The Little Gym Partners with Nickelodeon, Creates SpongeBob Parties

TheLittleGym.logoSpongeBob SquarePants, the animated character from Nickelodeon, is coming out from his pineapple home for birthday parties at The Little Gym, a national gym designed for children ages six months to 12 years. The company is developing the curriculum for the parties in partnership with Nickelodeon.

As kids go on an undersea adventure inside their local The Little Gym, they will engage with characters such as Patrick, Squidward, and Mister Krabs in an interactive and imaginative story designed to get them moving, climbing, and tumbling.

The Little Gym has offered Awesome Birthday Bash parties since 2012. Each party features age-appropriate games, music, and fun activities led by trained instructors, and The Little Gym team handles both setup and cleanup.

Fisher-Price Enters Global Collaboration with Shakira and The Barefoot Foundation for Best Possible Start Campaign

shakiraIn a global partnership centered on early childhood development, Fisher-Price Inc. has partnered with singer Shakira—who is also a mother and philanthropist—and the Barefoot Foundation to create a web series for moms and co-develop a new line of babygear and toys.

The program targets millennials, who make up 80 percent of today’s first-time moms. The collaboration, which is focused on sharing opinions and recommendations with other moms, kicks off today with a 12-part web series featuring Shakira’s personal reflections on what her baby has taught her about herself. Other topics include the importance of early childhood development, looking at the world through a child’s eyes, facilitating milestones, and her hopes for raising a future philanthropist.

Segments also celebrate babies’ activity and growth, as well as Shakira’s own parenting journey from a very personal mom-to-mom point of view. The series will be distributed exclusively over digital to 23 countries at one time, delivered via branded social channels and supported with paid media. The content will live within a microsite, which will contain product information on her First Steps Collection, the new Babygear, and infant line of toys Fisher-Price co-developed with Shakira.

Fisher-Price Shakira First Steps Collection Kick & Play Piano Gym

Available in the U.S. exclusively at amazon.com as well as fisher-price.com, Shakira’s introductory spring line of co-developed Fisher-Price baby gear and toys will include the following: [Read more...]

Chicago Toy & Game Group to Honor The Kohner Family at TAGIE Awards

ChicagoDuring the 2014 Toy & Game Inventor of the Year (TAGIE) Awards, the Chicago Toy & Game Group will present this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award to The Kohner Family, which includes brothers Frank and Paul Kohner and Paul’s son, Michael Kohner. The latter will accept the award on behalf of The Kohner family, which has worked in the toy and game industry for almost 75 years.

In 1940, Paul Kohner founded Kohner Brothers alongside Michael’s uncle, Frank Kohner, and what began as a wooden bead company quickly transformed into a toy-making endeavor. The Kohner Brothers cemented their place with the introduction of the game, Trouble, featuring the Pop-O-Matic dice device.

In addition to the Lifetime Achievement Award, the In Memoriam award will be given to the family of Bill Goodman, while Hasbro Co. will receive the 2014 TAGIE Excellence in Character Design award for the Transformers toys in celebration of the brand’s 40th anniversary. The TAGIE Awards are scheduled to take place in the Grand Ballroom of Chicago’s Navy Pier on November 21.

Jakks Pacific Reports Third Quarter Results

Disney Frozen Snow Glow Elsa doll

Jakks Pacific Inc. reported results for the company’s third quarter ended September 30. Net sales for the third quarter increased to $349.4 million, up 12 percent from net sales of $310.9 million reported in the comparable period last year. Reported net income for the third quarter increased 16 percent to $44.1 million, or $1.03 per diluted share, compared to reported net income last year of $36.6 million, or $1.11 per diluted share.

Net sales for the nine months ending September 30 increased 12 percent to $556.0 million compared to $495.2 million last year. Reported net income for the nine-month period was $18.7 million, or $0.61 per diluted share. This compares to a net loss for the first nine months last year of $37.8 million, or $1.73 per diluted share. Strong sales of the Frozen Snow Glow Elsa doll and Light Up Musical Dresses, Disguise Halloween offerings, Nintendo plush and figure products, and licensed large-scale figures contributed to the company’s improved third quarter results.

FedEx and UPS Hiring More Workers to Avoid Holiday Delays

As reported by ABC News, FedEx and United Parcel Service Inc. (UPS) are hiring more workers to avoid the delays that plagued last year’s holiday season.

FedEx plans to hire 50,000 seasonal workers, up from 40,000 last year, while UPS will add up to 95,000 people, up from 85,000. Last year, both companies scrambled to hire more seasonal employees than they had planned.

FedEx also expects to invest $1.2 billion in its ground-shipping network in its current fiscal year, with most of that going to increase capacity and automation. The company said that the improvements have sped up ground delivery by a day or more in more than two-thirds of the U.S. UPS has also invested to boost shipping capacity during the holidays.

Last December, the delivery giants were caught off-guard by bad weather and a surge in last-minute online shopping, leading to an estimated 2 million packages arriving late for the holidays.

About 1.3 million express packages handled by UPS and 618,000 carried by FedEx failed to get delivered on time last Christmas Eve, with UPS and FedEx at fault roughly 30 percent of the time, according to ShipMatrix Inc. In most cases, retailers promised guaranteed express delivery, but didn’t pay the delivery companies for that speedier service.

The retail federation’s online division, Shop.org, predicts that online sales in November and December will rise 8 to 11 percent over last year.

Sago Sago and Monster Factory Launch New Plush Line

Sago Sago PlushSago Sago has teamed up with Monster Factory to create a new plush toy line that reflects the Sago Mini app-based characters popular among preschoolers. The upcoming line includes Harvey the dog, Jinja the cat, Robin the bird, and Jack the rabbit. They will be available online and at specialty retailers throughout North America in late November.

Crayola Introduces Color Alive! 4-D Experience with Augmented Reality Interactivity

Crayola-LogoEarly next year, Crayola will launch Color Alive!, the first augmented reality product offering among its growing digital portfolio. Partnering with leading 4-D company DAQRI, Color Alive! will feature a unique offline and online play experience through color and 4-D technology, allowing kids to bring their coloring to life.

Children activate the 4D Experience through the Color Alive! app, aiming their device’s camera at the colored page to bring the drawing to life. The included Magic Crayon transforms coloring by activating special effects through drawing on the page in real-time. Kids can also interact and take photos with the coloring book characters.

Color Alive! will be available at select retailers beginning in December, with a nationwide debut in February. The Color Alive! app is available on iOS, Android, and Windows smartphones and tablets, as well as iPod Touch. At launch, Color Alive! will be available in four coloring books: Mythical Creatures, Enchanted Garden, Skylanders, and Barbie.

ASTRA Retailers Set to Promote Specialty Toys on Neighborhood Toy Store Day

ASTRAlogoHundreds of independent toy retailers in the U.S. and Canada will mark Neighborhood Toy Store Day with special in-store events and activities on Saturday, November 8.

Neighborhood Toy Store Day is an annual American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA) event that occurs on the second Saturday in November. It is designed to help independent toy retailers spotlight attention on the quality and play value of specialty toys, plus the advantages of shopping at locally owned toy stores.

ASTRA retailers create activities around Neighborhood Toy Store Day that will engage their customers and communities. Meanwhile, ASTRA supports retailers by providing professionally designed, downloadable posters; post cards; ad slicks; and other images along with draft emails; social media posts; and press releases that retailers can use to promote their store.

To find an ASTRA store to visit on Neighborhood Toy Store Day, visit www.neighborhoodtoystoreday.com.

COMMENTARY: China Toy Expo Showcases Regional Toy Brands with Worldwide Potential

DreamBeyond2Toy trade shows are terrific places in which to catch a sneak peek of the next play product sure to take the marketplace by storm. Recently, I was covering China Toy Expo, sponsored by China Toy & Juvenile Products Association, which took place this past week at the Shanghai New International Expo Center in Shanghai. While the show featured plenty of toy brands that would be familiar to Westerners—many of them imported by Chinese companies for domestic distribution—there were also lots of Chinese toy manufacturers on-hand, bearing properties that they hope will do well at home.

And of course, if a product does well in its native market, one assumes there’s a good chance it will gain an international partner that will help it take the next step. Think of Lego, which began selling in Europe during the 1940s before expanding to North America during the ’60s. Not every new toy brand can be Lego, of course; however, it’s always fun to speculate on new products and their potential to become the next big global star due to built-in appeal, compelling features, etc. Here are a few domestically-made items from China Toy Expo, which in this author’s opinion, have a shot at breaking out worldwide. [Read more...]

Lionel Opens New Brick-and-Mortar Store and Headquarters in North Carolina

Lionel.NewStoreThis past Monday, Lionel opened its first retail store in Concord, N.C. The new location will serve as a central station for popular train sets, replicas, and collectibles, as well as store-exclusive gifts and keepsakes.

To celebrate the new store, which will also serve as the company’s new headquarters, Lionel President Howard Hitchcock drove festivities with J. Scott Padgett, the mayor of Concord, and Donna Carpenter, the CEO of the Cabarrus County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Lionel.NewStore2The store will become a terminal for field trips, new product testing, and company announcements. The 1,100-square-foot space will house one of Lionel’s fully decorated layouts, which will feature different trains throughout the year. Kids can control the layout with handheld remotes and test the newest trains.

Lionel has made numerous expansion efforts of late, including partnering with the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago to debut its first life-sized trackless train ride, The Lionel Train Adventure, earlier this month. The company has also continued to add licenses for new train models through partnerships with DC Comics, Coca-Cola, Crayola, and other brands.