China Toy Fair


COMMENTARY: Keeping It Fresh for Kids Sends Them Running to the Store

So many toys and video games are introduced each year. Many of them succeed at selling in and selling through, others flop, but manufacturers who have the wherewithal to get involved with their customers have the opportunity to draw in more customers, and to get their currently satisfied customers talking about their purchase and even send them running back to buy more.

disney-infinity-figurines-300x229One company that I’ve recently noticed to be doing an excellent job at this is Disney Interactive, with its Disney Infinity lineup. Disney Infinity, in case you’re somehow unaware, is a video game with a physical toy component. The toys are figures of favorite Disney characters. When a gamer owns a character’s figure, they can transport that character into their game, unlocking new worlds and ways to play.

Kids love collecting, so they are going to want to collect all the figures, and at $13.99 for one figure or $30.99 for a three pack, it’s not unreasonable for gift givers to purchase them as a birthday or holiday gift. What’s brilliant, however, is letting kids have some ownership. The tagline “Play in Their Worlds or Create Your Own” might sound a bit intimidating to the average adult. “Create my own world? I don’t know anything about video game coding!” To a kid, it sounds like magic, and it kind of is. Kids can easily create their own world—called a Toy Box—and then show their friends, who can bring over their own figures and they can play together in this newly created Toy Box. Even more amazing, they can share their new Toy Box with players all over the world. A bit heady for a kid, no?

Fantastic, but here’s the really brilliant part. Disney Interactive issues challenges to players to create their own Toy Boxes with a certain theme, for example, the recent Contraption Challenge, where players were tasked to create “crazy, unique and exciting contraptions that perform simple tasks.” The top five submissions were showcased on a Disney Infinity Toy Box Top Five Countdown webisode and will no doubt be downloaded by thousands of kids around the world. Now that’s exciting.

Each Thursday a new challenge is issued, so gamers are continuously being engaged and made to feel like part of a community. Parents are happy because their child is not only making their purchase worthwhile by continuing to play with it, but they are being creative while doing so. That in turn, yields more sales. Because when kids then ask for more figures to enhance their game play experience, parents are more likely to buy.

Check back regularly for more toy industry commentary from Jackie. Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Toy Book as a whole. We hope that you will share your comments and feedback below. Until next time!

 

The Toy Book Chats with Sherry Gunther-Shugarman, CEO, Popstar Club

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Sherry Gunther-Shugarman, CEO of Popstar Club, which is the manufacturer of the fresh, new doll line, The Beatrix Girls. Sherry gave me an overview of what makes her doll line so unique, and why girls are going to be clamoring for them this holiday season.

SherryGunther.BeatrixCEO

 

Where did you get the idea for Beatrix Girls?

The Beatrix Girls came out of the idea of tying music and dolls together. Ultimately the approach to this was to create a multiplatform brand that really reaches kids everywhere that they are, recognizing that kids are not just watching TV and they’re not just playing with dolls or toys, they’re not just online playing games or being social, they’re doing all of the above. A forward-thinking property really needed to have presence in all of those mediums and to have an integration between all of those formats ingrained in its DNA.

The webisodes are done in a very unique way. How did you come about using that style?

It’s interesting because the natural for me was to go with animation as I spent over 20 years in animation, but there were a lot of things that attracted me to doing it this way, creating webisodes that have the dolls featured interacting in real life. It comes out of the fact that the concept itself has the girls as real. So they’re real and they interact in our world. They’re a real pop star band, we9’re creating real music, not composed music like we would for a toy property or an animated show, but real, credible, pop music written by a platinum-winning writer/producer, mixed by a Grammy-winning engineer, so this is really relevant, today, great music and so we really want to sell them as true pop stars.

Animation oftentimes, especially when doing them based on a product or especially dolls, skews a little bit younger, and we really wanted to have the cool factor and have these be edgier. The medium that we used felt so much more current and fresh and innovative and YouTube generation-like and it felt much more fitting to the brand itself. It gives the dolls the credibility of being real in our world. They have a real human manager, they perform in real venues, so it allows us to play up that real factor for them. And then the scale gives us a lot of humor opportunities for 12-inch dolls interacting in a life-size world.

The really nice side effect that we found is that girls are really responding to the fact that they can relate to the way it was done because it was shot on purpose with hands showing and manipulating the dolls. The idea was that kids could really relate to it and feel like I can do that, I can get four dolls and with my friends create a scene and a scenario.

 

For some reason it reminds me of Mr. Bill, the old SNL skit.

That’s kind of what we were going for. We were going for rather than just sort of just straight, weak, almost too young-skewing animation. We wanted it to be edgier and quirky and fun and hilarious and this medium allowed us to do that, to have that feel to it.

[Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Preparing for Baby, Part 3

We recently featured Kids Preferred’s Bunnies by the Bay Buddy Blankets on the cover of Specialty Toys & Gifts’ June issue. (In case you’re unaware, Specialty Toys & Gifts is our NEW TEMPLATEmagazine for specialty toy retailers, and it runs within every issue of The Toy Book.) Bunnies by the Bay is a super sweet line of high-end toys, plush, apparel, and books for infants and toddlers. They even have adorable mini plush backpacks that are perfect for taking toddler essentials (books, snacks, small toys) on the go.

I recently wrote about the Mamas & PapasBaby Snug with Activity Tray. Mamas and Papas is another company that tends toward the high end with its products. They recently introduced me to their soon-to-be-released Bobbin Rocking Horse. At $199 it’s a bit on the pricey side, mamas__papas__bobbin_rocking_horsebut it’s a classic item that will last for many years. It features soft chunky corduroy fabric and solid wood handles for easy gripping, and has a soft and tactile rope mane and tail. Its frame is made of solid wood. It has a classic but modern look in neutral colors that parents won’t mind keeping out on display.

To move away from toys just for a moment, I’ve been noticing the company Boon Inc. quite a bit lately as Boon.GrassI’ve been preparing for baby. They do a super modern take on baby necessities, such as bottle warmers, feeding products, bath time, and storage. The company’s Grass Countertop Drying Rack and accessories are a lot of fun and would really brighten up a countertop rather than giving off the typical “I have a baby therefore my countertop is always cluttered with bottle parts” vibe.

Check back regularly for more baby product reviews from Jackie. Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Toy Book as a whole. We hope that you will share your comments and feedback below. Until next time!

COMMENTARY: Preparing for Baby, Part 2

Preparing for baby’s arrival can be overwhelming, but shopping for adorable new things is just fun. Especially when those new things include sweet new toys! I am particular to Lamaze’s toy line for infants, because they incorporate developmental features designed to engage a baby’s senses through various forms of play. Some of my daughter’s favorite items as an infant were Lamaze products. It doesn’t hurt that they’re just so darn cute and colorful.

Franky the Hanky WhaleTwo of my favorite new Lamaze toys are Franky the Hanky Whale and Push Along Peanut. I fell in love with Franky when I spied him in Tomy’s booth at Toy Fair in February, and knew I had to have him for my son. Designed for 9 months and up, Franky helps develop baby’s motor skills via put in-take out play. A number of colorful, soft handkerchiefs can be placed into the top of Franky’s head, and come out his mouth. A variety of textures with ribbon loops and crackly tail and fins keep baby engaged.

Lamaze PeanutPush Along Peanut also helps develop motor skills for 9 months and up. This elephant on four wheels gets baby moving as he pushes and pulls it along. The high contrast colors and a variety of textures (and a squeaker inside) keep baby coming back for more.

Cloud b’s Bubbly Bunny is a super sweet toy that goes from day to night, great for travel and trips to Grandma’s house or just as a special friend to keep at home. It can be used to soothe infants, but I could see this remaining a must-have through toddlerhood. It bubblybunnyplays four comforting sounds: friendly giggles, soothing winds, a relaxing lullaby, and calming ocean waves, that can be activated with push-buttons and includes a volume control feature. It also has two sleep timer options (23 minutes and 45 minutes) and is super soft to the touch.

Another item I was recently introduced to is the Comfy Cradle Slip-On Pillow. I’d never seen comfycradlepillowanything like this before, and it’s a really great idea. At first glance it sort of looks like a water wing (you know, those inflatable things kids wear on each arm in the pool to help them stay afloat?), but it’s basically a super soft pillow that you wear comfycradleactionon your arm while feeding your baby. It’s recommended for up to 12 months. It’s brilliant because you can get up and move around, switch seats, answer the phone, or reach for the TV remote (come on, like you never catch up on a show while feeding your baby), without disturbing baby’s comfort. It offers gentle support to baby’s head and neck while feeding, and is machine washable. It can be adjusted with a Velcro strip, and then once you have it the way you like it, you can just slip it on and off each time you use it.

Check back regularly for more baby product reviews from Jackie. Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Toy Book as a whole. We hope that you will share your comments and feedback below. Until next time!

 

COMMENTARY: Preparing for Baby… Let’s Go Shopping!

As I prepare for the arrival of Baby Boy Breyer (due in July!), I’ve taken a special interest in toys and other juvenile products for infants. While I’ve saved a good deal of baby items from my daughter, now 3, it’s always nice to have new stuff for a new baby. Plus, since he is a boy, many of the pink, girly things I’d saved just won’t do. Time to shop! Here are some of the cool, sweet, and innovative new baby items I’ve recently uncovered:

Baby Snug w Activity TrayThe Mamas & Papas never fail to come through with modern, fashionable, and functional items. The Baby Snug with Activity Tray is designed for ages 3 months and up. Once a baby can support his own head, he can try out this comfy seat. It’s lightweight, can be used indoors or out, and grows with the child so it has a longer lifespan than some similar items. The removable tray can be easily wiped clean, so it can be used for meal time, or to hold toys for play time. The removable tray comes with a beaded loop, spinning lion, bendy stalk, rattle flower, and more that can be moved around to continually interest baby.

TheShadeSince I’m having a baby in July, I’ll have options I didn’t have with my daughter, who was a fall to winter baby, such as going for walks and sitting outdoors. The challenge, of course, will be protecting my little one from insects, the sun, etc. The Shade, the very first product from Imagine Baby, is the ultimate accessory for car seats and strollers and protects babies from the sun, wind, bugs, and other annoyances. It is available in four sleek colors and is compatible with just about every stroller and car seat on the market, according to the company. It offers a breathable design, and UPF 50+ Protection from UVA/UVB rays.

swaddle.mickeyAll new moms are familiar with swaddling. It takes some getting used to, and it doesn’t work for all babies, but some babies really seem to be comforted when they’re swaddled up in a soft cozy blanket. SwaddleDesigns offers an array of patterns and styles in soft cotton flannel fabric. Swaddling instructions are sewn into the blanket so new parents can swaddle successfully on the first shot. I love the Mickey and Minnie Mouse patterns, as well as the elephants & chickies.

Check back regularly for more baby product reviews from Jackie. Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Toy Book as a whole. We hope that you will share your comments and feedback below. Until next time!

COMMENTARY: Toys Are More Fun Than Candy

Mattel’s North American team recently kicked off an Easter program called Save the Bunny, which launched with a clever celebrity PSA. The concept is to promote giving toys, rather than copious amounts of candy, for Easter. As part of the promotion, consumers who visit www.savechocolatebunnies.com will have a chance to win a Mattel toy every day this month, download exclusive coupons on toys from Mattel brands like Barbie, Hot Wheels, Fisher-Price, and Thomas & Friends, and win grand prize money.

As a parent and someone who loves toys, I whole-hardheartedly agree with this idea. Not only does my 3 year old not need a giant chocolate bunny, gallons of jelly beans, and piles of fluffy marshmallow chicks (OK, I’ll admit this is making me hungry), but I know from experience that I won’t actually let her eat it all, and I’ll end up eating it, which isn’t exactly part of my summer bikini plan (though I’m pregnant, so what’s the difference, right?). Anyway, she will have a lot more fun if I limit the candy to a few of her favorites, and fill that basket—er, strongly suggest the Easter Bunny fill that basket—with toys!

For retailers, signage suggesting spring/summer toys to fill Easter baskets should already be up, but it’s not too late! Many consumers wait until the last-minute to shop, especially with the holiday coming earlier this year. A special display of spring-like, small, basket-sized items makes shopping easy and promotes quick sales. The pharmacies already do this, toy stores should too! [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Disney’s Monsters U Sure to Scare Up Sales

Sulley Scare Mask

Disney is really good at a lot of things. One of those things is taking a beloved property and refreshing it, breathing new life into it, and turning it into a must-see movie or must-have property for a new audience of kids. They do it every year with Disney Princess (Last year was Cinderella, this year is The Little Mermaid). The film comes out of the vault, and the already incredible powerhouse that is Disney Princess (the No. 1 toy property ranked by annual 2012 dollar volume according to The NPD Group), launches an expanded program of licensed products focused on the Princess of the year.

However, Disney works some its best magic on the big screen, and Monsters University—due in theaters June 21—has success written all over it. Billed as a prequel to 2001′s Monsters Inc., the film follows fan favorites Sulley and Mike on their journey to becoming scaring professionals at Monsters University. (If you’re interested in attending, visit http://monstersuniversity.com/edu/.) [Read more...]

Reyne Rice Discusses Gender in Toys on HuffPost Live

Our good friend and Toy Insider Co-Editor Reyne Rice appeared on Huffington Post’s HuffPost Live discussion “Toymakers Should Create Gender-Neutral Toys.”

Click here to watch!

Like Square Shooters Dice Game on Facebook to Help Donate up to $3,500 to Autism Speaks

According to Autism Speaks, an autism science and advocacy organization, autism affects one in 88 children and “is the fastest-growing serious developmental disability in the U.S.” To help fund much-needed research, Cleveland, Ohio-based game manufacturer Heartland Consumer Products, LLC, marketer of the Square Shooters dice game, announces its campaign to support Autism Speaks.

For every “like” received on the Square Shooters page on Facebook during the month of April – National Autism Awareness Month – the company will donate $1 to the organization, up to $3,500. (Visit www.facebook.com/squareshooters)

Square Shooters is a multi-faceted game that launched in 2011, and consists of a full deck of cards printed on dice. A versatile game, users can choose to play the Square Shooters feature game; versions of other card games like rummy, 21, or poker; or even make up a new way to play.

”The game’s versatility is the key,” said Tom Donelan, Heartland’s president and CEO. “It can bring different ages and generations together. Play can be as simple as a matching game for kids or a game of chance for adults.”

Donelan’s oldest son Connor is a 19-year-old young man with autism. “Dice games are perfect for families who need fast-paced games that don’t require a lot of attention from every player. We accidentally found that the game fits our family’s particular play style when Connor picked up the dice and started playing—he’s not a big game player, but he enjoyed the fast action of Square Shooters,” said Donelan. “It’s by no means scientific evidence, but we believe—and hope—that other families affected by autism or other special needs will have a similar experience. Supporting autism is personal for us, and we’re excited to join the fight to fund research and give back to the autism community.”

Square Shooters is designed for one or more players ages 8 and up. The game is available at Walmart, Walgreens, Books-A-Million, and many independent toy/game retailers nationwide. For more information, visit squareshooters.com or like the Square Shooter’s page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/squareshooters.

Ickee Stikeez Now Available at Walmart and Walgreens

Ickee Stikeez, from Zing Toys, are squishy, monster-themed collectibles with suction cups that stick to flat surfaces. Ickeez stick to any flat surface, such as lockers, lunchboxes, windows, and cell phones. When pulled-off, the Ickeez make a loud “pop!” Characters come in “Podz” that are reminiscent of vending machine capsules, which also have built-in play. Kids can connect them to create various different structures and environments for their Ickee Stikeez characters. Each pack has a number, which can be entered on www.ickeez.com for additional content, back story, wallpaper, and short videos.
Ickeez Series 1 is now available at select Walmart locations and Walgreens. Ickee Stikeez Series 2 will be in all Walmart stores this holiday season. There are 24 total characters in Series 1. They are sold in three-pack blisters retailing for $2.99 each.