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.

Tell me about the deals you’ve signed with iTunes and Pandora.

The beauty of having a property that lives in all these mediums is that it gives us not only a product that’s more appealing to a kid because it lives everywhere that the child lives but it also gives us great opportunities to be innovative about our marketing. The idea is to really push the music forward and we really worked on pushing the music forward in terms of the marketing side so we are doing more “traditional” media in that we have commercials on TV and radio spots, and print, and PR, and social media, and all the things that are m1ore typical and expected, but the way that we’ve approached them and the way that we’ve enhanced them has been through the music. For one thing, even the TV commercials, our entire campaign is the girls performing a concert for a huge crowd of adoring girl fans. We actually shot a real concert with a huge crowd of kids, red carpet, limo, the dolls come out from behind the door and then perform a concert inside, so it’s not your typical doll commercial.

On the more innovative side with the music itself, we’ve put the music on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon Music. Basically anywhere that sells music, we’re on it. With Pandora we actually have a very unique campaign with them where we created our own channel and we’ve targeted moms and kids in the correct age groups. It’s geo-demographically targeted. It’s by zip code that have stores that we’re in, meaning Toys “R” Us and Justice primarily, and it’s moms and kids in the right demographic, and it is also targeted by genre of music. So we’ve targeted pop stars that we know kids love to listen to—Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, and One Direction—and so it will guide you to Beatrix Girls songs and then to our channel. And when you listen to the Beatrix Girls channel it will be beautifully designed and visually and graphically on brand, and it has all of those stars’ music, with our music interspersed in it more frequently, and it will actually deliver 50 million commercials for us, that will drive kids to Toys “R” Us, our website, Justice, and Amazon. It will have the dolls announcing that they’re “appearing at” various locations where we’re sold, so we get credibility as real music that is accepted by the channels like Pandora and iTunes, but we’re also leveraging that as a marketing tool to guide kids to the store.

The doll category is currently dominated by Monster High and Barbie. How does a small company like Beatrix Girls compete with that?

I think that a lot of people ask the question “What were you thinking?” “It’s such a crowded market,” and “What made you think you could compete in this one?” but if you look at any great field in entertainment or product, it’s crowded. The reality is that there’s always room for great stuff. There’s always room for great quality. I come from the television business and that’s very crowded, there are hundreds of shows on the air.
DollsAnd yet when you create a really great quality show it stands out and makes its own audience. It’s no different in dolls or any other field for that matter. If something is really fresh and unique and quality-oriented and hits a sweet spot emotionally engaging its audience, it will compete and it starts there.

We have spent a tremendous amount of resources and talent in creating dolls that don’t look like any other doll, that are truly unique, fresh, beautiful, and quality-oriented. We’ve created an entire world around them with the music and the webisodes and the digital presence that are going to reach and engage girls in a way that other products can’t necessarily by creating all of those things as afterthoughts rather than having them be as integrated into the product like ours is.

As far as competing, it’s very difficult to be heard over the noise, but we are optimistic from the response we’ve seen so far with doll collectors, with girls, with moms, that as hard as it is to get the word out there, eventually when they see it and they interact with it they will fall in love with it and it will be able to compete in its own right. We don’t have the resources Mattel does to advertise as far as media buy or even retail influence but we’re getting great response from buyers nonetheless at the main retail stores. We’re trying to compete by being more creative about how we compete with the ways I’ve just described. We have a toysrus.com campaign coming up for Black Friday where you’ll get a free CD of Beatrix Girls music with every purchase of a doll. It’s a way we can create value and attract customers to the doll. It’s a way for us to get the music out there and the doll out there and allow it to become a viral, popular product.

Are there any plans for 2014 that you can share at this time?

We have nine licensees that signed on in the past couple of months. Prior to even hitting retail shelves we were able to attract those licensees and I think that speaks to the strength of the brand itself and our ability to reach and engage. In 2014 not only are we as a doll going to go mass and global, we’re closing deals daily now for mass retailers in the U.S. as well as global distribution in Europe, South America, South Africa, etc. so we are planning on expanding. We did intentionally launch it small in order to really brand it, putting the story forward, for it to be a different kind of product rather than just being another doll on the shelf. But our intention was always to go mass and global in 2014 and we are following that path. All of our licensees have provided us with designs and have started to go out and sell them to retailers for 2014 in the various categories.

Can you tell me a little more about your licensing partners and which categories you think will be the most successful?

We have Jay Franco & Sons for bedding, Peavey for musical instruments, Playa Vista Designs for footwear, Children’s Apparel Network for apparel, Hanover for jewelry and accessories, Skyhigh International for back to school and stationary, Fast Forward for backpacks and bags, AME for pajamas, and Berkshire Fashions for outerwear.

peaveywdollsI don’t know if I have a prediction as to what is going to be the most popular; we’re very excited to have all of these licensees on board this early in the game. We anticipate all of that will grow as we grow, but I think those are major categories, and I think our brand will make for strong branded licensed merchandise across all categories.

There are a lot of fun things we can do with the music theme. The instruments already match the ones that we created for the dolls so they look very unique. It’s not just a guitar with our artwork slapped on it. Brayden’s guitar looks like a butterfly with a flame design on it, Lark has a very geometric-shaped bass, and the drum set is absolutely adorable. It’s sparkly pink with a picture of the band on it. We just saw the designs for the bedding and they’re adorable. They’re really beautiful.

When is the licensed product rolling out?

Most of it is fall (2014) because we’re dealing with backpacks and back to school and bedding usually follows rather than leads so it will probably be fall when we’re in mass. Musical instruments are going out in the spring. Jewelry and accessories will go out in the spring, probably around our Justice launch. The shoes will probably be in the spring as well.

The Beatrix Girls is about girl empowerment. What made you design a brand with that message?

I have two daughters. If there’s one message I always focused on imparting on them it’s dream big and go after your dreams. You can do anything you set your mind to doing. Go for it. Those kinds of messaging, not in a tacky way, but in a leading by example way. I’ve personally overcome some hardships and always kept my eye on the ball moving forward and I believe it’s the one theme or lesson that I personally feel very strongly about and that is a powerful tool to navigate through life.