Outdoor Toys fared astonishingly well during the lockdowns and travel restrictions of 2020, and, coming into 2021, it looks like we may see a repeat performance of that success. Rachael Simpson-Jones looks at the social factors and toy trends driving sales this year and speaks to a selection of outdoor toy specialists about how they’re approaching the category.
W Writing this, it’s the first day in a week that the temperature has been above 2°C, and although it’s nice the snow and ice has finally disappeared, the sheet rain I’m watching through the window is making it hard to imagine summer. Nonetheless, attention is already firmly on the warmer months following the latest lockdown and what has felt like a very (very) long winter. Experts in child development are calling on the government to support a ‘summer of play’ -primarily physical outdoor play - to help kids recover from the stress of lockdown and a year of Covid upheaval. PlayFirstUK, a group of academics, has highlighted increases in children’s mental health problems during the pandemic, as well as loneliness and reduced academic motivation. The group is calling for children to be encouraged and supported to spend time outdoors, playing with other children and being physically active. On top of this, holidaymakers are increasingly being urged to stay in Britain for their break this year by everyone except airlines; trepidation about foreign travel, even if it’s allowed, is also impacting the overseas holiday sector. For the Outdoor Toys category, it’s a recipe for success, and there’s a raft of companies poised to help kids get outdoors, get fit and get happy in a way that supports their interests in a healthy and fun way.
Coming into 2021 on the back of +15% UK growth in 2020, Sports Toys - which includes skates, skateboards and scooters – continues to be one of the strongest sub-categories within the overall Outdoor Toy market. There’s certainly plenty of innovation within this category for this year, with MV Sports, DGL, Hy-Pro, H. Grossman, Razor and more introducing new scooters, both electric and kid-powered, to the market. Wilton Bradley’s electric Xootz scooter range is seeing strong growth, as is its wider ride-on portfolio, as Ross Bradley, sales director, explains: “At the forefront of this charge are our Elements kids’ electric scooters, which have been one of our best-selling products across the group, as well as the award- winning Typhoon Power Drifter, created using in- house tooling and design. Our electric ride-on range has also been a success. This range of exclusive, officially licensed electric ride-on models allow kids to experience the thrill of getting behind the wheel of their very own electric ride-on car. Many of these products have been recognised for their design and innovation, bringing home some of the top awards in the industry.”
Nat Southworth, founder of KAP Toys, is delighted to continue distributing Falk’s JCB push-along and pedal-powered ride-ons. Shipping rate increases, along with current challenges associated with container imports from China, mean Falk’s French manufacturing base offers a real point of difference for KAP. To support Falk’s newly updated JCB Excavator ride-on, as well as its other licensed lines, KAP Toys is working to create a basic level of content for all its lines, which can be further enhanced in conjunction with retailer support. Nat adds: “Significant price pressures due to the additional costs of shipping are making forecasting and retailer planning ever more important. I predict there will be stock shortages of key lines like Falk and I would recommend everyone gets in touch to lock down their requirements.” (No pun intended, we’re sure).
Nat isn’t the only outdoor toy supplier urging
retailers to finalise their orders early. Paul Reader, marketing director at Toymaster, says the group’s members are being told the same thing, especially on the likes of paddling pools; three key Toymaster suppliers have already warned that there will be a shortage of these this year. “Hopefully the weather will be really kind to us in the summer months, and the staycation market will be strong,” comments Paul. “There’s going to be more people staying at home this summer than ever before – have you tried booking a holiday cottage or caravan park recently? Our seaside members are certainly looking forward to the extended business they’re going to see. In terms of product, we always get good support on outdoor from Wilton Bradley and John Adams. I don’t think the outdoor category will be quite as good as it was last year, but that’s because last year really was phenomenal. That said, it’ll be an interesting summer for sure.”
Adam Pearson, key account manager at Geemac, feels the government’s 10-day, £1,750 hotel quarantine programme for inbound travellers from ‘red list’ countries will seriously impact summer travel plans, and has added his voice to the growing ranks of suppliers and retailers urging early ordering. With a broad portfolio of products under its belt, all perfect for families looking to transform their gardens into kid-friendly play spaces for a summer of home fun, Geemac offers UK trampoline brand, Sportspower, as well as swing sets, slides, multiplay sets, wooden FSC-accredited playhouses, outdoor kitchens, sand pits, football goals in PVC or metal and constant-air bouncy play centres. Those seeking a summer dip can also enjoy Summerwaves above ground pools and inflatables, while Geemac continues to develop blow-mould, injection-mould and rotor-mould plastic outdoor toys too – but readers will need to act quickly to secure stock.
Adam tells us: “Lockdown last year taught us the average spend has greatly increased and we are already beating last year’s numbers on a £500 RRP Super Palace playhouse. Our diverse range gives us flexibility and we can supply low MOQs/mixed containers. Big box items mean you need hundreds of pieces to fill containers, not thousands, and we can also supply domestically and with home delivery.”
Mud kitchens have grown in popularity over the past few years, with parents appreciating the creative outdoor play potential they offer. Look out for impressive new options here from MV Sports and Wilton Bradley, among others. Playhouses, meanwhile, remain a perennial favourite of garden play, offering kids a space for entertaining friends, a base from which to stage adventures, or a relaxing escape from siblings and schoolwork. Simba Smoby Toys UK, which offers a quality range of playhouses packed with added fun features, is introducing something a little different for 2021 – the Smoby Teepee, which grows with kids thanks to its smart, evolutive design. A UV-resistant outer and sturdy foundations make this Scandi-style shelter suitable for both outdoor and indoor play, increasing the value for money and play potential, even when our great British summers aren’t so great. Smoby’s innovative toys are rooted in the company’s strong history in the outdoor space, as Martin Whitaker, MD of Simba Smoby Toys UK, explains.
“With a history spanning almost 100 years, Smoby has become a trusted brand among families,” he says. “AquaPlay, meanwhile, was founded 44 years ago. With both ranges, people know that they’re choosing a quality brand that has stood the test of time. With Smoby, we have a vast portfolio of playhouses and cool ride-ons, and with AquaPlay we also cover water play. The products in our Smoby and AquaPlay portfolios offer huge value for money – as well as a huge amount of play value. Many of our toys are designed to be played with for years to come.”
Depending on the rules when lockdown is lifted, it’s very possible that British gardens will be playing host to even more parties and get-togethers than in normal years (remember those?); as a result, retailers may well see increased demand for games and activities. Waboba’s new Voli paddle set is designed to be portable, affordable, accessible and fun – find out more from director of fun Jordan Sullivan in the News section – while Spin Master’s Aerobie flying disc continues to be one of the best on the market. A consistent performer in the outdoor category for decades, David Harms, brand manager, says he hopes Aerobie will “continue to inspire children and adults to keep throwing as far as they can in 2021 and beyond”.
Mookie’s award-winning Swingball is perfect for a spot of competitive tennis, and a favourite among Toymaster members, according to Paul Reader, while Little Kids’ Wicked Big Sports range features oversized versions of backyard classics including volleyball and football. It’s a big year for football; Euro 2021, the Women’s FA Cup final and the Champions League final are all on the calendar, in addition to the Olympic football matches in Tokyo. Expect to see awareness of the sport, and demand for product, reach fever pitch. Despite being cautious about licensed outdoor products, Geemac says its Messi football range continues to grow. “I hope Lionel can keep playing!” adds Adam Pearson.
For 2021, Geemac is working with influencers, which the company feels is demonstrably driving awareness of its leading outdoor brands among its target audience. The company will also continue to market its products via digital platforms. Adam says: “Parents are actively looking for solutions to getting their children outside and active, so supporting our retail partners to keep shelves full, and websites relevant and up to date, is our key focus.”
KAP Toys’ growing knowledge of social media channels is driving consumers to the available retail conversion points, while Spin Master says it’s looking at social opportunities, noting that Tik Tok could be a good place to build an organic campaign. “If any retailers are keen to be involved, be sure to contact us,” invites David Harms.
Simba Smoby UK’s new launches, meanwhile, will benefit from extensive marketing and PR support, including pre-roll and a major investment into a TV campaign in the summer which runs from May to June. “We’ll also be continuing to engage with consumers via social media and influencer activity,” says Martin Whitaker. “We grew our team last year to give our retailers the support and resources required to ensure a mutually beneficial retail partnership. We’re really grateful for our retail partners. The past year has not been easy, and we truly appreciate all the additional time and effort they have put in to ensure that our products continue to reach families when they need them most.”
Over the next few pages, we bring you the latest outdoor toys from a range of leading suppliers.