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SPECIALTY TOY PREVIEW 2020 GET A SNEAK PEEK AT WHATâ€™S COMING TO SPECIALTY STORES THIS YEAR
SPECIALTY RETAIL RESPONSE HOW SPECIALTY TOY STORES ARE CONNECTING WITH CONSUMERS
THE COVID-19 BATTLE PERSISTS
THE INDUSTRY CONTINUES TO ADAPT TO A CHANGING LANDSCAPE
CHATTING WITH THE INDUSTRY
RETAILERS AND MANUFACTURERS TALK TRENDS AND THE EVOLVING SPECIALTY TOY INDUSTRY
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Volume 36, No. 3 — Published by Adventure Media and Events LLC
Group Publisher Jackie Breyer firstname.lastname@example.org
10 Industry Update 12 ASTRA’s Insights 14 Toy Association Perspectives 19 Holiday of Play 2020 24 Marketing Memo
53 Talkin’ Toys: Hog Wild
88 Outside the Box
65 Talkin’ Toys: Super Impulse USA
90 Media Mashup
82 Toy Association Update 83 Euromonitor 86 Compliance & Regulations
25 Talkin’ Social Media
92 Raising the Bar 94 Backstory: Pac-Man at 40 97 Industry Marketplace 98 Flashback: June 2000
16 COVID-19: The Battle Persists The toy industry continues to adapt as the coronavirus challenges the retail landscape.
78 Ricky to the Rescue eOne’s latest brand zooms into the preschool market.
18 Challenge Accepted Specialty toy stores work to reach consumers.
80 License This! Toymakers are turning the tables on licensing to build their own intellectual properties.
22 Toys Aren’t Just for Kids Anymore Adults are rediscovering the joy of play.
Senior Editors Jackie Cucco email@example.com Marissa DiBartolo firstname.lastname@example.org Ali Mierzejewski email@example.com James Zahn firstname.lastname@example.org
20 Increasing Inclusion in Toys It’s time to make toys that are more inclusive in ability.
Editor-in-Chief Maddie Michalik email@example.com
84 STEAM Toys Can Prepare Kids for Future Careers Many STEAM-based toys help to teach vocational skills through play.
26 Chatting with the Industry Q&A Retailers and manufacturers discuss the trends and challenges of the evolving specialty toy industry.
Associate Editor Madeleine Buckley firstname.lastname@example.org Editorial Intern Nicole Savas email@example.com Art Director Joe Ibraham firstname.lastname@example.org Production Director Bill Reese email@example.com Director of Sales & Marketing James Devin firstname.lastname@example.org Controller/Office Manager Lori Rubin email@example.com
76 Happy Campers An experiential toy store brings summer camp dreams to life.
U.S. Corporate Headquarters
40 2020 Specialty Showcase What’s New in Specialty Toys
Pedro the Fine Motor Peacock from Learning Resources
President Laurie Schacht firstname.lastname@example.org Adventure Media and Events LLC 307 7th Avenue, #501 New York, NY 10001 Phone: (212) 575-4510
On the cover: Breyer Mane Beauty Styling Heads The Toy Book Volume 36, No. 3 THE TOY BOOK (ISSN-0885-3991) is published bi-monthly by Adventure Media and Events LLC. Editorial and advertising offices are located at 307 Seventh Ave., Room 501, New York, NY 10001, Phone (212) 575-4510. Periodicals Postage paid at New York and additional mailing offices. Copyright © 2020 Adventure Media and Events LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form, or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. Printed in USA. Subscription rates: $48 one year, foreign $200. The Toy Book is a trademark of Adventure Media and Events LLC. Registered in the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. Postmaster: Send address changes to: Toy Book, c/o Adventure Media and Events LLC., 307 Seventh Ave., Room 501, New York, NY 10001 or e-mail email@example.com. Opinions and comments expressed in this publication by editors, contributing writers, or solicited or unsolicited documents are not necessarily those of the management of The Toy Book.
Member, International Toy Magazine Association
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REDISCOVERING PLAY IS KEEPING US CONNECTED by MADDIE MICHALIK, editor-in-chief AS THIS PANDEMIC CONTINUES TO disrupt our daily lives, I am cautiously optimistic in writing that I feel like something positive has come out of it: We are more connected than ever before. Stay-at-home orders throughout most of North America have challenged us to adjust our everyday routines. While shifting the way we do business is a big part of adjusting to these routines, another is how we’re spending our free time. And consumers everywhere are feeling it, too. There’s no question that we were all caught off-guard by COVID-19, but play is helping us all stay strong in moving forward — especially for parents and caregivers who are rediscovering its importance. Toys continue to bring out kids’ imaginations, let them get creative, and inspire them to come up with new, fantastical adventures. Games are bringing us together — and keeping us competitive — through more frequent family game nights. Outdoor items are making sure we stay active while bringing out lots of laughter and smiles. Our June issue traditionally celebrates all aspects of the specialty industry, but that is more deserved now than ever before. We salute the manufacturers who are remaining in touch with their retailers and consumers despite extra challenges, and the neighborhood store owners who are going above and beyond to keep bringing the magic of play to their communities. Read more about the different strategies that specialty toy store owners are taking on right now from kiddywampus’ Amy Saldanha on page 18. At the timing of writing, the latest retail sales data from The NPD Group shows that the total U.S. toy industry grew 22% percent in April thanks to the outdoor and sports toys supercategory, which contributed 53% of that total growth. These numbers tell me that we’re at a critical turning point, and while the year hasn’t panned out in a traditional way, I think we will have an optimistic end to 2020. I
spoke with seasoned specialty toy retailers and manufacturers in our annual Chatting with the Industry Q&A, starting on page 26, who feel the same way. There is a consensus that this is an opportunity for all of us to stay connected — whether it’s manufacturers staying in touch with retailers or consumers spending more time with each other using the products they purchased. Our industry is evolving right now to keep this flow in place, and we have to embrace the changes. Some of these temporary strategies might just become permanent. As we head into the second half of the year, be sure to check out our specialty toy showcase (starting on page 40), featuring broad coverage of some of the great new products to look out for to keep sparking
joy in kids and families. This certainly hasn’t been an ideal year for us, but we’ll make it through like we always do. Because if this magical industry has anything to do with keeping people together and helping them get through this time, then that’s cause for celebration. I hope you enjoy this issue of the Toy Book. Send over an email or tweet at us @ToyBook. We’d love to hear from you! » Maddie Michalik is the editor-inchief of the Toy Book and senior editor of the Toy Insider and the Pop Insider. She reports on new products and toy industry trends and has been featured on broadcast TV segments in the U.S. and Canada. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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MOOSE TOYS’ BLUEY COLLECTION ARRIVES IN THE U.S. Moose Toys‘ new Bluey collection of figures, playsets, and plush will soon be snagging Dollarydoos and Dollarbucks from families across the U.S. The full range debuted at Target stores in June before it will expand into mass retailers everywhere beginning on August 1. The popular preschool TV series is returning for a second season in July on Disney Channel and DisneyNOW. All season two episodes will later air on Disney Junior. Bluey follows the adventures of a 6-year-old Blue Heeler named Bluey, her younger sister Bingo, and her parents Chilli and Bandit. Every episode features new games that kids and families can play at home. »
JANET HSU TAKES THE HELM AS CEO, HORIZON GROUP USA
Janet Hsu has been appointed CEO of Horizon Group USA, a privately held leader in the craft toy and DIY space. The New Jersey-based company designs, manufactures, and distributes a wide variety of kits across several categories, including DIY, STEM/STEAM, outdoor, and tween. Most recently, Hsu served as chief franchise management officer at Mattel, overseeing studio and strategic partnerships for properties such as this year’s Top Gun: Maverick, and the forthcoming line of products inspired by the Tokyo Olympics. She previously served as the first CEO at Saban Brands, where she led the company during its divestiture of the Power Rangers franchise to Hasbro. Prior to that, she served as president and COO at Sanrio Inc., home of the famed Hello Kitty Brand. »
GLOBAL LICENSED MERCHANDISE SALES SURGE YEAR-OVER-YEAR
According to Licensing International’s sixth annual Global Licensing Sur-
vey, sales of licensed merchandise and services grew 4.5% to $292.8 billion last year. The survey conducted by Brandar Consulting on behalf of Licensing International shows steady year-over-year growth with a 19% sales boom over the past six years. Entertainment and character licensing led the charge, accounting for 43.8% of the global licensing market. Toys held 12.2% of the total market last year, with a slight growth of 1.2% in retail sales of licensed toys and games. »
NEW DATA FROM CHINA REFLECTS PATH TO RETAIL RECOVERY, CONSUMER TOY SPEND
Newly released data out of China could offer an indicator as to how consumer preferences and spending could play out in the remainder of the year. A Consumer Sentiment Study conducted by The NPD Group in May shows plans for decreased spending across a variety of product categories. However, just as certain categories of toys have seen a boom in the U.S. fueled by stay-at-home orders, the Chinese toy market has experienced big growth despite some planned changes in future spending.
In a post-pandemic market, 59% of respondents said they plan to spend about the same amount on toys, 16% said they expect to spend more, and 24% said they plan to spend less. While it was games, puzzles, and outdoor toys that attracted families during quarantine in the U.S., e-commerce data from NPD shows a massive eight-fold increase in sales for preschool learning toys in China during the first two months of the year. The report notes consumer appreciation for messaging regarding good hygiene and the importance of cleaning and sanitizing. The LEGO Group, which has been rapidly expanding in China over the past few years, offered digital classes for kids to learn how to play with LEGO bricks alongside messaging about good habits of cleanliness. »
THE TOY BOOK PRESENTS SWEET SUITE @ HOME: RETAILER DAY
Due to COVID-19, our sister publication, the Toy Insider, has gone virtual with its annual press and influencer event, Sweet Suite. On July 22, the first-ever Sweet Suite @ Home will give toy companies the chance to interact with press, influencers, and
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YouTube content creators via a virtual show floor, video and text chats, and unique interactive experiences. The fun will continue on July 23, with Sweet Suite @ Home: Retailer Day, which will give retailers and distributors of all sizes the Sweet Suite experience, including the ability to explore the virtual show floor and get live face-toface toy demos via video chat. This is an opportunity for independent, specialty retail store owners; mass retail buyers; and everyone who sells toys to get a look at fresh products from a wide array of top and emerging toymakers and brands. The best part? The Toy Insider is offering Sweet Suite @ Home: Retailer Day free of charge to toy retailers, and offering it as an add-on for Sweet Suite @ Home exhibitors at no additional charge. Interested retailers can find full event details at thetoyinsider.com »
BASIC FUN EXPANDS CUTETITOS RANGE WITH CUTETITOS TASTE BUDDITOS PLUSH
Taste Budditos are the newest addition to Basic Fun’s Cutetitos, a line of collectible, food-themed plush animals. Taste Budditos will come in packs of two as miniature best friends, inspired by classic food pairings, such as peanut butter and jelly, macaroni and cheese, milk and cookies, and chips and salsa. Kids can wrap the two plush individually or join the wraps to form a heart. Friends can also share the pack as they would a friendship bracelet, keeping one
plush for themselves and giving the other to their bestie. »
BANDAI AMERICA LAUNCHES A NEW STYLE OF TAMAGOTCHI ON
The Tamagotchi family is growing with a new version of the Tamagotchi On virtual pet toy from Bandai America. Available in new lavender and turquoise colors, the Tamagotchi On Wonder Garden features updates such as a new home screen, a new room for Tamagotchi pets to visit, and new games. In the Library game, kids can keep track of the number of books lent out, and in the Dressmaker game, they can give the dressmaker energy to create a beautiful dress. Tamagotchi On Wonder Garden will be available nationwide this month. »
THE OP TEAMS UP WITH ASMODEE FOR LICENSED SPOT IT! GAMES
The Op has signed a licensing agreement with Asmodee to launch new versions of Spot It! with a popculture twist. The game, which was also known as Dobble, first debuted in 2010 with an illustrated deck of 55 circular cards, each featuring eight different symbols. Any two cards in the deck always have one symbol in common. The goal is to be the first player to spot a match and grab that card, prompting the next card
Tamagotchi On Wonder Garden
in the deck to be revealed and claimed, like a chain reaction. Several different licensed versions of Spot It! will hit stores this fall. The Op will use social media to announce the pop culture brands that will be featured in the game. »
GAMESTOP DIGITAL SALES SPIKE BY 519% DURING THE PANDEMIC
GameStop, which has been in the midst of a turnaround effort, was one of the retailers hit hard by store closures due to stay-at-home orders. The company, which also faced criticism for its handling of employee safety and claims of being an “essential retailer,” was able to offset some declines by its shift to a Delivery@Door curbside pickup model in some locations. During the company’s first-quarter earnings report, GameStop reported that comparable same-store sales fell 17% for stores that were able to remain open in some capacity this year. When factoring in the stores that closed, total sales for the first quarter declined more than 30% to $1.02 billion compared to $1.54 billion last year. However, as gaming sales boomed, GameStop was able to gain ground in e-commerce and digital sales, which grew by more than 500%. GameStop joins the majority of companies in the U.S. that have suspended all future guidance for the remainder of this year. »
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TOUGH TIMES, TOUGH PEOPLE ASTRA members take on COVID-19.
by KIMBERLY MOSLEY, president, American Specialty Toy Retailing Association WEATHERING THE ROUGH TIMES IS nothing new for the retailers, manufacturers, and sales representatives who are members of the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA). Nimbleness is part of the ASTRA entrepreneurial DNA. Without lumbering, corporate hierarchies and with an ear to the ground in our local communities, we have always prided ourselves on our ability to make quick changes when the competitive environment demands it. In the past, our ASTRA community has weathered the onset of new technology, 9/11, the financial collapse in 2008, sales tax equity, and concerns about toy safety. Who knew that a virus could make our past disruptions look like child’s play in comparison? But the word from the ASTRA frontlines is that the bulk of our members are hunkering down and playing for keeps.
the words “safe,” “unprecedented,” and “crazy” began to appear in almost every business email we send and receive — the nimble ASTRA pivot has morphed into a warp-speed transformation. “We are living in a new world that has not finished changing,” says ASTRA Board Member Nick Tarzia, owner of Stamford Toys in Stamford, CT. “We must adapt. The unfortunate circumstance is that the demand for these changes have come upon us quicker than we could have ever imagined, and for many of us, more quickly than we were prepared for.”
MANAGING COVID-19: STRATEGIES FROM ASTRA MEMBERS • Take action for the future. “We may never get this kind of time to focus, uninterruptedly, on our businesses again,” Saldanha points out. “Tackle that ‘if only I had the time’ list. Improved website? Finally figure out social media? Always wanted a YouTube channel but weren’t sure how? Want to master Open to Buy? Now is the time,” Saldanha says. • Upgrade your e-commerce capabilities.“We were already planning on making e-commerce a big part of our vi-
THE INDOMITABLE ASTRA SPIRIT While nearly 90% of ASTRA members surveyed during the second week in April reported that COVID-19 already had a negative impact on their businesses, less than half said they had moderate to major concerns about the long-term viability of their company. That is the indomitable ASTRA spirit shining through the dark days we’ve seen, filled with so many economic fears and unknowns. In the words of ASTRA’s Chair-Elect Amy Saldanha, CPE, CMR, owner of kiddywampus in Hopkins, MN, “We, ASTRA members, were born for this moment. We are entrepreneurs and out-of-the-box thinkers. We take delight in beating the odds, figuring out a way to get things done when no one else can. It’s how we survive every single day. Challenge accepted, coronavirus.” TRANSFORMATIONS AT WARP SPEED Over the past few weeks — since
Legacy Toys in Ely, MN offers home delivery service to its customers.
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sion for 2020, but we quickly realized we needed to get it completed much faster,” says ASTRA Board Member Brad Ruoho, owner of Legacy Toys in Ely, MN. “We launched our website two weeks ago with online orders. Adding that to our ordering capabilities will be a huge strength coming out of this as we will have another outlet for selling our products,” he says. • Offer new ways for your customers to shop. Are you a new star on Facebook? You’re not alone if you are suddenly doing Facebook Live product demos. This is a great way to reinforce the personality of your store while you are making sales. Have you reinvented the shopping experience for your customers with Facetime virtual shopping, curbside pickup, and deliveries? To meet consumer demand, Ruoho added home delivery service at Legacy Toys. “Customers appreciate the service and have been shocked when they’ve ordered something online and a few hours later a happy toy store employee is greeting them at their door,” he says. “This clearly isn’t the most cost-effective measure, but it builds loyalty and relationships with customers
This is one of those times when your mission and values can help you prioritize and make the right decisions for your business, your employees, and your customers. during difficult times, which hopefully will lead to a lasting relationship in the good times as well.” •Live your mission. “Is your company’s mission a poster or a passion?” asks Jamie Gallagher, president and CEO of Faber-Castell USA. “This is one of those times when your mission and values can help you prioritize and make the right decisions for your business, your employees, and your customers.” HANG TOUGH COVID-19 has given a whole new meaning to the phrase “times are tough.”
“As a retailer, wondering what will happen with what we have worked so hard to build is extremely difficult,” says Ruoho. I’m sure every ASTRA member out there can relate to that feeling, even as we conduct our businesses through Zoom, Facebook, and FaceTime, and hold them together with gumption and every last ounce of creativity we can muster. We are redefining what “nimble” looks like. ASTRA Board Member Betty Burns, owner of Angellina’s Toy Boutique in Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada, reminds us that tough times don’t last, but tough people do. “We are tough people,” says Burns. “We are mighty together. We are ASTRA.” »
Kimberly Mosley, president of the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association, is an experienced, award-winning, results-oriented association executive with a long track record of success managing association operations, developing innovative programs, and growing revenue.
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TOY ASSOCIATION PERSPECTIVES
THE TOY FOUNDATION TAKES A NEW DIRECTION
Helping Kids and Families in Need During the COVID-19 Pandemic by KRISTIN MORENCY GOLDMAN, senior communications specialist, The Toy Association THE TOY FOUNDATION — THE PHILanthropic arm of the North American toy community — has delivered the magic of play to millions of kids in vulnerable situations through industry-wide toy donations and cash contributions for nearly two decades. With the current pandemic significantly impacting communities in need and with new research uncovering the many benefits of play for kids and adults alike, The Toy Foundation has committed to broadening its mission to serve more children and families by meeting their essential needs now and supporting their resilience and recovery. Ellen Lambert, interim executive director of The Toy Foundation, outlines the nonprofit’s upcoming plans and explains why a new direction was imperative. Kristin Morency Goldman: How did the COVID-19 pandemic impact the Foundation’s mission? Ellen Lambert: It quickly became clear to us that if children are food insecure or fearful, it is very hard to be joyful. In broadening our mission and approving our first major group of cash grants tied to the pandemic, the Foundation is responding to the immediate needs of children and families by providing food and essentials through our nonprofit partners. In school districts where numbers of school-aged children do not have the technology to connect to classes and lessons, we are assisting with nonprofit and toy industry partners to donate learning toys. We are even able to respond to requests from nursing homes, child life specialists, and special learning schools. We’re very pleased to announce that The Toy Foundation Board of Directors just approved the release of $260,000 in grants for six organizations — LA Students Most in Need, ParentChild+, First Responders’ Children’s Fund, CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates),
Delivering Good, and Boys and Girls Clubs of America — with a second round of grants currently under consideration. KMG: Beyond the pandemic, how does the Foundation plan on reconfiguring its vision and programs? EL: We are looking at all of our current programs with an eye toward postpandemic changes to the industry and how we can support the entire toy industry in moving forward. As we learn more from research on the benefits to learning and resiliency provided by play — not just for young children, but also for young adults, adults, senior citizens, and differently abled and special-needs individuals — we will connect with this broader audience through The Toy Association (TA)’s Genius of Play initiative, the joy of toys, and the continued generosity of the industry to The Toy Bank donation program. Cash donations will become a bigger part of our work, helping to expand our partnerships, develop new tools, and create programs targeted to the wellbeing of children, youth, and families. For example, we hope to expand our existing partnership with Nemours Children’s Health System to study the role of play in trauma-informed patient care across the spectrum of all children’s health professions. We are in discussions about creating play materials to support families and children who are experiencing anxiety and post-traumatic stress as they battle a major illness or react to the pandemic. On a broader note, we aspire to be a resource for our industry partner foundations and citizenship initiatives as they look for information and ideas on how to best serve their communities, especially in these uncertain times. What is the pandemic going to change in terms of the need for toys and play in our
daily lives? I’d venture to say that play will become more paramount than ever. How can teachers bring more play into classrooms? And how can the industry assist teachers, schools, and communities as they look for more ways to play? Beyond play, how can we become more inclusive and diverse as an industry to ensure we are representative of kids and youth across the country? These are questions we are going to be tackling in the months ahead. KMG: How does the rest of the year look for the Foundation, in terms of industry volunteer events, toy distributions, and so on? EL: Like everyone, we are operating in a strange climate that makes it impossible to host in-person, live-crowd events. But we will be engaging virtually and providing toys wherever we can. Play Your Part, our popular, industry-wide volunteer series, may be recreated to take place online until we are able to reconnect again in person. Our Leaders Circle program (for individuals who make a cash donation of $250 or more to the Foundation) will have a new presence on social media. And we will have reach through the TA’s new Toy Fair Everywhere virtual market weeks to collect toys and funds from companies that are able to contribute. Visit toyfoundation.org to learn more and visit toybook.com to read more about the grant recipients. » As The Toy Association’s senior communications specialist, Kristin Morency Goldman leads the development of content for the TA’s print and online communications. Her articles on toy trends, toy safety, and industry news can be found in trade and consumer publications around the world. She holds a master’s degree in media, culture, and communications from NYU.
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The toy industry continues to adapt in survival mode as the coronavirus challenges the retail landscape. by JAMES ZAHN, senior editor SIX MONTHS AGO, THE IDEA THAT A pandemic could happen on U.S. soil was something that few, if any, were considering. The “coronavirus” was tossed around as a problem that would stay overseas. Toy fair season kicked off in Hong Kong amid fears of disruption thanks to regional protests, but went off without a hitch. Shows in London, Nuremberg, and New York took place, each with increasing anxiety that this virus and the disease it causes — COVID-19 — could become a real threat to business not just in the U.S., but around the world. THE THREAT BECOMES REALITY Earnings season kicked off on April 29 as Hasbro reported a 20% increase in U.S. sales despite an 8% drop globally. On the same day, The NPD Group reported a surprise 7.6% increase in toy retail sales for the U.S. market, fueled by categories including games, puzzles, and outdoor toys — the perfect activities for families that had received a gift that they never expected: time at home together. As earnings rolled out, mixed signals rippled through the markets and the media. Differing methodologies in data sampling and collection between market and government agencies showed massive declines in retail, while toy sales were reportedly up despite store closures and other business disruptions. If toy sales were up, why were so many companies reporting sales declines? Even more concerning were the rumblings that layoffs began taking place in the toy industry almost immediately following the close of
Toy Fair New York. The first quarter was a mixed bag of conflicting numbers and differing results as numerous CEOs began to preemptively warn investors and analysts that the second quarter could be an absolute financial disaster. The reality is that despite some consumer hesitation, first-quarter numbers only reflect a few week’s worth of store closures due to stay-at-home orders and the new age of social distancing. The second quarter will reflect the full brunt of retail closures paired with the onetwo punch of families pulling back on spending as record unemployment swept across the U.S. A third variable is the cancellation of live events to which many toy and game makers have become tethered. Funko cautioned a shocking 60% decline in retail sales in Q2 as the U.S. Census Bureau reported that combined retail sales across all categories fell more than 16% in April. UNEXPECTED SIDE EFFECTS According to a May report from The NPD Group, the video game industry had a record $10.86 billion first quarter following several quarters of decline. The lion’s share of sales came from digital content that could be delivered without consumers ever having to leave their homes. Even struggling retailer GameStop, which took considerable heat for its handling of store operations and employee safety in the early weeks of the pandemic, saw a 519% increase in digital sales as comparable same-store sales dropped 17%
for those that were able to stay open in some capacity. “As the pandemic spread, we leaned in on our upgraded omnichannel capabilities to fulfill customer orders through curbside pick-up where available,” said GameStop CEO George Sherman in a statement to investors. Rivals Walmart and Target each reported a 10% increase in same-store sales for the first quarter, and sales of toys evolved as the country went through waves of necessity and preference. “Puzzles and video games took off. Parents became teachers. Adult bicycles started selling out as parents started to join the kids,” explained Walmart President and CEO Doug McMillon during the company’s recent call with investors. “An overlapping trend then started emerging related to DIY and home-related activities. Think games, home office, exercise equipment, and the like.” EXPLORING NEW OPTIONS FOR MANUFACTURING The U.S.-China trade war of 20182020 left a bad taste in many mouths. Paired with the social unrest in Hong Kong that overlapped with the spread of COVID-19 coming out of Wuhan, some sources say that a number of companies are looking to expedite a shift in production away from Mainland China, if only to avoid some of the constant headaches that have emerged in recent years. As the trade war first indicated, neighboring countries and territories such as Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, and India
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are likely to absorb some of the shift, but there are also signs that production in the U.S. could be on the upswing. Cra-Z-Art recently opened a new facility in Florida to produce a significantly larger number of its arts and crafts supplies domestically. “In response to our recent growth, the facility will allow us to more effectively and efficiently get our products to market for consumers to enjoy,” says CraZ-Art Chairman Lawrence Rosen. “We plan to increase our production of quality goods that are made right here in the U.S., which will ultimately contribute to the economy of the Jacksonville region and beyond,” he says. Fueled by the recent shutdown of Imperial Toy, Sunny Days Entertainment stepped up to fill a market for bubble solution and accessories that has been booming with kids staying at home. In April, the company began shipping 24-ounce bottles of bubble solution from a factory in the U.S. “We have been successful in doing this for 2020 as an emergency stop-gap to help some of our retail partners,” says Melvin Wells, president and CEO of Sunny Days Entertainment. “The bubble business has been strong during the shutdown and the exodus of Imperial has left a major gap in the market. We are working on a strategy for 2021 that will include a made-in-the-U.S. bulk bubble solution.” The oil market is also being watched closely. Following historic lows during a crash that sent prices into negative territory
thanks to a lack of demand for crude oil and a price war between companies in the U.S., Russia, and Saudi Arabia, the market has been on the rebound. It’s a long-term possibility that looks unlikely, but should oil prices ever hold firm on the low end, it is possible that the cost for plastics might come down, prompting more to consider a production move. The biggest challenges with moving business away from China remain the established business relationships with individual factories — some of which are decades-old — and the costs associated with moving or reproducing tooling in other countries, not to mention potential labor issues. These are all hot topics that were discussed at length amid the previous tariff threats last year.
Puzzles and video games took off. Parents became teachers. Adult bicycles started selling out as parents started to join the kids. CELEBRATING EVERYDAY HEROES Following the early rush by toymakers to pivot their business to the production of personal protective equipment (PPE) and providing digital resources for families spending time together at home, the pandemic started a shift toward celebrating the real-life heroes working to keep the world safe and healthy. MGA
Entertainment (MGAE) began taking orders for its L.O.L. Surprise! x MGAE Cares Frontline Hero doll. The limited-edition doll comes with an exclusive face mask accessory and MGAE Cares heart sticker. $1 from each doll sold will benefit Operation: Pac-Man, MGAE’s nonprofit effort started to provide PPE to hospitals and other facilities. Mattel expanded its #ThankYouHeroes initiative to include limited-edition toys and collectibles. A collection of 16 action figures and a set of Fisher-Price Little People honoring essential workers was followed by #ThankYouHeroes offerings from Matchbox, UNO, and Mega Construx. The toys and vehicles celebrated the work of doctors, nurses, EMTs, delivery drivers, grocery store workers, police officers, firefighters, and more. Preorders for the entire line sold out. THE FUTURE OUTLOOK In June, many states had begun the phased processes of reopening businesses. Even with retail sales remaining surprisingly strong, the impact of COVID-19 continues to be felt. In a June 3 Form 8-K filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Funko revealed that it expects to incur approximately $1 million in charges related to certain termination benefits as the company’s furloughs became permanent layoffs for 25% of its global workforce. The ripple effect is expected to continue, but the outlook is fluid as there is no real way to predict if or when consumers will begin spending at pre-pandemic levels. On June 8, new data emerged from the Global Port Tracker report issued by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates indicating that retail imports continue to be less than last year, but are slightly better than what was forecast in May. “It may still be too soon to say, but we’ll take that as a sign that the situation could be slowly starting to improve,” says NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold. “Consumers want to get back to shopping, and as more people get back to work, retailers want to be sure their shelves are stocked.”»
Mattel’s Mega Construx #ThankYouHeroes building sets quickly sold out.
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CHALLENGE ACCEPTED Specialty toy stores adapt to reach consumers. by AMY SALDANHA, founder and CEO, kiddywampus STARTING IN MARCH — AND EVERY day since then — naysayers have been saying that retail will be destroyed. Many have said that “things will never be the same again,” that “we’re in the ‘new normal,’” and that “the times are reminiscent of the Great Depression.” While the pundits are making pronouncements, specialty toy retailers — and small business owners of every sector — are reacting with a “challenge accepted” attitude, pivoting on all fronts overnight with a relentless determination to save their businesses. Here are some ways in which specialty retailers across the U.S. are responding during these unprecedented times. REACHING CUSTOMERS IN NEW WAYS Stores that were already offering online shopping are further ramping up their product selection and processing capabilities. Specialty retailers are using this crisis as a catalyst for change, rapidly embracing new technologies, such as CommentSold, and other social media selling platforms to stay connected to their customers and provide an easy shopping experience.
DELIVERING NEW — AND BETTER — CUSTOMER EXPERIENCES With many stores closed to the public, personal shopping experiences are becoming the norm. Many specialty retailers are creating curated selections for customers in the ultimate “segment of one” customer experience approach. From Facebook Live shopping events to private FaceTime appointments, we are engaging customers in — and sometimes introducing them to — new modes of interaction and unparalleled experiences. TAILORING PRODUCTS We know our customers — and we know their shopping needs have changed with the new realities of distance learning and working from home. While caregivers attempt to balance parenting and work, their toy needs and preferences are shifting to puzzles, single-player games, educational offerings, and kits to keep kids engaged for longer periods of time. We are using our intimate knowledge of what matters to our customers to shift our focus to different toys and to generate new offerings, such as bundling existing inventory to create mystery boxes. DELIVERING NEW SERVICES So many services that seemed impossible three months ago have now become core to how we are doing business now. Stores are creating curbside pickup locations (complete with signage) and sanitizing stations to keep products and customers safe. Owners everywhere are taking on the extra challenge of local delivery and mapping out daily routes. Others are taking it up a notch in pricing so-
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phistication by discounting orders placed on the same block. IMAGINING RETAIL IN THE FUTURE Our stores are community hubs — they are spaces in which families gather to have fun, connect, and learn. In the midst of highly varied and location-specific guidelines, retailers are examining how to retain this connection point while making their stores safe for customers and employees. From sanitizing stations and the mandatory use of masks to limits on the number of people allowed in the store, we will continue to develop best practices to keep connections strong in this difficult time. REMAINING HUMAN IN DEHUMANIZING TIMES We are continuing to operate in the midst of extraordinary challenges. We have lost friends and family members to COVID-19. We have parents in nursing homes and kids who have lost their senior years, state tournaments, proms, and graduations. We have made every effort to protect the wellness (physical, mental, and economic) of our employees in the face of the harsh realities of mandated shutdowns. We are beyond exhausted (like everyone else) and still keep hustling. Challenge accepted. We will keep going until we all get through this. » Amy Saldanha is the founder and CEO of kiddywampus, a specialty toy retailer and destination for families in the Twin Cities. She is also the incoming chair to the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association. Amy also serves on the Board of Trustees at The Blake School and the Boards of ResourceWest and Hopkins Business & Civic Association.
kiddywampus puts together mystery boxes for customers.
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The No. 1 Press Event Showcasing the Hottest Toys and Gifts for the Holidays THE TOY BOOK AND THE TOY INSIDER present two major press events each year: Sweet Suite, which will be held virtually this year on July 22 and 23, and Holiday of Play, which will be held this fall. Sweet Suite, which is celebrating its 11th anniversary this year, is a powerful way for manufacturers to put their hot new products in front of the most influential consumers and top-tier press in the country. This year, Sweet Suite will welcome more than 400 members of the press, YouTube creators, and digital influencers. Attendees will connect with more than 60 toy brands for meet and greets and live product demos of the hottest toys for the holiday season. New for 2020, Sweet Suite’s Retailer Day will allow sponsors the opportunity to present their products to toy retailers. This year’s sponsors include Nintendo, Nickelodeon, Pokémon, MGA Entertainment, Bandai, Mattel, Hasbro, LEGO, Spin Master,
Walmart, and many more. At Holiday of Play, sponsors will meet with more than 120 members of the media, top bloggers, and YouTube personalities to showcase their best toys and gifts for the holiday season. Holiday of Play attendees will be the first to see the Toy Insider’s 2020 Holiday Gift Guide, revealing the Toy Insider team’s Hot 20, STEM 10, and 12 Under $12 hot holiday toy picks, as well as meet with key toy manufacturers to chat and get live product demos of all the toys on display. Guests at both events will get a first look at new product reveals and make new industry connections. Last year at Holiday of Play, guests enjoyed oneon-one time with representatives from more than 20 of the hottest kids’ brands and properties on the market, including VTech, LeapFrog, Just Play, Crayola, Mattel, LEGO, WowWee, Spin Master, Sega, Moose Toys, Razor, and more.
Attendees never leave empty-handed! Each member of the media takes home an enormous swag bag from the Holiday of Play event, sparking a resurgence in social media impressions and ensuring influencers and journalists have products on hand to review and share with their followers throughout the season. The Pop Insider will also return to Holiday of Play this year to reveal its picks for the best geeky toys and gifts for consumers of all ages. The Pop Insider’s gift guide will feature a wide array of pop culture products from companies that #fuelyourfandom. Sponsors offering pop culture and entertainment-based products can showcase their 2020 holiday favorites to attendees in the Pop Insider pavilion. Holiday of Play is the perfect place to show off new products to influential media as the holiday season kicks off. For more information about these events, contact Jackie Breyer (email@example.com). » toybook.com toybook.com | APRIL/MAY | JUNE 2020 | THE TOY BOOK 19
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I NCL US I ON S IN TOY
Why Toy Companies Should Focus on Skills by CHARLENE DELOACH, JD, contributing editor THE RISING TREND OF DIVERSITY IN toys is being met with praise from parents and the media. Toy companies have made great strides toward making toys more visually inclusive, especially in regard to gender and race. Packaging is moving away from pink and blue color schemes and toward more gender-neutral palettes. Dolls now come in a variety of styles, with multiple skin tones, hair textures, and more. Overall, developers, manufacturers, brands, and buyers are gravitating toward progression in play. However, one area that continues to lack clarity and conciseness is the concept of inclusivity in toys related to ability — not just for gender, ethnicity, or physical attributes. In other words, toys should not focus solely on diversity that one can see, but also on the diversity among those with cognitive and intellectual disabilities. A 4-year-old kid on the autism spectrum may be ready for a science kit sold to preteens, while a 10-year-old kid with processing delays may only be able to construct a castle marketed to toddlers. It’s no question that age grading is essential for safety considerations, but is it essential to mostly market toys based on age? Manufacturers could also include the developmental skills that their toys provide on the packaging. One model to note is the “Scholastic concept.” Scholastic, the world’s largest publisher and distributor of children’s books, doesn’t focus solely on grade level or age when matching books to kids — it also provides levels based on the student’s ability. Some toy companies have already started taking on this level of inclusive thinking. Smart Toys and Games lists the cognitive skills its games purport to
provide on its website product page, and Peaceable Kingdom, a division of MindWare, has learning skills listed on the packaging of many of its products. Another brand to note is Moluk, under the PlayMonster umbrella. The company’s founder, Alex Hochstrasser, believes that toys should appeal across different ages and leave room for the imagination. “In my work as a designer and inventor, I consult with specialists from different fields, such as occupational therapy, child development, psychology, etc.,” Hochstrasser says. He references his mentor, who had expertise in the growth and development of kids, as a resource for some of Moluk’s open-ended play designs. “A good toy should leave room for the child’s imagination and expressiveness. It should allow for various ways to be used,” he says. “The toy should appeal to kids at different ages and accompany them in their development over a long period of time.” LEGO recently moved away from using the “Juniors” label for its starter-level LEGO brick sets. Instead, it changed to packaging with a large “4+” logo on the box. “We’re changing the name from ‘Juniors’ to ‘4+’ in order to better help kids and their parents navigate our assortment, ensuring we guide them toward the best possible play experience,” says LEGO 4+ Designer Andrew Hugh Seenan. For parents with older kids on the spectrum, toys without a focus on age make the toys feel more inclusive. Some parents have a tough time explaining to their kids why they are buying “junior” toys, and kids want to play like their neurotypical classmates — even if they are older than their classmates. While brands should continue to
design and develop toys that are diverse and inclusive, there are immediate changes that they should consider. For example, consumers could “shop by skill” and not just “shop by age” on e-commerce websites. Product packaging can include not only kids of various ethnicities, but also kids of various ages to show the timeless concept of the toy. Toy packaging could state the lowest possible age for safety and then include symbols, levels, or concepts to show the stage of development the toy is best for. This lets parents focus on the developmental needs of their kids and what the toy provides to meet those needs. Though the toy industry is challenged right now in so many ways, manufacturers can use this time as an opportunity to regroup and think about the future. As the world changes, toys should change, too — and the world is more diverse than ever. Rather than focus on toys for 3-5-year-olds or products for preteens, let’s focus on toys for developmental levels, cognitive concepts, and specific skills. As we move forward in this next decade of toy development, let’s think outside the box — not just for the toy itself, but for those who are playing with them for years to come. »
Charlene DeLoach is a lawyer with a specialty in health care. She has written laws and regulations, but she now writes for the Toy Book, the Toy Insider, and on her blogs charlenechronicles. com and metrowestmamas. com. Charlene has appeared on NECN, The Rhode Show, CBS Boston, FOX Philadelphia, and more. Her specialty is advising parents about educational toys and toys for kids on the Autism spectrum.
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by JAMES ZAHN, senior editor THERE WAS ONCE A TIME WHEN KIDS grew up. At some point, usually on the cusp between being tweens and teens, kids moved beyond traditional play and started viewing toys and games as “kid stuff” — as if that’s a bad thing. While some kids still do hit that point, big kids are realizing that they don’t have to let go of childhood. Once they move beyond the traditionally awkward teen years, a lightbulb goes off to signal that play is something for everyone. The stereotype of 40-year-old men collecting toys — a phenomenon captured to perfection in a 2015 Saturday Night Live sketch in which collectors hoarded Hasbro’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens toys with no intention of opening their packages to play with them — is slowly starting to fade. Instead, that image is being replaced with groups of adults gathering around the table to enjoy toy-inspired games, such as the growing Funkoverse series, or by an increasing number of grown-ups who are taking on the hobby of toy photography (“toyography”), in
which they play with toys in different ways, posing and staging them into epic scenes that capture childhood imagination in a single frame. On an even simpler level, many parents now actively engage in imaginative play with their kids — making connections in a way that parents in past decades didn’t. As the growing Throwback Toy Box trend continues, retro properties continue to drive new products not just in rebooted lines and licenses, but also by inspiring completely new toy lines that take design cues from the classics. “Kidulting! It’s a big trend in play right now. [It’s] nostalgia with a bit of escapism — adults are revisiting what made them happy when they were growing up,” says Steven Anne, creative director at Nashville’s Big G Creative, the company behind the Trapper Keeper Game and Kenny G Keepin’ It Saxy. “Toy companies have picked up on this trend and are digging through archives and vaults to produce new spins on properties that were popular in the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, and early 2000s.”
Super7’s ReAction Figures and Mezco Toyz’ new 5 Points collection are prime examples of how the old and new are coming together as these companies put a fresh spin on the classic, 3.75-inch action figure scale with five points of articulation, commonly known as 5POA. In many cases, popular licenses are being applied to a format that they missed the first time. “I absolutely loved G.I. Joe growing up. It was really the only toy line you could say I collected as a kid, so there have definitely been a few times in my adult life [when] I saw a ‘must-have’ figure of one of my favorites from back in the day and I’ve picked it up,” says Kevin Kleinrock, president and COO at Masked Republic, a company that specializes in bringing Lucha Libre (Mexican wrestling) to audiences in the U.S. Masked Republic actively works to connect a family audience of all ages, and it’s making sure that its upcoming toy lines have cross-generational appeal and are actually playable. “For the Legends of Lucha Libre fig-
LEGO Haunted House 3,231-piece model set.
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The Mandalorian 3.75-inch action figure from Hasbro’s Star Wars: The Vintage Collection is a favorite among hobbyist “toyographers.”
ures we are licensing to Boss Fight Studio, the designers are being mindful to create an affordable line and a few different series of collectibles with lower price points that could be considered ‘kid friendly’ — but then we also have the $35-40 Collectors Series figures, which are much more detailed than anything I collected as a kid,” Kleinrock says. In many ways, play is therapeutic, and it’s offering adults ways to enjoy themselves through sophisticated upgrades of their childhood favorites. The LEGO Group is embracing this through a variety of product lines that tap into a multitude of interests, ranging from architecture and high-end design to pop culture. One such addition is the 3,321-piece LEGO Haunted House from the LEGO Creator Fairground Collection. Additionally, the recent introduction of the LEGO Originals Wooden Minifigure, created in collaboration with Room Copenhagen, explores yet another avenue of creativity by enticing artistic creation using the 7-inch, handcrafted, wooden figure as a blank canvas. While sitting back to assemble a jigsaw puzzle is a longtime staple of adult play, new offerings, such as Jixelz from Fat Brain Toys, put an addictive spin on the play pattern, offering adults a perfect way to spend a few hours either with their kids or while enjoying some time alone. The micro-scaled plastic jigsaw pieces encourage the use of fine motor skills, spatial
reasoning, creativity, and planning that transcends the recommended age grade of 6 and up. Things that can be assembled are Instagrammable works of art. REMEMBERING HOW TO PLAY During last fall’s Primetime Emmy Awards, Fisher-Price unveiled a brand messaging campaign with a lead spot starring John Goodman. The vibrant stroll through the Little People farm is peppered with iconic preschool toys as Goodman plays the farmer, spinning a tale of childhood fun, back when it was rhyme time all the time. “But then you moved on — you had to — to that tall place where opinions are loud and clocks are the boss,” he says.
[It’s] nostalgia with a bit of escapism — adults are revisiting what made them happy when they were growing up. As he takes the hand of a little girl, Goodman notes that you can always come back, and if you return to play with someone smaller, “they can teach you things that you didn’t know you forgot.” To accompany the ad campaign, Fisher-Price and Walmart partnered on a series of live Pop-Up Playdate events that
put their intentions out there quite boldly. Alongside the demos of new toys for kids, Fisher-Price brought out adult-size versions of some preschool classics. The invitation served up a compelling offer: “Take a break from adulting and come play like a kid.” Richard Derr, owner of Learning Express Toys in Lake Zurich, Illinois, says that adults are purchasing a wide array of products for themselves. “Tenzi, Clack, and Genius Square are among the games that are selling,” he says. Derr notes that many dads are buying Speks, and that puzzles and FinGears are a steady draw. As toymakers continue to reconnect with audiences that once moved on, and academics take a deep look at what makes play so important and why more adults are rediscovering it, Anne may have the answer to why there should never be a break in the continuity of fun: “In the end, if it makes us happy — then why stop?”» James Zahn, best-known as The Rock Father, is a senior editor of the Toy Book, the Toy Insider, and the Pop Insider. Frequently called upon for expert commentary on the toy industry, he has been featured in The New York Times, Forbes, MarketWatch, and The Washington Post, and has appeared on Yahoo! Finance, NBC, ABC, FOX, CNN, GCTN, WGN, and more. Connect with him on LinkedIn or follow him @therockfather on other social networks.
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SURVIVING A CRISIS BY SERVING YOUR COMMUNITY
Local toy stores can continue connecting with their customers during a “new normal.” by AMY OPHEIM, freelance marketing consultant THE PAST FEW MONTHS HAVE TAKEN a devastating toll on small businesses everywhere. Many toy store owners closed their doors in compliance with local and state regulations at great personal expense. While we’re all committed to doing our part to protect the greater good, few of us can afford to lose even a day’s worth of income, much less weeks’ and months’ worth. However, some toy stores were able to find ways to continue to do business with — or at the very least to partner with — their customers, cementing their roles as valued community resources. Below are some innovative things store owners and manufacturers have been doing to stay in contact with customers during these recent difficulties: • Creative Order Taking: Some store owners already had an online business and shifted their resources to marketing and fulfillment during the shutdown. Others used this time to launch an online business. And still more took orders over the phone, via email, and even by Facebook Messenger, offering curbside pickup service to avoid shipping costs and to maintain social distancing. • Drop-Shipping: Many manufacturers and distributors offer drop-shipping. Taking advantage of this service allowed some stores that were unable to stock and ship orders on their own to continue to service their customers, even when their doors were closed. • Giving It Away: A few store owners reached deep into their hearts — and pockets — to share some of their inventory with customers whose families were impacted severely by these shut downs, enabling parents in need to brighten their kids’ days. • Product Bundles: Making things easy for parents is a great way to get their attention. Some stores marketed bundles of products by age, interest
In “Lunch Doodles” on The Kennedy Center’s YouTube channel, Mo Willems, Kennedy Center Education artist-in-residence, invites everyone into his home studio once a day while families are staying at home. Photo: The Kennedy Center’s YouTube channel
area, or academic subject, which made shopping easier and increased average order values. • Free Activities: Finding and sharing helpful resources via email and social media is a great way to stay in touch with your customers when you can’t see them in person. Savvy store owners were on the lookout for things such as free subscriptions, virtual museum and zoo tours, downloadable worksheets and coloring pages, free drawing workshops with famous illustrators, step-by-step instructions for crafts and science experiments, children’s authors reading their stories online, etc. Then, they shared them via social media and email with their own customer base to help keep kids busy during the downtime at home and to build that relationship with parents. • Deliver an Experience: Some store owners went so far as to create their own, custom content to share with customers, such as taking a daily video showing different ways to play with toys, reading a story and showing the camera the pictures, or putting on a puppet show. We are in the business of play, after all. • Beefing up Your Website: Most manufacturers offer a variety of product
photos and videos as well as descriptions, features and benefits lists, and more. Smart store owners used the last few months of downtime to beef up their websites with better imagery and descriptions, gather customer testimonials, add employee picks, and other additional information to help push the sale. If we can find any silver lining at all in the past few months — in addition to the lives saved and our proven ability to work together for the greater good — it’s a blueprint for survival during future crises. One of the smartest marketing activities you can conduct now to prepare for the next time is to build your customer database and social media followings so they’re available when you have news to communicate or have to shift the way you’re doing business. So start gathering email addresses and promoting your social media pages today! » Amy Opheim is a toy industry veteran, specializing in creating clear, concise copy that compels consumers to action. Contact Amy at C3 Copywriting for help defining or differentiating your product or brand today.
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TALKIN’ SOCIAL MEDIA
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT TIKTOK Familiarize yourself with the wildly popular social media platform and learn how to leverage it for your brand. by TIFFANY TASKER, director of business development for North America, SuperAwesome LET’S TALK ABOUT TIKTOK: THIS social sharing platform that grew into a huge global video community has taken our world by storm — and young people in particular absolutely love it. TikTok is the most popular app for users ages 16 and under in the U.S. right now because it brings together the best bits of YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat, then adds music, effects, editing, and more. The app feels like the cooler, next generation of social media — snackable content, interaction between influencers and users, and a whole community of creators having fun. It’s important for brands to have a presence on TikTok as it’s becoming a brand discovery platform similar to Instagram for moms. Generation Alpha and Generation Z audiences, known for being price-conscious, prepurchase researchers, are spending up to 52 minutes per day on the platform. They archive (save) brand posts they like to refer to when they go in-store or online to make a purchase, so there’s a lot of opportunity to make an impact with your brand. TikTok is unique because of its video-only, super short-form content. TikTok videos are light-hearted and funny — by young people, for young people — based on memes or popular culture trends like challenges, dance videos, and transformations. Music and sounds
like ASMR play a key role in the creation of viral memes and content — Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” and now Drake’s “Toosie Slide” are great examples of this. Most users film, edit, and add effects all within the app, differentiating it from Instagram and YouTube user cultures, in which most content is created outside the platform. Users can make such high-quality content that some of them now use TikTok as their creator tool for content to post to Instagram and other platforms. Another crucial element that makes TikTok exciting is the sense that any video can go viral, regardless of how many followers you have, via the For You page and thanks to the algorithm. YouTube creators are flocking to the platform because of how engaged their followers are there, and because of the ability to communicate with them via comments. TikTok feels disruptive for many reasons. The best-performing kids’ content on YouTube is around 14 minutes long and centers around unboxing, lengthy storylines or product demos, and talking. It’s notoriously difficult for new creators to gain any real traction or views, and commenting is turned off on kids’ content. So, when and how should you leverage TikTok for your brand marketing? Let’s dive into some best practices and things to look out for. It’s important to create content specifically for TikTok. With the right hashtags, influencer partners, and content themes, your videos can get a lot of views and potentially go viral. Check out the current top trending hashtags and think about how to integrate your brand authentically. The sweet spot for TikTok videos is only 15-30 seconds — and remember, the platform is about fun, so let loose, get silly, and have fun with your brand! You can either create and post from a brand channel or work with TikTok influencers like SuperAwesome’s Kidfluencers. Influencers are a great way to tap into an existing follower base within TikTok
and guarantee views for your video, plus you’ll learn about the platform and how to execute a campaign without the longer-term investment of having to curate a brand channel. It is currently more cost-effective to work with creators on TikTok than YouTube, making now a great time to invest. The goal for TikTok campaigns should be brand awareness, tracked through video views, comments, likes, and shares. We also report on metrics like average watch time and traffic sources, as well as age and demographic breakdowns (for users who are logged in). There is no way to directly link out of the app, so if you have a specific sales or download KPI, this might not be the platform for that campaign — try online video instead. The most important things to think about when marketing on TikTok are brand safety, kid safety, and compliance. As a kids’ toy company, you must adhere to COPPA and CARU. If you’re working with influencers, we recommend those who are SafeFam certified. SafeFam Kidfluencers take a pledge to create appropriate, responsible, kid-safe content, and this ongoing regulation protects you as a brand. If you’re working with agencies or influencers, ask about their kid-compliance measures and processes. So now you’re a TikTok expert! Download the app and have some fun getting to know the platform. Just don’t blame me if you get addicted. » As director of business development for North America, Tiffany Tasker leads strategic planning for SuperAwesome’s customers, the company that powers the kids’ internet. Its kidtech platform is used by hundreds of companies to ensure that digital engagement with kids is safe, private, and compliant with laws such as COPPA, GDPR-K, CCPA, and more. The company is at the forefront of the kidtech space defining standards for the kids’ digital media ecosystem.
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CLAUDE ALARY SALES DIRECTOR WREBBIT PUZZLES
PRESIDENT & CO-FOUNDER FAT BRAIN TOYS, OMAHA, NE
ANN KIENZLE OWNER *PLAY, CHICAGO, IL
GWEN OTTENBERG OWNER, IMAGINE THAT TOYS, WICHITA, KS
The Toy Book spoke with specialty retailers and manufacturers about the latest trends, industry happenings, and how business strategies are evolving in the specialty toy market. How have you done business differently since stay-at-home orders were put into place across most of the U.S.? Ottenberg: We have been able to remain “open” the entire time. For me, it was simply a shift in focus from my typical storefront to online and curbside options. We utilize many online channels, including Kibo, which fulfills for manufacturer’s direct websites. People were looking to websites like Ceaco/Gamewright that make both puzzles and games. We were able to leverage that and fulfill lots of orders for them! I have also had to really work to get more items listed on my website than ever before. Previously, it was not on the top of the priority list. We pared our staffing down to key employees with the most range of skills and knowledge. They have had to concierge shop for customers and create photo montages to send to customers at the drop of a hat. Since customers are not seeing and touching the products, my staff is having to describe features and benefits like never before. I have had to be even more responsive and timely with customer needs and requests. Customers are messaging day and night, not realizing that an actual person has to respond at that moment because Facebook’s algorithm times you to see how long it takes to respond. We have been messaging with customers on Facebook, Google, Instagram, and through emails and text messages. Carson: Because we do business across a number of different sales channels, we’ve had to orchestrate numerous changes to ensure that we’re still staying relevant to our customers and maintaining a safe environment for our employees. Most of those changes involved shifting resources to other areas
of the company while adhering to CDC guidelines. For example, while our retail stores were closed, we had store staff kitting subscription boxes. And with the slowdown in our wholesale business, our entire wholesale team stepped up to help with the surge in online orders at our distribution center. We feel fortunate that we’ve been able to continue to be a resource to our customers nationwide during these trying times. Kienzle: Like so many businesses, we’ve had to pivot. Initially, we created custom Easter boxes for shipping so that we wouldn’t lose the sales bump we get from the holiday. Then, we set up an appointment calendar online for personal shopping. We also have been selling via FaceTime, social media, and email. We’ve also fast-tracked our pending web shop. Alaray: As early as the third week of March, in conformity with the strict requirements of Quebec Government concerning COVID-19 and for the health and safety of our employees, we have reduced to a strict minimum our business activities. All our efforts were put into the fulfillment of local and international orders exclusively for our customers offering online sales of Wrebbit 3D puzzles, which indirectly renders self-confinement more fun and playful for families during this difficult period. Our employees and management personnel from our creative, marketing, sales, accounting, and customer service departments started working remotely. Hours of business operation have been reduced and the number of production staff has been limited in accordance with our reduction of business activities for each department that remained operational, based on our strict needs, due to these exceptional measures. We put in place very strict rules with respect to
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health, safety, cleaning, and disinfection of our offices, factory, tools, and production equipment. Reception of supplies and shipping of goods became subject to strict restrictions and appointments in order to limit all contact with external persons, such as forwarders, truckers, and messenger service staff. Finally, orders, confirmation of orders, and treatment thereof became at all times subject to the above restrictive conditions. Tarzia: I have advertised our website and telephone number offering curbside pick-up, free same-day delivery, and more. Wann: We converted our entire office-based team to a virtual environment within 48 hours of establishing a workfrom-home protocol. Our team adapted immediately and has been functioning incredibly efficiently. Checking in daily on video conferencing is one way we keep the team spirit going, so even though employees are physically separated, we all still feel connected to one another. Woldenberg: The widespread closure of schools and childcare centers created a crisis for families all over the world. We saw school closures in China and believed they were coming to the U.S., so our family of educational toy and hands-on curriculum companies — Learning Resources, Educational Insights, and hand2mind — urgently pivoted to provide special support for parents and families sheltering in place at home. Each brand team worked tirelessly to make available thousands of free online resources, daily curriculum, instructional videos, activities, workbooks, games, and more to help families and schools create fun-filled distance learning experiences in a home setting. It’s important for us to be part of the solution at a time of great need. Easily accessible online, parents and teachers will find a host of free, family-friendly resources, including advice, DIY projects, printable activities, videos, and more, to help keep kids learning and engaged through meaningful play. Zomermaand: We have put a heavier focus on those brick-and-mortar business partners that are still open, such as our farm channels. We’ve put a strong emphasis on our e-commerce business partners, and also have taken the opportunity to grow our own online store.
What do you think the short- and longterm impacts of the global coronavirus pandemic on the toy industry will be? Alaray: In both the short and long term, there will certainly be a lot of disruption and uncertainty all around the toy industry as nobody really knows exactly what to expect. The global home confinement process was very different from one region to another, and the return to normal will certainly not happen at the same pace everywhere. But one thing is for sure: During the pandemic crisis, many consumers have discovered the advantages of online shopping and, although some of them just can’t wait to go back to ‘‘real’’ stores, many will continue to shop online. So, retailers who haven’t yet set a transactional website will certainly be affected negatively in the long run. I also think that consumers will increasingly be looking to support the local economy, so that’s a plus for neighborhood toy stores offering toys that are not necessarily made in Asia. Carson: While I generally take an optimistic view to most challenges, there’s no denying that there will be both short- and long-term disruptions to the toy industry. As the early indicators have already demonstrated, toys will continue to be purchased in spite of the current epidemic (or maybe even because of it!). “How and where toys will be sold?” is the $27 billion question. We’re already thinking through changes in how toys are packaged and merchandised. We’re also refining our offering to reflect the increased demand for specific categories, such as puzzles, games, and arts and crafts. But mostly we’re keeping our eyes wide open so that we can adapt to the inevitable changes approaching.
OWNER, AWESOME TOYS AND GIFTS, WESTPORT & STAMFORD, CT
CEO (CHIEF PLAYMONSTER) PLAYMONSTER
RICK WOLDENBERG CEO LEARNING RESOURCES, EDUCATIONAL INSIGHTS, AND HAND2MIND
Tarzia: The short-term impact for independent retailers is a rough road if they do not evolve their service offerings to their local community. For larger players, it has been a boost in sales because of the services they provide, such as a wide range of product, online ordering, and free delivery. Wann: With families looking for more ways to play at home, we’re seeing a significant surge in classic play, which is what PlayMonster champions and stands for every day. Because of the current situation, people are being reminded of
ANNIE LAURIE ZOMERMAAND
CHIEF COMMERCIAL OFFICER SCHLEICH
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Hogsmeade — The Three Broomsticks from Wrebbit 3D
the importance of classic, non-electronic play, such as board games and activities. This is leading to brand loyalty, which will likely cause well-known classic brands or time-proven brands across the industry, including some of our own PlayMonster brands such as 5 Second Rule and Spirograph, to continue to do well for the balance of the year. Ottenberg: I think that there will be manufacturers and retailers that are not able to weather this prolonged time of zero to minimal sales. We work ridiculously hard during Q4, but there is always a finite end of December 25 for a majority of the business. We do not have an end in sight. We are working towards more exhaustion and stress every single day whether we are open or closed. As a retailer, I am ordering more conservatively than I have in the past. I am really thinking about each and every item on a purchase order. Every product has to be able to justify its space on the sales floor. I am hyper focused on the best-sellers and ordering based on what I know is in stock and shippable. Almost every order that I write, I am asking for availability first to be able to plan what I order. Every segment is learning to work with less employees to shoulder the work load. Every single thing that we do is taking longer than it ever has before. Customers used to come in and just buy what they saw. Now, we have so many
additional steps to get to the same end result. There have been so many disruptions in the supply chain that I think it will take months to get back into working order. We have had to switch out workforces for single people, and not as many things are being produced, and we have offset customer service and accounting functions while working from new locations. We are all rebuilding new businesses.
Woldenberg: The future of play remains bright. Childhood is all about learning through play and we don’t expect that to change. In the short run, I think families and schools will become bigger consumers of online content. However, there is no substitute for spending time together, either in a classroom or at home. Families want to have fun together, so games, activities, and hands-on learning will remain essential and irreplaceable. More significant for the industry may be changing consumer buying habits. The crisis drove more buying to the internet. Stores will need to continue to raise their game to compete with online merchants, or pivot to strong omnichannel strategies. Toy companies and merchants must be able to adapt to changing consumer preferences to continue to thrive. Zomermaand: Certainly, sales have declined for some, but others have seen increases. I think we have to take this as an opportunity to rethink the way we get our products to consumers. I don’t think brick-and-mortar retail is going anywhere, but clearly, consumers need other ways to access product. It seems that a brand’s own e-commerce channel is more important now than ever. What’s become clear through this crisis is that toys are a critical part of a child’s development and parents need help engaging their children. This won’t change. With ASTRA’s Marketplace & Academy canceled this year, how do you plan to connect with retailers? Alaray: Because we do not use the services of sales representatives, we’ve
always been pretty good at keeping in touch with retailers by sending newsletters with information on our new upcoming products and specials and we will certainly continue to do that. We also regularly advertise in trade magazines such as the Toy Book and the Pop Insider to keep retailers informed about new releases. Wann: We are finalizing a virtual showroom, not only to reach out to the ASTRA Marketplace, but also the broader customer base. Woldenberg: While it’s unfortunate that the Marketplace & Academy has been canceled, we work hard to stay in contact with our dealers all year long. We value events like the Marketplace & Academy to nurture relationships and build partnerships. We can’t meet with our valued partners in person today, but our team is adapting to continue to provide great service, so we don’t miss a beat. Zomermaand: While ASTRA Marketplace & Academy was canceled, we plan to partner with ASTRA on their digital-format activations. We’ve also been in close contact with our specialty accounts to see how they’re faring and what support we can provide during this unusual time. With ASTRA’s Marketplace & Academy canceled this year, how do you plan to connect with manufacturers? Carson: Face-to-face pitches are likely not in the cards for a while, but we’re still keeping a keen eye out for new product introductions as well as carefully analyzing changing consumer buying trends. As those trends surface, we’re evaluating new products through that lens and also being proactive in reaching out to manufacturers with specific needs. Kienzle: I’m still using my sales reps to discuss lines and strategies and am looking forward to ASTRA offering some fun new possibilites for connection through its ASTRA Summer Camp. Ottenberg: I trust that manufacturers will reach out. I hope that they utilize their sales reps and give them current and updated information as often as they can. I will depend on my sales reps more than ever this year to make sure that orders are submitted and fulfilled smoothly. I need their help to keep on top of all of
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What are your predictions for the state of toy retail in 2020?
the new, weird circumstances that occur from people not being in the warehouses. I hope that manufacturers are utilizing every channel that they are given to get their products in front of buyers. I am excited that ASTRA is working to do a virtual show with videos and interactive elements to strengthen the passing of information. I have been receiving additional emails from manufacturers as well with specials and updates. As a member of The Good Toy Group, we have asked our manufacturers to make specific videos of the features and benefits for the items that we will showcasing in our catalog. I am hoping that my staff will be the most informed that they have ever been because they will all have to watch the videos to learn. They don’t all get to go to the show so this might be a huge advantage this year! I have done more Zoom calls, Skype meetings, and Teams meetings than I typically do this time of year. We are all trying to connect and share information. The need to not feel alone is omnipresent for our sanity! Tarzia: Through the manufacturers’ representatives and the alternative offerings that ASTRA is planning to compensate for the lack of having the face-to-face show.
Alaray: With many suppliers having production problems in the first quarter, especially those who have their toys manufactured in Asia, and with all the retail store closures, we would have thought that toy sales would have been negatively affected. But according to the NPD Group, toy sales unexpectedly increased by 7.6% in Q1 over the same period last year. With the U.S. now entering into a recession, one should expect more difficult times to come. But again, with the ban on traveling and the uncertainties about a possible resurgence of COVID19 in the fall, we just might see toy sales increase again for the rest of the year as families could be forced to stay home and just might use their traveling/vacation budget on toys to entertain kids at home. One thing is for sure: Online sales will continue to grow, and that will affect the brick-and-mortar store sales. Carson: I hate to be coy, but my prediction is that all predictions will be wrong in 2020. There are so many variables in play that it’s difficult to even come up with a lucid prediction for the remainder of the year. The one prediction I do feel confident in is online playing an even bigger role this year — and it won’t be just from Amazon. Toys will continue to be purchased of course, but as a non-essential category, the toy category could be radically impacted by increased focus on essential products — both by retailers and consumers. Kienzle: I see that parents and caregivers are rediscovering the importance of toys and play during this time at home. So while I see this year being a bumpy road because of the unknown, I believe that people will start to prioritize play and
that will — long term — be a silver-lining outcome for the industry. Ottenberg: I believe that customers will not skimp on items and experiences for their children. They want to be able to see the joy on their child’s face and be able to share it with the world on social media more than ever. This gives us an opportunity to help our customers to be rock stars and be a trusted source for them to share with others. I see customers wanting the items that will last and actually be played with over and over again. They are understanding the value of a well-made and open-ended toy. This is a huge opportunity. I am cautiously optimistic about Q4. I am doing what I can to prepare if another episode comes into play. I have signed up for Bob Phibbs Retail Sales Training SalesRX. My goal is to be able to put the best sales people with my customers. I plan to make the best sales I can and I will have them poised if we have to go back to curbside or shipping in the holiday season. Tarzia: Overall, sales in toys will show a huge increase due to children not going to camp and families staying closer to home. Since this will be the opposite swing of what we saw last year in travel, people will be looking to enjoy family time at home and that means games and toys to enjoy with each other. Woldenberg: We’re looking forward to a good year under challenging circumstances. We think toy sales will be strong because the need for meaningful play is greater than ever. We are concerned for our communities and neighbors at a time of great economic stress, but remain optimistic about the vibrancy of the U.S. economy. We have also seen resiliency outside of the U.S. to bolster our confidence. Zomermaand: We believe that the toy industry will be stabilized in 2020; however, we are anticipating a shift to digital. While this is something we saw coming, it’s a more rapid transition and one that will take some calibration in how we, as an industry, do business. What major toy trends are you seeing this year? Alaray: We’ve already seen a huge increase in games and puzzles sales so far
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this year and that trend is certainly here to stay as people discovered or have rediscovered the pleasure of puzzling and playing games as a family. For similar reasons, in my opinion, other categories such as outdoor toys, arts and crafts, and building sets should be very popular in the coming months. Carson: I see many “back to basics” trends emerging. From the resurgence of jigsaw puzzles to multigenerational games, I see consumers embracing triedand-true product categories that address very specific needs for their family. Kienzle: Our trends are all based on the stay-at-home mandate and revolve around puzzles, arts and crafts, science projects, and free-play building. It’s been wonderful to watch families get back to the basics. Ottenberg: I see customers buying what is recognizable to them. Things that remind them of their childhood or a simpler time have been popular. I am selling puzzles, games, and LEGO. People understand these traditional items and have the time to play right now. I had a friend joke that she is selling whatever they can make into a QVC moment. We are now selling by video like QVC more than we ever have before. People are buying what they know. We are getting calls daily for expert-level LEGO sets. What I wouldn’t do for a LEGO Treehouse these days! Tarzia: During the cooler months, puzzles and board games were huge. I venture to guess that outdoor entertainment type toys will show a large yearover-year growth. Wann: With COVID-19, 2020 is an atypical year. We think due to the loss of major movie launches and not having many entertainment properties to drive traffic and sales, that consumers will resort to brands they know, as well as look for exciting new innovation in games and toys. For PlayMonster, we are personally experiencing this with our best-known brands driving growth in our core business — games, puzzles, and activities — which are all having a strong year. On the innovation front, new items like our Drone Home game and our Snap Ships brand have been very well received. Snap Ships, on trend of brands
Awesome Toys & Gifts, Westport, CT
with content, will be supported by an action-packed YouTube animated series, Dawn of Battle, created in partnership with a multimedia entertainment company. Both Snaps Ships and Drone Home are shaping up to be exciting opportunities this fall. Woldenberg: We think this year it’s less about a specific category of toy that’s selling well, but rather it’s about the problem the toy solves. More specifically, as the strain of distance learning mounts, we think parents will increasingly want to reduce their kids’ screen time and replace it with engaging educational toys and family activities that provide more meaningful experiences. That aligns well with our mission to inspire a love of learning. Zomermaand: The two biggest trends we’re seeing right now are dragons and dinosaurs. Both are classic characters that stand the test of time. This year, we’ve launched a colorful dragon in our Bayala line, as well as a fierce dragon in Eldrador Creatures, providing something for everyone. We have also expanded our Dinosaurs franchise, and for the first time, are launching playsets in October. This will help grow the franchise and add more play value to consumers. How important is it for toy companies to make an effort to be more ecofriendly?
Alaray: We at Wrebbit Puzzles have been using eco-friendly packaging since 2012 by banning the use of plastic bags and shrink wrap. We certainly think that everyone should do their part in reducing the use of unnecessary packaging in an effort to save the planet. Consumers are increasingly aware and concerned about the environment and having an ecofriendly toy and/or packaging is certainly a good selling feature as well. Carson: It is very important. While we’ve been making strides in our own small way, it has been reassuring to see the big guys like Hasbro and Mattel setting bold initiatives around sustainability. With them throwing down the gauntlet, I think it gives smaller manufacturers a tangible goal to exceed. Kienzle: I believe this will become more important to consumers and should be considered as much as possible by toy companies going forward. Climate change is a major concern of Generation Z, so as they age into parenting roles, I believe they’ll consider eco-friendly options into their decision making. Ottenberg: Six months ago, I would have said that this is something that companies should strive toward and I still believe it. However, right now, I want companies to focus on what they need to do to survive this. We need companies to be able to toybook.com | JUNE 2020 | THE TOY BOOK 31
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our Learning@Home webpage with so many free workbooks and activities. Zomermaand: We have a broad product portfolio with multiple franchises that allows us to reach a wide range of interests and ages. We expect that Horse Club will continue to drive sales and be one of our top product lines. However, as noted with the trends in the industry, Dinosaur and Eldrador will continue to see large increases year over year. Our expectations are that we will be able to achieve last years’ success, with confirmed incremental partner programs driving that success. Do you take advantage of ASTRA member programs? If so, what do you find most beneficial?
*play, Chicago, IL
weather this and be sustainable going forward. We lost the R&D dollars when Toys “R” Us left the market. We need to keep innovation on the forefront, especially in the age of even younger kids on computers for school. Tarzia: I think that the future generations will be paying more and more attention to sustainability of the planet and therefore will create a habit and take this under consideration when they make purchases of any kind, including toys. Wann: It is extremely important that we look at all aspects of our products and do what we can to ensure that they are more eco-friendly. It’s a major company initiative to meet the increasing consumer demands and expectations in this regard. Zomermaand: Being eco-friendly is incredibly important. We, as a global organization, are defining our sustainability strategy to help reduce our footprint in all areas, from packaging to the lighting in our offices. Which products or categories do you expect to drive sales this year? How do your expectations compare to last year’s results? Alaray: Besides the puzzles and games, arts and crafts, and building sets, I think that licensed pop culture products and collectibles should also continue to grow as the ‘‘kidults’’ market continues to be
a big trend. Unboxing and surprise toys should also be very popular this year. We also just might see more toys and games either based around the virus or pandemic theme and/or celebrating the new heroes, like scientists searching for a vaccine, doctors, nurses, delivery persons, and all people who make people’s lives easier during this difficult time. Carson: Baby and toddler continues to be a very strong category for Fat Brain overall. But as mentioned, we see categories like games, puzzles, and arts and crafts far outperform this year. Kienzle: I believe the classics will continue to drive day-to-day sales. We’re moving into nice weather in Chicago, so we’re seeing the outdoor category pick up significantly. For the fourth quarter, I feel that people will want to make the holiday season very special after such a disruptive year for their children. Because of that, I can see spending being similar to last year, even with the current economic situation. Tarzia: I believe outdoor activities and games will be the toys of choice this year, as it will be the response to being quarantined for so long. Woldenberg: We see continued strength in the preschool category. More specifically, we’re seeing a significant demand in our early STEM products. We also see renewed interest in our math products. These areas are also drawing interest on
Alaray: Of course, participating in ASTRA’s Marketplace & Academy has always been very important for us as it allows us to connect with retailers face-to-face at least once a year. One of our favorite activity is the Kit Session, which takes place the day before Marketplace opens. It’s a great way to show our latest puzzle models and get retailers to sit down and build one of our 3D puzzles and get them to truly understand what makes them so unique. Carson: We certainly do! We’ve been the proud recipient of both Best Toys for Kids, ASTRA Excellence Awards, and yearly participants in the Neighborhood Toy Store Day. But regardless of whether we are personally recognized or not, all of these programs serve as great ambassadors for our industry, and the specialty toy market in particular. Kienzle: I try to take advantage of member programs that are available. We’ve recently been shipping significantly more, so we’ve taken advantage of their group shipping rates. We also always try to take advantage of vendor offers to ASTRA members. Ottenberg: ASTRA has incredible resources and has helped me build relationships over the years that are helping save my sanity. I love the honesty in the discussion boards and the sharing of ideas. It is so valuable to learn from someone else who has experienced the pandemic issues before they made it to Kansas. I sit on the Excellence Committee for ASTRA and it has been a wonderful year to be able to read the nominations. Colleagues taking the time to nominate
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What ways have you been getting the word out to consumers that your store is still open? Carson: Our online store is a key asset, so we’ve been very active and consistent through our social media messaging and email campaigns. Our main mission has been to reassure our customers that: We’re still here to serve you. Toys is not a category for us, it’s all we do! And even if other online retailers have to turn their focus to other categories, we’ll still be here to help you with your birthday gift, your baby shower, or your family game night.
Botley 2.0 Activity Set from Learning Resources
them for hard work, innovation, and humanitarianism is humbling to read. This year has some outstanding winners that help to make our industry great! I am most proud that I have received both the CMR (Certified Master Retailer) and CPE (Certified Play Expert) Certifications. This sets me apart in the industry and makes me a force to be reckoned with. This training also gives me credentials to be a local expert in my field! Tarzia: Education is one of the most valuable things ASTRA has to offer. The sharing of ideas both in print and through community are paramount in the success of ASTRA. Woldenberg: We have entered the ASTRA award programs for many years and it’s always an honor to have our products nominated. Our all-new Botley 2.0, a screen-free coding robot, was nominated for the Best Toys for Kids award this year. Zomermaand: ASTRA Marketplace and email communications have been the programs with the most impact for our business. With the show being canceled, we’re excited to tap into the full breadth of what ASTRA has to offer to help educate and grow our business as we navigate the changes in how we go to market. With less consumers out shopping, how are you getting the word out to drive awareness about new product lines and brands? Alaray: Our No. 1 way to connect with consumers is via social media. We’ve been very active mainly on Facebook and Instagram. We reach out to specific groups of people according to their pro-
file and we invite them to visit our website for which we’ve seen a huge increase in traffic in the past few weeks. We also organize contests in which they can win exclusives prizes.
Kienzle: We are active on social media and interact with our customers daily via those channels. We also have incorported signage at all the shops to be clear when and how we can service their needs.
Wann: We use many grassroots methods to get the word out about our products — social media, email marketing, maintaining our website and updating it with information on all of our new items, etc. Digital and TV advertising are still critical, and we’re working with influencers to get the word out as well. With the media constantly talking about what to do at home during COVID-19, people are always searching for ideas, and we’re making it easier for them to find great solutions.
Ottenberg: I have been doing everything short of shouting from the rooftops, but I would be willing to try that as well. We are utilizing emails, Facebook, Instagram, Google, our own website, Twitter, YouTube, and of course word of mouth.
Woldenberg: Whether we encounter shoppers in stores or online, we remain focused on our mission to help parents inspire a love of learning in their children. Not only are we continuing direct-to-consumer communications about new products, but we’re also promoting our free content to help parents and teachers make school-at-home a big success. Consumers are seeking out these free resources to increase their children’s engagement and make learning independently easier and more rewarding. Zomermaand: Digital advertising, social media, and consumer-facing pages on our recently launched e-commerce website have been our main drivers in reaching consumers. We’ve added a Fun at Home page that provides consumers with family activities that incorporate their current Schleich products. We’ve also brought our year-long Power of Imagination campaign online with its own website with resources for parents related to the importance of open-ended play.
Tarzia: We advertise locally through Instagram, emails, and Facebook. Different online community groups have been a great help. Do you have a drop-ship program or plan on putting one in place? What are the benefits or challenges? Alaray: We still do not have our own drop-ship program, but have been using 3P drop-ship partners, which do a great job for us. Having our own drop-ship program would allow us to connect more directly with consumers and that would be great, but to do so it would require a lot of warehouse space and manpower, which we don’t have at this time. It’s something we might do eventually, but it is not a priority for us now. Woldenberg: We have had a drop-ship program in place for many years. Our infrastructure held up well under the sudden demands of the COVID-19 crisis. Zomermaand: We are fortunate to have a key drop-ship partner in Flat River, which is considered best in class. This is in addition to our own capabilities to drop-ship. With the rapid shift to e-commerce, the ability to drop-ship directly to consumers
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is a benefit not only to our retail partners, but also to our consumers. Has your direct-to-consumer distribution strategy changed, and if so, how? Alaray: We have never sold directly to consumers and we still don’t. We might eventually do it for some markets, but again, that is not one of our priorities. Wann: Our strategy is to continue to focus on driving e-commerce sales through our retailer partners. PlayMonster’s website does have a shopping feature, but the focus is to build awareness and visibility on our brands so we can help our retail partners drive even more sales. We support our retail partners first and foremost, and make sure images, videos, and information are easily available to them to create a consumer-friendly e-commerce shopping experience. Zomermaand: Our direct-to-consumer strategy has not changed. We remain focused on working with our partners, as well as providing a brand-centric web page to provide entertainment and information about the Schleich brand. What are the different ways in which you are still getting products to consumers in your community? Carson: We are offering curbside pickup, but our local customers have really embraced our website and choose the one thing better than curbside pick-up: doorstep delivery. Kienzle: We were allowed to begin curbside pick-ups again as of May 1. We also do local delivery and shipping throughout the U.S. While these are services we’ve offered for years, it’s obviously at an entirely new level now. Ottenberg: We are working with curbside, telephone orders, FaceTime shopping, Facebook appointments, shipping, and fulfilling our own website and the websites of manufacturers within the KIBO network. Tarzia: We are participating in same-day curbside pickup and free local delivery. How have you kept up with retailer orders for your products?
Alaray: In the past few weeks the demand for our 3D puzzles has dramatically increased and it seems like every day is Christmas day. Because we produce our puzzles in Montreal in a just-in-time facility, we were able to face the increase in demand by setting up a night shift. We managed to secure supplies for the raw materials needed for production with all our suppliers and everyone in the company does their share of production time. From the president to the accounting, sales, and artistic department staff, everybody spends a few hours a week in production to help fulfill the unusual large amount of orders for this time of the year.
lifelong customers takes another level of effort. We’ve been actively “expanding the tent” of online buyers, but doing so at a scale that we can still maintain our exceptionally high service standards.
Wann: We have maintained a very solid supply chain throughout the crises, including getting extra inventory to meet the surge in demand and keep our customers in stock.
Ottenberg: My digital footprint is more important than it has ever been. I feel it is always a work in progress and honestly it is never actually done! I have upped my game with the number of posts on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter. I am also utilizing Google to post pictures of the store and products.
Woldenberg: We are fortunate to have had deep inventory positions coming into this year and have been able to keep our service levels high. Supply chain issues have been minor so far. Zomermaand: We have been able to keep up with retailer orders during this time. We’re constantly working on our strategy to ensure that we can continue to deliver product to our partners in a timely manner. How has your digital media strategy shifted now that more consumers are buying online or choosing curbside pickup options? Carson: As an online-first company, we were uniquely positioned for the sudden surge in online buying, but the broader goal of turning those eyeballs into
Kienzle: I always try to keep the *play brand real, accessible, and fun to our customers. I speak from the heart, and now more than ever, I think people appreciate that. They enjoy knowing that they’re supporting a real family that makes a difference in the community. I’ve tried to use this time to amplify my voice as a small business owner, community member, and play expert.
Tarzia: We use direct-to-consumer marketing, such as Instagram, local digital eboards, and town listings of local businesses open in the area. What are some of your most in-demand items right now? Alaray: For more than four years now, our whole Harry Potter Collection, which now includes 12 models, has been our best-seller. Hogwarts Great Hall and Astronomy Tower were the first two models we launched, and they remain top sellers worldwide. Diagon Alley is our bestseller in the U.S., but our latest releases, Hogsmeade — The Three Broomsticks and Hagrid’s Hut, are off to a great start. Other than that, Game of Thrones’ Winterfell toybook.com | JUNE 2020 | THE TOY BOOK 35
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us by combining action play and construction like never before. These two products have been honored as finalists for ASTRA’s 2020 Best Toys for Kids awards, along with four other PlayMonster items: Spirograph, Mirari SkillDillies, TAG, and Face Paintoos. We are thrilled to have six finalists, as this is the first year PlayMonster has had so many products recognized in this way, and that’s a positive for our ASTRA retail partners!
Bayala Dragon Island with Treasure from Schleich
and The Red Keep, Downton Abbey, King Arthur’s Camelot and Neuschwanstein Castle are very strong sellers as well. Wann: In demand right now are some of our key party games, such as 5 Second Rule, The Game of Things…, Relative Insanity, and the new Relative Insanity See What I Mean?!, as well as kids’ games, such as the ever-popular Yeti in My Spaghetti. In addition, our activities business anchored by My Fairy Garden and Spirograph have been strong. Specifically for ASTRA member retailers, Colorforms, Y’Art, and Fashion Plates have also been popular. Woldenberg: We have seen strong demand for STEM and preschool toys during the sheltering-at-home period. Buyers also sought out educational games and other hands-on products that keep kids engaged and away from screens. Tools to support teaching at home such as the STEM Explorers Mathlink Builders are popular, as are free downloadable workbooks and activities for math skills on the Learning@Home page. Toys like the Farmer’s Market Color Sorting Set teach the basics such as colors, shapes, letters, and number recognition. We continue to focus on expanding our content offerings to offer parents and teachers choice and more easy-to-implement solutions. Zomermaand: We’re seeing a high demand for many products, all for varying reasons. With schools closed due to COVID-19, many parents have been leaning into our products to help support at-home education. We especially see this with our Farm World and Wild Life franchises.
We’re also seeing sales across all franchises as kids are looking for ways to express themselves and exercise their imaginations. Schleich figurines are a great way for kids to engage in openended imaginative play. What, if any, special activations or promotions are you offering to consumers? Carson: One of our more meaningful activations didn’t involve selling at all. Realizing early on that parents may find it challenging to keep their kids engaged and entertained, we began producing two short video clips each week to #keepthebrainfat. From paper airplanes to cooking to backyard birding, these free activities gave kids a great outlet for their creative energy and also allowed us to connect with our customers in a new, meaningful way. What innovation in your products are you offering to consumers this year? Alaray: This year we are launching at least three new models: Hogsmeade — The Three Broomsticks, Hagrid’s Hut, and Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral, and probably some other surprises later on. But we are still using the same unique foam backing technology to produce them, providing snug, tight-fitting pieces and very sturdy designs. Wann: Because of consumer insights and the hard work of our dedicated team, we have a couple of outstanding products in innovation. Drone Home brings a whole new type of action to kids’ games with a real flying drone, and Snap Ships brings innovation to a whole new segment for
Woldenberg: We made great strides with our screen-free coding products this year, unveiling Botley 2.0, the next generation of our TOTY-award winning Botley the Coding Robot, at Toy Fair New York in February. Now kids as young as kindergarteners will be able to enjoy an even more immersive coding experience, all without being tethered to a mobile device. We also expanded our Coding Critters line to introduce preschoolers to the exciting world of hands-on coding. Zomermaand: Schleich products are all about authenticity and attention to detail. Our products are designed to spark imagination in kids. It’s less about innovation and more about staying true to the products and experience that we’re putting out. Our Power of Imagination campaign is designed to show how Schleich builds a child’s ability to create their own world based on how they play and interact with Schleich figurines. What an adult sees and what a child experiences as they are playing are not necessarily the same thing. How do you plan on preparing for the holiday season? Carson: Preparing for the holidays is always a challenge, but this could be the most challenging of all simply because of the current uncertainty. In addition to basics like inventory planning, we’re now having to make physical changes to our distribution center, exploring ways to operate additional shifts to allow for proper social distance, and identifying alternative means of distribution for worst-case scenarios. But as mentioned previously, we’re planning for the unexpected. Kienzle: This is the million-dollar question. I think so much is still up in the air. My goal is to be prepared for anything, from a season in which people can shop in store and have a traditional experience with *play to
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to have face-to-face appointments. Also, if your company is one that many stores are waiting on backorders (ahem, puzzles), please send the reps information so they can answer how much longer things will be on backorder. If needed, you could send the information to the sales rep principal’s office and they can be responsible for sending it to the reps for their customers. We are in this together and need to be able to trust the person that you are working with!
Imagine That Toys, Wichita, KS
a season that is disrupted on some level either by a second wave of COVID-19 or limitations put on our business. Ottenberg: One day at a time is my strategy right now. The thought of holiday shoppers is overwhelming. Yes, there will be a Santa Claus, but I am currently helping the elves on aisle 4. I am trying not to stress out about what it will look like this year. I am looking to work with sales reps and vendors who want to partner with me and my store where we can both win in the relationship. I want to feel confident in the products that I select that they are a good value and something I can be proud to sell and something that my customer will want to own. Every item I am purchasing has to earn its place with my dollars and the spot on my sales floor. I am analyzing every single SKU that I purchase. I am also making sure that it will look good in a photo on social media or in a picture sent to a customer. I don’t think I will have those random impulse pick-up items that I have had in the past. Tarzia: I plan to have a robust online presence and a well-run delivery service. What suggestions would you give to manufacturers to make it as easy as possible for you to merchandise their products? Carson: The ability to maintain a customer’s confidence during uncertain times is
critical to building brand trust. For that reason, inventory availability is one of the first suggestions that comes to my mind. Supply chains across all industries are being disrupted, so the ability to provide steady inventory could be the key attribute that sets you a part. Kienzle: My biggest worry is having the cash flow to pay for invoices because things are so unpredictable. So, I am taking advantage of low minimums and/ or extended dating opportunities. Ottenberg: Well since you asked, I want information! I want to make good decisions and knowledge is key! I have been asking my sales reps for current stock status before I am placing orders. I want to make sure that I am using my inventory dollars for merchandise that will ship in a timely manner. I want to know tracking and I am watching orders move toward me. Apparently, shipping companies were saying stores were closed and sending product back. That is terrifying and a financial nightmare for everyone involved. We need to be smarter than that! I need you to be honest on how long it is taking to place orders and get them shipped out. Many companies are still trying to play catch up from being shut down, and all I want to know is a timeframe for my expectations. Please give your sales reps all of the information they need to be successful in their jobs. Sending priced digital catalogs would be a huge help if we are not able
Tarzia: Utilize distributers who can bundle their product with other brands so the independent retailers can spread their dollars wider and possibly utilize the distributors for drop-shipping directly to the customer. By utilizing distributors, the cost of getting a sampling of your products on the limited shelf space is greatly reduced for the retailer, and the chances to get on the shelf grow tremendously for the manufacturer. What are the ways in which you maintain relationships with specialty retailers? Wann: We maintain relationships with specialty retailers by continuing to bring great products to the market, including unique and innovative product just for specialty retailers. We create custom brands and product lines for specialty consumers, along with special editions of other brands to give them products that can’t be found anywhere else. This helps them stay relevant and innovative for their customers. We also offer programs and support that is customized to meet the unique needs of the specialty retailer. Woldenberg: It’s all about good communication. We try to stay in constant contact with our specialty retail dealers as well our other customers and business partners. We also continue to invest in our Learning@ Home webpage, which is a great resource for specialty retailers and their customers. Zomermaand: We are proud of the relationships we have with our specialty retailer partners. We have a dedicated team at Schleich headquarters to maintain a strong level of support. This includes newsletters, meaningful promotions, branded statements, and experiences through our flagship store program. What advice would you give to other manufacturers during this time?
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Alaray: We are going through a never-before-seen crisis, which will have unprecedented effects on the toy industry. During this period of uncertainties and rapid changes, it is very important for all manufacturers to be very cautious in many aspects. If the demand has increased for your products, that’s great, but you must make sure to put in place measures to protect your employees and provide them with a safe and secure working environment. You also must encourage work at home when possible. And if you are facing a decrease in sales, then you must find a way to reduce your costs while keeping your key employees attached to the company to be ready when the situation returns to normal. Wann: Manufacturers should maintain patience and confidence. The toy industry has, is, and will always be resilient. Also, remember to be flexible and adjust to change. With trade shows becoming virtual, we have to think of new ways to get visibility and partner with our customers. We also need to watch how consumer play patterns change, and adjust accordingly. At PlayMonster, we’re communicating with consumers more than we ever have, so
that we have even more consumer insight to help bring our key retail partners new products, brands, and programs that have been consumer-approved in order to help our retail partners be more successful. Woldenberg: It’s hard to give advice during a time of such dramatic change and disruption. Obviously, the ability to adapt and reinvent will be key skills during this period. Our product category, toys, will grow in importance and childhood will continue unabated. Hopefully we all can pivot to meet demand and add value anew in consumers’ lives. Zomermaand: The world is ever-changing, and the only way to be successful is to be flexible. Being able to adapt your strategy to the business environment is key. Constant communication, both within the organization and with business partners, allows us to navigate this unknown experience. What advice would you give to other specialty retailers that are still open during this time? Carson: You may have to employ a good deal of triage during this time as you
simply can’t be all things to everyone like you’ve been accustomed to. You may have to temporarily suspend certain offerings so you can better focus on the highest profit-generating activities first. There are times when you can tweak your way out of a situation, but this is not one of those times. Be bold in your decisions and trust your gut instincts. Kienzle: Make sure you’re taking time to rest. It doesn’t matter if your business makes it through this in one piece if you don’t. Ottenberg: Hallelujah! I feel you! It is so beyond exhausting physically and emotionally. This is a time of more and more load-bearing pressure on your shoulders both personally and professionally. There is stress from every angle (employees, finances, products, customers, backorders, shipping issues, PPP, loan payments, more, and more, and more). You deserve a high-five from all of your toy friends! Tarzia: Don’t give up. Seize the opportunities that come your way and spoil your local customers. Out-Amazon, Amazon. Evolve. »
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LEGO Super Mario figure from the LEGO Super Mario Adventures with Mario Starter Course
EPOCH EVERLASTING PLAY
Calico Critters Adventure Tree House Gift Set
EPOCH Everlasting Play expands its long-running Calico Critters collection with the new Family Trip Series. Kids ages 3 and up can send up to seven critters on big adventures in the Family Campervan, a vehicle that comes packed with accessories. The new Persian Cat Family includes dad Lucas, mom Dawn, and sisters Lyra and Skye. Kids can imagine that the cats and other critters are on vacation with the Lakeside Lodge Gift Set or expand their world with the Adventure Tree House Gift Set, a playset that features four rooms and comes with an Adelaide Outback Koala baby. The Tree House connects to the Lakeside Lodge and Baby Ropeway Park. Kids ages 4 and up can get creative with the Aquabeads Trolls World Tour Playset. The colorful craft kit includes more than 800 jewels and solid beads, a sprayer, and instructions to create designs inspired by DreamWorks’ Trolls World Tour. The set comes packed in a reusable carrying case and a fliptray.
LEGO Kids ages 6 and up can begin building the World of Nintendo with the 231-piece LEGO Super Mario Adventures with Mario Starter Course. The LEGO Mario figure features color sensors and LCD screens in his eyes, mouth, and belly to display more than 100 instant reactions to movement. Kids can arrange the bricks to make new courses and combine this set with additional LEGO Super Mario sets to extend the adventure. LEGO DOTS is a 2D, tile-based play and craft concept that serves as a creative canvas for self-expression. Kids can create and craft a variety of functional and wearable products, including bracelets, pencil holders, picture frames, and more. More than 30 mood tiles include details such as facial expressions, musical notes, cosmic planets, paw prints, and more.
ADK EMOTIONS NY ADK Emotions NY has teamed up with Hasbro to launch the Beyblade Burst Hypersphere line. The new tops feature specialized performance tips, enabling them to climb the vertical walls of the Beyblade Burst Hypersphere Beystadium, speed along the brink, and drop in on their opponents for high-intensity battles. The line includes the Beyblade Burst Rise Hypersphere Vertical Drop Battle Set, which includes a Hyperphere Beystadium, two battling top toys, and two launchers. The Beyblade Burst Rise Hypersphere Starter Pack comes with a battling top and a launcher, and the Dual Packs come with two battling tops. Beyblade Burst toys are recommended for kids ages 8 and up. Beyblade Burst Rise Hypersphere Vertical Drop Battle Set
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AURORA Aurora’s Teddy Pets are plush animals designed for kids of all ages. Inspired by a popular grooming style for long-coated dogs, these animals feature oversized, round heads and petite bodies. The Light Up Cuties Shimmery Red Dragon features green eyes that light up when kids ages 3 and up press its left foot. It also has a shiny, rainbow stomach and small wings. Aurora expands its Dr. Seuss line with Dr. Seuss Shoulderkins of the Grinch and Max. Shoulderkins characters can sit on kids’ shoulders thanks to a magnet at the bottom of the plush and a Teddy Pets fabric-covered metal base. Pal Pals are lightly stuffed plush designed for kids of all ages. The small plush animals are available in 15 designs and can balance in the palm of kids’ hands. When animals “sploot,” they lay on their bellies while stretching their back legs behind them. Splootsies plush animals, designed for kids off all ages, are available in 15 character styles with weighted legs so that they can stand, sit, or sploot.
FUNKO The first Funko Pop! Pride Collection features rainbow-colored vinyl collectibles of SpongeBob SquarePants, Batman, and Hello Kitty. The figures are a celebration of inclusivity and acceptance. Funko also made a donation to the It Gets Better Project, an organization that uplifts, empowers, and connects LGBTQ+ youth around the world.
BUFFALO GAMES Apollo — A Game Inspired by NASA Moon Missions from Buffalo Games is designed for 2-5 players ages 12 and up. In this cooperative strategy game, players work together to get to the moon and back. One player serves as Mission Control and informs the astronauts’ decision-making while resolving crises from the ground. The other players (astronauts) roll the dice and allocate them toward actions such as resolving flight stages, repairing systems, and completing experiences to finish the mission. Designed for two players ages 12 and up, Plinko is based on The Price Is Right’s most popular game. Players earn Plinko chips by playing pricing games, then they take turns dropping them down the Plinko board. In Saturday Night Live The Game, every player is a “Not Ready for Prime-time Player” in each sketch, except for one. That player serves as the “Stand-In,” whose goal is to figure out the sketch everyone is in by playing along and improvising their way through the round without getting caught — because the other players are trying to figure out who the Stand-In is. This game is designed for 3-8 players ages 14 and up. Tower Tennis is a two-player table tennis game with a twist. Players take turns hitting the ball into the top of the tower, but they never know where the ball is going to come out. If it comes out on your side, you have to hit it back into the tower. If you miss, the other player scores. This game is designed for players ages 10 and up. Buzzfeed 2000s Trivia features more than 400 pop culture questions with pictures, trivia, and various game challenges. If a player answers a question correctly, their team scores a point. This trivia game is designed for three or more players ages 14 and up.
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SUPER IMPULSE Super Impulse is relaunching Rubik’s Revolution, a device containing six fast-paced, electronic games, including Light Speed. The device features sounds, lights, and various skill levels for players ages 5 and up. Rubik’s Tilt is an electronic, handheld game that features a virtual Rubik’s Cube on a high-resolution, high-definition screen. Kids ages 8 and up can twist, turn, and tilt the device to move the columns, rows, and sides. The game requires the same logic it takes to solve the original Rubik’s Cube, but with added features, including a speed timer, sound control, three levels of play, and hints. The World’s Smallest 40th Anniversary Metallic Rubik’s Cube measures .75 inches in each direction and features reflective, foil colors on all six sides. It is suitable for kids ages 8 and up.
Bayala — Flower Pegasus
SCHLEICH Schleich’s Bayala — Flower Pegasus is a magical, secluded animal that acts as a protector of the flower unicorn foal. The colorful figure features a flower-adorned mane and tail. The Bayala — Blossom Unicorn Foal is a wild and playful animal that lives in the flower fields with its flower dragon baby friend. The colorful figure features a flowered mane and tail. The Dinosaurs — Cryolophosaurus is a carnivorous theropod that lived in Antarctica during the early Jurassic period. The figure features a moveable lower jaw and sharp teeth.
MADAME ALEXANDER Little Cuties from Madame Alexander are 8-inch baby dolls dressed in colorful, removable outfits. Each doll features a fabric body, a soft sleeper, and a removable headband or hat. They are suitable for newborns. Kitty Huggable Huggums are 12-inch baby dolls that feature soft bodies; eyes that open and close; vinyl heads, arms, and legs; and outfits featuring gender-neutral colors. They are suitable for kids ages 2 and up. The Unicorn Fairy is an 8-inch collectible doll, featuring the classic Wendy sculpt and an articulated, posable body. The doll includes a white, iridescent dress; white, iridescent wings; a unicorn horn headpiece; white tights; and pink satin slip-on shoes. The Blushing Ballerina is an 8-inch collectible doll, featuring the classic Wendy sculpt and an articulated, posable body. The doll includes a coral dance ensemble with netting tutu, ruffles, and floral embellishments; nude tights; and blush ballet shoes with ribbon ties. The Unicorn Fairy and Blushing Ballerina dolls are recommended for collectors ages 14 and up. Sweet Smiles
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ORB Plusheez from ORB is a new collection of cute, collectible characters that integrate imaginative play with collectability. Plusheez Dress-Up Characters come in blister packs with outfits that kids can mix and match. Plusheez Character Playsets feature a Plusheez character and a unique plush house reminiscent of their favorite food. Plusheez will be available this summer. ORB SproutiPalz are stylized characters that sprout real grass hair. Kids can soak, grow, trim, and style the tabletop friends. Budding gardeners ages 5 and up can extend the fun with SproutiPalz Pet Friendz.
VANGO TOYS In The #UpsideDownChallenge Game from Vango Toys, players will draw cards and take turns completing challenges while wearing goggles that flip their vision upside down. Players will struggle to do simple tasks, like writing their name, connecting dots, giving high-fives, and more, or they can make up their own challenges. Players earn points by successfully completing challenges, and whoever is the first to earn five points wins the game.
MAGFORMERS Kids ages 3 and up can create 3D structures from 2D nets with the Magformers Basic Plus 14-Piece Set. It includes four squares, eight triangles, and two inner-circle square shapes that kids can use to create houses, towers, and a Magformers magic ball. Each geometric shape contains magnets that never reject so kids will always hear them click into place as they build. The Stick-O Forest Friends 16-Piece Set includes three spheres, three sticks, two discs, and other magnetic accessories that toddlers ages 18 months and up can use to build animal friends. The accessories include bunny ears, flowers, cones, flowerpots, and elephant ears. With the Clicformers Space Battleship 23-Piece Bag Set, kids ages 4 and up can build a spacecraft with mechanical aircraft wings. The Dolce Primo Llama is a plush llama with a bird on its back. Designed for newborns, it features different activities and textures, as well as a hanging loop that parents can use to attach the toy to a stroller or a crib.
Dolce Primo Llama
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DUNCAN Duncan’s Pop ‘N Hit Bat is a 28-inch, durable, plastic bat that includes four foam balls. The pressurized pump allows users to simply pull and push to pop each ball out one at a time. Kids can pitch the ball to themselves and control how high the ball goes up by how hard they hit the bottom pump. Kids can also use the bat to pitch balls to their friends.
ALIQUANTUM INTERNATIONAL Aliquantum International’s Monchhichi Original Classic Plush Doll is an authentic Sekiguchi Japan product. The classic doll is 8 inches tall, can put its thumb in its mouth, and features a soft body with a plastic head, hands, and feet. The Felix The Cat with Bag of Tricks 100th Anniversary Plush celebrates a century of Felix the Cat adventures. This 14-inch plush features Felix holding the Magic Bag of Tricks. The Rilakkuma Cherry Blossom Season Series Plush celebrates sakura season. The pink, plush version of Rilakkuma is decorated with pink flowers and holds a plush dango. The company also has a plush Rilakkuma Tiger Face Coin Purse with Rilakkuma’s face on the front, brown lining, and a zipper. The San-X Original Rilakkuma Mochi Cushion Plush is a mochi-style Rilakkuma plush designed for kids to snuggle at home or on the go. All three Rilakkuma products are designed for kids ages 3 Felix The Cat with Bag of Tricks and up.
FAT BRAIN TOY CO. Kids ages 1 and up can learn basic numbers with the tactile Dimpl Digits from Fat Brain Toy Co. Each colorful silicone bubble engages kids with embossed textures. It features numerals 1-10 with matching words in English and Spanish. Tinker Rings are soft, rubbery, textured rings that kids ages 2 and up can arrange and stack thanks to magnets built into every ring. Shape Factory puts a fresh spin on the classic shape sorter. Kids can explore and experiment to solve the puzzle by fitting all 10 shapes through four slots that change with the push of a button. Kids ages 6 and up can take turns tossing rubbery horseshoes to try and ring them onto a suspended pole and platforms with Swingin’ Shoes. Kids will be challenged to score points by ringing a pole or getting a horseshoe to hang on a platform. Fat Brain Toy Co. expands its Jixelz line with Jixelz Creator. The set includes 3,000 precision-cut micro jigsaw pieces in 15 different colors that kids ages 6 and up can use to create original designs or to craft shapes using the included design templates.
100th Anniversary Plush
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GUND E-BLOX Designed for builders ages 8 and up, Circuit Blox Lights ‘n Motion set from E-Blox features colorful LED lights that shine through the transparent spacers. Kids can follow the step-by-step instructions on how to connect the multifunction controller module, voice/sound controller module, color-changing lamp module, and battery block together. Then, they can build a custom creation on top of it and watch it light up. With the Power Blox Light ‘n Flight 5-in-1 Set, kids can build a plane with a propeller that can launch into the air, or use it with their existing building sets to add a motor, switch, and lights. Designed for kids ages 8 and up, this set teaches STEM concepts as kids build. The Lumen — Powerfigures line features characters for E-Blox Story Blox. Designed for kids ages 6 and up, each figure can charge up to illuminate for hours.
CUDDLE BARN Cuddle Barn’s Cubby Tubbies Shark & Dino are plush toys that feature large, gaping mouths that kids of all ages can use to store small toys, candy, and other treasures. It’s a plush friend, a pillow, and a storage solution all in one. The Sweet Cheeks Squad features a cow that twirls around to “Old MacDonald” and a monkey that twirls around to “Five Little Monkeys.” Both plush animals have chubby cheeks and stylish bandanas. They are suitable for kids ages 2 and up. Enchanted Wands are soft animal wands that play music when kids ages 3 and up swing them or wave them. The assortment includes Trix Panda, Dazzle Llamacorn, and Glitz Unicorn. BFF Furrever Sippin’ Shiba and BFF Furrever Yum Yum Unicorn are plush animal friends that each hold their favorite sweet treats. Sippin’ Shiba (also available in a twirler) is a Shiba Inu holding a cup of boba and Yum Yum Unicorn is a unicorn holding an ice cream cone. They are suitable for kids ages 2 and up. LOL Santa! is a Christmas-themed plush that sings “Jingle Bells” and lets out a jolly laugh when kids ages 3 and up tickle his tummy.
The My Little Picnic Set from Gund packs a full assortment of baby-safe pretend plush foods into an adorable picnic basket. Kids ages 1 and up can snuggle their smiling plush snacks before tucking them away into the basket that features touch-and-close fasteners. Families can celebrate an important milestone with the My First Birthday Set. Each plush toy included in the set features a special surprise to engage little ones, including a squeaking cupcake, a rattling gift, and a singing bear. Gund’s Tinkle Crinkle Collection of plush baby toys features contemporary prints on premium fabrics that promote soft, safe, and fun tactile play for babies and kids of all ages. The line features Stick Rattles, 13.5-inch Birdie and Bunney Loveys, a 7-inch Activity Ball, a 9-inch Hedgehog, and a Tinkle Crinkle Caterpillar in 16.5- and 40-inch sizes. Kids can snuggle the Kai Bear, a super-soft, surface-washable 12- or 18inch taupe teddy bear with an oversized head, embroidered paw pads, and a beige muzzle. Killowatt is a plush bird featuring a soft, bright, huggable material with modern styling, designed for kids ages 1 and up.
BFF Furrever Sippin’ Shiba and BFF Furrever Yum Yum Unicorn
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MUKIKIM Mukikim follows up last year’s Genius Square with the Genius Star. More advanced and challenging than the original Square, the Genius Star operates on the same principles. Players ages 8 and up race to fill the open grid with colored shapes. More than 165,000 unique challenges ensure a new game every time kids play. The Wicked Sky Rider range expands with the Air Square. Featuring a precision, weighted design, the Air Square flies with a smooth, stable flight path. Kids can catch it with ease thanks to the soft, rubberized corners. Mukikim’s famous electronic piano and drums are going micro with the Rock and Roll It Micro Collection. Kids ages 6 and up can collect three different roll-up piano and drum sets that can be clipped on a backpack, letting kids make music while on the go. Kids ages 3 and up can draw a line that the Kool Kreepers Color Tracing Chameleon will follow. The Chameleon features LED lights that change color to match its surroundings. The ShakeWave is a tower-stacking challenge for kids ages 6 and up. Players spin the spinner and stack rollers or turn the base in an effort to stack up to 12 levels without it falling down.
PLUS-PLUS Kids ages 8 and up can build playable vehicles with Plus-Plus GO!, a building set from Plus-Plus. Available in late July, the set includes one-shape PlusPlus pieces, GO! wheels, and a baseplate that kids can combine to create cars, trucks, airplanes, and more.
WECOOL TOYS The iLY Aroma Therapy Dough Kit by Activity Kings, from WeCool Toys, includes five prescented colorful doughs that are ready for kids to transform into their own creations. They can mold and shape designs with sculpting tools; sprinkle in glitters; top off their dough with unicorn, heart, and star confetti; then personalize the dough containers with a custom name. The iLY Hydro Bottle kit comes with doodle markers, sticker sheets, and a BPA-free water bottle for kids to personalize. Kids can decorate the Hydro Bottle with predesigned decals and stickers that they can color. The iLY Pura Loom Bracelet Maker teaches kids different techniques to easily make a variety of textured and colorful bracelets for themselves and their friends. They can create colorful twisted designs with beads, charms, and more. Kids can create 13 hair scrunchies using the easy-to-use iLY Scruncheeze Loom. Kids will be able to add their own personal style to every scrunchie they create in a few steps, or add one of the three included surprise charms. WeCool Toys’ Insta Studio is equipped with an adjustable arm to help kids shoot videos about cooking, crafting, unboxing, and more. The set includes trendy backgrounds, mixing tools, various slimy compounds, and sparkly mix-ins.
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36-inch Love & Hug Rag Doll
PLAYTIME FUN Playtime Fun introduces a full range of Love & Hug Rag Dolls. Designed for kids ages 3 and up, the soft, plush rag dolls come in a variety of styles including standard, mermaid, and ballerina in 20-, 24-, and 36-inch sizes. The 20-inch Love & Learn Doll is a soft, colorful doll designed with closures that mimic real-life dressing activities to help kids develop problem-solving and fine motor skills.
TOYSMITH Throwing Blades are the third item in Toysmith’s Warrior’s Mark series. Inspired by ancient chakram, kids ages 6 and up can throw the two included foam rings at the 26-inch, easy-fold target. The kit also includes a suction cup and a door hanger for the target, and a storage bag. Snapperz are fidget toys that make successive popping noises when kids ages 3 and up squeeze them. They come in assorted colors. The 4M Mega Hydraulic Arm is a multiaxis, robotic arm. Kids ages 8 and up can add water to apply hydralic power and make it move. The Celt Decision Maker is a wobbly spinner, also called a “rattleback,” that features physics-defying unpredictability. Kids can spin the rattle for a truly unpredictable answer to all their questions. It includes a rattle back and a decision disc. The Space Cat Beach Ball is an inflatable, 13-inch ball that is suitable for kids ages 3 and up.
University Games’ Danger Noodle is a roulette-style card game about avoiding snakes and other dangerous animals. Players ages 12 and up must try to be the first to collect 30 points worth of different animal cards in their hands to win — while watching out for the Danger Noodle Cards, which change the game. Automobile Alphabet is a travel card game in which players ages 5 and up work to find a word in any signage that begins with or includes a letter on the card in their hand. Kids can look for letters on signs, billboards, and license plates they see from their car. Dog Man 100-Piece Puzzles are a series of puzzles based on the Scholastic kids’ book property. The puzzles are suitable for kids ages 6 and up and are available in two styles: Dog Man Unleashed and Dog Man & Cat Kid. The Snoopy Heart Original 3D Crystal Puzzle is a 31-pieze puzzle that features Snoopy and Woodstock sitting on a heart-shaped base. The puzzle is recommended for kids ages 12 and up. Snoopy Heart Original 3D Crystal Puzzle
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LEARNING RESOURCES Learning Resources introduces the next generation of Botley the Coding Robot. Botley 2.0 includes new functions and coding challenges that kids can explore right out of the box. With Botley’s updated features, kids can build sequences up to 150 steps, explore Botley’s new personality traits, and go on adventures with a built-in sensor that lights up Botley in the dark. Kids can use up to four Botleys in the same room Coding Critters Bopper, Hip & Hop to code with friends and engage in multiplayer competitions. Kids ages 4 and up can explore new coding adventures with Coding Critters Bopper, Hip & Hop. Preschoolers can practice sequential logic and critical thinking by coding Bopper to find the carrots, pull them along in her garden cart, and more. The Snap-n-Learn Counting Sheep set comes with 10 colorful, two-piece sheep that are numbered 1-10. Kids ages 18 months and up can learn early math lessons in number recognition, counting, sequencing, and more. Kids ages 18 months and up can explore colors, shapes, and textures with Pedro the Fine Motor Peacock. Pedro includes five push-and-pull feathers that kids can use to build fine motor skills, including hand strength and coordination.
HEXBUG This fall, HEXBUG introduces Junk Bots, a full range of 36 collectible trash bots that are waiting for kids to unearth them from their unique trash cans. Kids can dig through the junk to reveal hidden clues and treasures for each Junk Bot. The bots move with dynamic vibrations, light-up energy cores, and motion packs. Kids can mix and match pieces to create their own original Junk Bots characters. Kids ages 3 and up can assemble nanotopia, a playset with snap-together track pieces and obstacles for HEXBUG nanos to explore. The set includes three flash nanos that light up, three merry-go-round obstacles, and four regular nanos. Available this fall, the VEX Robotics Construction Zone is an 830-piece playset geared toward budding engineers and builders. Kids ages 8 and up can build and control a Construction Crane that towers more than 2 feet tall over the job site. With the Dump Truck and Backhoe, kids can haul parts or have imaginative adventures with the included figures. Mobots are collectible robots with mohawk-style “hair” and voice-recording capabilities. Kids can choose from Fetch, Mimix, and Ramblez characters that can record voices and play them back. The Mobots can even talk to each other in their own unique language. The HEXBUG Dragon slithers across any surface breathing LED “fire” while roaring ferociously. Kids ages 3 and up can control the Dragon using a remote control. The Dragon features rubber rotating paws for traction, adjustable wings, and a flexible tail that moves from side to side. VEX Robotics Construction Zone
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BREYER Breyer is celebrating its 70th anniversary with a commemorative anniversary assortment and by entering into a new toy category. Breyer Mane Beauty Styling Heads are realistically sculpted and feature long, silky, no-tangle manes. Each styling head includes a styling booklet, a comb, two clips, four mane spirals, and 50 elastics, giving kids multiple hairstyling possibilities. Breyer Mane Beauty Styling Heads come in three styles: Blaze with a black mane, Daybreak with a white mane, and Sunset with a blonde mane. Breyer’s 70th Anniversary Assortment includes five hand-decorated horse models, each commemorating a different decade. Each model features the anniversary logo and comes in a custom box. This collection includes a Rearing Mustang, Saddlebred Stallion, a limited-edition chase piece, and more.
Breyer Mane Beauty Styling Head — Sunset
Shark Story Lounge Pillow
ISCREAM Iscream’s Shark Story is a line of shark-themed items, including sleeping bags, tablet and lounge pillows, an eye mask, plush pants, and a shark bite fleece pillow. Dinosaur Story is a collection of dinosaur-themed items, including tablet and lounge pillows, a hooded blanket, plush pants, a Make Your Own Dinosaur DIY Kit, and a T. rex fleece pillow. Caticorn Story is a caticorn-themed collection of tie-dyed items, including a caticorn plush character, tablet and lounge pillows, plush pants, and eye masks. These items are suitable for kids ages 5 and up.
MINDWARE With the Playful Chef: Deluxe Cake Decorating Studio from Mindware, kids can plan, bake, and decorate their own cakes for birthdays, holidays, or just for dessert. All of the pieces are perfectly sized for smaller hands and are easy to clean. Designed for kids ages 8 and up, the kit includes two springform pans, two reusable pastry bags, four decorating tips, three cake stencils, six recipe cards, and more. Designed for kids ages 5 and up, the Dinosaur Floor Puzzle by Peaceable Kingdom, a MindWare brand, has shiny foil accents and thick puzzle pieces with unique shapes, including a pterodactyl, a stegosaurus, and more. Designed for kids ages 5 and up, the assembled puzzle measures 2 by 3 feet. Also by Peaceable Kingdom, Duck Duck Dance! is a dancing game for kids ages 2 and up. The game includes four large dice with eight basic dance moves, such as spinning and wiggling. Players imitate the ducks to uncover the four audience members and win the game. In the Triumph of the Temple game, players use strategy — and a little luck — to piece broken Egyptian artifacts back together to win jewels. This strategy game is designed for 2-4 players ages 8 and up. Kids ages 8 and up can paint their own money-saving bank with the Paint Your Own Porcelain: Mermaid Bank. Kids paint and oven-bake the porcelain mermaid tail, then display it and use it to save their extra change.
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HOG WILD TOYS IS ALL ABOUT INNOVATION
The Toy Book chats with Josh Loerzel, vice president of sales at Hog Wild Toys, about balancing manufacturing and distribution, entering new product categories, and keeping busy throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Toy Book: How do you choose what products are a fit for distribution? Josh Loerzel: Typically it would be category driven, and then we go and find products that we’re really excited about that will fit the direction that we’re already on. The two prominent examples of that would be Upside Down Challenge from Vango Toys and distributing the OgoSport brand. We viewed both as opportunities to increase our product offering and footprint in areas that we had already decided as categories we wanted to move into and expand on. TB: Why is it beneficial for other toy companies to have Hog Wild’s help distributing their products? JL: We bring long-lasting relationships to the table. We’re a member of ASTRA, we’re close with Learning Express, and we do every single trade show. ... Everyone can pitch to the Targets and Walmarts of the world, and everyone can put their products up on Amazon, but we are really doing the groundwork to get it into the specialty toy channels, which we think is important. TB: Hog Wild is all about fun and silly toys that produce lots of laughs. How are those core values reflected in the people who work for Hog Wild? JL: Even though it’s a dollars and cents game, we really want to make sure that there’s a passion for toys, and I feel like we've done a good job bringing people on the team who reflect that. All the people we bring in are really passionate about toys. You have to have that business sense as well, but keeping that dynamic is important. TB: How do you make sure your products are keeping up with the most popular trends, including those within
the toy industry and general trends around the internet? JL: [We do] a lot of scouring and keeping track of TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube. We utilize Google trends, and try to see what’s the search velocity of different keywords. I wish there was a more scientific process I could point to, but it’s really about all of us just watching what’s happening and sharing wacky, fun stuff as an entire company. We feel like there’s not one person who has the keys to the castle when it comes to creativity, we all share what we think is funny as a big family. Everyone feels like they have a voice. Handy Grabs is great example. The typical robot arms that have little grabbers exist in the market now, but someone had the idea of ‘well what if you had two little helping hands?’ We took it to Toy Fair New York, and it was literally an afterthought, but it was our No. 2 item behind Upside Down challenge. TB: The toy retail landscape is shifting due to COVID-19. How are you working to reach consumers now? JL: We’re implementing a drop-ship capability with our warehouse. This was a pivot that we were forced to do from the buyers. Historically, we want to push all of our business through the specialty stores only, so we have not prioritized drop-shipping as a Hog Wild principal. ... But, the reality is, we need to have the nimbleness to be able to ship direct-toconsumer and to be able to offer our toys to them in a situation like this when most of the specialty stores are shut down. TB: How are you staying in touch with your buyers now that so many trade shows are canceled? JL: Even during this time, we’ve kept our customer service staff busy. We are
trying to reach every single specialty store every month. There are regions in the country, like Nebraska and other areas, that are still doing great in specialty. So by us staying in touch, it’s our way of showing them we still care and they’re still important, and it keeps us informed about what the situation is on the ground so we can try to make decisions on what next steps to take. A lot of times, it’s not even a sales call, it’s just to vent, give them someone to talk to, and let them know we’re thinking about them. TB: What advice do you have to others in the industry on getting through this tough time? JL: I can’t predict what the U.S. is going to look like after this, but what I can tell you is that kids still love toys, they still love innovation, and they still love play. My big belief — and what we are sharing internally — is we have to keep investing. At Hog Wild, we are full-on investing. We have exciting new categories for next year that we’re very deep into working on right now. Keep innovating, keep being creative, and keep getting ready. Be ready with new products when it ends. » toybook.com | JUNE 2020 | THE TOY BOOK 53
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SMART TOYS AND GAMES SmartGames Froggit from Smart Toys and Games is a game designed for 2-6 players ages 6 and up. Players guide their frogs across the pond and block others from doing the same, all while avoiding the fish that will send their frogs back to the start. SmartGames Cube Duel is a 3D strategy game for one or two players ages 10 and up. Players place the red or yellow geometric pieces in the 3D gameboard so that the SmartGames Froggit completed cube has more of their color exposed. Kids will develop 3D building skills while they complete the 80 included challenges. SmartGames Shooting Stars challenges players ages 7 and up to stack the blocks on top of each other to recreate the image shown in one of the 80 included challenges. The color of the stars changes when players turn the blocks. Shooting Stars features challenges ranging from easy to expert. New from the SmartMax My First line of STEM products designed for kids ages 1 and up, SmartMax My First Sounds & Senses includes strong, magnetic building pieces that offer toddlers and preschoolers different sensory experiences. Each piece features different colors, textures, sounds, and emotions. The GeoSmart Start Set is an introductory set to GeoMagnetic construction. Kids ages 5 and up can use the squares and triangles to build their own creation and watch it spin. GeoSmart Start Set includes 14 bright, geometric pieces and a spinner.
Snap Circuits MyHome
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Elenco’s Snap Circuits MyHome helps kids learn how electricity travels and powers their homes. Kids can build a house or city tower on top of seven colorful base grids with real 3D circuits. The set includes approximately 60 parts and an illustrated, fullcolor project manual with 25 projects. Kids will learn how to code with Snap Circuits Discover Coding kit, featuring more than 30 Snap Circuits parts. They can download the Snap Circuits app and control their projects by using their smartphone or tablet to code their own patterns of lights, sounds, and movements. Teach Tech: KC3: Keypad Coding Robot is a mission-based coding buddy designed to teach beginner-friendly building and coding methods without a screen. Kids can build and rebuild the robot into three roles: Shooter, Doodler, and Sweeper. KC3 features a coding keypad, which kids can use to move and rotate the robot in eight different directions. Advanced coders can set KC3 for more difficult tasks and challenges. Smartivity Retroscope is a DIY kit that introduces kids to the fundamentals of storytelling and movie-making by encouraging them to build a fully functional, gear-driven, movie-making machine. After the mess-free assembly using rubber bands, kids can rotate the handle and watch the slides play as an animated movie. The kit includes two sets of premade cartoon slide panels: one in color and one in black and white. Kids can also design their own sets to use. All of the above Elenco kits are designed for kids ages 8 and up.
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SUNNY DAYS ENTERTAINMENT Ravel Tales from Sunny Days Entertainment is a line of DIY collectibles. Kids ages 5 and up can unravel the yarn ball to uncover 12 surprises, including DIY activities, sticker sheets, accessories, and plush Ravel Tales characters. Series one features 12 assorted characters.
ODYSSEY TOYS Odyssey Toys’ Meddling Mouse is an R/C mouse that kids can spin around using the remote, which is modeled to look like a piece of cheese. Split Wheel is a stunt car that kids can drive forward, backward, left, and right. It can do 360-degree flips and rotations while spinning. It also features four LED lights so kids can drive it in the dark.
PlayMonster introduces Snap Ships, a new construction system in which kids ages 8 and up can build to battle. Kids can use the collectible, modular building pieces to build multiple spaceships that interact through a companion app. Snap Ships is supported by a YouTube series that follows two warring factions — Forge and Komplex. Nine sets will be released at launch. The My Fairy Garden collection expands with the Fairy Light Garden and Light Tree House playsets. For the first time ever, the real, live gardens are enhanced with a light that kids can blow on to “magically” illuminate the garden. The sets include fairy friends and play features such as garden areas, ponds, and seeds to grow flowers. Drone Home is the first-ever board game with a real drone. Kids ages 8 and up will race to launch aliens down ramps and get them into the drone. When an alien lands inside, it just might take off. But since there’s a slight delay, other players can sabotage the flight by knocking out the alien using their own aliens. The new Spirograph Scratch and Shimmer set from Kahoootz presents budding artists with a new type of Spirograph drawing. Kids ages 8 and up can use the custom stylus tool and Spirograph pieces to scratch beautiful designs on special, coated paper to reveal sparkly or rainbow designs underneath. Mirari SkillDillies is an assortment of three animal friends that focus on specific fine motor skill development needs for babies ages birth to 6 months. Each character is made using sustainable wood, smooth plastic, and soft silicone rubber with tactile functions.
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BEVERLY HILLS TEDDY BEAR CO. Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Co. expands its Tiny Tukkins line, which includes plush toys and playsets designed for kids ages 3 and up. The Play Crib is a range of six mini playsets that include baby plush animals and play accessories. The Play Set — which includes a big sister plush, a baby plush, soft bedding, and play accessories — is available in Naptime Nursery, Preschool, and Play Room themes. The Play House is a fold-out play house that includes the entire Mousekins family. The World’s Softest Plush line features plush animals designed for kids of all ages. Available in a new, 5-inch mini size or a 9-inch size, the plush have soft, neutral colors. The Squeezamals Plumps collection is full of soft, bouncy plush with squishy stomachs. Designed for kids ages 3 and up, Plumps are available in eight characters and three sizes: 3, 5, and 12 inches. Squeezamals Plumps
GAMEWRIGHT Gamewright’s Abandon All Artichokes is a card game designed for players ages 10 and up. In the game, players try to prune their decks and “abandon all artichokes” by harvesting fresh vegetable cards and swapping, discarding, and composting other cards. In Splurt!, players ages 10 and up take turns flipping over cards with clues, competing to be the first to shout out an answer. Example clues include “name an animal containing five letters” or “name a song ending in the letter ‘e.’” Hi Lo Flip is a game of strategy and chance. Players ages 8 and up play number cards to a center pile, following the direction on the Hi Lo chip. If players get stuck, they can flip the chip for a chance to reverse the order and save their turn. The first player to run out of cards wins the game.
FUNKO GAMES Funko Games expands its lineup of pop culture-inspired titles and original games for the entire family. In Godzilla: Tokyo Clash, players team up to control Godzilla, King Ghidorah, Megalon, and Mothra in an effort to destroy Japan. Back to the Future: Back in Time challenges players to navigate 1955 Hill Valley in an effort to find and collect items to fix Doc’s DeLorean Time Machine, defeat Biff Tannen and his gang, and make sure that George and Elaine fall in love at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance in time for Marty McFly to make it back to 1985 when lightning strikes the clock tower. Families can embrace the lifestyle of ‘70s Southern California songwriters in Yacht Rock. In this party game, players team up to write soft rock songs. In Pan Am, players take control of their own airlines to compete against each other and the iconic Pan American World Airways in an effort to command the skies for a profit. Prospero Games’ Last Defense is a fast-paced game in which 2-6 players race to save the city from an alien invasion in 20 minutes or less.
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ANN WILLIAMS GROUP Ann Williams will launch My Wishing Bear, which includes a book, an unstuffed plush bear, stuffing, and a certificate. Kids ages 3 and up can stuff and name their Wishing Bear to make it their own. Kids can follow along in the story, which asks them to make wishes on each of the five charms: one for family, one for a friend, one for someone far away, one to help someone, and one for themselves. The Craft-tastic All About Me Quiz Bracelets set features a 14page quiz book that asks personality questions that will direct kids ages 7 and up to make colorful, personalized bracelets. The questions in the seven quizzes will guide the selection of thread, beads, and charms. The set includes 10 cord colors, 15 puffy charms, and 117 beads. Kids ages 10 and up can design and accessorize with the Craft-tastic DIY Charming Charms by pressing the puffy stickers together, adding a connector, and using them to create personalized jewelry and accessories. The set includes enough stickers to create more than 100 charms for kids to use while making two necklaces, 10 bracelets, and three pins.
KESS Kess’ Squishy Cuties are colorful jump ropes with foam-grip character handles for sensory play. They are available in unicorn and ice cream cone designs. Kids can place the Ice Hopper around their ankles, spin it around, and try to jump over it while watching it sparkle with liquid glitter. It is available in four colors. The Ice Ball is a bouncy ball filled with liquid glitter. As the ball bounces, the sparkly filling flows in different patterns to create a shine effect. It is available in six colors. All of these products are suitable for kids ages 6 and up.
HORIZON GROUP USA Horizon Group USA introduces its Story Magic range, which includes a variety of new craft kits for kids ages 4 and up to create, pretend, and play. Items in the Story Magic line are designed to inspire imagination and creative thinking through open-ended storytelling. Kids can spin the story wheel to add characters, emotions, and settings to their original tales with the Story Magic Storybook Maker. The set includes cut outs, stencils, markers, a drawing guide, gemstones, and confetti. With the Story Magic Unicorn Dream Dollhouse, kids can create an enchanted castle by decorating the dollhouse for the included plush unicorn. The Story Magic Wooden Dress-Up Doll is a double-sided doll that kids can customize with more than 40 magnetic outfits and accessories. With the included play scene and mini-story maker, kids can send their doll on endless adventures. Teens ages 14 and up can learn the basics of hand lettering with the STMT D.I.Y. Hand Lettering Set. The set includes brushes, gel pens, practice sheets, printed pages, and stencils. The STMT D.I.Y. Sticker Water Bottle can be customized with more than 30 VSCO-inspired stickers. The double-wall, BPA-free bottle contains a layer of rose glitter for an extra chic look.
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PLAYMOBIL Kids ages 18 months and up can imagine railway adventures with the Playmobil My First Train Set. Part of the Playmobil 1.2.3 collection, the colorful train comes with three adult figures, a child figure, the train track, and other accessories. Playmobil’s Magical Mermaid line debuts with the Mermaid Cove with Illuminated Dome playset. Kids ages 4 and up can explore a whole new world of underwater adventures with no water required. The set includes articulated figures, coral, and a dome that lights up when kids send one of the included pearls down the included track. Kids can build an entire mermaid kingdom with additional Magical Mermaids themed sets. Kids ages 5 and up can solve mysteries with the Playmobil Scooby-Doo! Mystery Machine. The psychedelic vehicle includes Fred, Daphne, and Velma figures, accessories, and an illuminated monitor where kids can examine ghost cards. Kids can collect additional ghost cards and other figures in the Playmobil Scooby-Doo! line. More playsets and figures will be released later this year.
WREBBIT 3D Wrebbit 3D expanded its Harry Potter 3D puzzle selection with the 270-piece Harry Potter Hagrid’s Hut 3D Jigsaw Puzzle. Muggles and wizards alike can complete the puzzle using the unique, foam-backed pieces. The foam-back technology makes the pieces fit tightly together and creates a sturdy design.
REDWOODVENTURES Foodie Surpise Yolkies from Redwood Ventures are collectible toys full of edible slime. Each Yolkies egg contains a candy slime “egg white,” a gummy yolk, and an egg yolk character wearing a surprise costume. Season one features 12 Yolkies characters for kids ages 6 and up to collect.
Retevis Toys introduces two styles of walkie-talkies designed for kids ages 3 and up. The Retevis RT34 Live Video Walkie Talkies Rechargeable each feature a talk range of about 109 yards, a 2-inch LCD color screen, and an external microphone. The Retevis RT628B Easy to Use Walkie Talkies for Kids, Long Range have a talk range of about 2.5 miles and feature three channels, squelch reduction, and a keypad lock. Both sets of walkietalkies are suitable for outdoor play.
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Slime by Design
PLAY VISIONS The Mazzy Bot, from Play Visions, is designed for kids ages 8 and up to learn computer programming while they build their own robot. Kids can construct two different models — an android or a rover — with the modular pieces, and then program up to 60 actions through the control panel. Mazzy Bot works with a downloadable app for iOS and Android devices. With Woki Bot, kids ages 5 and up can create a maze using 81 tiles and program the bot’s movements with colored chips. The robot will recognize the colors and perform different actions. Kids ages 5 and up can create Foam Alive Slime by mixing clear slime with Foam Alive. This new compound is super stretchy, and kids can bounce, mold, and form shapes with it. Foam Alive Motion Magic is now available in neon colors. Kids can compress the compound into any shape and watch as it slowly separates and starts to flow. Play Visions also introduces Slime by Design, a compound that features three textures, scents, and designs. Each pack comes with glitter and icons for kids to mix in. Available in assorted styles, kids ages 5 and up can mix the colors together for a custom slime experience.
THAMES & KOSMOS Creatto from Thames & Kosmos is a building system that consists of two primary components that kids can weave together into 3D creations, then light up with the included LED lights. The flexible yet durable plastic tiles interlock without glue or adhesive. Designed for kids ages 6 and up, Creatto kits are available in three different sizes and include assembly instructions for four different configurations. Plus, kids can get creative and build their own creations. With the Mega Cyborg Hand, kids can build their own hydraulic hand using more than 200 pieces. They assemble the hand, fill the piston tubes with water, and adjust it to fit their own hand. The mechanical hand simulates the movements of the human hand, using hydraulic power for energy transmission without motors or electricity. Designed for kids ages 8 and up, the assembled model can be configured for right- and left-handed users and can adjust to fit virtually all hand sizes. Kids can use The Amazing Tightrope-Walking Gyrobot kit to conduct eight experiments that demonstrate the physics behind the motorized gyroscope’s behaviors by trying to get the robot to walk on different surfaces: a tightrope, a solid tabletop, a soft surface, and even on their arm. Designed for kids ages 6 and up, the kit includes parts to build the robot and experimental setups, including a frame for the tightrope. In The Crew, a cooperative trick-taking card game, players need to complete 50 different missions as they travel across the solar system. But they will only succeed if they work together as a team. To master the challenges and achieve the mission, communication will be essential. In this game, designed for 3-5 players ages 10 and up, it’s not just who wins the hand, but also how the hand is won that makes all the difference. The SolarBots: 8-in-1 Solar Robot Kit teaches kids how to build sun-powered robots that feature electric motors. The 48-page, full-color manual guides kids ages 6 and up through model assembly of a drummer Creatto robot, a somersaulting armadillo, a solar bug, and more. It also offers scientific facts about the real-life applications of solar technology.
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Design & Drill Bolt Buddies Pick-It-Up Truck
Geomagworld introduces the Green Range, a new collection of nine Geomag Classic and Panel toys that have been reinvented with environmentally sustainable components. Each toy in the Green Range includes magnetic rods, panels, bases, and reusable storage boxes made of 100% recycled plastic. The cardboard packaging includes more than 70% recycled materials, while the transparent packaging is made from more than 80% regenerated PET. Kids ages 1-5 can build with four new Magicube sets made from 100% recycled plastic. Each cube-shaped block contains a strong magnet that snaps together with a distinctive click. The sets range from 8 to 64 cubes. The Mechanics Gravity line expands with the addition of two new tabletop construction games. With Mechanics Challenge Strike and Mechanics Challenge Goal, 1-4 players are challenged to build structures in which spheres activate the “gravity motor” in a race to rack up the highest score as they drop out of the bottom.
With the T-Rex Rumble Game from Educational Insights, players can strap on tiny dinosaur arms and try to complete challenges from four different dinosaur-themed categories. The game includes two T. rex arms, 100 challenge cards, 15 foam pieces, a dry-erase marker, a 30-second timer, and a die. Kids ages 5 and up can play with four or more players. The Design & Drill Bolt Buddies product line features reusable packaging that transforms into a playset. Kids ages 3 and up can use the kid-friendly power drill to attach bolts and accessories. There are multiple sets in the collection, including a truck, a rocket, and a race car. Playfoam Pals Unicorn Magic is a series of collectible characters hidden inside the never-drying Playfoam compound. Kids ages 5 and up can open the encased Playfoam rainbow to reveal four surprises: a unicorn charm, a colored locket, a surprise clip, and a decorative gem. Kanoodle Flip is a brain-teaser game in which kids ages 7 and up can flip the pieces end-over-end to get from the starting point to the finish in as few moves as possible. It includes three game pieces in increasingly difficult shapes, a carrying case/game board, and 100 puzzle challenges.
SOPHIA’S Sophia’s introduces a child-sized Puppy Vet Set, which includes a plush puppy and vet accessories, such as a dog cone, a stethoscope, a thermometer, an otoscope, a bandage, and an adoption certificate. The company also expands its World of Pets collection with a Plush Kitten Accessories Set that is sized for 18-inch dolls. This nine-piece set includes a 6-inch, plush kitten with accessories such as a bed, a blanket, a brush, a food bowl, a collar, and toys. Arriving this summer, Sophia’s Backpack Doll Carrier is a navy and hot pink polka-dot backpack. It features adjustable straps and mesh side pockets for easy-access storage. Kids can also add some style to their doll’s hair with colorful Curly Hairpiece Extensions. The set includes three color-transition hair extensions: orange to red, lavender to pink, and aqua to purple. All of these Sophia’s products are designed for kids ages 5 and up.
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SMALL THINGS ARE A BIG DEAL AT SUPER IMPULSE The Toy Book catches up with Alan Dorfman, president of Super Impulse USA, about specializing in miniatures and capitalizing on the power of nostalgia. Toy Book: As your company name suggests, many Super Impulse products are designed to be impulse purchases. How has the COVID-19 pandemic altered how you market your products now that fewer consumers are shopping in stores? Alan Dorfman: Nothing like leading off with a softball! Of course, we do lose the impulse purchases when traffic is down or stores are closed. We do have some check lane positions at larger retailers that have remained open, so we still are seeing some impulse purchases there. We have toys that are fully playable minigames, great for individual and multiplayer play, including a range of pocketsized arcade games. We have increased focus on our customers that sell online, and have launched some promotions that feature our World’s Smallest games items, Tiny Arcades games, and electronic handheld games. TB: Super Impulse specializes in making miniature versions of popular toys. How did the company decide to go in this direction? AD: By default — everyone else was making the full-sized toys already! I had been heavily involved with miniature, licensed toys on keychains in my past. The keychain category had petered out, and we saw a void in the market for working miniatures. World’s Smallest Magic: The Gathering Cards
TB: Super Impulse makes World’s Smallest products for many retro brands, such as Stretch Armstrong and Gumby, but also modern brands such as Peppa Pig and Elf on the Shelf. Which type tends to be more popular? AD: It’s an even mix. When we do retro brands, we benefit from a very broad demographic customer — we get adults and kids enjoying the products. In trend items, we benefit from the current popularity and promotions of the product. TB: You’ve also capitalized on the increasing popularity of retro arcade machines by offering miniature versions in the Tiny, Micro, and Boardwalk Arcade lines. Why do you think consumers are so excited about these games and retro brands in general? AD: There is such a “wow” factor when you turn these games on and see a fully playable game in such a tiny format. And the games are truly fully playable; we do all of the programming ourselves, and we have replicated every screen and every level of the original arcade games. Retro titles are popular because these are the games that started the video game revolution. Everyone knows them, and they are still fun and challenging to play. These are very cool products, if I do say so myself. TB: Most, if not all, of Super Impulse’s miniature products are not only tiny, but also actually work. Why is the functionality an important component, and do you ever face challenges in making these small versions really work? AD: Functionality makes them irresistible — again, it’s the “wow” factor. Yes, of course, we face challenges in making small versions. I can’t tell you how many times our factories have told
us that a product cannot be done in the scale we wanted. In many cases, building the small version is more complicated and labor-intensive than the full size. We have the same number of components, but the production cannot be automated due to the small scale. There is a lot of hand assembly. TB: You recently relaunched Rubik’s Revolution to celebrate Rubik’s 40th anniversary. Why did you decide to relaunch this specific product, and why do you think Rubik’s is such a popular brand even after 40 years? AD: Rubik’s is the best-known toy and toy brand in the world! We are thrilled to be able to offer Rubik’s product, and World’s Smallest Rubik’s continues to be one of our top sellers every year. We had chased the opportunity to bring back Rubik’s Revolution for years, and finally Rubik’s agreed to coincide with the 40th anniversary. Rubik’s has always been popular due to a combination of simplicity and challenge, and the internet gave kids the chance to show off their speed skills and trick skills, fueling worldwide competitions. TB: What upcoming products or initiatives can you share? AD: For back-to-school season this year, we are launching collectible Wacky Packages Minis. These are molded, 3D interpretations of the famous Topps Wacky Packages stickers, hilarious parodies of everyday consumer products. We are also adding more brands to our Micro Action Figure line, which are 1.25-inch, articulated action figures. Besides great action characters, we are expanding the range to include pop culture figures, headlined by Sanrio’s Hello Kitty and Friends. We have an exciting new range in the pipeline! »
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Inspired by the viral YouTube videos of “screaming” animals, Hog Wild’s SCREAM-O’S are a collection of squeezable, handheld animals. Designed for kids ages 6 and up, the toys replicate the screaming noise from those videos when kids squeeze them. The line includes a mountain goat, a donkey, and a unicorn. Birdie Golf is golf game for kids ages 4 and up, featuring a ball with a built-in birdie-tail stand that keeps it from rolling away. Kids can create their own course by placing the weighted flag cup, then competing to hit the ball closest to the flag. With Pop and Pass, kids ages 6 and up use the included launchers to send a foam ball flying. The other player uses the launcher’s basket to catch the ball and launch it back. The set includes three balls and two launchers with auto-reload operation. Pizza Party Throwdown Kids ages 8 and up can race against the clock in the game Pizza Party Throwdown. Players have 30 seconds to toss their ingredients onto the rotating pizza gameboard using the pizza chef launcher. The game features three different challenges for different levels of difficulty. Available this fall, Handy Grabs are mini-sized gripper tools, designed with human-like hands. Kids ages 4 and up can use the grabber to lift, move, or push an item. Hog Wild updates its Power Poppers with the Atomic Power Popper with Sticky Targets. The toy features a new design and new features, including a pump-to-shoot handle and a bright green color. Kids ages 4 and up can use the popper to blast foam balls up to 20 feet. The Popper comes with 24 popper balls and three sticky targets, which will stick to a wall or window.
GOLIATH Goliath expands its series of kids’ games with a trio of animal-themed action titles. Kids ages 4 and up will have to rescue their gold from Rattlesnake Jake. The snake will rattle, and if he strikes on their turn, kids will have to turn half of their gold nuggets over to the sneaky serpent. Burping Bobby is a hippo that loves stinky food. Kids can feed Bobby but they’ll never know when lights and real steam will burst from his mouth with a burp. In Dino Crunch, kids will roll the die to choose which stolen egg to rescue from a hungry T.rex that just may leap out to grab the egg to satisfy his extraordinary hunger. SuperThings expands with a new series of heroes and villains designed for kids ages 5 and up. More than 80 characters, eight SuperCars, and eight Hideouts are available in blind bags and multipacks for kids to collect. Players ages 8 and up will race to scribble 20 words in 20 seconds in Speedy Scribbles. As players are reading, others will race to sketch an image to remember each word later. The player with the most points wins the game.
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AMIGO GAMES Playin’ Possum, from Amigo Games, is a party game in which 2-10 players try to guess what cards their opponents will play in a race to steal pieces of garbage without getting caught. In this game designed for kids ages 8 and up, players can steal, play it safe, or choose to accuse their friends and family members of being thieves. Bear Down! features a clever gameboard that uses the bottom of the box to create a 3D waterfall. Players slide water tiles into streams, causing tiles to fall over the waterfall — often taking bears and fish with them. The board changes on every turn, as players ages 6 and up race to be the bear that catches the most fish. Designed for players ages 7 and up, None of a Kind is a multiplayer brainteaser in which players race to build rows of cards that don’t match. Based on one of the most-cited psychology experiments, the Stroop Test, this game is designed to strengthen players’ brains. Polar Panic is a speedy, slap-the-match card game that comes in a portable tin. Everyone plays at once as players flip over cards and scan for matches. When a match appears, the players who slap first collect the cards. This game is designed for kids ages 6 and up. Magic Mountain is a cooperative, 3D game in which players ages 4 and up take turns rolling marbles down the tilted gameboard — every playing piece the marbles hit moves forward in a race to get the right pieces down the hill first.
HABA USA With HABA USA’s Little Friends Camper Vacation playset, the Little Friends figures can pack up their camper and head off on a trip. Designed for kids ages 3 and up, the set includes an all-terrain vehicle with a momentum push-and-go motor and a rear bench seat, a camper and a detachable awning, two chairs, a Little Friends boy figure, and other accessories. The Drumfish is a multifunctional instrument. Kids can experiment with different rhythms on the drum or play with the fins. When they swing the fish back and forth, the colorful beads in the Drumfish’s belly will rattle. Designed for kids ages 2 and up, the Drumfish helps to foster kids’ musical understanding. Miyabi is a multilayered growing game in which players need careful planning and watchful eyes to tend to their Japanese gardens. By skillfully placing stones, bushes, trees, ponds, and pagodas, players ages 8 and up compete to become the best garden designer of the season.
CHANNEL CRAFT This year, Channel Craft will reintroduce its Triazzles puzzles with new and updated challenges. Puzzlers can remove the triangular pieces from the gameboard and mix them up, then replace all the pieces so that each picture matches. Interpretive text about each subject is included on the back. Triazzles are available in different themes, including Dynamic Dolphins, Poison Arrow, Frogs Tidepool, Treasures Vital, and Pollinators. The Triazzle Magnetic Travel Puzzles line includes nine magnetic pieces that are kept in a bi-fold booklet with interpretive text that puzzlers can take on the go. Triazzle Magnetic Travel Puzzles are available in themes such as Remarkable Reptiles, Woodland Wildlife, Rainbow Sea, and Beautiful Bugs.
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FIVE K Five K’s Fischertechnik Funny Machines is a construction kit designed for kids ages 7 and up to build their own chain reaction model. When the weight falls on the plate, it sends the ball rolling until it hits the Fischertechnik building block, triggering a domino effect that makes the catapult launch, and so on. Kids can even add their own creative reactions into the model to see if they can make their unique builds work. Designed for kids ages 8 and up, the Fischertechnik Hanging Tower Dynamic is a hanging marble run that — with the help of an innovative vacuum pad — kids can attach to a cupboard or shelf, leaving behind no residue. Kids can race two balls down in two different directions at high speed, past several curves, through a funnel, and more. The balls are transported back up again thanks to the elevator. Kids can decorate it with noctilucent stickers, including arrows, lightning, and more. Eitech Crawler Crane is a steel, STEM-based building kit that helps kids ages 10 and up to develop 3D thinking skills and build crane machines. They will learn different mechanical functions by building each model. Trefl Neon City is a 1,000-piece puzzle that features an iconic image of New York City. Trefl features environmentally friendly, thick cardboard and a special non-reflective layer for a high-quality experience. With Teifoc Knights Castle, kids can build a castle with real, reusable miniature terracotta bricks. The set includes a small trowel, a mixing bowl, and Teifoc mortar, which is made of corn-based extract. When they’re ready to redesign, kids can soak the structure in water, allow the bricks dry, and start again.
With more than 530 activities to make, create, discover, and do, The Highlights Book of Things to Do inspires kids ages 7 and up to become active creators. Its 12 chapters are organized by interests and materials and begin with things to do inside and outside, and move on to science experiments, paper projects, drawing and writing activities, and more. The last chapter, “Do Great Things,” will help kids navigate through tough issues. The 2021 Almanac of Fun has 288 pages of puzzles, activities, jokes, crafts, quizzes, recipes, facts, and more for kids to enjoy all year long. The interactive, annual book features new content and favorite features from Highlights magazine. Kids ages 6 and up can puzzle their way through each month of the year, while celebrating traditional and wacky holidays, historical anniversaries, world events, and everything in between. With social-emotional learning more important now than ever, the Highlights Kindness books help to spark conversations about what it means to be kind. These books will teach kids ages 2-5 about empathy, compassion, and gratitude. Titles include ABCs of Kindness and Kindness Counts 123. Both books feature durable cardstock pages, kid-friendly illustrations, and simple, accessible words. Christmas Hidden Pictures to Highlight is a collection of festive hidden pictures puzzles. Kids ages 6 and up can use the included bright green highlighter to find hundreds of hidden objects and create fluorescent scenes. Highlights’ line of Puzzle Readers will add four new titles: Nick and Nack Build a Birdhouse, Nick and Nack Fly a Kite, Kit and Kaboodle Take the Train, and Kit and Kaboodle Go Camping. The signature Hidden Pictures puzzles provide the backdrop for a scaffolded approach that features progressive story and puzzling levels as kids move up. All of the books are leveled with both Lexile and Fountas & Pinnell Text Level Gradient system.
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ESTES ROCKETS Corvette Class Military Rocket, from Estes Rockets, is an expansion of the Space Corp fleet. Standing more than 2 feet tall from the tip of its extended nose cone to the end of its threaded engine retainer, the Corvette Class features laser-cut, multipiece balsa fins tipped with simulated particle-beam cannons and a large sheet of red, white, and blue insignia water-slide decals. The Estes LEO Space Train features laser-etched fin and wing panels, surface-mounted details, authentic-looking plastic engine nozzles, and colorful water-slide decals. This model rocket launches on a single-stage C6-3 engine, reaching up to 300 feet, and returns to the ground under its own 18-inch parachute. The MAV (Mars Ascent Vehicle) is the first release in Estes’ latest series, Destination Mars. The rocket features a colorful body wrap, a highly detailed nosecone, realistic landing struts, and a large 18-inch parachute. The Estes Sidekick combines two body tubes, two nose cones, two engine mounts, and two sets of laser-cut balsa fins in one model rocket. A clustered engine launch propels the rocket to 700 feet or more under the combined thrust of two Estes B6-4 engines. The Sidekick’s recovery features twin 36-inch mylar streamers. The Estes Illusion is a red, black, and grey rocket that soars to altitudes up to 1,125 feet and then ejects a colorful 12-inch parachute to return to the ground. The 19-inch rocket features swept-back fins and a jet-fighter style nose cone.
The Motor Mechanic set from PlanToys features a steering wheel, a gearshift, a turnable car key, a hood lift support, a screw jack, and more. Kids ages 3 and up can change the tires, pretend to drive, and Motor Mechanic keep all of the tools in a front storage space. Kids ages 3 and up can explore the world around them with the role-play Detective Set. It includes a pair of eyeglasses, a walkie-talkie, an interactive newspaper, a red lens, a periscope, and a detective bag. Kids of any age can save money and learn math skills with the Elephant Bank. To put money in the bank, kids place a coin into a slot and raise the elephant’s head to let the coin drop in. The Creative Peg Board comes with 50 colorful pegs in two different sizes, which kids ages 3 and up can arrange on the board by following one of the six included scenes or they can create their own design. PlanToys’ PlanWorld Animal Figures are colorful, wooden play figures available as a variety of creatures, including dinosaurs, sea creatures, wild animals, and farm animals. The figures are designed for kids ages 1 and up.
Kids can use the Blue Flynoculars from iPlay, iLearn for a better view while birdwatching, at sporting events, or playing outside. These working, aviator-themed binoculars feature a plane with a propeller fan. They also come with a sticker pack and a lanyard. The Mega Take-A-Part Robot Truck is made up of more than 80 pieces that kids can take apart and build into either a robot or a truck. The set includes all the pieces and tools kids need to build the toy into either form. Both iPlay, iLearn products are designed for kids ages 3 and up.
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MARY MEYER Mary Meyer introduces Mary Meyer Baby Einstein First Discoveries, a line of toys for babies of all ages, inspired by Baby Einstein characters and created with specialty retailers in mind. Each toy features a special hangtag that that highlights suggested play activities. The line includes a Baby Einstein Neptune Puppet Pal, a 6-inch, adult-sized puppet that features crinkle sounds in the fabric tabs and a variety of textures and colors. The Baby Einstein Zen Peekaboo Blanket is a 13inch square blanket with a fabric ball attached on one side and a plush Zen character attached on the other side. The blanket does not make any noise. Babies can stay engaged with the Baby Einstein Tinker Squeezer Teether, which clips to strollers and features crinkle sounds, a squeezy squeaker, and a silicone teether for chewing. The Baby Einstein Cal Chime Ball is a 6-inch ball with chime and crinkle sounds to stimulate babies. It features a variety of textures and colors and a soft handle. Finally, the Baby Einstein Cal Baby Mat features Cal’s plush head and three fabric tabs that rattle, squeak, and crinkle.
Baby Einstein Zen Peekaboo Blanket
Marmals is a new line of modular vinyl figures designed for kids ages 8 and up. The figures serve as fidget toys that promote sensory awareness, tactile and audible stimulation, and concentration. Kids can use their imagination when playing with the intentionally blank figures, as they design, swap parts, dress up, and pose the Marmals.
The Ollyball weighs less than an ounce and absorbs shock with patented KrunchCOR construction, making it safe to play with inside. Kids can color the Ollyball’s outer shell with markers and crayons. The Ollyball Girl POWer is an Ollyball with inspiring messages on its outer shell that kids can color using markers or crayons. The ball’s improved bladder also holds air longer. Ollyball’s VICTURY V1 Soccer Training Ball features two-piece KrunchCOR and a shock-absorbing internal bladder, so kids can play soccer inside without breaking windows or marking walls. The ball also comes with a video training system led by John Burke and milestone achievements printed directly on the surface.
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PANDA MONY TOY BRANDS Panda Mony Toy Brands’ Alter Nation line includes figures of six original human-animal hybrid characters — Daart, Sham, El Ray, Albert VII, Quillroy, and Sabatoge — who are dedicated to protecting humanity. There are two additional character figures coming soon: Bomber (a hybrid of multiple bugs) and Alpha (the most powerful human-animal hybrid). In addition to the toy line, Alter Nation is in development as an animated web series and a graphic novel series.
MAPLE LANDMARK Maple Landmark’s Stack Like An Egyptian is a building set that includes 25 interlocking and stackable pieces. Kids ages 5 and up can use the pieces to construct a pyramid, the Sphinx, or their own creations. The character figures are 4 inches tall, and all other pieces are 1-inch squares. The company will also expand its NameTrains line with four new bridges designed to use with wooden NameTrains sets. Each bridge is equivalent to a 12-inch piece of track and features engraved train tracks. The bridges, modeled after real bridges around the world, include the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Bow Bridge (located in Central Park), the Pont-Du-Gard Aqueduct built by the ancient Romans, and the Ravenel Bridge from Charleston, South Carolina. All NameTrain products are designed for kids ages 3 and up.
Stack Like an Egyptian
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YOTTOY Yottoy introduces three new plush toys inspired by Richard Scarry characters, each of which comes in a plush car with working wooden wheels and clear, plastic headlights. The designs include Huckle Cat in Blue Car, Lowly Worm in Red Apple Car, and Bananas Gorilla in Yellow Banana Car. The Classic Paddington 8.5-inch Seated Bear Soft Toy is a plush bear inspired by Peggy Fortnum’s original Paddington illustrations. It features a flocked nose, an embroidered smile, and a “please look after this bear” tag. The plush bear is wearing Paddington’s signature blue fleece coat and red felt hat. Kids can create their own stories with the Mo Willems’ Pigeon and Duckling Finger Puppets. These puppets are handmade of sewn tricot with screen-printed eyes, felt wings, and beaks. When kids turn the crank on the Little Blue Truck Jack-inthe-Box, they will hear “Pop Goes the Weasel” until a plush toad pops out. The tin box is decorated with Jill McElmurry’s illustrations of Little Blue Truck traveling down a muddy country road.
Little Blue Truck Jack-in-the-Box
SD TOYZ With R/C Knuckle-Headz from SD Toyz, kids battle the R/C vehicles against each other, trying to pop off the opponent’s head. The vehicles feature hairpin turn, drifting, and multidirectional speed capabilities. Triggering the front bumper button will send the character’s head flying up to a foot in the air. The characters include Crisp the dragon, Shred the knight, Clawd the Lion, and Smash the rhino.
RUBIE’S COSTUME CO. The Imagine by Rubie’s Wonder Woman Child Dress-up Set from Rubie’s Costume Co. includes a red and blue, gold-trimmed tutu dress featuring the iconic Wonder Woman logo. Young superheroes-in-training can complete their Wonder Woman look with the included belt, cape, and handbag.
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Calling All Retailers! Every year, the Toy Insider’s Sweet Suite event brings together toy manufacturers, press, and influencers for the biggest night of play. This year, the event is going virtual, AND we have another major announcement: YOU’RE invited! On July 23, the first EVER Sweet Suite @ Home: Retailer Day will bring all the excitement of Sweet Suite to retail store owners, buyers, and distributors.
• Explore the virtual show floor. • Enjoy live face-to-face video chat toy demos with 50+ toy manufacturers. • Engage with the biggest toy and entertainment brands in the world, PLUS meet new, independent toy companies for the first time. • Check out hundreds of brand new toys, including first-time toy reveals. • Attend a toy trends presentation. • Stock your shelves for Q4! Don’t miss the chance to see the latest and greatest toys that will hit store shelves this holiday season! Interested in attending? Email James Zahn: firstname.lastname@example.org Interested in being a sponsor? Email Jackie Breyer: email@example.com
Sponsored by: The Toy Book
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An experiential toy store brings summer camp dreams to life. by JACKIE CUCCO, senior editor WHAT COMES TO MIND WHEN YOU think of summer camp? Dunking marshmallow-pierced twigs into a crackling bonfire? Peeling sticky glue from your fingers after an arts-and-crafts session? The smell of pine trees and dusty, sunbaked trails? The scenes may vary from one person to another, but this is universal: Camp is about discovery and play. And that’s the best way to describe Camp toy stores. Camp is a family experience store that features a rotating menagerie of summer camp-themed decor that blends product and play. The Fifth Avenue Camp location cemented itself as the flagship store when it opened in December 2018, and the brand quickly expanded into five locations, including three stores in New York City and two more in Dallas and South Norwalk, Connecticut. The front of each store masquerades as a small-town general store, featuring merchandise for the whole family: clothing, backpacks, gifts, candles, and more. There is also a canteen with a coffee bar that serves ice cream from Ample Hills Creamery or Momofuku Milk Bar. Ample Hills even created a Camp-exclusive ice cream flavor called “S’mores Sprinkles, Please.” Visitors might not realize that this charming, full-service boutique is actually a toy store — until they find the magic door. “The canteen is what creates that magical moment, like a speakeasy, where you find the magic door that will open. From there, you will enter what we refer to as ‘the experience,’ which is the interactive play space part of the store,” says Camp’s Chief Marketing Officer Tiffany Markofsky. All of the Camp stores, with the exception of the Hudson Yards location in New York City, have a magic door. You’d never know that behind the
unassuming wooden wall — the one at the Fifth Avenue location is shelved with big jars of classic candy and knickknacks, such as Pop Rocks and bouncy balls — is a camp-themed hideaway bursting with toys. The design themes of each store rotates every season, completely changing the decor and activations to feature different types of camps, such as Basecamp, Toy Lab Camp, Travel Camp, and Cooking Camp. All of the stores launch with the Basecamp theme, based on a New England summer camp, which is how Markofsky and founders Ben and Nikki Kaufman conceptualized the idea. “The group of us who founded Camp, we had the privilege of going to camp when we were kids,” Markofsky says. “Camp means a lot of things to a lot of different people. In our case, we were in a New England summer camp and we thought, ‘When was the time in your life when you felt most free, made new friends, discovered
new things, and it was all about play?’ That was at camp.” The team also discussed how there is a different type of camp for every interest, such as nature, science, sports, and the arts. “We had this idea that we would move these themed experiences from store to store so that there would be all different types of camps in the future,” Markofsky says. The store layouts feature themed rooms where customers can find handson activities and corresponding toys. “The way we arrange our merchandise is connected to the experience that you are in,” Markofsky says. “It’s much more about discovery and combining ideas rather than just products on shelves.” If you’re in the sports field at Basecamp, you’ll find footballs, soccer balls, sports books, and other athletic toys. If you’re in the radio lab at Basecamp, you’ll find magic toys and coding toys. If you’re in the garden of Cooking Camp, you’ll find toys featuring gardening, bugs, and
This room at the Fifth Avenue location is designed to look like a cabin.
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poop. If you’re next to one of the cabins, you’ll find pajamas, slippers, night lights, tea lights, and colorful pillows that you’ll want to reach out and touch.” Iscream makes some of the playful throw pillows and backpacks found in the stores, including a reversible-sequin unicorn pillow and a see-through backpack with rainbow pompoms. “Camp has a unique way of merchandising product. By creating environments for the products, it makes the experience whimsical and fun for the shoppers,” says Iscream Vice President Jennifer Mines Kamen. She believes that retailers can move products faster when they get creative with merchandising because it attracts consumers who were not necessarily looking for that type of item when they first entered the store. All of Camp’s nooks and crannies encourage visitors to meander and explore, discovering new products along the way. Kids can dress up in fairy wings, superhero capes, and feathered boas that are stored in an open chest. Plus, they can race scooters around a circular track or throw themselves into a foam pit. There are also demo areas where kids can sit at tables to test out games or get down on the carpeted floor to play with an oversized dollhouse, such as the luxe four-story Bianca City Life Dollhouse from KidKraft. “The fun, interactive nature of Camp stores provides parents and kids the chance to play with KidKraft products before buying,” says Susan Russo, vice president of product and brand marketing at KidKraft. “The ability for parents to see our product fully assembled and [to see] how kids’ imaginations are inspired helps to drive the purchase decision.” The team at Camp wants to bring joy back into the toy-shopping experience by creating a space where families can do more than just shell out cash. “It’s about testing toys and playing with toys. We are always demoing products in our store. It’s really a big part of the Camp experience,” Markofsky says. There are activities built around the products so that kids can interact with the toys and the books in a personal way. The daily activities range from arts and crafts to on-stage performances that would look right at home at a camp talent show. Kids can tie-dye T-shirts, make DIY lightsabers, listen to story time, or sing nursery rhymes with Counselor Dan the
At Camp, kids can participate in store activities, such as arts-and-crafts sessions.
Melody Man. Some activities are free, while others require either a ticket or the purchase of select supplies. Families can take advantage of Camp’s Date Night Pajama Party and Shop and Drop programs that allow parents to drop off their kids in store. They can participate in supervised activities while the parents go shopping or enjoy a date night on their own for a few hours. Camp also teams up with different brands to create in-store activations, such as its Dolittle partnership with Universal earlier this year. The Hudson Yards location held a kick-off event with an animal balloon artist, Dolittle-themed cupcakes, and an activity session teaching kids to make paper-bag puppets of some of the animals that were featured in the film. Prior to a temporary store closure due to the COVID-19 quarantine, the Connecticut location had an activation with Visit Florida that blended seamlessly into the store’s Travel Camp theme. An entire section of the store was dedicated to the Florida tourism board, featuring goggles, pool toys, manatee toys, and books about the Kennedy Space Center and outer space. There were physical activations during which kids could take photos with a Kennedy Space Center cutout or sit inside a glass-bottomed boat on top of a digital display of Florida’s Crystal River. That location also ran Visit Florida-sponsored activities, including writing kitschy Florida postcards and making glow-in-the-dark galactic goo slime.
Even the Camp website makes the shopping experience enticing for potential shoppers, with playful product descriptions and an interactive section in which visitors can click around to virtually “play” with the toys. For example, shoppers can dissect an alien by clicking and sliding the mouse over Moose Toys’ Treasure X Aliens, or choose their own adventure with Spin Master’s Juno My Baby Elephant by clicking different buttons to pet her trunk or feed her a peanut. Consumers can then purchase those products after digitally playing with them. It’s a clever marketing strategy to get consumers engaged and more invested in the merchandise before buying it. With so many big-name toy stores shutting down in recent years, it’s a risky move to open up a handful of new brickand-mortar stores, but Camp is plowing ahead with its playground of toys that bring a whole new meaning to summer camps. The brand’s mission of discovery and play appeals to even the pickiest of kids, and when you’re selling a dream of adventure, all customers will turn into happy campers. » Jackie Cucco is a senior editor at Adventure Media & Events. She writes for the Toy Book, the Toy Insider, and the Pop Insider, and runs all things Instagram. When she’s not watching slime videos, you can find her playing paparazzi for her pet bunny Peepers (@thebigpeep on Instagram).
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Ricky Rescue to the
eOne’s latest brand zooms into the preschool market. by MIRANDA SIWAK, contributing editor YOUNG RESCUE MOTORCYCLE RICKY Zoom has driven onto the TV scene and captivated preschoolers’ attention. Developed by Entertainment One (eOne), the animated Ricky Zoom series debuted last fall, introducing kids to the red bike, his two-wheeled friends, and the animated town of Wheelford. “It’s the first preschool show based on motorcycles,” says Joan Grasso, senior vice president of North American licensing at eOne. “I think some of the themes and the backstory of the show are really different in that it’s really about Ricky and his friends working together to overcome whatever challenge comes up in an episode.”
On the brightly colored Nick Jr. series, the little rescue bike lives in a town made only for vehicles. Ricky and his friends Loop, Scootio, and DJ go on adventures around Wheelford, often guided by their close-knit community, as they learn to stand on their own two wheels. Ricky Zoom promotes friendship, teamwork, and imaginative play — chock full of stunts, fast-moving bikes, and inventive rescues — Grasso explains. Initially, the show was inspired by show creator Alexander Bar’s own kids, who excitedly watched motorbikes during a traffic jam in London. The animated series features a cast of unique characters that families can connect with on an emotional level, according to Grasso. “I think it really makes for more interesting storytelling,” Grasso says. “If everyone’s the same and they don’t have individual personalities, I don’t think it’s going to resonate as well with kids. They probably will identify with one specific character that they feel has a similar personality to themselves.” A ZOOMING GLOBAL DEBUT Before Ricky Zoom debuted on the streets stateside, the rescue bike took the global market by storm, premiering abroad last summer and resonating with an international market
Ricky Zoom Core Racers assortment from TOMY
prior to its U.S. release in the fall, where Nickelodeon reported it as the No. 5 preschool show with boys ages 2-5 and among the top 10 preschool shows with kids ages 2-5. Fans have turned out in droves to watch and experience Ricky Zoom through on-air broadcasts, YouTube videos, and social media posts. The show has gained popularity thanks to its engaging storytelling and the aspirational challenges that each bike overcomes. In each episode, Ricky and his friends work to overcome obstacles, which is what is so endearing and appealing to preschoolers, according to Julie Christopher, senior vice president of marketing at eOne. “I think [the show’s] really immersive in that bike world, and even going into Ricky’s home, you can see how the home is really for bikes, and not for humans with two legs; the whole world is bike-focused,” Christopher says. “I think that’s the magic of the show: ... It makes a lot of sense to the kids that are watching. I don’t know if they even notice that Ricky is not their friend, but they don’t think of him as a bike, they think of him as Ricky. I think it’s that nice connection that they’re getting with something that would normally be an inanimate object that has become a character and a friend to them.” According to Grasso, the brand has leveraged kids’ interest in the show’s storytelling and animation to create a range of licensed merchandise, debuting this spring. “The rich storylines and the stunning CGI animation translate exceptionally well to a broad consumer products
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In Ricky Zoom, Ricky and his friends DJ, Loop, and Scootio explore the town of Wheelford and go on exciting rescue missions.
program, starting with the characters themselves, [which] also happen to be motorbikes; the town of Wheelford; and all of the places that Ricky and his friends visit throughout their adventures,” Grasso says. RACING TOWARD LICENSING Kicking off eOne’s licensing program, TOMY has signed on as the master toy partner to develop a line of vehicle figures and playsets based on the show. The toy range was designed to capture the show’s key characters, themes, and environments. The first collection hit store shelves in March with a dedicated feature space inside Walmart stores and an additional display by the front entrance. Subsequent lines are currently in development and slated for release in the coming years. The first iteration of the product assortment will focus on core themes and characters from the show’s first season. The toy line incorporates original, interactive features, and future ranges will dive into other characters and Wheelford locations, as well as further explore each bike’s personality. “The idea is really to transport pre-
schoolers to the wonderful world of Ricky Zoom and provide toys that directly resonate with the essence of the show and what our audience is currently familiar with,” says Morgan Weyl, TOMY’s senior director of global toys. “The show is very unique, and we must ensure that the same uniqueness is driven in our line.” Using the bike characters as inspiration, TOMY created figures that double as drivable vehicles. Many of the toys feature a push-up button, which provides more interaction with the figures during playtime. “It’s really all about the bikes and the world,” Grasso says. “So [the goal was] creating a product line that looks physically as amazing as it does on the show, [with] a focus on the bikes. I think one of the great things that TOMY was able to figure out was that this [line] is for preschoolers, and the bikes will easily stand up.” eOne is currently in negotiations to expand the show’s licensees across publishing, games, crafts, apparel, sleepwear, party supplies, home goods, and accessories — all set to launch next year. The company has already signed deals with Scholastic to launch new books
inspired by Ricky Zoom. In addition, Bentex Group and its affiliates H.I.S. International and Dreamwave will soon develop new apparel collections based on the red rescue bike. While details and plans are still in early developmental phases, Grasso notes additional character figures and merchandise will roll out next year. PAGING RICKY ZOOM With the Ricky Zoom: Welcome to Wheelford mobile app, kids can get to know the characters from the show. The free app has had more than 7.5 million downloads since it launched in conjunction with the show’s broadcast debut, Grasso says. Kids can meet the bikes, test out their gadgets, and explore the town of Wheelford — all from a mobile device. Moving forward, eOne plans to air new episodes of the series with special themes and stories. The series was recently renewed for a second season, which will debut this November. One thing’s for sure: This little motorcycle is off to the races and is ready to take over the tracks. »
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Toymakers are turning the tables on licensing to build their own IP. by JAMES ZAHN, senior editor LICENSING IS A CHANGING BUSIness, and it’s not just about chasing the hottest brand or the flavor of the moment. In fact, many toymakers are turning the tables on the licensing game as they work to develop their own intellectual properties (IP) in house, creating new brands that get licensed outward. And while some take that approach, others are mining the corporate archives to revive dormant brands and legacy products or even forge new partnerships that celebrate milestones. Of course, this is hardly a new idea, but in a cyclical industry, many are tired of paying out when they could just as easily be cashing in on their own. The motivation grows as royalty rates continue to climb and exposure to risk from properties that are aging or unproven becomes a major factor.
“We’ve noticed companies trying to create their own brands for a few years now,” says Patti Becker, CEO and founder of Becker Associates, which, alongside Anjar Co., has licensed more than 900 properties worldwide accounting for more than $2 billion in retail sales. “By creating and investing in their own IP, companies grow their brands, and their company value grows simultaneously.”
SEARCHING FOR NEWNESS The new properties of today have the potential to be the biggest brands and licensing hits of tomorrow. “If they do it right, [companies] can create a stable of revenue-generating IP that nobody can take away,” says Adam Levine of Alvin Brand Services. Levine, who previously served as head of outbound licensing for The Topps Co. and spent time at Marvel Entertainment and NECA, believes that the toy industry should be looking to itself for the future. “The industry needs a constant infusion of fresh, new brands to invigorate the landscape and prevent stagnation,” he says. In terms of recent success, look no further than to what MGA EntertainPlaymobil’s Novelmore is a new original IP with a companion ment has built with animated series and licensed its Toy of the Year products including apparel. (TOTY)-winning L.O.L.
Surprise! line. While the California-based company produces its dolls and accessories in house, the brand is now ubiquitous with other toymakers licensing it for every category imaginable, from craft kits (Horizon Group USA) and board games (Cardinal Games) to smart watches (iTime) and even a branded version of Monopoly (Hasbro). Later this year, Super Impulse will issue an L.O.L. Surprise! Tilt handheld electronic game. “The thing I love about the toy industry is that companies can be built on the back of a single hit toy line,” says Michael Goodman, founder of the MLGPC Licensing Agency, which has licensed IP to Spin Master, Funko, Super7, and others. “More specifically, I think the low cost of creating, manufacturing, and ultimately marketing a new toy line is what’s motivating smaller toy companies to launch their own IP. The truth of the matter is that the cost to create and market a new toy IP has never been so low.” While development costs might be down, the odds of finding success are still pretty low, as each year brings dozens of new brands that fail to connect with an audience and quickly fade into obscurity. PROVEN WINNERS Because success can be a crapshoot, there is a growing tendency to look for a sure thing, and that’s just one of the reasons why “retro” is so hot right now. “It’s very difficult to create successful products and brands, and that’s why many toy companies are relaunching proven classics,” Becker says. Last year, Anjar and Becker Associates brokered a deal for Fat Brain Toy Co. to relaunch
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Timber Tots by Klorofil in the U.S. Previously marketed by Kenner back in 1976, Timber Tots is a property owned by Vulli, best known as the maker of Sophie la Girafe. “This type of distribution deal minimizes the risk and provides a very successful approach, especially for companies that want a turn-key solution and don’t necessarily want to invest in tooling or develop[ing] media,” Becker says. Mining the archives for dormant or under-utilized IP has been a successful strategy for companies, like Hasbro, which has two big legacy brands relaunching this year in the hands of other toymakers: Tonka and Micro Machines. Tonka wasn’t dormant, but it hadn’t had a proper push in years, partially because Hasbro wasn’t entirely sure if it wanted to keep licensing it or sell the brand outright. When an old licensing agreement with Funrise expired, Basic Fun! swooped in to secure the rights for a full-scale relaunch. Likewise, Micro Machines hadn’t been properly exploited in decades, and Wicked Cool Toys, a Jazwares company, is returning the brand to its roots with a new collection of vehicles and playsets slated to hit retailers this fall. Hasbro is also relaunching its G.I. Joe brand this year, and while it will produce a core line of 6-inch action figures in house, it has developed a robust, outbound licensing program. Jada Toys, Jazwares, and Super Impulse are just a few of the companies that will be debuting G.I. Joe products in the months ahead. DORMANT CLASSICS AND BIG MILESTONES At Topps, Levine looked at Garbage Pail Kids (GPK) as an opportunity to create new revenue streams from a brand that the company owned but hadn’t fully utilized in years. “If a brand has been largely absent from the public eye for decades, there’s the challenge of making it relevant again,” he says. “I used the 30th anniversary of Garbage Pail Kids in 2015 to attract a core group of licensees that included Funko, generating products that brought modern audiences back to the brand in a big way. Now, you see Topps co-branding [GPK] with WWE, creating
retail initiatives at FYE, and launching a line of books from author R.L. Stine.” One of Levine’s latest projects brought the classic, 1960s Topps property Mars Attacks to independent trading card maker Sidekick Lab. Mars Attacks: Uprising became a successful Kickstarter project, raising more than $169,000 against a $25,000 goal. Similarly, Becker has seen an uptick in demand for her company’s Anjar Classics line of toys and games, including Fireball Island: Curse of Vul-Kar, which Restoration Games licensed and relaunched via Kickstarter. The game raised a record $2.8 million against a $250,000 goal. Other Anjar properties that have since been relaunched include Pocket Games by TCG Toys (formerly sold globally as Shirt Pocket Games), Tumball by Megableu (previously sold by Ideal Toys as Breaking Point), and the Rock ‘n Roller Piano by Fat Brain (previously marketed as the Roller Piano by Fisher-Price). “In some cases, these brands can be launched within weeks,” she says.
The thing I love about the toy industry is that companies can be built on the back of a single hit toy line. Becker and Anjar recently launched a new outbound licensing program for Vulli’s Sophie la Girafe, which aims to have products based on the famous teething toy available across all categories in time for the brand’s 60th anniversary next year. Other brands entering into licensing collaborations tied to anniversaries include Rubik’s and Etch-A-Sketch. CAUTIOUS OPTIMISM Over the past five years, major licenses that have been traditionally evergreen have shown signs of fatigue and can’t always be trusted to be a hit. “Even a brand like Star Wars is not immune to ups and downs, and in a business predicated on financial agreements that can come and go on licensor whims,
Moose Toys’ Kindi Kids has a full licensing program rolling out this year.
generating in-house IP is a clear effort to diversify [toy companies’] portfolios,” Levine says. And while the licensing world may be reaching a new level of balance between inbound and outbound properties, Goodman cautions that some licensees are getting trigger happy when it comes to licensing new categories from some of the major players. In some cases, that can be a gamble that creates a costly backfire. He says that companies need to give new toy lines a chance to build an audience and be proven at retail before building licensing programs around them. “We’ve been seeing licensees lining up to slap characters from any and every new toy line being released by any and every large toy company onto their products before that toy line has had a chance to prove itself,” Goodman says. “Licensees need to be careful and should not be lulled into a false sense of security just because a toy line is being launched by a large toy company — that alone will not guarantee them success. What happens when the toy line they’ve licensed flops at retail and they’ve already slapped characters from that toy line on the school bags and pencil cases they manufacture? As a licensee of that toy line, they might very well be left holding the bag. Literally: They might have a warehouse full of school bags that they can’t get rid of.”» toybook.com | JUNE 2020 | THE TOY BOOK 81
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TOY ASSOCIATION UPDATE
TOY FAIR EVERYWHERE: DO BUSINESS FROM AFAR
Q&A with Marian Bossard, executive vice president of global events, the Toy Association by KRISTIN MORENCY GOLDMAN, senior communications specialist, The Toy Association Kristin Morency Goldman: What is Toy Fair Everywhere? Why was it created? Marian Bossard: The global pandemic is upending millions of professional and personal lives, leaving so much out of our control. But at The Toy Association (TA), we recognized that there was one thing we could control: an opportunity for us to provide something positive for the global toy and play community at a time when in-person meetings and events may not be possible. Along with our software development partners at Balluun, we had been working on the development of a B2B digital marketplace for the last seven years. As such, we were able to quickly turn our efforts toward an immediate solution for sellers and buyers gearing up for Q4 sales and create Toy Fair Everywhere, a new series of virtual market weeks to help toy businesses connect with their customers, suppliers, and the global play community. The market weeks are scheduled to take place during three designated seven-day periods (July 1319, Aug. 17-23, and Sept. 14-20) and will fill the void left by canceled events and face-to-face meetings that normally occur leading up to the holiday selling season. Despite all the uncertainty, we know that Christmas, birthdays, and other giftgiving holidays are still on the calendar, and the industry needs to adapt and be prepared to deliver toys and games to the families who are counting on them. KMG: How will these virtual toy market weeks complement Toy Fair Dallas and Toy Fair New York? MB: I think it is important to note how fortunate we were to have had a successfully completed Toy Fair New York — we could never have imagined what was about to happen. These market weeks will create a bridge in the space between
New York and Dallas and complement our live events by helping companies regain momentum and provide for business continuity. It is our plan that Toy Fair Everywhere will provide some of the same high-value opportunities, including education, business-building, and order-writing, that occur at Toy Fair Dallas and Toy Fair New York. And we believe it will augment our audience development efforts for the live events by attracting global buyers who may not typically make the trip to either show due to cost or scheduling conflicts.
Despite all the uncertainty ... the industry needs to adapt and be prepared to deliver toys and games to the families who are counting on them." During market weeks, attendees will explore a calendar of daily events, browse exhibitors by category, and book appointments for virtual demos and chats. Further replicating the in-person Toy Fair experiences online, Toy Fair Everywhere will also feature relevant, timely educational sessions and other engaging special events, both live and pre-recorded, that highlight the resiliency, drive, and passion of the global toy community. Leading up to the market weeks, The TA will work with marketplace participants to help them understand and maximize use of the Toy Fair Everywhere platform, guiding them to craft experiences unique to their company. Just as one prepares to participate in any event, setting goals and developing a message is important.
KMG: What is your ultimate goal in offering virtual markets to the global toy and play community? MB: We believe that the need for faceto-face engagement will never disappear and that there will always be the need for the industry to come together, but the fact remains that New York and Dallas are, in total, only seven days of the year. One way we describe our work is to help more members sell more product more often. The only way this will happen is with a digital presence to supplement the in-person meetings. So many companies have struggled with this decision, and unfortunately, this virus and the great global pause has illuminated the need. With Toy Fair Everywhere, brands will have the opportunity to pick up the pace on conversations with their existing customers and reach out to all those prospects gathered at events in the early part of the year. It also provides the opportunity for manufacturers to easily connect with stores looking to fill shelves, notify them of product and shipping availability, and address any shortages that the current business environment may have created. Digital business experiences are a growing necessity that will not simply go away once the pandemic is over. We expect these virtual markets and meetings to remain, even when face-to-face meetings and events reopen in the months to come. We all need to pivot and face the changes in our world. As an association, we are best positioned to provide this opportunity to the industry, and we are working day and night to make it a solution and a success for everyone in the toy space. For information about exhibiting, contact Simon Yung (syung@toyassociation. org) (companies A-M) and Leigh Carleu (firstname.lastname@example.org) (N-Z). »
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ADAPTING AMID THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
Adjusted Growth Expectations for the Toys and Games Industry by KHALED SAMIRAH, research analyst, Euromonitor International WITH THE GLOBAL SPREAD OF COVID-19, the global toy industry has been caught up in a whirlwind of supply chain disruption, retail closures, stay-athome orders, and the economic fallout leading to depressed incomes and consumer confidence. Subsequently, earlier projections for the healthy industry growth in 2020 have been adjusted to reflect shifts in product access and consumer spending. In 2020, the global retail sales of traditional toys are expected to see less than 1% value growth (USD, 2019 fixed exchange rate, real value). On the bright side, a number of categories, such as dolls and accessories, construction toys, and games and puzzles are seeing a rise in demand as they fit well into the need for home entertainment, in view of stay-at-home policies across the affected markets. However, the COVID-driven need for home entertainment also amplified pre-COVID shifts toward digitalization of play and education, leading to a further surge in video games and esports in response to consumer need for socialization. To tap into this need and draw wider audiences, key esports developers and organizers have taken an innovative approach to entertainment beyond gaming and traditional tournaments, as evidenced by the music concerts hosted in Fortnite for artists Travis Scott and Marshmello. In absolute value terms, China, Germany, and the U.S. will remain the largest contributors to global traditional toy sales in 2020, adding $507 million, $99 million, and $59 million in incremental retail sales, respectively. The initial, strong, negative impact of COVID-19 in Q1 of 2020 on China’s demand for traditional toys is expected to be compensated for the recovery of consumer spending, especially during the national holidays. Similarly, seasonality of demand and sales peaks around Christmas are expected to
help the industry late in 2020 in the U.S. and Germany. However, the strength of seasonal sales will be largely dependent on the strength of economic recovery.
Online influencers and social media will remain important channels for drawing the attention of children... LEVERAGING TECHNOLOGY Brands operating in the traditional toys space should continue to adapt innovation, communication, and distribution strategies to respond to digital disruption. COVID-19 shifts in consumer consumption of entertainment, by children and adults, bring such adaptations to the top of the strategic agenda for many in the industry. Online influencers and social media will remain important channels for drawing the attention of children who are increasingly pulled into the digital world from an earlier age, supported by parents’ use of technology and by investment from educational institutions into digital tools. More industry players are positioning themselves as entertainment providers covering all platforms where children and adults play, interact, and consume entertainment. MAXIMIZING BENEFITS OF LICENSING PARTNERSHIPS Licensing that leverages blockbuster releases, streaming content, and the esports phenomenon will remain important to drive sales. Challenged by new content providers and partnerships, established global licensors work to secure consumer interest across a variety
of goods (such as the recent launch of Disney’s The Child toy collection from Hasbro), services, and platforms. At the same time, manufacturers like Funko continue to expand on characters inspired by popular esports franchises like Fortnite, with the latter among the hottest of Funko’s properties in 2019. Additionally, despite the delay in some of the new movie releases in 2020, the toys inspired by these films are going ahead, such as toys featuring Minions: The Rise of Gru characters by Mattel and LEGO. The growing China market will also continue to see demand for licensed products, underpinned by the increasing exposure of preschool and grade schoolaged children to cartoons like My Little Pony and Peppa Pig. Also, encouraged by parents’ desire for high-quality toys and the crackdown on infringement of copyright, Chinese manufacturers are launching more licensed toys. CLOUD GAMING AND CONSOLES With the advent of cloud gaming and its further expansion with the launch of services by Google and Apple in late 2019, the future of consoles has been questioned. However, with a number of challenges to overcome, cloud gaming is not yet expected to disrupt consoles. Globally, consoles will generate an additional $1 billion in incremental retail sales in 2020, to reach $17.1 billion this year. »
Khaled Samirah is a research analyst at Euromonitor International. In his role, Samirah conducts research in the home and technology industries, with a principal focus on the U.S. market. Samirah also provides client support, including strategic insight, to help inform the industry about the latest trends and growth projections.
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STEAM TOYS CAN PREPARE KIDS FOR FUTURE CAREERS
Teaching Vocational Skills Through Play by WENDY SMOLEN, founder, wendysmolen.com STEAM LEARNING CONTINUES TO BE an important educational category for kids. Teaching them the skills they’ll need for success in 21st-century careers has been the mantra (and the packaging label) for several years. Many of the jobs for which we are now preparing Generation Z won’t exist by the time they enter the job market, but many new, undefined jobs will. Regardless of the changing world, there will always be a need for certain types of careers. Dr. Mary Mason, founder of Little Medical School, recognizes this and heads one of several companies that are turning the STEAM toy paradigm inside out by encouraging kids to “play” in a chosen career, experiencing what the field is really about and learning allimportant STEAM skills at the same time. Mason’s mother was a doctor, and she grew up emulating her using her own kid-size white coat and a real stethoscope. Mason went on to major in biomedical engineering before entering medical school. “A lot of STEAM products focus on engineering and coding,” Mason says. “But kids are turned off if
they’re not good at coding.” The goal of Little Medical School is to inspire kids. Healthcare and STEAM concepts are inseparable, but that shouldn’t be intimidating. By approaching STEAM skills in a role-play situation, Mason believes kids can gain a more well-rounded experience and realize that traditional STEAM careers, such as medical professions, are achievable. Little Medical School includes a variety of educational kits to introduce kids to different medical careers, such as pediatrics, veterinary care, and sports medicine. Each kit comes with an assortment of hands-on educational tools that kids can play with to learn the basic skills and lingo needed for these careers. “When we develop our Little Medical School kits, we have educators and board-certified experts write curriculum,” Mason says. “It’s critical that the information is authentic, yet age-appropriate and fun.” REAL-WORLD APPLICATIONS In general, preschool sets have lots of pictures, while products geared toward teens address more sophisticated topics. One of Little Medican School’s best-sellers is a veterinarian kit that comes in two age-appropriate versions. “Most kids love animals,” Mason says. “Examining them, feeding them, or using tweezers to pick off ticks is a lot of fun, but it also teaches them about empathy and how to care for real pets.” Thames & Kosmos addresses the science of medicine from a different perspective with its Cyborg
Hand kit, which challenges kids to build a prosthetic hand and simultaneously learn about hydraulics. “Now more than ever we need a scientifically literate population that trusts and understands scientific findings, as well as creative, passionate, curious kids eager to solve 21st century problems using all the tools at their disposal,” says Ted McGuire, president of Thames & Kosmos. “By giving kids positive and fun experiences with science and engineering at a young age, we can empower them to grow into adults who can make a difference in the world." Medical careers aren’t the only professions that we’re betting will still be around for future generations. Architecture encompasses art and design, as well as math, engineering, sustainability, technology, history, and ecology. Damien Murtagh, the brain behind Arckit, created scale-model architecture building kits that are instructional as well
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as inspirational. “The hands-on building experience combines logic and reasoning with play and imagination,” he says. “Kids gain practical skills while learning what works in given environments.” True to form, the click-and-connect pieces are made with recycled plastic and cardboard. The new Living Series places different-shaped pieces on the coast, mountains, and desert that kids can build, while the new Go Eco kit introduces passive house design. Each piece added to the model brings scale and storytelling into the play, inspiring a well-rounded experience that goes beyond instructional building. Speaking of architecture, LEGO also encourages prescribed and free-form building through its landmark Architecture Skyline Collection, with this year’s offerings adding iconic buildings from Dubai and Tokyo. These sophisticated models for hard-to-please teenagers focus on structure, art, and history. On the other end of the engineering spectrum, LEGO Dots, one of the company’s newest product lines, brings the less-technical builder into the art world using tiny, mo-
saic-like tiles that click onto LEGO bases to create custom jewelry and accessories. Similar to the medical and engineering professions, meteorology isn’t going anywhere, especially as the world grapples with climate change. Kids can make clouds, test for acid rain, measure wind speed, and track weather patterns with SmartLab Toys’ Storm Watcher Weather Lab. Likewise, Green Science’s Weather Station Kit contains a functional wind vane, an anemometer, a thermometer, and a rain gauge. With VTech’s high-definition KidiZoom Creator Cam, which features basic editing capabilities, kids can report on their meteorology findings in front of a green screen. Naturally, the camera isn’t limited to weather reporting. Using technology to record and create personal stories is a favorite activity of the TikTok generation. At the University of Southern California, social media content creation is now considered a future career path, with classes focused on influencer relations being offered in the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Toy manufacturers are also continuing
to freshen up offerings for future chefs. Raddish Cooking Club is a kids’ subscription service that includes recipes, tools, techniques, grocery lists, and table talkers to engage kids ages 4 and up in art, science, and the fun of cooking. On a (literally) smaller scale, kids can bake diminutive pies, cakes, and pizzas using extremely small tools and pans with SmartLab Toys’ Tiny Baking! kit. As they mathematically recalibrate recipes and measurements, kids learn the science behind why cakes rise, why eggs get solid, and why cookies smell so good. By looking at STEAM from a role-play perspective, imagination and innovation can work in tandem. » Wendy Smolen has spent 25 years playing in the toy industry as an editor, writer, and ideator. She co-founded Sandbox Summit, an idea forum focused on the intersection of play, learning, and technology. Currently, she works with publications, companies, and organizations to create playful perspectives that engage kids and families in innovative and impactful ways.
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COMPLIANCE & REGULATIONS
RESPONSIBLE PURCHASING PRACTICES ARE CRITICAL TO RECOVERY
Practical Tips to Help Manage Risks and Source Responsibly During the COVID-19 Crisis by MARK ROBERTSON, senior vice president, ICTI Ethical Toy Program THE COVID-19 OUTBREAK CONTINues to have widespread impacts on companies and supply chains. Many toy brands, retailers, and licensors face unprecedented levels of business disruption, a reduced workforce, and significant financial losses as they struggle to keep their businesses afloat. Toy factories are similarly affected by COVID-19. While travel restrictions have lifted and production capacity returns, the outlook for the remainder of Q2 and the beginning of Q3 looks less certain as factories face a fall in demand, reduced or canceled orders, and delayed payments. As toy companies and their suppliers grapple with business pressures related to the pandemic, toy factory workers also face challenges ranging from non-payment of wages and benefits, excessive working hours, illegal layoffs, or unsafe working conditions. While some of our members have reported positive product sales in categories such as board games, building sets, and arts and crafts as families stay at home, others have seen demand fall away almost completely. At the Ethical Toy Program, our priority — both during the COVID-19 pandemic and in general — is to support our members to manage supply chain risk, protect business continuity, and safeguard factory workers. Manufacturer capacity and capability will be critical enablers of the global recovery. We encourage toy companies everywhere to consider the following Purchasing Practices Recommendations for COVID-19 as we work together to achieve the best possible outcome for the toy industry. • Communicate and collaborate. Good communication with suppliers and customers is key. Consider sharing COVID-19-related business challenges that your company faces with your man-
ufacturers and ask suppliers to also share related business challenges with you. Communicate your strategy for recovery post-COVID-19, discuss your future capacity needs, and share regular forecasts with manufacturers. • Respect commercial agreements. Try to avoid outright order cancellations if possible, and consider placing even minimal orders if you can. This will help support your manufacturers to remain in business and to retain some workforce through the crisis. If you need to change commercial agreements, inform your manufacturers and discuss how this may impact their business. • Work together toward mutually beneficial solutions. Pay orders on time, pay for stock already produced, and be ready to ship wherever possible. Consider a temporary review of manufacturer penalties for not being able to meet contractual obligations. • Consider workers in all purchasing decisions. Meeting a rush of orders as consumer demand returns, coupled with a focus on economic recovery, will bring added pressure and challenges for factories and workforces. Consider the vulnerabilities of frontline workers, including migrant workers, low-income and informal workers, student workers, women, and other at-risk groups. Think about how the workers at factories will be affected, and consider what you can do to reduce any negative impacts. These impacts could include non-payment of wages and benefits, excessive working hours, illegal layoffs, or unsafe working conditions. • Support logistics and suppliers. Parts and materials may have longer lead times than usual, and transportation and shipping services may become stretched as logistics partners respond to demand. Consider opportunities to support your logistics partners to follow responsible business practices, helping them to
ensure that staff members who are under increased pressure to deliver goods receive adequate rest breaks, etc. The Ethical Toy Program offers a wide range of tools, services, and support to help our toy company and manufacturer members maintain ethical standards, support workers, and manage business impacts related to COVID-19. We operate a free, confidential Worker Helpline that is available to support workers employed at toy factories in China. Our Helpline team is trained to address concerns related to COVID-19. Our Recruitment Practices Briefing provides clear guidance and best practices to help factory owners, managers, and supervisors avoid recruitment pitfalls. Our Purchasing Practices Guidelines for COVID-19 offer additional recommendations and resources on how to protect business continuity and safeguard workers during the global pandemic. Further information on these and other resources is available at ethicaltoyprogram.org. The COVID-19 pandemic has left no country, industry, or person unaffected. Actions taken now to support manufacturers to purchase responsibly will provide a foundation for crisis recovery and mutually beneficial partnerships that support business success. Contact us at email@example.com to for help or support, or to discuss joining our program. » Mark Robertson is senior vice president at the ICTI Ethical Toy Program (IETP) and has been with the organization since August 2015. A member of the Leadership Team, he leads on the development of IETP’s worker well-being programs, stakeholder engagement, and global communications. Robertson works closely with IETP’s brand and retailer members, engaging at the senior level to support responsible sourcing strategies and to drive collaboration.
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OUTSIDE THE BOX
ENVISIONING A WORLD WITHOUT PLASTICS
What does toy packaging look like without single-use plastic? by TED MININNI, president and creative director, Design Force Inc. LAST AUGUST, HASBRO announced that it would begin phasing out plastics from new toy and game packaging across its portfolio of brands this year. The goal of the initiative is to eliminate virtually all plastic components — including polybags, elastic bands, shrink wrap, window sheets, and blister packs — from packaging for new products by the end of 2022, according to a statement from the company. Unlike mandates instituted by retailers in the past to reduce the footprint of toy packaging on an industry-wide scale, this move by the toy manufacturer was self-initiated. In a statement released announcing the initiative, Hasbro’s Chairman and CEO Brian Goldner said, “Removing plastic from our packaging is the latest advancement in our more than decade-long journey to create a more sustainable future for our business and our world. We have an experienced, cross-functional team in place to manage the complexity of this undertaking and will look to actively engage employees, customers, and partners as we continue to innovate and drive progress as a leader in sustainability.” When I first learned that Hasbro was heading down this path of its own accord, my first thought was how MGA Entertainment announced new degradable and sustainable packaging for its L.O.L. Surprise! line at Toy Fair New York.
the lack of plastic components — particularly windows and blisters — might impact the company’s brands, both those already at retail and those on the way there. It’s commendable that the company is upping the ante within the toy industry in the fight against plastic pollution, but how will it prevent pilferage at retail and proManufacturers are pledging to utilize more sustainable, eco-friendly options in tect its products packaging, but it remains to be seen how it will affect product lines like Hasbro’s during shipping? Star Wars: The Black Series, which still utilizes window displays. How will the necessary changes in the packaging supply chain affect already been engaged in establishing a packaging cost and — ultimately — prodplastic-free structural design strategy for uct cost? From a design perspective, how a few of the company’s evergreen brands. does the elimination of plastic Rather than approaching this challenge as impact the visual presence if it were a handicap, we chose to view it of the Hasbro brands as an opportunity to further differentiate among competitors? And these brands among competitors, while what about consumer also creating a more intimate connection perception? We know between product and consumer. We that consumers prefer wanted to leverage this notion in a way purchasing products that benefits the consumer while encourthat don’t rely on aging purchase decisions. plastics in packagWith this in mind, here are my ing, but how will thoughts on envisioning a world without they react to the plastics in toy packaging. inevitable changes in the shopping OPEN BOXES AND PLATFORM BOXES experience? WILL PREVAIL Since this initiaLet’s face it: The blister card has been tive began, as one of the preeminent packaging format in the Hasbro’s design resourctoy industry for years. It’s the perfect es, Design Force Inc. has “display case” to present toy products
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to consumers. Action figures and their accessories, for example, can be shown perfectly and prominently in-pack to generate excitement among kids and convey value to parents. As we move away from the blister component, it’s inevitable that other packaging configurations will need to be considered. Whenever the product allows, open boxes and platform boxes will be the formats of choice because they expose the product to consumers. Without the barrier of an acetate window or a blister component, consumers are presented with a more engaging, interactive, and tactile experience with the product. As a result, the “Try Me!” call to action will be taken to a new level and will be incorporated more often. While open and platform boxes typically work well for self-contained products, they’ll need to be reimagined for those toys that contain small parts or loose components that would normally be blistered to the backer card or insert. Also, the space beneath a platform or the hidden area of an open box will need to be engineered to securely contain these parts. IMAGERY WILL DO THE HEAVY WORK In many cases, products that would typically be packaged in window boxes will move to closed boxes or boxes with very small windows to show only a small portion of the product. With less of the product visible prior to purchase, photography and illustration will play bigger roles in both glorifying the product and its play pattern, as well as accurately depicting the contents of the package. With the proliferation of more closed-box scenarios on-shelf, consumers will need to get comfortable with making purchase decisions based solely on imagery. NECESSITY DRIVES INNOVATION The toy industry is no stranger to innovative package structure. Toy aisles at mass retailers are filled with beautifully conceived structural design strategies. Whether to further visually differentiate a brand among competitors within its category, better display a product feature to consumers, or reinforce a product’s play pattern, dynamic structure design always plays a critical role. Due to the challenge of dramatically reducing or eliminating plastics in toy
packaging, package engineers will need to dig deep to come up with new solutions that are both functional and visually distinctive. As a result, we’ll likely see the advent of new structural configurations Mattel’s Fisher-Price Rock-a-Stack packaging is made from 100% recycled or sustainably made of sourced material, while the product is made from sugarcane-based plastics. paperboard and other recyclable packaging subtoy manufacturers not only announced strates. It’s also likely that we’ll eventually initiatives to reduce packaging waste see changes in both footprint and in the or to switch to recyclable materials for manner in which products are displayed their packaging, but also to incorpoby retailers within a particular category. rate recyclable materials into the actual toys. MGA Entertainment (MGAE), for example, has committed to changing the packaging for its line of L.O.L. Surprise! We know that consumers products to make it more environmentally friendly. MGAE will be switching the prefer purchasing bags inside of the package to paper and products that don’t rely will be producing the plastic packaging components using a compound that on plastics in packaging, accelerates decomposition should it end but how will they up in a landfill. Personally, I’m excited by the react to the inevitable example that Hasbro is setting and the changes in the shopping impact that it will have not only on the environment, but also on the presence experience? of the toy industry at retail. As other toy manufacturers head down the same path OTHER MANUFACTURERS WILL of reducing and eliminating plastics in FOLLOW HASBRO’S LEAD packaging, we’ll be influenced by and Hasbro’s move to pioneer such a learn from each other. We’ll establish best dramatic change in its approach to packpractices along the way. We’ll see what aging may have encouraged other toy works and what doesn’t. And we’ll conmanufacturers to commit to environmenstantly seek to improve upon what we’ve tal sustainability with their packaging as done as we continue to innovate. » well. In December, Mattel announced its goal to achieve 100% recycled, recyclaTed Mininni is president and creative director at Design Force ble, or bio-based plastics materials in Inc., a package and licensing proboth its products and packaging by 2030. gram design consultancy to the The company’s first product to meet this consumer product and entertaingoal, the Fisher-Price Rock-a-Stack, will ment industries. The goal of Debe introduced this year. Not only will its sign Force is to establish strong packaging be made from 100% recycled emotional connections with consumers and create or sustainably sourced material, but the powerful visual brand experiences that engage, excite, entertain, inspire, and influence consumers’ product itself will also be made from decision to buy. Mininni can be reached at (856) sugarcane-based plastics. 810-2277. Visit designforceinc.com for Sustainability was an obvious trend more information. at Toy Fair New York this year. Many toybook.com | JUNE 2020 | THE TOY BOOK 89
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compiled by JAMES ZAHN, senior editor The spread of COVID-19 has created a ripple effect of distruption that has impacted all facets of entertainment. Theatrical releases for this spring and summer have been put on hold (Black Widow, Minions: The Rise of Gru) while others (Onward, Trolls World Tour) have come home early on digital. While the dates may have changed, there’s still plenty of new media to keep kids and families entertained.
JOANIE LEEDS ALL THE LADIES With her ninth kids’ album, All the Ladies, Brooklyn-based Joanie Leeds delivers an 11-track collection of folk songs that focuses on female empowerment, gender equality, and breaking glass ceilings in time for the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, which granted women the right to vote. The album takes inspiration from Leeds’ own experience both as a performer and artist, and as a single mother raising a young daughter. The album’s first single, “RGB,” was released in celebration of International Women’s Day and the birthday of its subject, Supreme Court Justice Ruth
Bader Ginsberg. For All the Ladies, Leeds assembled a team that is 99% female from performance to production to publicity, including Grammy-winning producer Lucy Kalantari; mixer Denise Barbarita; and Grammy-winning engineer Emily Lazar, who mastered the album. Special guest performers on the album include Lisa Loeb, Sonia De Los Santos, Lucy Kalantari, Carly Ciarrocchi, Lori Henriques, Polly Hall, Amelia Robinson, Tina Kinney Jones, Suzi Shelton, Edie Carey, Chava Mirel, Kyler England, Vered Benhorin, Nelly Rocha, Caylen Bryant, Libby Weitnauer, Rosa Avila, Lisa Brigantino, and Lisette Santiago. Available Now (Limbostar)
The latest graphic novel from author Shea Fontana (DC Super Hero Girls, Wonder Woman) reimagines the Batman origin story by positing a teenage Bruce Wayne as a budding mechanic who rebuilds his father’s car into what will become the first Batmobile. Illustrated by Marcelo Di Chiara (Teen Titans Go!), the book is a high-octane adventure that incorporates lessons regarding friendship, family, dealing with grief, and more. Available now (DC Comics)
BILLY KELLY: THIS IS A FAMILY SHOW! Grammy-nominee Billy Kelly presents a musical stand-up comedy experience for families. Available now (Audible Originals)
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TROLLS WORLD TOUR ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK The DreamWorks Trolls are back for a new adventure that spans several musical genres, including pop, rock, country, hip-hop, and more. The all-star cast for the film and its soundtrack features Justin Timberlake, Anna Kendrick, James Corden, Icona Pop, Kenan Thompson, Mary J. Blige, George Clinton, SZA, Kelly Clarkson, Rachel Bloom, Dierks Bentley, and more. Available now (RCA)
The dinosaur friends from Cyber Group Studios’ Disney Junior series are heading to game consoles in the first-ever Gigantosaurus video game. Families can play together in cooperative and competitive modes as the dinosaurs embark on a daring quest to escape extinction or hit the track for a round of Dino Racing. Available now for Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Playstation 4, and PC (Outright Games)
FLOR BROMLEY: FIESTA GLOBAL
SONIC THE HEDGEHOG
Peruvian native Flor Bromley’s second bilingual album is a Latin fusion party for kids and families that melds genres from the Western Hemisphere, including Peruvian marinera, Mexican son jarocho, New Orleans jazz, punk rock, Brazilian batucada, Colombian cumbia, and more. The follow-up to 2016’s acclaimed Chiqui Music Boom also includes a fresh take on “La Bamba” performed in its authentic Mexican son jarocho style. Available now
The little blue blur had a bit of a rough go on his way to the movies, with the initial “live-action” (CGI) version of the character going back in for a redesign following the debut of the first trailer last year. The visual overhaul only delayed the movie by three months, but the wait was worth it; the redesign was well-received by audiences, propelling Jeff Fowler’s directorial debut to a more than $300 million take at the global box office. Available now on digital, Blu-ray and DVD (Paramount)
MULAN While the theatrical release of Walt Disney Studios’ Mulan was pushed back thanks to COVID-19, Disney Press, an imprint of the Disney Book Group, released a trio of new books that brings the adventure home for young readers A Place for Mulan by Marie Chow is a stylized picture book illustrated by Jasper Shaw. Designed for readers ages 5-8, the book tells an all-new story based on the world and characters from the live-action Mulan film. For readers ages 8-12, author Elizabeth Rudnick (Thor’s Revenge, Olaf & Sven On Thin Ice) adapts and expands the story of the film from the screenplay by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Lauren Hynek, and Elizabeth Martin for the Mulan: Live Action Novelization. The 282-page paperback includes a full-color photo gallery. Mulan: Loyal. Brave. True. is a retelling of the story from the film, as adapted by Carin Davis and the Disney Book Group. Written for younger readers ages 5-8, the book features easy-to-read text and full-color unit photography from the film. All books are available now.
For more Media Mashup content, visit thetoyinsider.com.
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RAISING THE BAR
NAVIGATING TRADEMARK SEARCHES FOR NEW BRANDS How to Perform a Comprehensive Trademark Search for a Toy Brand by JOSH GERBEN, founder and principal, Gerben Law Firm, PLLC BEFORE MANUFACTURERS REGISTER a new toy brand with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), they should perform a comprehensive trademark search to determine if there are any similar trademarks already in use. The best way to do so is to avoid DIY searches and work with an experienced trademark attorney to search for any confusingly similar matches to your toy brand’s trademark. The uniqueness of your toy brand is what will drive customer recognition and loyalty in the future. It may also determine whether your trademark can be registered. Before you invest time and money applying for trademark registration, take the time to complete a trademark search, paying special attention to the topics below.
The uniqueness of your toy brand is what will drive consumer recognition and loyalty in the future. THE REASON FOR A COMPREHENSIVE SEARCH The USPTO will not grant trademark registration to a mark that may be confusingly similar to an existing mark. For this reason, it is imperative that you first perform a comprehensive trademark search of your toy brand. The purpose of the search is to determine if a similar mark exists, which may lead to a likelihood of confusion in the marketplace. As a business owner who has worked hard to create a unique and memorable toy brand, it can be frustrating to learn that a similar mark already exists. However, it is best to learn this before you’ve paid
your fees and submitted your application to the USPTO. If a similar mark is already in use, you can adjust your mark before submitting your application. If you choose to file your application without first performing a thorough trademark search, you may lose time and money refiling your application after a similar mark is found. ONLINE TRADEMARK SEARCHES If you’ve been researching trademarks recently, you’ve likely seen countless advertisements for DIY legal sites that offer very inexpensive trademark searches. You may have also considered doing a simple search for your toy brand’s trademark on a search engine, such as Google. Unfortunately, these low-cost or even free options are simply not advanced enough to detect all possible matches. While these searches seem cost-effective, I don’t recommend using them. Online searches, whether through search engines or legal sites, typically reveal only exact matches to your trademark; however, most trademark disputes don’t arise from exact matches. More often, disputes occur over matches that are not exact but are likely to be confused in the marketplace. Therefore, you should have very little confidence in the outcome of a DIY trademark search. In addition to the online searches available to the general public, the USPTO also offers a search of the trademark database on its site. Its basic “Trademark Electronic Search System” comes with many of the same issues as any other free trademark search that you can conduct online. It will not show all potentially conflicting trademarks. THE BENEFITS OF WORKING WITH AN EXPERIENCED TRADEMARK ATTORNEY While the results of a DIY trademark search may not be the most conclusive,
you do have other options. The software available to trademark attorneys is much more in-depth than what is available to the general public, and a professional trademark attorney knows how to conduct a search that reveals not only exact matches, but also matches similar to your business name, logo, slogan, and even color scheme. Once your trademark attorney has completed a trademark search, you can be confident that you have done everything possible to find potentially conflicting trademarks. If none were found, it is time to move forward and file your trademark with the USPTO. In the event that one or more similar matches have been found, your trademark attorney will work with you to determine the best course of action. Occasionally, this means you may need to go back to the drawing board and create a brandnew mark, but often, only small changes need to be made in order to avoid USPTO rejection. After you’ve created a mark for your toy brand, you may be eager to begin the process to register with the USPTO. Work with an experienced trademark attorney to conduct a comprehensive search, and make changes to your mark as needed. This way, you can move forward to the next step of filing with the USPTO with confidence, knowing your mark is as unique as your toy brand. » Founder and principal of Gerben Law Firm PLLC, Josh Gerben is a trademark attorney whose intellectual property practice has secured more than 4,500 trademarks for clients since 2008. Gerben has been featured in a variety of national news outlets, including FOX News, The Washington Post, and NPR. In 2018, World Trademark Review named him as a Top 10 Trademark Filer in the U.S.
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40 Years of Chasing Ghosts and Gobbling Quarters by JAMES ZAHN, senior editor ON MAY 22, 1980, THE WORLD changed. Engineers from Namco plugged in and powered up the first public iteration of a new arcade game that put players in charge of a mysterious yellow creature with an insatiable appetite for power pellets, fruit, and ghosts. Created by Toru Iwatani, Puck-Man was well-received by test audiences in
BANDAI AMERICA With Pac-Man Tamagotchi, kids ages 8 and up can try to keep their virtual pet alive by nurturing it, similar to other Tamagotchis. This time, PacMan is there to help by saving the virtual pet from ghosts and bugs. Players can also feed their Tamagotchi Pac-Man’s favorite snack: cherries.
Tokyo, and by mid-summer, the coinop game was being played throughout Japan. Executives at Namco, eager to chase potential success in the growing U.S. arcade market, retitled the game Pac-Man — a nod to its working title, Pakkuman — a move Iwatani says was taken in hopes of evading arcade hooligans and vandals who may have had some fun with the original name in the U.S. Namco took its cabinet to the Amusement Machine Operators of America’s annual trade show in November. There, the team showed Pac-Man alongside another maze-based Namco machine, Rally-X, that ran on the same internal hardware. Chicago-based Midway Games snapped up rights to both titles, and by December, Pac-Man was on its way to gobbling up quarters in arcades and bars across the country. Its appeal was widespread and resonated with all ages. “Pac-Man is addictive. Simple to play without complex rules or even specific skills needed, most players — young and old, gamers and non-gamers — can jump right in and understand the objectives,” says Alan Dorfman, president of Super Impulse, the company behind the Tiny Arcade, Micro Arcade, and World’s Smallest toy lines. “The little yellow main
character subconsciously reminds us of a smiley face, so we want him to succeed.” And he was succeeding. By 1982, Pac-Man was a certified global phenomenon, and in the U.S. alone, it was estimated that nearly 30 million players had spent more than $1 billion in quarters on the game. Like Dorfman, Pearl Lai, a brand manager at Bandai Namco America Inc., credits the simplicity of the game with its immediate — and lasting — appeal. “Great gameplay design always keeps players coming back for more,” Lai says. “Pac-Man’s core gameplay design is simple and easy to grasp: Eat all the pellets to clear a stage while running away from those pesky ghosts, or turn the
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tables and go on the attack after eating a power pellet.” Dorfman says that turning the tables on the ghosts — Inky, Blinky, Pinky, and Clyde — is “indescribably satisfying.” The universal appeal of Pac-Man set off a licensing frenzy that launched the game into the realm of a transmedia crossover franchise, including toys, music, an animated series, and a multitude of home games.
PAC-MAN FEVER Jerry Buckner and Gary Garcia were primarily known for cranking out corporate jingles until a dinner outing in Marietta, Georgia, changed their course. After seeing kids plopping quarters into a head-to-head Pac-Man game, the duo got hooked on the game, which inspired a song that coined a national catchphrase: “Pac-Man Fever.”
SUPER IMPULSE Pac-Man is portable with the Tiny Arcade Pac-Man cabinet, Tiny Arcade Tabletop Pac-Man, and Micro Arcade Pac-Man. These miniature, functional arcade games reproduce the original arcade experience with full-color, high-resolution graphics and sound that can fit in a pocket or on a desktop. Later this year, Super Impulse plans to release Pac-Man Tilt, which adds motion control to the experience.
Buckner & Garcia pressed singles on vinyl, which quickly sold out in the local market. The brisk sales and local radio play drew the attention of CBS Records, which inked a deal with the duo for a full album of arcade-inspired tracks. “The real turning point occurred when Entertainment Tonight featured a story on us, and literally overnight, the record exploded,” Buckner says. “Pac-Man Fever” peaked at No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 in March 1982 and sold more than 1.2 million copies by the end of the year. The craze was a genuine phenomenon, and the game went on to become the bestselling arcade cabinet in U.S. history, with more than 400,000 units installed across the country. According to news reports at the time, Midway’s manufacturing facility in Franklin Park, Illinois, was churning out 350 Pac-Man units every day across three different cabinet styles. More than 100 licensees — including Milton Bradley, Fleer, TOMY, Coleco, Tiger Electronics, Ben Cooper, Duncan, Ideal, and Wham-O — were churning out products in every conceivable category. The billion-dollar sales of Pac merch ran the gamut from traditional toys — such as yo-yos, plush, and flying discs — to oddball pieces, including bar soap,
BUFFALO GAMES In Pac-Man The Board Game, 2-5 players ages 10 and up can race around the gameboard as Pac-Man gobbles up pellets to get the high score while the ghosts try to stop him. The gameboard is enhanced with real electronic sounds from the classic arcade game.
The Kipling Hanga (right) can be used as a crossbody or mini-fashion pouch.
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TASTEMAKERS Arcade1Up celebrates the legacy of Pac-Man with this seven-in-one Pac-Man 40th Anniversary Edition Home Arcade Cabinet. The upright cabinet features ‘80s-inspired woodgrain, a 17-inch LCD screen, and a light-up marquee. The featured games include Pac-Man, Pac-Man Plus, Super Pac-Man, Pac&Pal, Pac-Land, Pac-Mania, and Galaga.
air fresheners, and even cigarette lighters. In less than two years on the market, sales of Pac-Man-branded merchandise had also crossed the billion-dollar mark, notably pulling ahead of Lucasfilm’s Star Wars: A New Hope, as reported in the spring 1988 issue of Screen magazine. By year’s end, Midway, now a division of Bally’s, had also churned out several Pac sequels, including Ms. Pac-Man, Pac-Man Plus, Super Pac-Man, and Baby Pac-Man, in an effort to chase the craze from every angle. Unfortunately, the sequels were never fully authorized by Namco and led to an end of the companies’ partnership agreement. Decades later, following Midway’s bankruptcy and liquidation, the rights to those games eventually reverted to Bandai Namco, current owner of all things Pac.
THE PAC-MAN LEGACY This year, a rejuvenated Pac-Man licensing program is bringing the fever
back to retail with new toys, games, and the b-side. consumer products from Basic Fun!, “The iam8bit Japan team has wanted Arcade1Up, Buffalo Games, and more. to collaborate with Bandai Namco on Fashion and lifestyle collaborations from a Pac-Man project for a long time — it Champion, Timex, Kipling, and Bait will was just about finding the perfect fit,” give older fans new ways to express their says iam8bit Co-Founder Jon M. Gibson. Pac fandom. “When a conversation swirled around Super Impulse recently released the big, yellow guy’s 40th anniversary, a Tiny Arcade version of the tabletop everyone got very excited about what a Pac-Man cabinet that inspired “Pac-Man modern musical take on vinyl could look Fever” and will release Pac-Man Tilt later like, and it was an absolute dream to this year. work with the legendary Ken Ishii to make “Since Pac-Man is so iconic, it is imit happen for Record Store Day 2020.” portant that we don’t mess with a winning In many ways, Pac-Man feels fresher formula,” Dorfman says. “[We] keep the than ever, as the industry is in a retro products traditional, accurate, and true entertainment wave that shows no signs to gameplay.” of slowing down. Bandai Namco is calling upon fans “Pac-Man is a universal icon who to “Join the Pac” through a yearlong never wears out his welcome,” Buckner promotional campaign. says. “I liken it to The Beatles of video “We’ve got a ton of activities planned games. It is simplistic, dated, and limited to celebrate Pac-Man’s 40th birthday,” by today’s standards, but it’s fun to play says Bandai Namco’s Lai. Prior to the and still offers a challenge to players. spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pac-Man is an original and will remain company inked a Pac-Man sponsorship relevant for a long time to come. Its histodeal with the San Francisco Giants for the ry is deep-rooted, and there’s just nothing team’s Giant Race Series. Additionally, quite like it out there.” » Bandai Namco had intended to launch some big activations at the since-canceled Comic-Con International: San Diego (SDCC) that are now on hold. Drawing from the past Kids ages 9 and up can create new adfor inspiration, the “Join the ventures with the K’NEX Pac-Man Roller Pac” campaign is anchored Coaster Building Set. The set includes classic by a new theme song from K’NEX rods and connectors, a flexible roller Japanese Techno artist Ken coaster track, and a battery-powered motor Ishii, delivered complete with that drives the Pac-Man-shaped, chain-link a music video from director coaster car. Yuichi Kodama. On the August 29 Record Store Day Drop, iam8bit Japan, in collaboration with United Music and Arts, will release a limited-edition, 7-inch Pac-Man single to independent record stores in the U.S. and the UK. The single will feature “Join the Pac (Official Theme Song for Pac-Man 40th Anniversary: Club Mix)” on the a-side, with “The World of Pac-Man (Theme Song for Pac-Man Challenge: Original Mix)” on
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TOP 10 TV-PROMOTED TOYS
Rank Toy 1. Digimon Figures 2. Bop It Extreme 3. Furby 4. Sit in Style Barbie 5. Power Rangers Figures 6. Pajama Fun Skipper 7. Trick Stik Finger Bikes 8. Gameboy 9. Pokémon Figures 10. LEGO Star Wars
Pogo-Jumping ScoobyDoo from Equity is two toys in one: off the pogo, he says Scooby phrases; on it, he bounces up and down and talks — just like in the new direct-to-video movie Scooby-Doo and the Alien Invaders.
Manufacturer Bandai Parker Bros. Tiger Electronics Mattel Bandai Mattel Jakks Pacific Nintendo Hasbro LEGO
Play Along is appealing to different ages with its dolls, including ones based on V.I.P., Britney Spears, and Sabrina: The Animated Series.
Poo-Chi is a canine who fits in the palm of kids’ hands. Poo-Chi uses advanced, biorhythmic technology to create realistic emotional responses that adapt as kids play. These new palm puppies deliver advanced technology in a variety of colors.
FISHER-PRICE, MICROSOFT TEAM UP FOR PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT Fisher-Price Inc., a subsidiary of Mattel Inc., is working with Microsoft Corp. on the joint development of technology-based infant and preschool toys. The first product from the collaboration is the IntelliTable, an early learning toy for toddlers and preschoolers highlighting computer applications away from the computer.
SONY NAMES JAKKS AS MASTER TOY LICENSEE FOR ‘CHARLIE’S ANGELS’ Underscoring the excitement surrounding one of its top new film properties, Sony Pictures Consumer Products has signed Jakks Pacific Inc. as the master toy licensee for Charlie’s Angels. Based on the anticipated Columbia Pictures feature film to be released in November 2000, Jakks will manufacture a Charlie’s Angels action fashion doll line that reflects the outfits, accessories, play environments, and personalities of the movie’s lead characters played by Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, and Lucy Liu.
MONOPOLY FIRST IN KIDZ KRAZE’S INFLATABLE BOARD GAMES SECTOR With Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles licensing agent Mark Freedman at the helm, Kidz Kraze is about to roll out a full line of inflatable furniture, room decor, and board game products based on top licensed properties. Hasbro has licensed its classic board games Monopoly, Scrabble, Clue, Chutes & Ladders, and Candy Land to be reintroduced to consumers as inflatable board games.
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REACH MILLIONS OF SHOPPERS THIS HOLIDAY SEASON The Toy Insider runs in the November issue of Parents magazine. Parents readers purchased nearly 36 MILLION toys and games in 2019 â€” thatâ€™s nearly $1.3 BILLION worth of products.
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