent shows like Britain’s Got Talent, television magic has made its way back to the on-stage format, where it has started to inspire a new generation of audiences altogether. There’s a very simple reason why magic is one of the most enduring forms of entertainment, and one that over the generations has continued to evolve alongside its contemporary audience, and that, according to Gustav Kuhn, a reader at Goldsmiths College in London and

author of Experiencing the Impossible: The Science of Magic, is rather wonderfully that people just want to believe in it. “Magic captivates people of all ages and cultures,” Kuhn tells ToyNews. “It is unique in that it allows you to experience the impossible. We have an innate drive towards things we do not understand, because it encourages us to learn more about the world around us.

"Magic taps into the deep rooted cognitive mechanism that draws us towards things that conflict with our beliefs about the world." Gustav Kuhn, MAGIC-Lab

“There are lots of reasons why we are drawn to magic. One of them is that it taps into this deep-rooted cognitive mechanism that draws us towards things that conflict with our beliefs about the world.” Just like the good old fashioned ghost story that compels the horror film fan, magic is an entertainment form based on a mutual agreement between the magician and its audience. One will showcase to us

the unbelievable if we choose - by design or not - to believe in the other. It will come as no surprise that the popularity of magic is surging today. It was in July this year that the 30 year old entertainment and magic specialist, Marvin’s Magic reported “booming sales” on an international scale of its magic tricks portfolio, that owner Marvin Berglas put down to a “global renaissance” for the entertainment artform. A reinvigoration of magic and entertainment saw sales surge not only in the UK, but across Europe, the Middle East, India, China, Australia, and in the US, driven, in part, by a cultural shift to ‘talent show television,’ that this year saw no fewer than five magic acts take to the stage of Britain's Got Talent alone. “Magic is cool… and as diverse as music,” says Berglas. “In the same way you might enjoy Soul, R&B, Rap, Jazz, Classic, or Pop, there are also so many styles of magicians performing different styles of magic and illusions.” Reflecting this very sentiment, magic has certainly managed to work its charm on the UK distribution division, Thames and Kosmos this year, who admits that the success of the sector has taken the team somewhat by surprise. As a result of its popularity, the outfit is extending its magic range for next year to meet demand.

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“Everyone knows that magic is not ‘real’, says Joanna Drage, sales director at Thames and Kosmos UK, “but we still watch and wait for the final reveal. The ongoing Harry Potter and Fantastic Beast franchises, along with films such as Now You See Me have brought magic to the forefront of people’s minds when it comes to gift giving. Even Britain’s Got Talent has illusionists and magicians pretty much every show, so it’s safe to say that magic is here to stay.” For 2020, Thames and Kosmos is growing its selection of Magic Sets, with products ranging in price from £20 to £45, including sets such as the Silver, Gold and Onyx Box sets which feature a bounty of tricks and illusions, along with detailed instruction manuals and online video tutorials for magicians of all abilities. While much of it is aimed at the eight years and over market, Thames and Kosmos has also developed a younger range that taps cunningly into the STEM market, exploiting the link between magic and science, as well as other aspects of a child’s development. “Thames and Kosmos magic sets are not just fun, they improve manual and mental dexterity,” continues Drage. “Parents are aware that performing magic can help children improve self-esteem and gain confidence. We are proud to be known as a brand that engages learners and makes learning science, technology, maths and engineering fun.” Of course, the link between magic and human science runs ultimately deeper than what is apparent on the surface; an aspect of illusory science, or the science of illusion, that Goldsmith’s Kuhn explores in

the College’s own MAGIC-Lab in London. It’s the studies taking place here that go on to explain the innate captivation we as humans have with magic, as a form of entertainment and escapism. “Magicians have extensive experience in tricking the human brain,” states Kuhn. “Magic allows you to experience the impossible, and it elicits a unique set of emotions and beliefs. In the MAGICLab, we study these tricks because they

"Magic is cool and as diverse as music. As you enjoy Soul, R&B, Rap, or Pop, there are many styles of magicians performing different styles of magic." Marvin Berglas, Marvin's Magic

provide us with unique insights into how the mind works. We also apply some of these principles to other domains, and we are currently exploring ways in which magicians’ mind control techniques can be implemented in computer games, to enhance people’s gaming experience.” You’d think, with an air of cynicism, that given the rise of the machines we find ourselves surrounded by in today’s digital age, that the continued advance of technology would have all but muscled magic straight out of the picture by now. If magic, after all, is about showing its audience the impossible, then surely

technology like AR and VR is on the path to usurping such a traditional and ancient art? Actually, according to the experts, quite the opposite is true. Kuhn continues: “We currently live in a world that is driven by science and technology, and yet magic has rarely been more popular than today. “Throughout history, people have been drawn to magic. However, it is possible that as more and more parts of the world are explained by science, we find comfort in experiencing things that appear to us as impossible.” Kuhn isn’t alone in his way of thinking, finding that his sentiments are readily echoed by those in the toy industry who have witnessed first hand the explosion of magic in the face of the tech movement. Thames and Kosmos’ Drage, adds: “In a roundabout way, the sheer prevalence of technology surrounding our kids is leading to a backlash from parents, many are now looking at non-tech hobbies and games to draw them away from their screens.” But let’s not forget that at the same time, that technology may well be the modern day magician's best friend. Already, Marvin’s Magic has seen great success at integrating technology with its branded magic in order to “enhance and bring something new to the magic trick itself.” And remember that, thanks to the rise in YouTube and other content creation platforms, where user creativity is celebrated and held in high regard, technology in this sense provides yet another platform for the magicians of tomorrow to showcase their talent. And who knows, there could be the next David Blaine out there, waiting to be discovered. Nov/Dec 2019 | toy news | 25

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ROLL UP... FOR THE MAGICAL MYSTERY TOYS Marvin's Magic has just seen one of its best years to date, with sales surging 25 per cent amid a world-wide resurgence of the business of magic. Robert Hutchins catches up with Marvin Berglas to explores the marvelous world of Marvin's Magic

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hat Marvin’s Magic has detailed a return to its roots some 30 years into serving the magic tricks market with some of the scene’s most enduring products, makes for an interesting narrative for the industry treasure. When it comes to magic, it’s often the best measure to assume there’s very little room for coincidences. Magic is so often, instead, an exacting science in manipulation of its audience, mastering expectations and exploiting what is already predetermined. Likewise, when it comes to the business of magic, there’s very little coincidence that Marvin’s Magic has just seen one of its most successful years to date amid ‘booming international sales,’ just as the magic scene in general enjoys what has been called a “global renaissance.” The matter that Marvin’s Magic’s sales resurgence correlates with the booming magic sector at a time in which the company highlights its own return to its core values, after re-acquainting itself with the desire to push innovation over price, is so beautifully serendipitous, you’d think it had all been planned. “Magic is more popular than ever,” says Marvin Berglas, founder of Marvin’s Magic. “There have of course been several magic themed fantasy films, while

Photo by drew-gilliam on Unsplash

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there has been more magic online and on TV than ever before. “Marvin’s Magic has enjoyed considerable growth this year. This year, whenever we created new products, we refocused and concentrated our efforts on our core values of quality, innovation and amazement. This clearly paid off as our sales increased by 25 per cent.” Now, if predetermination is something you happily subscribe to, then ready yourself to apply it thickly, as it would seem that the fate of the founder of Marvin’s Magic, Marvin Berglas was sealed from the very start. Born into quite possibly the UK’s most famous magical family - excluding the fictional ‘Potters’, of course - Berglas has been steeped in magic all of his life. His father, David Berglas, was the first magician to have his own TV series back in the '50s and '60s, marking an achievement that won him the adoration and acknowledgement of the biggest names in the entertainment, from David Copperfield and Derren Brown, to Penn and Teller - while his actress mother herself was a RADA alumni. Despite his parents’ efforts to afford Berglas a ‘normal upbringing,’ the now internationally-acclaimed magician, business owner, and past VP of the Magic Circle had an obvious and apparent draw to the business of showbusiness. Nov/Dec 2019 | toy news | 27

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Magic interview

“I think it’s just something that is in your blood,” Berglas tells ToyNews. “It’s something that is carried through in whatever I, or whatever we as a business do. The way we present ourselves and the presentation of our products - it’s all a big part of what Marvin’s Magic is about. It’s definitely ingrained in me, and it has probably all come from my early years.” It was his father’s mantra that ‘Nothing is Impossible’ that provided Berglas the inspiration to start Marvin’s Magic 30 years ago, a business created in order to “make great magic more accessible” for young minds and those with a predisposition for putting on show. It’s an ethos that has since endured the three decades that Marvin’s Magic has successfully coloured the toy industry not only through its portfolio of magic tricks and products, but through its approach to retail and the ‘retailtainment’ that Marvin’s Magic prides itself upon. It’s only to be expected, of course. However successful a business Berglas has built around him in Marvin’s Magic including a Marvin’s Magic Academy hosted at a very high-end resort in Sardinia - he has maintained a close relationship with the artform that put him where he is, performing VIP events on the regular. “I am lucky enough to be more selective about the shows I do nowadays, choosing to perform at high-profile events for sports

clubs and sports personalities,” Berglas explains, “and for the last decade I’ve had a regular with the Barbarian Rugby team whenever they do a UK tour, along with having huge connections with Arsenal as their resident magician for over 26 years.”

"Showbusiness is something that's in your blood. It's something that is carries through in whatever I or Marvin's Magic as a business do." Marvin Berglas, Marvin's Magic

Whether performing for Rugby World Cup winning giants or the time he was chosen as the demonstrating magician for Hamley’s when the retailer closed off its London store for a Michael Jackson visit, at the heart of what Berglas does is his love for the audience reaction. “The powerful thing about magic is that - if it is good magic - it’s like people are children again. Really good magic can make the hair on the back of your neck stand up, and that’s a powerful tool to have,” says Berglas. It goes without saying then, that this is what the entrepreneur aims to deliver with each trick in the portfolio.

“We have always adopted the theatrical principal that you are only ever as good as your last performance, and as such we are always striving to do better, whether that be through our demonstrations, our product inventiveness or our collaborations with high profile retailers and brands,” he says. When it comes to retail, Marvin’s Magic has two types of business. The first takes the form of the company’s approach to in-store theatre, demonstration and retailtainment. And it’s fair to say that Marvin’s Magic is a pioneer in the field. “We are proud to run our demonstrations in some of the most prestigious and high profile stores around the world. Many have tried and failed as it’s not just a case of being loud, wearing a baseball cap the wrong way round and calling yourself a crew or squad,” he quips. “Today, to get a shoppers’ attention, make them stop, keep them interested enough to watch and hopefully then buy, is a real skill set. We use the same showbiz disciplines as someone on stage, where you have literally a few moments to stop, hook, and show them.” In the same way an audience will make their mind up about a stage act, philosophises Berglas, the same is true of one of his company’s demonstrators. If part of what makes an act spectacular is its lighting, scripting, and make up, then so

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too, does successful demonstration require the same behind the scenes expertise. “It all takes careful planning with a range of many talented people, from recruitment, training, management and motivation, scripting, rehearsal and repetition. It doesn’t happen by accident,” says the entrepreneurial showman, evidently never too far away from his showbiz hat. Part two of the Marvin’s Magic construct is in its product itself, an area that has been held in high esteem by retailers and consumers alike for the best part of a generation. And it should go without saying that this is Berglas’ bread and butter. Having spent a lifetime tinkering and engineering tricks and performances to act out on the global stage, there’s something about the product design process that feels innate to Berglas, who admits that, alongside Marvin Magic’s creative director, Justin Monehen, harbours a passion for playing an active role in the company’s product design in his other role as the company's head of product development. The fact that Berglas is not only the past vice president of the Magic Circle, a Gold Star member of the Inner Magic Circle, and sits on the Exposure Committee, it perhaps feels an obligation that he keeps a watchful eye over exactly how his portfolio of products are designed, presented and ultimately marketed.

“We don’t give tricks away,” Berglas explains. “People have to invest time to learn. If you put tricks in a book of magic, that’s OK, because someone has to buy

"We use the same showbiz disciplines as someone on stage, where you have a few moments to stop, hook, and show the audience." Marvin Berglas, Marvin's Magic

and read the book, and invest in learning the trick. With our magic tricks, we are ensuring they are the right type of tricks for the right age, and they have to be invested in. We are very protective about keeping the secrets in the right way, which is why we say on each package that ‘fellow magicians agree to never reveal the secrets within.’” With such evident attention to detail and passion for the products, as well as magic as an entertainment form, it should come as little surprise that Marvin’s Magic products are consistently among the top ten list in some of the best retailers across the globe, whether that’s full magic sets or its newly released arts and crafts products featuring 'a touch of magic.'

Investment into its future like this comes easy to Berglas who is now making preparations for the launch of its 2020 grand unveiling: a new-look brand titled Magic Made Easy. “It highlights our Great British design and has our guarantee to amaze. It’s also great for building confidence, hand-eye coordination and developing presentational skills,” says Berglas. “We’ll also be launching The Ultimate Magic range, which we are confident will be a best-seller, as it is really striking with some really incredible magic tricks included.” On top of this, Marvin’s Magic will also be partnering with Rubik’s for an innovative project that will mark its 40th anniversary. “It’s with great pride that they want to collaborate with us,” he states proudly. “As part of their 40th anniversary celebrations, Rubik’s wanted us to create some innovative and unique, mind-bending magic product. We have some truly amazing and original ideas with our creative team really thinking outside of the cube.” It’s quite the narrative that both Berglas and his team of youthful performers and developers at Marvin’s Magic weaves for 2020, and as the team prepares now for the biggest show in the toy industry calendar in London Toy Fair, it would seem we’re about to embark on yet another thrilling chapter in the company’s history with magic. Nov/Dec 2019 | toy news | 29

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Sustainability

BOXED CLEVER

Of all the steps the toy industry is now beginning to implement as it moves towards a more sustainable future, the packaging overhaul is leading the charge in the ambition to rid the industry of its single use plastic. Robert Hutchins ďŹ nds out how the BTHA is backing the initiative and what toy companies are doing to ďŹ ght the waste problem 30 | toy news | Nov/Dec 2019

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Sustainability

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espite the socio-political condition of division that continues to sweep the country three years (or 26,280 hours) after the EU referendum, the toy industry has managed to present a unified front around one of the most pressing topics of 2019, and in the fight for sustainability. While ideas on how or what industry-wide sustainability will look like, or how it can be achieved, may differ, manufacturers, distributors and retailers across the country are starting to implement their own initiatives to fight the scourge of the single-use plastic. Whether it’s in the products being stocked within the independent retailer, day to day operational methods, or revising the use of plastics within toy packaging, small but sure step changes are being made upon the long road that lays ahead. Cultural mindsets have seen a shift in the last two years, and today, consumers are more aware and more concerned about the impact their shopping habits are having on the environment. In fact, a recent YouGov poll showed that more than 80 per cent of the British population are actively trying to reduce the amount of waste they produce, while according to the British Toy and Hobby Association, consumers are more

“Our exhibitors are striving to reduce unwanted packaging, 90 per cent of which is paper and board and already recyclable through normal collection services.” Majen Imminck, BTHA

conscious than ever of the packaging that is being used on their everyday shopping items. Consumers are ready for a change. Over the course of the last five years, consumers have begun switching from plastic bags to bags for life, while reusable water bottles have become a fashion item as much as a tool to combat waste and reduce carbon footprint. Just as the fashion, food and technology industries have started, the toy industry is also adapting to this growing demand for sustainable products as we move into the next decade. Next year, of course, will see Toy Fair make its return to London’s Olympia for its 2020 event, running from January 21 to 23, and as frequent visitors will know, Toy Fair is marked as the destination to see the

latest innovations in the industry. Trends identified at the show often help shape company strategies for the year ahead, and this year, that includes letting the industry get a sneak peek at what the future of packaging might look like. If you’re heading to Toy Fair in 2020, here’s a highlight of some of the companies leading the way in packaging innovation for next year and beyond. Meanwhile, the British Toy and Hobby Association, the organisers behind London’s annual Toy Fair, has recognised the impact that sustainable shopping habits have on the future of the industry. The organisation is keen to stress the difference between the sustainability of today’s toys and the packaging they come in. “Our exhibitors are striving to reduce unwanted packaging, 90 per cent of which is paper and board, and already recyclable through normal collection services. Our members are taking the next steps to reduce unwanted plastic packaging and to further assist consumers in recycling it for the good of the environment and the world we live in,” said majen immink, director of fairs and special events. “I can’t wait to see what innovations our exhibitors have in store for us at Toy Fair 2020 and beyond.” Nov/Dec 2019 | toy news | 31

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Sustainability

MY LITTLE WORLD My Little World is still one of the news kids on the block, having launched its full range back in 2017. Originally set to launch with traditional plastic packaging, the company went back to the drawing board following the launch of another sustainable initiative. “The Sky Ocean Rescue scheme made us have a rethink about how we package our product,” says Richard Walking, co-founder of My Little Worlds. “Although our packaging was made from 100 per cent recycled materials, we took the business decision to recycle all existing packaging, and re-launch the concept in cardboard. “Hundreds of man hours later, we had a much more planet friendly packaging, combined with FSC sourced card inserts. We are proud of what we've achieved here, we had done our bit.”

“The Sky Ocean Rescue scheme made us rethink about how we package our product. We took the decision to re-launch in cardboard.” Richard Walking, My Little World

BIGJIGS

The educational toy specialist, Bigjigs is just one of several companies who have been making sustainable changes over the last few years. Today, the company uses packaging that is 90 per cent recycled materials and sustainable soy ink. “When it comes to designing our products, our designers think outside the box to reduce even the smallest of plastic components out of our products,” said Liz Ireland of Bigjigs. “We want our toys to represent good value, stand the test of time, and manufacturing from wood gives the next generation the full value of a wonderful resource.”

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Sustainability

GIBSONS Gibsons, the independent jigsaw puzzle and board game company, is looking at a common-sense approach to becoming more sustainable this year and moving forwards with the topic close to its heart. “From January 2020 all our new puzzles will be in smaller boxes and no longer wrapped in shrink-wrap, as part of an overarching strategy to decrease our carbon footprint,” said Kate Gibson, MD of Gibsons. “This approach will see Gibsons save on using over 500,000 meters of plastic a year, roughly the equivalent of 4,300 football pitches. “Gibsons will also be reducing the amount of plastic wrapping and bags in the Little Gibsons range.”

KEEL TOYS

“Our sustainabile approach will see Gibsons save over 500,000 meters of plastic a year, equivalent to 4,300 football pitches.”

We all know Keel Toys by its iconic red disc, usually in the ear of one of its cute plush toys. From November this year, all Keel Toys products will carry a new sustainable version of red discs, formed from FSC cardboard. The announcement of the new tags comes hot on the heels of the company’s recently announced CuddlEco range, which will be launched at Toy Fair 2020. “The new CuddlEco range are made using 100 per cent recycled materials, even the sew-in label is recycled,” said Steve Cox, UK sales director of Keel Toys. “These new processes will help Keel toys save from using new plastics on the millions of toys we sell each year.”

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Retail Panel

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Retail Panel THE RETAIL PANNEL...

IAN EDMUNDS

BHAV PATEL

AMANDA GUMMER

PETER ALLINSON

STUART GRANT

ROB TRUP

MILES PENHALLOW

WILL WE SURVIVE THE AGE OF ONLINE SHOPPING? ToyNews has revived and rejuvenated the Retail Advisory Board from the vault to relaunch as a special monthly, retail-focused feature. Kicking us off with its return, Robert Hutchins asks the curated team of retail experts, can the UK high street survive today’s consumer habit of online shopping?

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he news that Mothercare has entered into administration to systematically shutter the doors to all 79 of its UK stores delivered yet another blow to the UK’s high street in early November, just weeks out of the crucial Christmas shopping period. Conforming to a new trope for UK retailers set by Toy R Us at the end of 2017, Mothercare is the latest in a long line of one-time go-to retail brands that have struggled to keep their heads above the water in recent times. It would appear that, coming up now to two years since the collapse of the TRU brand, little has changed the UK high street narrative; times are indeed tough out there. It’s interesting then, that where others have struggled, the UK retailer and name behind the fantasy tabletop Warhammer franchise, Games Workshop has found success. By mid-November this year, the retail brand announced that profits and sales had soared by some 12 per cent to at least £140 million for the six months to the start of December. The retailer predicts that profit before tax is set to rise to 35 per cent, and will not come in lower than £55 million, suggesting that yet another bumper year is on the cards for the British name, making for quite the good news story. It’s indeed stark contrast to the rhetoric that times are hard on the UK’s high street, and one that offers a glimmer of hope for the future of UK retail. Here ToyNews puts the topic to its newly assembled panel of experts to find out what the feeling is from the UK’s toy retail scene. Nov/Dec 2019 | toy news | 35

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Retail Panel

“WE ARE ALWAYS GOING TO COME UP AGAINST COMPETITION” Stuart Grant, buying director, The Entertainer “There is a need for a thriving High Street, and actually we have seen a resurgence in our more local high streets, mainly down to the growth of the supermarket sector and their express stores. Yes, people are online shopping for their groceries, but then they are using their Little Waitrose or Tesco Express for their fresh foods, and that is bringing a lot of footfall back into those high streets. And for us, that has definitely helped. “At The Entertainer, I am always focusing my efforts on ‘how do I differentiate myself with my consumers?’ and I do this in two ways. Firstly it’s on product. I ask ‘how do I not just succumb to knocking 30 per cent off a toy because Amazon is?’ because that’s not the way to make money. But this is one area in which the industry hasn’t really evolved. If you look at other industries, like white goods, it’s hard to price compare between one product and another because the manufacturers are very good at giving each retailer something different. This means I can’t play one retailer off another, but pick a price bracket and buy the washing machine I want. There’s no playing each other off. “The toy industry hasn’t done that. LEGO has a five digit code on it, whether you buy it from Argos, The Entertainer or off the internet; it’s all exactly the same toy, so all you are fighting for is price. That’s the only difference between one retailer and another. “We look for a difference and reason for being that is not just on price. We have done this through the acquisition of The Early Learning Centre, and now own the brand and are not beholden to market price, but to the price we want to sell product at. We’ve also done this in our subsidiary Addo, which does all of our product design, manufacturing and sourcing, and then our licensing sits in that as well. “We have lots of direct-to-retails that bring very relevant and the absolute most up to date licensed product into the market where we can control the product's retail pricing. “The second format we have for success on the high street is experience. If it's about price, which it is in the market we are in, specialists just cannot win.

The flavour of the month is Amazon, 20 years ago it was Argos, and guess what? There will be another one to replace them at some point. But there will always be a retailer that can sell below cost. We are always going to come up against competition. “We recognise that we have to be a destination that kids want to come to because it’s an experience to come to the shop. We do that in the way we train our staff to approach customers, get toys out of their boxes, or bring brands to life with the help of brand owners like Universal and Disney to bring real experience into the stores. “I think there will be a queue of people behind Mothercare, because it is tough out there. But I think there is absolutely a future for the High Street. We have seen success on the high street, and we know that what we are doing is right and that our strategy isn’t broken.” ••• “PEOPLE HAVE GOT MONEY, THEY’RE JUST KEEPING THEIR HANDS ON IT” Ian Edmunds, MD, Toymaster “Argos is one that we are all crying about at the minute. We are sitting at nine per cent at the moment on purchase, but sales aren’t down that much, sales are down five per cent. So in a funny way, it’s not the end of the world - even if, when you read the headlines, it feels like it. “There will always be those that move to online shopping, same as there were those that moved to Toys R Us, or Woolworths back in the day; it’s no different today, it’s just a different challenge at a different time. Even now, the levels that are online shopping is plateauing, it’s reaching that sort of number where there are still people out there looking to go into a shop and talk to people who might know what they want to buy. “The good thing is, when you have a five year old hanging off your arm and they want a pack of Pokémon cards, they’re not going to wait for Amazon. There’s always challenges in what we do, but we outlast most of them. The internet will always be there. It’s not going to go bust. It will just mature into a different thing.

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Retail Panel

“It feels like we are at a point of change, and we are right in the crux of that moment. Being a single entity on the internet is like being on the world’s longest high street. The only way you can make yourself known, is in price. “People have got money, in the main. The money is there, but they are just keeping their hands on it, and I can’t say I blame them. Brexit has put us all in a place of uncertainty. People’s money, jobs… it all feels uncertain. The high street will survive the internet, but will any of us be around to see the end of Brexit uncertainty? That’s a bigger question.” ••• “KNOWLEDGE AND REASSURANCE OF STAFF KEEP PARENTS COMING BACK TO THE HIGH STREET TOY SHOP” Amanda Gummer, founder, Fundamentally Children “Independents on the high street can outlast the rise of online shopping, but they need to make their toy shop a resource and destination for families. Parents still like to see their children play with a toy before they buy it - especially those with higher price points. “Parents are also looking for advice, and reassurance so having trained staff who are able to empathise with parents, talk to them knowledgeably about the toys and their play value or developmental benefits will keep them coming back to the store.” ••• “THE FAIRY TALE DOESN’T END THERE. INDEPENDENTS MUST FIGHT TOOTH AND NAIL FOR THEIR CUSTOMERS” Bhav Patel, managing director, Toy Galaxy “Unfortunately the fairytale doesn’t end that easily. Consumers habits for online shopping have already changed to a point where they want an item on their terms and at their absolute convenience.

Independent retailers and the high street are not going to disappear anytime soon but the challenge ahead in no less than thorny. While the shopping experience overall offered on the high street is completely different to that of online, the biggest obstacle faced by us in comparison is pricing and convenience. This, in my opinion comes down to the central government as well as local authorities working hard and tirelessly to bridge an ever-growing gap. An online sales tax would help fund lower parking charges, a reduction in rates and greater investment back into making the high streets more desirable not only for consumers but to those budding entrepreneurs we call independent retailers. "Who right now are the only ones keeping most high streets around the country alive… bar the 10 coffee shops per high street of course? Independents are far too resilient to be pushed over and will mostly all fight tooth and nail to retain customers and grow their businesses, but of course the playing field needs to be leveled.” ••• “WE CAN GIVE SO MUCH MORE THAN THE PURE ONLINE RETAILER” Peter Allinson, owner, Whirligig “To survive we need to be experiential and different. Our shops are full of games and toys that you can play with there and then, and staff who know the rules to all the games. Parents often watch children to see what they gravitate to, and want to know that what they are buying will have real play value. By letting children see what they get in the box, showing them the finished model working or playing the first stages of the game with them, they get a real sense of what the toy is. “This is really important when you are selling toys that are not the big brands or TV advertised products. Our customers love that we have found unusual toys that not everybody has - being different and not following the trends really works for us. “If you know what you want already, then the cheapest online supplier will do fine, but experience and quality, that's key - we can give so much more than the pure online retailer in this way.”

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Retailer profile

ALL GOOD THINGS…

Just four months since opening the metaphorical doors to its online toys and children’s shop and Good Things has already been recognised as one of the UK’s most exciting startups. ToyNews talks to owner, Lucy Willoughby about how the work she has embarked on in support of the sustainability movement is putting her business on the map Hi Lucy, and I suppose, welcome to the toy industry. Can you talk us through the Good Things concept and what you are bringing to retail? Good Things champions gifts, toys and games for good. We seek out eco-friendly toys, gifts and games that improve lives around the world. All the products are made from sustainable materials, and all the products are made by people who are paid fairly. We love supporting and championing projects that empower people

and improve lives through trade and the development of new skills. The products we choose can make a difference, and Good Things encourages conscious consumption and feeling good about the products we buy and love. So what inspired you to launch the business? Why did you decide this was the best way to promote the message of sustainability, ethical trade and the global community?

A couple of years ago I left my full-time job in the charity sector to take part in various projects overseas. I started in Costa Rica collecting data on endangered sea turtles as they nested and laid their eggs. Every day we cleared the beach of plastic debris, and the following day more plastic was swept back up. We could see the harm plastic was causing to the turtles; they were becoming smaller because ingesting plastic was clogging their systems and the data was showing there were simply fewer of them. I

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Retailer profile and completely recycled and recyclable wrapping paper.

began to think about how much plastic we use and what might make it easier to find alternatives in our day-to-day lives. After this I spent time in rural Tanzania, where I had a role leading a team delivering a programme of business education. We supported people as they set up new enterprises, considering the viability and sustainability of their businesses and helping them access funding. I knew from my time in the charity sector that sustainable livelihoods end poverty but the opportunity to witness this first-hand was incredibly powerful. I saw a pregnant mother afford urgent medical care and spoke to parents who would be able to pay for their children to go to school. I encountered projects creating beautiful craft products and employing and upskilling people with disabilities. I knew these products would sell in the UK and if their reach was widened, these projects could increase the impact of their work, providing more opportunities for those in challenging situations. My background is in marketing and business development so I felt that I could support these projects in reaching a wider audience online. When I’d been searching for products for friends’ children I’d been surprised by the lack of sustainably made options. I knew that people needed a convenient place to find these products and I thought I’d create it. The idea is that you buy a gift a child loves, and at the same time you can feel

good about giving back by buying planetfriendly products and supporting fairly-paid work. I have also pledged to donate 20 per cent of all profits to charity too. How do you source your products? What are some of the best selling kids' products and toys that you have? Some are projects I’ve come across, others are the result of research and looking for suppliers based on sustainability and whether products are ethically made. Happily word has spread and I’m now being approached by some really exciting suppliers, which is brilliant. It’s important to me that the products are high quality, fun and inspiring. I want these to be items that will be loved for generations. I think the stereotype of fair trade products is that they can be a bit dated in their style and I was keen to dispel that. Most of our customers are in their 20s and 30s and conscious of the impact of what they buy. We have a range of products for babies through to teens and these include organic cotton soft toys and stylish nursery decorations, items like a fair trade cotton cooking set which is a brilliant and imaginative alternative to plastic, ingenious plastic-free construction sets made from wood or playboard, and a range for older kids that encourages mindfulness and positive wellbeing - plus ranges of greetings cards made by artists with disabilities in the UK and orphaned adults in Rwanda,

So through this, what mindset or inspiration do you hope to instil in the next generation? I used to work for a children’s charity, and while I was there I became acutely aware of the importance of play in children’s development. Children learn about themselves and the world around them via the toys they play with. Again when buying toys in the past I was shocked by how often I was confronted by a sea of pink and blue and toys reinforcing stereotypes. I’m keen to provide products that encourage fun, imaginative play for all. Consumer trends show more and more of us want to know where our products are from and who made them. For children this is a wonderful opportunity to learn about the planet and people around the world who might be in contact with their toy before it reaches them. I’m working hard to connect the end user with the producer of their toy and tell their story. Do you think the toy industry is doing enough, or being responsive enough to the sustainability movement right now? There are moves in the right direction and it’s brilliant to see that some of these are driven by the public – like Burger King ending its free plastic toy giveaways. Trends suggest consumer demand for sustainably and ethically sourced products is increasing and companies’ supply chains and processes are coming under greater scrutiny, particularly from younger buyers. What's the next step for toys and the children's market here? I hope we’ll see more alternatives to plastic toys, I’d also like to see more products incorporating recycled plastic waste. The way we consume needs to change and I believe we need to move from a disposable culture to truly valuing the work and resources that go into our products; buying less and buying better. I think we’ll see more second-hand toy initiatives and hopefully the return of toy libraries in towns and cities that have lost them. The next step for us however, is Christmas. We're looking forward to it. Nov/Dec 2019 | toy news | 39

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Photo by Rick Mason on Unsplash

Kids Insights

Pre-school unpicked In the latest from Kids Insights, the global children’s market intelligence firm explores the pre-school market to uncover some of the biggest hitters and most popular choices in the booming sector. 40 | toy news | Nov/Dec 2019

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Kids Insights

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ids Insights, a global leader in kids’ market intelligence, has launched its latest set of four indepth, insight-led reports giving a viewpoint into the online and offline world that kids, tweens and teens traverse today. The reports are predominantly based on the results of surveying 5,000 children between July 1 and September 30 this year, though it also utilises data they have collected since May 2017. The study explores how toys and games are an integral part of kids ecosystems, with preschoolers playing with toys and games an average of 11.5 hours a week. Modern children have changed a lot and toys have become vastly different because of it, but the game continues to be a leading activity during childhood. When we look at the top favourites, nearly 10.2 per cent of preschoolers said a LEGO product is their favourite toy, meaning it is far more popular than any other toy. Among the top five with the pre-school market, we also see the old favourites My Little Pony with its Rainbow Squads for girls aged three to five, and PAW Patrol for boys. Brands such as Nerf, along with Playmobil and Hot Wheels, all saw their popularity increase among boys within this age group.

Meanwhile, for girls aged three to six, Barbie takes the top spot, favoured by 7 per cent of our surveyed cross-section. Celebrating 60 years of Barbie, Mattel has recently opened a Barbie pop-up store in Liverpool City Centre. According to our data, girls that report Barbie as their favourite are 18 per cent more likely than average to shop in the city centre. Our latest data (which were issued in October) shows that mobile ownership among three to nine year olds has increased from 20 per cent to 25 per cent over the last two years. That’s the equivalent of 357,200 additional kids owning mobiles. Unsurprisingly, more and more kids' favourites are coming from the internet. In the last 12 months, 1.4m preschoolers used YouTube and Youtube Kids – and one in four watched YouTubers. When we asked kids if they’ve bought anything related to their favourite Youtuber, toys took a first place. The favourite YouTubers for preschool children are Ryan's World (8.2 per cent), Blippi (2.2 per cent) and Zoella (1.6 per cent). Ryan’s World is somewhat of a sensation among kids. Since Q4 2018, the number of preschool kids reporting Ryan as their favourite YouTuber has increased by 16 per cent. Meanwhile, kids reporting

KIDS INSIGHTS Kids Insights specialises in research and insights on kids and their ecosystems. We now survey more than 2,000+ children every week, across three continents and seven countries, or more than 105,000 children a year. Our real-time portal is continually updated to allow our clients to spot the latest trends before their competitors. Our insight-led reports are produced by some of the top kids’ researchers and have seen us shortlisted for several start-up and innovation awards. To download a complimentary Kids Insights report please visit www. kidsinsights.com/toynews

Blippi, as their favourite has increased from 0.9 per cent in Q1 2019 to 2.2 per cent in Q3 2019. In the last 12 months one third of preschoolers said action figures were the top toy type they play with and we can see how more and more YouTube stars are getting their own action figure range to entertain their young audience. From YouTube-inspired toys, new range of LEGOs to classic dolls, children’s preferences are constantly changing.

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Campaign of the month

KNOW HOW: RAVENSBURGER UK TARGETS PODCASTS FOR LAUNCH The board game specialist has targeted a number of high-profile podcasts, including James Acaster and Ed Gamble's hit Off Menu as part of its major launch campaign for the new Google Assistant powered title, kNOW!

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or the first time in its history, Ravensburger is targeting exposure through some of the UK’s leading podcasts, as part of the roll-out of a major marketing campaign for its newest board game, kNOW! Among the line-up is the hit podcast Off Menu, featuring Ed Gamble and James Acaster, who will put kNOW! top of mind for listeners through a new presenter read campaign. Ravensburger’s Katy Fletcher, said: “Off Menu was a perfect fit for us. Not only is it one of the best rating podcasts in the UK and tracking well against our target audience – but the subject matter of food and dinner parties is a great match too. A good game is a perfect companion for a dinner party and kNOW! certainly fits the bill here. “We’ve really looked outside the box with our kNOW! campaign, if you’ll pardon the pun. The game, being the first to be powered by the Google Assistant, brings something fresh and exciting to the games aisle. It seemed natural to devise a marketing campaign that looked to connect with our audience in new ways also. We are taking our message to the digital world in a big way, as well as reaching out to a captive audience through major radio outlets too.” Powered by the Google Assistant, kNOW! offers an always up-to-date game play experience. With a number of mini themed challenges within the game, players can ask the Google assistant for the most

up-to-date information to see who wins each round. New content will be added regularly for free so players can enjoy updated themes

tying in with current affairs. Ravensburger’s broadcast and digital campaign is complemented by an extensive programme of event and demo activity, PR and print.

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Giraffe Insights

FROM VILLAIN TO HERO: THE CHANGING FACE OF SCREEN TIME Following findings from its annual studies, Little Voices and Kids and the Screen, Giraffe Insights managing director, Maxine Fox suggests that the relationship between children and their digital interaction isn’t quite as clear-cut as it would seem

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xploring research from our annual flagship studies ‘Little Voices’ and ‘Kids and the Screen’, there is evidence to suggest that what parent’s think about screen time for their children and what then happens in reality are indeed two different things. We cannot ignore the fact that increasing screen time and the content children are accessing cross-platform is still a hot topic. What we see within our own research is that although parents are acutely aware of some of the negative implications associated with their children being on screens, in practice this does not impede on time spent doing such activities. This month’s Little Voices research, which speaks with parents and children regularly, indicates over half of children feel that they could not survive without the internet and have seen things on the internet which has made them upset. Two thirds of parents go on to say that they feel too much time spent on social media would be harmful for their children, with the children themselves also conceding to this. Despite these concerns, we have seen from our Kids and the Screen research, which records in the moment viewing behaviour, that viewing content through online platforms such as YouTube is on the increase, whilst viewing through children specific apps such as YouTube Kids is in decline. Not only do we see these trends in terms of the way content is being accessed but we also see that over half of children are viewing online in isolation and not

"We are starting to see positives that parents associate with online content that makes it easier for them to say 'yes' to the screen. Educational content is a rising form of screen time for children today." Maxine Fox, Giraffe Insights

mutually with their parents or siblings. It's thrown up some interesting questions that we could now be asking. So are parents really as concerned about screen time as we think? We are starting to see positives that parents associate with online content that makes it easier for them to say ‘yes’ to the

screen. An emerging theme across our research is surrounding education and the educational resource that digital technology can potentially provide. Within our Little Voices research, eight out of 10 parents believe that there is pressure for children to perform at school, with education and the ability for something to aid children’s learning and development a key driver of engagement. We have seen an increase in educational content being accessed by children online. This genre has become one of the most popular for content viewed on YouTube among pre-school children, with shows such as Blippi rising in popularity. With smart technology in the home also on the rise, it is an area we are keeping a close eye on within our own research, as it becomes more commonplace. Our research indicates that it is Amazon Echo which is currently leading the way, with the second most popular motivation to use, after music streaming, being to learn something new. So while the increase in screen time and accessing content through multiple platforms is seemingly an unstoppable force, the shift towards educational digital platforms is a sign of a positive embrace of change by today's children. If we continue to open our arms to the potential opportunities that digital interaction offers, the negative connotations associated with screen time will be slowly eroded, potentially throwing the screen time rule book straight out of the window. Nov/Dec 2019 | toy news | 43

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WildBrain

FINDING THE PATH TO PURCHASE

While the paths to purchase are more varied and trickier to navigate than ever before, still one stands above the rest. This month, WildBrain Spark’s senior manager, strategy and innovation, Sev Marcel offers the best advice on finding the path that spells success for anyone looking for a sale

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aths to purchase are more complex than ever, but digital platforms can offer a route to retail success. Here are four strategies to make the most important platform - Amazon - work for you and increase conversions. When researching and purchasing products, consumer choice today is practically boundless. With evolving technologies and new platforms, speedy deliveries and influencers who impact purchasing decisions, consumers have a wealth of options and information literally

at their fingertips. In today's market, there can potentially be hundreds of online paths to purchase, all for the same or similar products, and consumers can convert at any step along the way, from almost anywhere, at any time. So, what does that mean for toy retailers? If this has left you feeling puzzled or pessimistic, don’t worry. There’s a big opportunity here to get consumers to their destination – which is of course, the sale. To connect with the modern-day consumer, it’s important to understand

the digital platforms that connect sellers and buyers to give your products the best possible chance to be discovered, relevant and purchased. It would be an impossible task to cover all of the platforms in this article, so we have decided to focus on the most important one – Amazon. Following four key tactics can boost discoverability for your products on Amazon and help convert all that consumer browsing into buying action, through investment in search, content, reviews, and promotions.

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WildBrain

1. Appease the algorithm: Amazon is the first place many shoppers start their journey (56 per cent) when searching for products, so you want to make sure your products appear when shoppers start looking. While Amazon is an eCommerce facility, it is also a search engine, which is why relevant keywords on your product listings and promotions are so important. Monitor your search performance closely and tweak keywords regularly to ensure you get to the first page. Analyse competitor listings that rise to the top. Having the right keywords will leverage Amazon’s search algorithm to drive buyers to your products. According to Amazon’s data, 70 per cent of Amazon customers never click past the first page of search results and the first three items displayed in search results account for 64 per cent of clicks. 2. Bring products to life: So a shopper has spotted your product listing amongst a bunch of others. What next? What influences the shopper to choose your listing? Sometimes we can forget that although your product listing needs to appease Amazon’s algorithm, those doing the buying are real people. Your copy, imagery and video need to be descriptive and attractive enough to bring

"In today's market, there are hundreds of online paths to purchase, and there's a big opportunity here to bring shoppers to you." Sev Marcel, WildBrain Spark

the product to life for a person at a glance, all the while being optimised for mobile and having the right keywords to help with your page rankings. Don’t forget that we are sensory beings, so use all the available tools to make your products come to life for shoppers. 3. Review your reviews: If you’ve ever thought customer reviews on Amazon were just a ‘nice to have’, I urge you to think again. More than 90 per cent of surveyed consumers are in the habit of referencing reviews before making a purchase. Since ‘Avg. Customer Reviews’ search filters are one of the most prominently placed filters for any given search on Amazon, getting

customer reviews and managing feedback can have a huge impact on your product’s discoverability and appeal. To get reviews, sellers can use a postsale email strategy to request reviews. They can also use Amazon’s Early Reviewer Program and Amazon Vine Program, systems that encourage reviews for participating products. Once you have reviews, being responsive to customers is essential for brand reputation.

4. Promote, promote, promote: Although driving external traffic to build awareness of your brand or product is sensible, using the right tools can accelerate your conversion rate. According to a report from Jumpshot, 90 per cent of Amazon’s product views come from the company’s product search. By using Amazon’s tools to advertise your products via brand ads, product ads and creating branded Stores, you will not only bring your product to the top of the pile but increase your chances of making that sale. Making the most of the tools on digital platforms such as Amazon can have a big impact on consumers at every step of their journey down the path to purchase. If you’re not taking full advantage of these tools, your products can be passed by and even left behind. Nov/Dec 2019 | toy news | 45

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KEEPING PRE-SCHOOL LIT It’s pretty common knowledge that the pre-school sector is a tough old market to operate in, while recent high street casualties only serve to make it tougher. So why is it that Halilit has managed to make such a success of it? ToyNews finds out

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otoriously competitive and increasingly cramped, even at the best of times the pre-school space has not been one for the faint of heart. Throw into the mix the matter that 2019 has seen shelf space diminish once again with the collapse of Mothercare’s UK operations, and a high street finding it difficult to pull in the punters, and you’re looking at an industry sector under some real pressure.

Photo by drew-gilliam on Unsplash

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It’s always of particular note then when a firm manages to emerge from such a situation in a position not only of strength, but growth. This year, that company is none other than Halilit, a sector specialist who - thanks to the successful launch of its new Edushapes brand at the start of the year - has not only vaulted the hurdles 2019 has thrown at the industry, but is now bearing down on the year’s finishing line with victory in its sights. Nov/Dec 2019 | toy news | 47

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For Halilit, 2019 has been all about maximising sales, significantly growing its portfolio of stockists and recovering business lost to the retail casualties that the past 12 months have thrown up. From here, at least, it looks like it’s mission accomplished for the toymaker. ToyNews sits down with Halilit’s digital marketing executive, Olivia Cudworth to learn more about the firm’s successes, its best performing lines, and how it stands out from the competition. How has business been for Halilit this past year? What have been the biggest challenges and successes? I don’t think many companies would say that they’ve had an outstanding year considering the retail climate, however all things considered, we’re fairly pleased with how 2019 has panned out for us.

We started 2019 launching the Edushape rebrand at Toy Fair with fantastic new packaging and lifestyle photography which has really bolstered demand for this sensory-focused range. We’ve probably had our best year ever in terms of award wins with Edushape’s Textured Pop Blocks being voted Top Baby Activity Toy and Taf Toys All Around Me Gym from the delightful Koala Daydream Collection winning Gold for Best Baby Activity Mat in the recent, well-publicised Made for Mums Toy Awards, and we have seen a spike in demand for these lines along with our other award winners such as Taf Toys Hunny Bunny Stacker as a result. Among the challenges that we have faced this year has been to need to recover business lost as a result of some of the very sad recent industry casualties. Casualties like this mean that there are

the same number of suppliers fighting for significantly reduced shelf-space and we are investing significantly in supporting our stockists to ensure that our brands retain a strong-shelf presence. How are you guys sitting in the preschool space at the moment? What is the health of the pre-school sector like at the moment? It seems as though our position in the pre-school sector has strengthened considerably over the last year. With the introduction of the new Edushape branding, we have had a significant number of new stockists come on board who are keen to add a trusted range of sensory toys to their offering. Additionally, our core range of Halilit Musical Instruments and Toys has been bolstered by the keen uptake of this brand

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Pre-school toys

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"It seems as though our position within the pre-school sector has strengthened considerably over the last year." Olivia Cudworth, Halilit

and demand for our ranges through creative activities such as our very recent ‘Aw Factor’ promotion which looks set to become a huge success.

as the instruments of choice for many preschool music groups. Pre-school is notoriously a very competitive space. How does Halilit maintain its standout and its position within it? There is no tried and trusted formula for success, but we actively engage with our customers and listen to their needs and suggestions as to how best we can support them in order to meet our common goal of maximizing sales. In addition to supplying bespoke POS, one notable successful strategy has been to provide marketing support in the form of sensory samples to have out for customers to try before they commit to buying them. We continue to enter (and happily win) awards which all helps with recognition and we have made a significant investment in our social media activity, working closely with influencers and generating awareness

What changes have you seen to the pre-school sector in recent months or years? Or what developments would you like to see take place in the sector? A prominent topic in pre-school is that age categorisation should be overhauled to better target children with developmental products - what would your take on a topic like that be? There seems to be an increased demand for items with longevity or those that can last through several developmental stages. Consumers are really feeling the pinch on their spending power and there appears to be an increased appetite for products that will help develop rather than just amuse a child. Parents do look for guidance when choosing

developmental toys and age appropriateness is key in helping them to make a decision, but once the safety aspect of an age recommendation is addressed, we believe that it is more important to explain the developmental benefits of a toy. Children develop at different rates and in different ways and parents generally know what their child may need encouragement with, they just need to know how a particular toy can help them. Can you talk us through some of the best performing lines for you in the preschool space? That’s an easy one. Our award winners are performing best with notable highperformers being Taf Toys Hunny Bunny Stacker, Edushape Textured Pop Blocks and Halilit’s Musical Rings. What do you guys think will be the next stage of development for the preschool sector? Honestly, we’ve got no idea. We are guessing more technology and interactive toys but that’s not what we are about – we believe that there will always be an appetite for non-tech toys that will help with essential skill development such as fine and gross motor skills, spatial awareness, emotional intelligence, creativity and human interaction, and that’s where all of our toys deliver in spades. What’s next for Halilit? How will you maintain your position as a leader in the field for the coming years? We’ve got some fantastic developments coming through for 2020 and byond – new innovation across all of our ranges, and we are working closely with child development experts, focus groups and retailers to make sure that our products remain relevant and in demand for now and for years to come.

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Pre-school toys

THE PICKS OF PRE-SCHOOL

A staple sector of the toy industry, the pre-school market is as popular, and as competitive, as ever. Here, ToyNews round up a selection of the newest product to brace the scene

Little Tikes www.littletikes.com

Little Tikes has an ever-robust line up of pre-school products with which to close out the year and take it into 2020. Spanning the pre-school and ride-on markets this year, Little Tikes’ range of trikes and rideons are designed to help little ones through their crucial development stages. The 4-in-1 Trike has adaptable features allowing parents to push, guide or walk alongside their child as they progress. The 4-in-1 Trike is available in both pink and blue, and encourages the development of

key motor skills while enjoying outdoor and indoor play. Meanwhile, Little Tikes’ iconic Rocking Horse inspires little imaginations and encourages motor skills development with its gentle moving motions. Finally, the iconic Cozy Coupe means little ones can really ride in style. Following the announcement earlier this year that Little Tikes has been named as the master toy licensee for Little Baby Bum, the brand’s range of plush characters and roleplay toys will hit shelves in the UK in January 2020. The exclusive toy line will feature Twinkle the Star, Buster the Bus and a Sing-Along Piano to name a few, all aimed at engaging and educating children through music and play.

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Pre-school toys

Gibsons 0208 661 8866 Earlier this year Gibsons launched its Little Gibsons range of fun and colourful jigsaw puzzles and games, all made to engage and entertain inquisitive pre-schoolers. All the products are designed in the UK and are presented in quirky packaging. In January 2020 the firm will be adding seven new products to the range. Among the new releases next year will be Three Frogs More, a game for one to four players aged five and upwards. Players score points by making rows of three or more frogs of the same colour. On top of this, Gibsons is also adding two puzzles with smaller piece counts with Crunch Bunch and Woodland Friends, both of which contain eight friendly two-piece puzzles that are suitable for children aged 18 months and over, so have big puzzle pieces that are perfect for little hands. These new puzzles will sit alongside the successful Sweet Dreams jigsaw. Awarded with highly commended in the 2019 Right Start Awards, children will drift off into a dream world filled with llamas and unicorns as they piece this magical 36 piece puzzle together. The Sweet Dreams Memory Game includes 36 tiles and players must match the pairs which include characters from the corresponding puzzle in the Little Gibsons range.

Flair 0208 643 0320 Heritage meet animatronics in Flair’s portfolio of pre-school toys this season, including lines from Stickle Bricks and its Emotion Pets brand. For a heritage first brand look no further than Stickle Bricks, celebrating its 50th birthday this year. The Little Builder set is the perfect entry point into the range, as tots begin building with the assortment of brightly coloured bricks. Meanwhile, the Fun Tub is perfect for young builders with grand designs in mind. Plus, it doubles as a handy storage container. Not to be missed are themed sets such as the Stickle Bricks Fire Engine and Farm. Each comes with pieces that when joined together create a red fire engine or colourful big wheeled tractor. Elsewhere, and in the world of robotic pets, Flair’s Emotion Pets is a collection of interactive plush friends that kids will fall in love with. Classic, cuddly and a previous Dream Toy winner is Toffee the Pony; a super soft and unique plush pony who is packed full of interactive technology. When Toffee wakes, he will blink and call for attention. Tickle, cuddle and brush him to make him happy and feed him with his carrot and he will let you know when he is full by moving his eyes and ears. To ensure the play pattern is never the same Toffee’s features activate randomly, you will have to work out what mood he’s in every time he wakes up. And when he’s had enough excitement, he’s sure to let you know as his eyes will close and he’ll gently drift to sleep.

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Pre-school toys

Spin Master 01628 535 000 Spin Master’s global brand and number one pre-school property in the UK, PAW Patrol is set for another exciting year with the launch of new content and toy innovation that will continue to push the boundaries and delight fans. The company’s new Mighty Pups Super PAWs range has just launched in the shops and supported with TV advertising, it’s set to fly off the shelves this Christmas, bringing more action and excitement from the hit TV show home for preschoolers. The new Mighty Pups Super PAWs Hero Pups (Rubble, Chase, Marshall, Skye, Rocky, Zuma) are all set for adventure, and the newly launched Mighty Pups Super PAWs Mighty Jet Command Centre is perfect for all the PAW Patrol’s mighty missions. This two-in-one deluxe team vehicle transforms from a jet into a mobile command centre, complete with Mighty Ryder figure, mini jet, discs and disc launcher, lights and sounds. The Mighty Pups will be ready for action in the brand new PAW Patrol Mighty Lookout Tower. Standing at two and 3/4-feet tall, kids have the perfect vantage point of Adventure Bay from the real working telescope. Push the button on the tower to hear Ryder give missions – the platform lights blink, landing on the right pup for the job. Send pups up to the top of the Mighty Lookout Tower in the working lift and back down the tower on

the zip line when trouble strikes or launch the pups from the base of the tower straight into action. Save the day with the PAW Patrol Powered Up Vehicles. Join Marshall (figure included) on actionpacked superhero rescue adventures with his Powered Up Fire Truck. Push the spoiler down to enter Powered Up mode and transform the truck to sleek superhero vehicle with flame details and projectile launchers. Pull up on the spoiler to switch back into deluxe vehicle. Suited up in his Mighty PAWs uniform, the Mighty Marshall figure is ready to hop behind the wheel of his fire truck. For backup, add Mighty Chase and his Powered Up Police Cruiser which transforms into a superhero vehicle with projectile launchers. Elsewhere, kids can fall in love with Luvabella Newborn. With realistic expressions, a dynamic moving mouth and sweet newborn sounds, Luvabella Newborn is truly lifelike. Care for Luvabella Newborn with her interactive accessories, a bottle and soother. Rock soft and snuggly Luvabella Newborn to sleep in your arms, and she’ll doze off. When she’s sleeping, her tummy actually rises and falls and you can stop and listen for her heartbeat. Last but not least, Spin Master’s GUND brand continues to delight little ones of all ages with its premium quality plush toys, offering unparalleled softness and hug-ability. Children adore new Flappy the Elephant and Flora the Bunny. These singing, animated plush companions play interactive peek-aboo games while moving their ears. Nov/Dec 2019 | toy news | 53

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Mattel 01628 500 000 Fisher-Price continues to support parents in 2019, with an innovative infant product range. With toys for all ages and stages, Fisher-Price develops toys to help little ones to grow as they’re introduced to the world around them. This year saw the introduction of Linkimals – an interactive range of toys with fun features to keep little ones engaged. They contain innovative technology which means the five products work together to help baby learn better, with sounds, songs and phrases that teach numbers, colours and motor skills. The Smooth Moves Sloth, Musical Moose, Lights and Colours Llama, A to Z Otter and Happy Shapes Hedgehog are full of features which promote development, that, when joined create an immersive learning experience. New to the Infant Laugh & Learn range, the Light-up Learning Vacuum and On-the-Glow Coffee Cup stimulate learning and role play fun. Also in the range, the Count & Rumble Piggy Bank introduces cause and effect as little ones are rewarded with lights and sounds when they drop in a coin. The Bounce and Spin Puppy and Bounce & Spin Unicorn help strengthen baby's balance and coordination skills as they bounce along to exciting songs and phrases. The Crawl Along Musical Unicorn and Push & Flutter Unicorn help give baby confidence as they navigate crawling and walking.

Halilit sales@halilit.co.uk Halilit's musical instruments are in high demand right now, as parents are becoming more aware of the developmental and educational benefits associated with music. Safe for children as young as three months, the Halilit range is used in almost all specialist baby and preschool music groups, further building recognition and trust for the brand. With developments in the pipeline for 2020 and a full packaging redesign, items such as the Rainbomaker, Ocean Drum, Baby Xylophone and Baby’s First Birthday Band will continue to please retailers and consumers alike. Success stories from Halilit this year include the Textured Pop Blocks from Edushape, which won Gold for Best Toy six to 12 Months in the Made for Mums Toy Awards 2019. The interlinking blocks can be used in many ways, and feature animals, numbers and colours and help children develop key motor skills. Following a 2019 redesign, the Edushape range has other new developments including the Incrediball – a heat sensitive sensory ball that changes colour against your hand and the Baby Sensory Balls, a must have gift set featuring six lightweight balls with various features to engage the senses. The stylish Taf Toys nursery range is also going from strength to strength, with popular collections such as the North Pole and Mini Moon seeing fantastic sales and consumer engagement. 2019’s new Koala Daydream collection has bolstered this success by winning the Best Infant Development range.

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Pre-school toys

Rainbow Designs 01329 227 300

It’s the world’s best-loved and most prestigious children’s licenses that make-up Rainbow Designs’ pre-school portfolio this season, as the UK toy maker plans to make its mark on seasonal sales. The Disney collection features a cast of classic characters, including the loveable and timeless Winnie the Pooh, Eeyore soft toy, and Piglet from Rainbow Designs’ Hundred Acre Wood collection. They feature alongside other perennial favourites such as Dumbo, and a line of Toy Story soft toys, including Buzz Lightyear and Jessie. Fan favourites from the world best-loved children’s book IP make up a heritage collection of soft toys this season, with the likes of Elmer, Guess How Much I Love You, Miffy, Paddington Bear, Peter Rabbit, and Spot the Dog all making an appearance. Osbourne’s best-selling That’s Not My… find itself immortalised in soft toy form thanks to Bunny, Dinosaur, Flamingo, Monkey and Unicorn editions featuring alongside an ensemble cast from the series.

The World of Eric Carle, Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman, and a whole host of Roald Dahl protagonists complete Rainbow Designs’ publishing inspired line-up this year, while a new licensed range from Universal brings movie magic to the toy box once again.

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Ride-ons

WHEELS OF FORTUNE With consumers revving up for the big ticket items of the year this festive shopping season, there’s no better time to be looking at the best ride-ons the market has to offer than now. ToyNews shifts gear for a speedy look at the sector

Rollplay 07986 971902 / www.rollplay.com Rollplay finished up the year with the launch of it’s latest high-performance offering, and the brand’s first scooter, the Wave Catcher. The cool 24V lithium powered scooter has been inspired by the art of windsurfing, combining all the thrills of a traditional scooter with the added challenge and unique sensation of surf-like moves to turn and steer this ride for an altogether new riding experience. Suitable for children aged eight years plus the Wave Catcher operates in beginners mode at 6mph and advances up to 10mph for the more adept. Featuring an easy-touse footbrake at the back, rear skateboard style trucks, and a height-adjustable central handlebar, it provides greater control over the vehicle as well as the excitement of onehanded steering. For Rollplay, the Wave Catcher is a welcome addition to its line-up of innovative, power performance vehicles, further allowing the brand to position itself as an industry leader in this exciting and growing sub-sector aimed at preteens. The range also includes the Uprider; the Turnado go-kart and the popular Nighthawk, a sit, slide and glide ride

launched in 2018 of which Rollplay is planning to release a spin-off of in 2020 - the Nighthawk NxtGen. Also recently released is the BMW M8 GTE. An exact replica of BMW’s legendary flagship original which raced in the 24 Hours of Le Man, Rollplay’s latest licensed E-RideOn offers a premium and authentic design including a special multi-coloured paint job, sponsor stickers and a rear spoiler. Suitable for preschoolers aged three and upwards, it travels at speeds of 2.5mph in forward and reverse and incorporates a host of fun features including working LED lights, a lightup dashboard, engine and horn sound effects plus an MP3 connector and working speakers. In addition, rubber traction grip gives a smooth ride while opening doors make it easy to clamber in and out, and a remote control with a stop button offers parents peace of mind. Other pre-school E-Ride-Ons launched in 2019 include the fun and rugged, Dragon Mini Quad, which takes the shape of ‘Toothless’ from popular theatrical series, How to Train Your Dragon, and comes with light-up headlights and fun dragon sound effects; as well as the VW ‘Flower Power’ The Beetle and Bus. Refreshed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock Festival, both retro ride-ons feature funky, removable flower and letter stickers, opening doors, working headlights, horn and engine sounds. A push-car version is also available.

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Ride-ons

MV Sports 0121 748 8065 MV Sports has seen rapid growth this year with its ‘best range ever’ of licenced and nonlicensed ride-ons. The bespoke Buzz Lightyear 6v Space Cruiser features integrated lights, easy-to-use foot pedal and forward and reverse gears, and that's just to get us started. MV also has an extended range of Toy Story 4 wheeled toys, including scooters, bikes and ride-ons, featuring Woody, Buzz Lightyear, Forky, Bunny and Ducky. Then, there's the beautifully built 6v Battery Operated Horse and Carriage. Suitable for kids aged three and upwards, this authentic regal ride-on comes complete with a moulded 'quilted' seat and horse feature, while the foot operated control, reactive steering wheel and forward and reverse gears are suitable for beginners just taking up the ‘reigns’. Peppa will also have a range of new rideons, with a Peppa ride-on car. With under seat storage and authentic features, little ones can ride around with Peppa, as the 6v battery operated trike features authentic Peppa sounds, rear and front flashing lights, easy foot pedal control with forward and reverse gears. The Spider-Man 6v battery operated trike, has forward and reverse gears, a foot operated pedal and cool graphics, while who can forget Batman? MV's range includes three 6v ride-ons including the Mini Quad, Bat Bike and Strike Batmobile, always perfect for a range of tastes and budgets.

Little Tikes www.littletikes.com Little Tikes’ range of trikes and ride-ons are designed to help little ones through their crucial development stages. From parent-controlled push-alongs to independent trikes that children will thrive on, the range is ideal for getting youngsters to experience both the indoor and outdoor terrain from an early age. The 4-in-1 Trike is created with both parent and child in mind. It’s adaptable features allow parents to push, guide or walk alongside their child as they progress. Available in both pink and blue, the Trike encourages the development of key motor skills in children while enabling them to enjoy outdoor play. Th trike's special features include quiet-ride tyres, an adjustable seat and an extra-large storage bucket, making it both a comfortable and everso-stylish ride. Next up and the iconic Rocking Horse inspires little imaginations and encourages motor skills development with its gentle moving motions. With a contemporary style and a nice compact design, this ride-on makes the perfect addition to any playroom. The rocking Horse is available in pink and blue. Finally a product that needs no introduction, the iconic Cozy Coupe means little ones can ride in true style. This car has it all, with a removable floor, working horn, rear storage and lifelike ignition switch. The front wheels also spin a full 360 degrees, meaning first time drivers can easily steer their way through their developmental stages.

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Ride-ons

Infantino eu.info@infantino.com Infantino is the globally loved, multi awardwinning brand with a passion for creating smartly designed products for happy parenting. Designed by play experts, Infantino says its 'toy collection is second to none' and promotes classic play that engages and entertains children, allowing them to develop their skills while having maximum fun. This season, Infantino has upped its ride-on game with the introduction of its own take on the ever-popular unicorn trend this year, one that continues to grow rapidly. It comes as no surprise that Infantino was sure to jump on the craze with the 3-in-1 Sit, Walk & Ride Unicorn. Designed to be enjoyed from birth to toddler, the mythical member of the ‘Grow with Me’ collection is perfect to encourage development in youngsters. When sitting up, baby can explore the activities, enjoy the sounds and lights and play with colourful balls. The pop 'n’ scoop ball play encourages first steps in the walker mode and in Ride on mode, your toddler can have tons of fun collecting the balls by moving around. Not forgetting that the under-seat storage helps to store the balls and other mythological treasures.

Jakks Pacific www.jakks.com A specialist when it comes to licensed toys and ride-ons, Jakks Pacific is a strong arm in the sector that has found fresh footing with the launch of Disney’s Frozen II product offering. This season, Jakks Pacific is looking to return to a galloping pace with the introduction of the new Playdate Sven ride-on. The epic adventure continues in Disney Frozen II, the exciting sequel to the hit film, Frozen. Kids can now join their beloved friends Anna, Elsa, Kristoff, Olaf, and Sven as they venture beyond Arendelle’s gates to strengthen their bonds and make new discoveries that will change their lives forever. Coincidentally, Jakks Pacific is looking to do much the same with its Playdate Sven ride-on, a to scale replica of the film’s least likely hero that kids can feed, interact with, and sit atop for hours of Frozen II role-play fun. Sven can interact with children who pat his head as he responds with a variety of phrases made popular by the film franchise. The loveable character comes with his own carrot and makes real life carrot-chomping noises when the prop is placed in his mouth. Sven can support a child weighing up to 70 pounds, and is aimed at kids aged three to seven years old. Nov/Dec 2019 | toy news | 59

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Action figures

FROM A GALAXY Yes, yes - the Force is certainly strong with this one, as Hasbro readies itself for a bumper year of Star Wars fandom thanks to not only the launch of Disney’s concluding trilogy movie, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, but its live action TV series, The Mandalorian, and EA Games’ video game title, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. ToyNews takes a look With Disney’s Star Wars saga coming to it climactic conclusion this December with the much-anticipated release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker in UK cinemas from December 19, it comes as no surprise that Hasbro is going big on the Star Wars action figure front. Hasbro’s Star Wars Black Series has taken it up a notch this season in preparation for the film’s launch, featuring a cast of characters from the newest trilogy of films, including the likes of Kylo Ren, Rey, Jannah, and more. Of course, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker isn’t the only asset to the Disney Star Wars portfolio this year. The studio detailed its triple threat earlier this year when it announced partnership details for all three of its major Star Wars releases in 2019, including Disney’s first live-action TV series, The Mandalorian, and its newest RPG combative video game from EA Games, Star

Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. And yes, you’ve guessed it, this season, Hasbro has the action figures for all three. Kicking off proceedings this autumn and in the run-up to the Christmas festive shopping period, Hasbro introduces its Star Wars Galaxy of Adventures five-inch Figure Assortment. Aimed at kids aged four and upwards, this new range allows Star Wars fans new and old to discover the action from the entire Star Wars saga with figures, lightsabers and more from Star Wars Galaxy of Adventures. These five-inch scale figures feature multiple points of articulation and design, and include detail and action moves inspired by the Star Wars films and entertainment franchise. Through this collection, kids and fans can recreate the sci-fi opera's many adventures with favourites including Chewbacca, Rey, Supreme Leader Kylo Ren, Finn, and more. Each pack contains a

five-inch scale Star Wars figure, each sold separately. The range is available at Amazon, Smyths, Tesco and Sainsbury’s now and can be ordered through Hasbro today. Following this is Hasbro’s Star Wars: The Black Series six-inch Supreme Leader Kylo Ren figure. Fans and collectors can imagine scenes from the Star Wars Galaxy with this premium Star Wars: The Black Series six-inch Supreme Leader Kylo Ren figure, inspired by Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. This figure comes with a Supreme Leader Kylo-Ren-inspired accessory and features premium deco with four fully articulated limbs that makes it a great addition to any Star Wars collection. Both collectors and children will enjoy allowing their imaginations free through this new figure. It’s followed swiftly with the Star Wars: The Black Series six-inch Rey & D-O twopack, priced at £19.99 and aimed at kids aged four and upwards. Fans and collectors

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Action figures

FAR, FAR AWAY… can imagine scenes from the Star Wars Galaxy with this premium Star Wars: The Black Series double pack, inspired by Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. This brand-new two-pack comes with character-inspired accessories and features premium deco that makes a great addition to any fan's Star Wars collection. It includes a Rey figure, a D-O droid, and three corresponding accessories. Now then, deviating from the main character line-up, the Star Wars: The Black Series six-inch Jannah Figure will enable fans and collectors to imagine wholly new and exciting moments from across the Star Wars Galaxy. This figure comes with five Jannahinspired accessories, and features premium detail and multiple points of articulation, making it a great addition to any collection. The box includes one Jannah figure and five accessories and is available at Amazon and good collector sites now. Right, here’s hoping you still like Star Wars, because we’re just about halfway there now, as the Star wars: The Black Series six-inch Offworld Jawa Figure hoves into

view, and marking our first deviation from the Rise of Skywalker movie. Inspired by The Mandalorian, the live-action TV series on Disney's new subscription service, Disney+, the six-inch Offworld Jawa figure comes with Offworld Jawa-inspired accessories, and features premium detail and multiple points of articulation. The box includes one Jawa figure and two Jawa-inspired accessories. It’s followed up by none other than the Star Wars: The Black Series six-inch Cara Dune figure, priced at £19.99, and plucked straight from the TV series The Mandalorian and dropped, in action figure form, onto toy shelves around the world this season. This figure comes with three Cara Duneinspired accessories, and features premium detail and multiple points of articulation, making it a great addition to any Star Wars collection and a great accessory itself for imaginative action play. The box includes one figure and three Cara Dune accessories and is available at Amazon and good collector sites right now. Rounding up proceedings from Hasbro comes two action figures inspired by the

new EA Games video game release, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order in Cal Kestis and a new Purge Stormtrooper. Fans and collectors can imagine exciting moments from across the entire Star Wars Galaxy with this premium Star Wars: The Black Series six-inch Cal Kestis figure, inspired by the Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order video game. This figure comes with a Cal Kestisinspired accessory, and features premium detail and multiple points of articulation,It includes one figure, one droid, and one accessory and is available at Amazon and good collector sites. Finally, the Star Wars: The Black Series six-inch Purge Stormtrooper Figure allows fans and collectors to play out those exciting moments from the Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order video game. This Stormtrooper figure comes with a Purge Stormtrooperinspired accessory, and features premium detail and multiple points of articulation. It also comes with two accessories. It's looking like a big year ahead for the Star Wars franchise, and Hasbro is keen to be co-piloting that toy ship with it.

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Action figures

A TASTE OF THE ALTERNATIVE Panda Mony Toys is a small, independent outfit operating out of the US with one mission to complete: to shake up the action figures sector with a wholly new and original IP, Alter Nation. ToyNews catches up with Panda Mony founder, Ryan Magnon to find out more

The independent US outfit, Panda Mony Toys has made it its mission in recent years to shake up the action figure market, a space it believes has “become stagnant with toy companies chasing the big comic book and movie franchises” with the launch of its original IP, Alter Nation. Earlier this month, the company made its first move in building an Alter Nation franchise model itself, with the launch of a short form animated series on YouTube. Buoyed by early success and the positive first reactions from audiences across the US, Panda Mony Toys has big hopes for its toy line on the global stage. ToyNews catches up with Panda Mony Toys founder and CEO, Ryan Magnon to learn more about the company looking to change the industry’s mindset when it comes to action figures. Can you give us a bit of background on Panda Mony Toys? What are you guys looking to bring to the toy space? I’ve had a super strong desire to bring stories and characters to life since I was a kid. When I looked at comics and animation industries, they seemed saturated with a lot of great independent productions that may or may not become breakout hits, if they can even get good distribution first. It seemed to me like launching a comic book or animation studio was somewhat of a challenge from a market differentiation perspective.

However, the opposite was happening in toys. I’ve been a toy collector since I stopped opening the boxes in 1993, with a strong focus on collecting mass market kids toys. On one of my regular trips to Toys R Us, may it rest in peace, I looked at the action figure aisle and there wasn’t a single brand that wasn’t at least 25 years old, and that’s where the idea of Panda Mony was born: original IP with great stories and characters using toys as the medium. We got the “you can’t do that!” from a lot of people in the toy industry. Among other things, they said you can’t make an action figure without an established license, but we knew better because our team had a ton of action figures that were never comics, cartoons, or movies. I have fond memories of Battle Beasts, Super Naturals, and the Skateboard Gang. Maybe their success was too modest for the billion-dollar companies, but it’s fine for us. We believed that if we had a great toy with great characters, the content partners would come, and they have. You seem to be hitting a bit of a nostalgic ’90s note meets the contemporary appeal of YouTube animated shorts/storytelling methods – what drew you to this kind of hybrid? I don’t think it wasn’t really intentional to be nostalgic. It might be a subconscious thing where we’re bringing back some

of the things we liked as kids, but I also think it happened that way because action figures changed over the last few decades to become simply yet another chunk of merchandise to milk a popular movie or game for all it’s worth. We take it as a compliment that people are comparing Alter Nation to toys of the ’80s and ’90s since that seems like the golden age of action figures. That said, we do try to avoid relying too much on nostalgia as well, avoiding following what other companies do or assuming what worked in the past will always work. Instead, we talk to kids about what they’re doing and to see if there’s a toy or story component that hasn’t been done yet that they might like. Things like launching a YouTube series was a no-brainer because kids are going away from traditional platforms for digital ones and a YouTube series and ads on YouTube are a lot more affordable than their televised counterparts. What influenced the development of Alter Nation in this way? My impression may be off, but it seems like kids aren’t really respected by a lot of the entertainment industry. First of all, a lot of character design and story are toned down. Kid-appropriate, complex themes are what made a lot of our favourite franchises popular. A lot of action

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Action figures

brands for kids look cartoony with a tone to match. I think the rationale is a fear that it’ll alienate parents or kids won’t comprehend it. We see no reason to believe either. The other big problem is that so much of kids’ entertainment are these half-assed reboots that don’t have much heart because they’re so formulaic and uninspired. The idea is if you miss the mark with the kids, well, maybe you can still get nostalgic adults. Even if it tugs at the heartstrings of 40-year-olds, are they going to buy the toy in large numbers? An established license carries so much baggage to service what’s familiar about the original while doing something new. The two are inherently contradictory. It’s not surprising when so many of these reboots flop and new brands like Frozen, Fortnite, and even Five Nights at Freddy’s resonate more with kids, and it’s no surprise that more adult fans are telling Hollywood to leave their beloved franchises alone. It seems like an established license is no more or less risky than an original one. It just comes down to a hook that’s going to resonate with the current generation. Our brands will do that by using interesting characters, quality product, and great storytelling. If we want to talk about nostalgia, one thing I miss from the ’80s and ’90s is that people were a little

more cynical and called out blatant money grabs. Nowadays there probably is a guy out there trying to make Spaceballs: The Flamethrower a real product. What has reaction been like to Alter Nation? What audiences are you seeing the best response from? Overwhelmingly positive. The people at Diamond Comics, who do our distribution and get a chance to see every action figure in the universe, called us up to earnestly let us know how much fun they were having playing with our figures. That meant a lot to all of us here. Action figure reviewers have said nothing but positive stuff about the quality and fun. What’s really special to us is getting to

see the kids’ reactions though. We were at New York Comic Con and let kids play with our toys while they were waiting in line for exclusives, and they’d never seen anything like Alter Nation. They had so much fun trying to get the Daart figure to do a backflip and playing with Sham’s sticky tongue. What do you think the future holds for Alter Nation, what can this brand bring to the toy space? The future of Alter Nation is to expand on its merchandise and content offerings. We’ll be working with more partners to produce other quality consumer goods and stories across all mediums that are in-canon with the rest of our content. For toys specifically, we’d like to introduce vehicles and play-sets in addition to new characters. The Alter Nation story surrounds a top-secret military experiment where heroes only know a little bit about the cover up. As they uncover more, the sky’s the limit on the type of fascinating new characters and technology that can be involved. Are there plans in place to bring the IP to the UK? Absolutely! Diamond Comics already sells worldwide, and we’re in business discussions with other distributors in Europe and Asia. We’d like to find partners in other parts of the world as well.

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Action figures

Flair 0208 643 0320 Flair is adding to its action figure line up next spring with the introduction of new lines from the hit action series Ben 10 and Gormiti. The Ben 10 line up will launch new waves nine and 10 figures and introduce refreshed and new characters into the mix. There are 18 figures to collect in wave nine, including five new characters such as Omni Glitch Heatblast, Omni Glitch Fourarms plus armoured versions of Heatblast, Shock Rock and Diamond Head. Wave 10 Ben 10 figures stand 5.5-inches tall and have seven new Omni Kix articulated characters to discover, including the flying alien, Omni Kix Jet Ray and Omni Kix Evil Kevin Alien Bashmouth. Ben 10 Ben’s Transforming Omni-Cycle will also land in 2020. With his new transforming Omni-Cycle, Ben can drive through any off-road terrain in cycle mode as well as fly through the skies in flight mode. Also included is a Ben 10 Rustbuggy 4.5-inch figure. The call of the Lords of Gormiti will enter its new phase in spring with wave two of mini and action figures collections. Action figures will have 10 new characters to collect. For the first time, a value pack containing two-inch figures of the four Heralds and Ao-Ki will also be released, together with two new Deluxe Lord figures, Lord Trytion and Helios. Added to this heroic world are the Hyper Beasts and sitting astride the 15cm beasts are Pyron and Gorok who alongside Trek and Riff are ready to launch into battle.

Mattel 01628 500 000 Mattel continues to strengthen its action figures portfolio with ranges from popular brands WWE, DC Shazam and Batman, and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom along with all new Disney Pixar Toy Story 4. In April 2019, Mattel introduced the Disney Pixar Toy Story 4 range across Action Figures and Fisher-Price Imaginext, featuring key items such as the Ultimate Walking Buzz Lightyear, and seven-inch figures, as well as Fisher-Price’s Imaginext Buzz Lightyear Robot and Basic and Feature Figure Assortments. Legacy characters include the Imaginext Toy Story Buzz Lightyear & Pizza Planet Truck and the Imaginext Disney Toy Story Woody & R.C. From the DC universe, the Shazam! toy range includes the six-inch Action Figure Assortment and 12-inch Action Figure Assortment. The DC Batman Missions world expands as new characters are introduced to the six-inch and 12-inch Action Figures Assortment, while the Imaginext DC Super Friends range sees the likes of the Transforming Batmobile R/C, Joker Laff Factory and Figure Assortment. WWE fans can bring WWE Superstars to life with the striking WWE Wrekkin’ Figure Assortment - each figure has a ‘wrekk-able’ accessory, deluxe articulation, and true to life details. The WWE Wrekkin’ Performance Centre is a new play-set featuring a backstage gym and collapsible scaffolding and ring. The Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom range expands with Destroy and Devour Indominus Rex, Jurassic World Primal Pal Blue, and the Jurassic World Snap Squad Assortment.

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Action figures

Spin Master 01628 535 000 When talking about action figures, you can’t get any greater ‘action’ than with Spin Master’s Bakugan range. Pop-open figures transform from BakuBalls to Bakugan, allowing kids to recreate the excitement of the TV show and collect all their favourite characters. These fierce creatures pop open, transforming in one roll. So enter Battle Planet and get ready to Bakugan brawl. The Bakugan Battle Planet toy line will retain the essence of what made the original toys so popular 10 years ago, with exciting new features that bring revolutionary card and app play. Innovative, all-new marble-like balls with ingenious technology instantly transform into multiple collectable characters when rolled over a magnetic Bakucore. The game will bring different levels of play, from beginner to advanced, offering enhanced collectability due to its wide range of strategy options. Suitable for aged six plus, the Bakugan Starter Pack has everything you need to roll into action, with two epic Bakugan, one mighty Bakugan Ultra, six powerful BakuCores and collectable character and ability cards all included. Collect over 200

Season One Bakugan to build your collection, trade with friends and battle. The fastest way to build your own epic Bakugan army is with the Battle Pack. Inside you’ll find two fierce Bakugan Ultras, three Bakugan, 10 powerful BakuCores, five Character Cards and five collectable Ability Cards – ideal for jump-starting your collection. And now the most powerful Bakugan in the universe has arrived: Dragonoid Maximus. Standing at 20.3cm tall, this Bakugan dragon figure roars to life with an epic transformation, lights and sounds. Dragonoid Maximus comes with the exclusive Titan Dragonoid Bakugan ball. Drop it on top of Dragonoid Maximus and watch as he explodes into his most powerful evolution, springing open with a roar and the power core on his chest lights up. Accessories include the Bakugan Battle Arena, with its hexagonal grid already on the board giving more time to Brawl with your friends, plus the Baku-storage Case with room for up to 14 Bakugan, 12 BakuCores and a 40-card deck, making it easy to pack up your collection and trade or battle with your friends. Spin Master supports the relaunch of its Bakugan collection with a variety of PR and marketing activities including TV advertising, in-store activations, plus digital and influencer initiatives to drive awareness.

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Bath toys

Zimpli Kids 0845 459 1818 With such popular products as Gelli Baff and Slime Baff to its name, it was only a matter of time before Zimpli Kids took the plunge and officially turned its attention to the bath time toys market. And it would appear that the moment is upon us now. Professional purveyors of bath time fun, Zimpli Kids has now launched its first collectable bath toy. Bath time is a regular part of a child’s routine, says the company, so why rush it? Zimpli Kids wants each and every bath time to be turned into a fun, sensory activity through its Slime Baff and Gelli Baff brands. But adding to this portfolio comes its collectables line. Zimpli Kids has created Mermaid Treasure Chests in Aqua Slime Baff and Glitter Purple Gelli Baff. The box, which is in the shape of a treasure chest also includes two mystery underwater figures with a total of ten to collect. Meanwhile, the Glitter Gelli Baff Treasure Chest is made with cosmetic bio-glitter, just like the rest of Zimpli Kids’ glitter product lines. Head of marketing at Zimpli Kids, Jessica Coy, said: “Children are amazed by the magic of Gelli Baff and Slime Baff, watching the water transform and change colour before their eyes. The collectability is a great addition to this, especially using fantasy figures like mermaids, which is perfect for bath time imaginative play.”

A B U R There's always time for a quick scrub up on your bath toy knowledge, so let's take a plunge.

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Bath toys

DUB DU B Infantino (0)7921 212072 or email Jerome@infantino.com Infantino, the brand behind smartly designed products for happy parenting are sure to bring fun to bath time with their cleverly designed toys. Their most recent launches being Glowing Jelly Lights, Tub O’ Fun and the Jumbo Sea Squirt Fish – three fun additions to the tub. Little ones will be gleaming with joy when they see the Glowing Jelly Lights set the tub alight. The multi-textured jellyfish light up when they are submerged in water, creating a unique sensory experience. The colourful creatures bob around on the water keeping little one’s company at bathtime. The Jumbo Sea Squirt Fish will also join little ones at bath time this season. With the cheeky orange fish being able to spray, squirt and splash it guarantees plenty of giggles. Thanks to its thoughtful design, there are no teeny holes for water to get stuck in, parents can pull it apart to dry and clean, preventing the build-up of mould and mildew. Finally, the super fun Senso Tub O’ Fun comes with four squirting bath toys, including a turtle, octopus, seahorse and frog. Each character’s body is interchangeable, allowing baby to create his own exotic sea life - ideal for developing little one’s imagination. Also, like their jumbo fish pal, they are easily pulled apart to keep dry and mould free. The fabulous squirting friends come packaged in a transparent aquarium with four holes at the bottom to keep the container dry, making them perfect for storing in your bathroom. Nov/Dec 2019 | toy news | 67

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Appointments

Industry moves This month, an office move for Marbel sees the firm welcome a whole new behind the scenes team, Eolo Toys welcomes a toy industry favourite to its ranks, Art + Science positions for international growth, JAKKS Pacific pics up a new CFO, and Magic Box Toys picks up a new UK sales manager EOLO TOYS

JAKKS PACIFIC

The former Mattel exec, JOHN KIMBLE has joined the US-based toymaker JAKKS Pacific as its new chief financial officer. Kimble will replace the outgoing BRENT NOVAK who was responsible for bringing Jakks Pacific through a r ecapitalisation process earlier this year, seeing the firm back to a successful end for the year, following the launch of its Disney Frozen II product line. A toy industry veteran, Kimble previously held tenure at Mattel where he successfully led the corporate development for the international toy firm. “With Jakks’ recent recapitalisation in the rear window, I believe that my skill sets, which include experience in finance, licensing, gaming and international sales, will allow me to assist Jakks in the development and implementation of its business strategies aimed at increasing shareholder value,” said Kimble of his new appointment with the firm. Kimble has been welcomed by JAKKS Pacific's management team who look forward to working alongside the new CFO.

JEREMY ROBINSON has joined the firm’s UK toy business as its head of UK sales and business development. The appointment has been made as Eolo Toys looks to further grow and expand into new categories, including feature plush. Among the company’s plans for expansion are its continued efforts in the feature plush market, an area in which the firm has already seen success early on in the game. Of the strategy, Robinson said: “This is a hugely exciting time to be joining the Eolo team. They are already well established in the UK market and their growing product offering, across both existing and new categories, gives all current and prospective customers a huge amount of opportunity to offer a fantastic range of products from a single and proven supplier.” ALEX PRIETO, director at Eolo, has welcomed the new addition: “Jez joins in a great moment for Eolo to bring experience and fun in the UK and Ireland toy space.”

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Appointments

ART + SCIENCE

MAGIC BOX TOYS

Art + Science International has bolstered its team with the appointment of VERITY GROOM as international sales and marketing manager. Groom will become an integral part of the team in a role that will see her responsible for increasing international sales opportunities and managing partnerships, as well as raising brand awareness for a number of its key brands, including Bling20, Breakdown Plastic, Sindy and Action Man. Groom comes with over ten years’ experience in marketing, having worked with Flair on its girls, pre-school and creative play brands. She previously held a position at Aurora World.

MARBEL

The UK toy distributor has opened its new offices following the relocation of its UK headquarters, welcoming a whole new behind-the-scenes team across customer service, marketing and finance. Moving into a new home in Leicestershire, Marbel opened its doors in November as part of the company’s strategic initiative for further UK and international growth. The new team is “ready to begin assisting customers and growing the business.” Managing director, DAVID ALLAN, said: “We are delighted to be in our new office. We are now central to UK operations in a modern office with our purpose-built showroom to show our customers the range of toys we offer.” Marbel can now be found at its new address: Unit 10, Kibworth Business Park, Kibworth Harcourt, Leicestershire. Marbel exclusively supplies the UK market with brands such as Hape, Nebulous Stars, Nanoblocks, Kathe Kruse and more. TN-NOV19-AARDVARK STRIP.qxp_Layout 1 19/11/2019 14:39 Page 1

The firm famous for its Zomblings, Star Monsters and SuperZings collectables, Magic Box Toys has appointed LAURA BULL to the role of UK and Ireland sales manager. Bull boasts a strong background in the toy industry spanning almost a decade and has worked with manufacturers such as Schleich and Posh Paws. With Magic Box Toys, Bull will be responsible for developing distribution in the toy channel and managing the sales team. JULIE CAKE, commercial director, said: “We are delighted to welcome Laura to Magic Box. Her sales and marketing experience will be a great asset to continue building the growth of Magic Box in the UK and Ireland.”

Toys & Licensing Recruitment

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Bossing it

Bossing It… with Ian Edmunds Each month, ToyNews picks on an industry boss to put through the paces with some deeply probing and personal questions. This month, our big boss is Toymaster MD, Ian Edmunds

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o Ian, you’re a name synonymous with the indie toy retail scene, but how did you get into it all? Well, as usual, it all happened by pure chance. I took my A-Levels, I'd had enough of education so decided to go into retail, on the suggestion of my then careers advisor, way back in the dark ages. I went to work for Debenhams in Norwich as a trading manager. They start you off in September on the toys department, if you last until Christmas, they give you a job. 18 months and two Christmases later, I got a job as a toy buyer with Roys of Roxom, who was part of Toymaster. Through them, I got to know the good people at Toymaster…

S

So it was Debenhams who sealed your fate? [Laughs] Yes, had I been put on the linen department, it would have been a different story. How long have you been with Toymaster? 20 years. I came to Toymaster in 1999 after 15 years with Roys of Roxom. I started at Debenhams back in 1982. You must have seen a lot of changes to the industry over that time? Yes, just a bit. I think everything has changed - from the retailers to the suppliers, and above all things, licenses. Licensing didn’t exist back then. If people wanted Action Man, they’d buy the doll and that was it - you wouldn’t find Action Man anything else. One of the big things that has changed is the technology.

Growing up, what was the young Ian Edmunds into, toy-wise of course? What was my favourite toy?! Oh, the normal stuff, the Meccano and the LEGO - that sort of stuff - the building stuff kind of toys. And from there you thought, 'I'm going to build a business, a toy business empire'? [Laughs] Well… it’s not quite my empire. I’m just the mantlepiece, mate. What’s been the proudest moment of your career? Being made MD of Toymaster back in 2015. To have the belief of your peers, that’s special. You know, I was promoted from within, I wasn’t brought in from outside. You can’t beat that. On a final philosophical note, what piece of advice would you give your younger self? I have to say that my former boss, and my very good friend, Mr Roger Dyson once set me 10 things to do in my appraisal. Eight of them were to be nice. I think, in truth, the piece of advice I would give my younger self would be to be nice. Oh, were you not nice? On not sometimes, no… [laughs] I am a buyer. I was a buyer for 15 years. Buyers have a lot of nouse, but it doesn’t always make them the good people people. Ian, you’re good people to us... It put me in good stead [laughs] but I needed the rough edges knocked off me...

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T HE

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