C2C Studios

Talkin’ Toys: Schleich


The Toy Book chats with Michael Keaton, president, Schleich North America, about how the company thrives in a tech-focused world.

Tell me about Schleich’s history and how the company was founded.

Schleich was founded in Germany by Friedrich Schleich in 1935. One of the first important milestones was when Schleich brought its first toy (Jopo, a series-produced flexible doll with long legs, a pointed nose, and a hat) to market, which became extremely popular. When the world-famous Schleich figurines first came on the market in the 1950s, few people realized that the toys’ realistic design and exquisite hand-painting process would make them a favorite of both children and collectors in more than 50 countries around the world.

How has the company changed in recent years?

Schleich’s core mission—creating the best figurines—remains at the center of the company’s value proposition. Furthermore, investing to create new playworlds that give our natural and realistic figures an environment, creates a unique and inspiring play experience for children of all age groups. It sparks their imagination and makes our figurines really come to life. The most impactful change however, was the decision to place Dirk Engehausen as CEO in January 2015. With more than 20 years of experience as a senior executive in the toy industry, Dirk brought to Schleich a new energy and vision for how to improve our product offerings, optimize our business, and grow the brand.


In a world of tech-savvy kids, how do you explain Schleich’s success?

Today’s children have more play options, and this includes a vast array of tech offerings. And while it’s important that kids grow up tech-savvy, there is still a great demand from parents and children for traditional toys and the rich, imaginative play patterns that can evolve from simple materials. Furthermore, kids need and call for haptic experiences for their development. This is a tangible sensation that no digital device can provide. Schleich’s realistic figurines provide the basis for this kind of play—no instructions necessary. As I’ve heard it said, “play is a trick of nature for learning” and it is integral for children across cultures and geographic boundaries. Parents appreciate when traditional toy manufacturers find ways to provide a “balanced diet of play” for their kids, and Schleich’s simple but rich offering hits the spot.

What is Horse Club?

Horse Club is Schleich’s new theme that expands upon the success of our realistic horse figurines, and adds new environments to expand children’s imaginations. Whether practicing for a horse show at the riding center, transporting horses to a show in the horse trailer, or just showing care by washing and feeding, children can imagine caring for their horses and at the same time learn about the different horse breeds and what makes them unique. Horse Club by Schleich is our fastest-growing franchise and is a great example of creating a play world for children.


What are Schleich’s plans for growth and expansion in the future?

Our research has shown that parents and kids love figurines, both for collecting and for imaginative play. We plan to continue our core business of creating the highest quality and most realistic figurines in this space, and also expanding our franchise offerings with relevant story starters. To add relevance, we are planning more story content for the franchises, both to educate and to inspire children around the world. In North America, we also intend to significantly increase our share of voice through traditional and digital media to ensure our value proposition is more well-known. This includes, simply enough, teaching people how to pronounce our brand name. Remember, “I like Schleich!”  »

Talkin’ Toys: Yvolution

The Toy Book caught up with Thomas O’Connell, Global CEO, Yvolution.

Tell us about Yvolution’s background and how the company was founded.

I began selling scooters all around Ireland when I was 21 and, in the 10 years after that, I had the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of the toy industry. When I first spotted the Fliker, our three-wheeled scooter, I knew it was radically different from anything else in the marketplace and looked insanely cool. I got in touch with the maker and it wasn’t long before they gave me global distribution rights. Then, in 2012, I co-founded Yvolution with Shane Connaughton and soon after, the Fliker hit shelves at Toys “R” Us in the U.S. and sold out.

These days, we’re continuing to design and manufacture cutting-edge products to keep families active and healthy. From balance bikes to performance scooters, we’re leading the pack in innovative outdoor toys that benefit overall well-being.

What kind of growth has Yvolution seen since its inception?

In 2013, we had a 4-foot space in Toys “R” Us and this year we are up to 32 feet, and we’re also in all major retailers. In fact, we are in more than 12,000 stores in the U.S. market, and our products are available in more than 50 countries worldwide. We are growing at an accelerated rate rarely seen in the industry. Customer satisfaction is at an all-time high and demand for new Yvolution products increases annually.

Yvolution_Y Flyer_lifestyle

How has the wheeled goods category changed over the years? And how has Yvolution kept up with the changes?

Other than character licensing, I feel there wasn’t much change for many years. A scooter was a scooter; a bike was a bike. Yvolution changed that, and in three short years it has become one of the leading brands in the wheeled goods category. We’ve pushed this category to new heights in innovation with the likes of our patented lean-to-steer scooters, Fliker scooters, and balance bikes.

What are your plans for later this year and next year?

We plan to continue the innovation that consumers have come to expect from Yvolution with a terrific fall line. Our Strolly brand will lead us into the baby category with strollers that convert to trikes and balance bikes, offering a tremendous value to parents as the product line grows with the child from baby to toddler.

New for older kids, we will introduce the Flyer, a stepper scooter that propels riders forward as they step up and down. Our Neon line of light-up scooters and skateboards will also showcase the diversity and talents of our designers and engineers.

Yvolution has been known for its balance bikes and self-propelling scooters, but you mentioned expanding into other categories. What prompted the change and what types of products will you offer in this line?

We are constantly reviewing trends and looking for gaps in the marketplace that we feel we can fill, as innovation is at the core of Yvolution. Our strength comes in being able to move quickly to bring new high-quality and innovative items to our retail partners. They trust us and know that we provide excellent product and value to their consumers.

What trends are you seeing in the wheeled goods category? How does Yvolution fit in with those trends?

The trend is moving away from regular two-wheeled scooters and moving more toward the lean-to-steer type scooters like our Y Gliders. Since 2013, our lean-to-steer scooters have seen an increase in market share. The light-up category is also trending, and we are on point with our plans to launch Neon light-up scooters and skateboards. »

Talkin’ Toys: Auldey North America


The Toy Book caught up with Adiran Roche, president, Auldey Toys North America.

Tell us about The Alpha Group and how it has grown over the last 10 years.

The Alpha Group originated as a toy company under the Auldey brand name in 1993. At the time, Auldey toys were distributed solely in the China market and quickly became a top toy brand known for its high-quality, innovative toys. With the chairman’s foresight and understanding of the relationship between entertainment and toys, Auldey established the animation side of the business and the company was renamed Alpha Animation and Toys.

Today, operating as The Alpha Group, we are one of the largest animation companies in the world and a multi-dimensional entertainment enterprise. Our animation capabilities paired with our toy design and manufacturing expertise have allowed us to become a one-stop shop for the creation of content and corresponding toys. Our toy division still operates under the Auldey brand and is a wholly owned subsidiary of The Alpha Group, which has a global presence and a diverse portfolio of brands. In the North American market, we recently launched our Super Wings toy line based on the animated preschool series on NBC’s Sprout network, and we continue to innovate in the boys’ space with our Sky Rover and Wave Racers brands.

Can you share an example of how this business model of creating entertainment and toys in a synergistic way is working in the North American market?

We’ve seen great success with this model in North America with the Super Wings brand. Super Wings has been a top-rated show since its 2015 North American premiere and the toy sales have since exceeded expectations. We believe the success comes from an understanding that “play” is often an expression of story-telling and vice versa. Toys that feature characters and settings from popular TV shows or video games enable children to re-enact their favorite scenes from the programming or use their imagination and creativity to develop new adventures of their own. Similarly, children’s beloved toys can be crafted into storylines and come to life through original animated content, which is something we’re also exploring for future toy lines.

SuperWings group logo

The link between the entertainment business and toys seems to be something many major toy companies are building on. Can you talk more about how Alpha has immersed itself in the entertainment category?

Alpha is a mega-producer of content across all mediums, such as comics, animation, TV, and film, which provides a solid foundation for entertainment-based products spanning mass media, toys, education, and theme parks. We own more than 10 animation studios, allowing us to develop our brands with a multi-dimensional approach. Beyond our episodic properties such as Super Wings, Alpha has also entered into a strategic partnership with New Regency Productions, investing in movies such as Assassin’s Creed, The Revenant, and Splinter Cell. Additionally, Alpha has made a significant investment in director Michael Bay’s 451 Media Group in order to continue its growth as an entertainment enterprise. We continue to explore new ways to strengthen our position in the entertainment business.

The recent acquisition of Baby Trend opens up an entirly new category for Alpha in North America and beyond. How does this factor into Alpha’s growth strategy?

Acquiring Baby Trend extends the relationship lifecycle with our core consumer—parents. With our acquisition of Baby Trend, a leading juvenile and baby gear company, we can start engaging with the prenatal mom and have a conversation that will last through the first decade of her toy-buying years. It has been the catalyst for Alpha’s global development plan for our juvenile business and allows us to extend beyond toys and bring our innovative technologies and existing creative properties to a wider array of products.

Alpha recently established a presence in the Los Angeles (LA) area. What are your plans for this new location?

The new LA location will serve as Alpha’s international design headquarters. It’s the perfect hub as it’s at the crossroads of the entertainment and toy industries. We’ve been lucky enough to enlist some of the top design talent in our industry, who are already having an incredible impact on our product lines after just a few months and ensuring we continue to deliver superior play experiences and innovation in everything we create.

What can we expect to see from Auldey in the future?

In 2017, you will see new innovations in all of our signature brands. In the flight category, you can expect breakthrough new products in our Sky Rover line, taking R/C helicopters and drones in a whole new direction. For preschoolers, we’ll be expanding our Super Wings toy line, building on its current strong momentum in the marketplace. We’ve recently partnered with Rainbow, one of the most sophisticated animation companies with worldwide presence, on its new girl-focused animated TV series Regal Academy, which begins airing in the U.S. this summer on Nickelodeon. Stay tuned for a few more surprises to come in 2017 and beyond. »

Board Games Continue Down a Winning Path

by Mary Couzin, founder, SMG Leisure

Many game industry experts consider this the golden age of board games. History will decide if the moniker sticks, but one thing is for sure: Games and puzzles were the fastest-growing toy category last year, climbing 11 percent to $1.6 billion, according to The NPD Group. This year, game sales continue to grow at 24 percent, more than three times the growth of the toy industry overall. And that number could be even higher if you consider all the crowdsourced board games, a category that has become a major player (pun intended) in the publication and manufacturing of board games. Platforms such as Kickstarter allow independent game designers to reach thousands of consumers, and retailers are tuned in to this trend, which will only continue to rise.

Though lots of games sell at retail for less than $20, and some fall into the impulse category at less than $10, other more complicated games are selling for more than $50, contributing to the overall rise in game sales. During a recent trip to Target, I spotted 10 games selling for more than $50 each. Target.com has 67 titles selling for more than $50, including multiple strategy games.


North Star Games’ Happy Salmon

There is a perfect storm of many trends contributing to strong game sales. Below are the top trends from my research. We could meet over signature cocktails at one of the growing number of board game cafes and enjoy a long discussion on this topic, but it’s tough find an open table!

Getting Social

One of the best things about board games is that they allow for face-to-face social interaction, and many small business owners are seeing the value in this. Game cafes are opening worldwide, bringing people together over cocktails and board games. Specialty game stores have increased their game nights, where friends and strangers can come together to play, and some stores have added workshops to teach people how to play new games. Some local businesses will even send people to your home to teach you and your family how to play games you want to learn. Even larger retailers, such as Barnes and Noble, are getting in on board game events. The specialty retailer recently expanded their game events to all 640 of their stores. This trend is spilling over into corporate lunch hours and after-hours work events. If I had a dollar for every time someone outside our industry mentioned this, I could buy more of those $50 games.

Crowdsourcing Continues

The crowdfunded trend continues to be strong. More than $500 million has been pledged on all types of games (digital, video, projects, board, etc.) on Kickstarter since the platform’s inception, and of that, $265 million went to board games alone, outpacing video and digital projects.

Both independent companies and inventors use Kickstarter to launch their new products, and larger companies use the platform to find products to add to their lines. Looney Lab’s successful launch of Pyramid Arcade decreased many risks for the company. On a larger scale, Hasbro partnered with Indiegogo last year to source new games from independent game designers, and it was so successful that the company will repeat the effort this year. Of all the trends in games over the past few years, crowdfunding has probably had the biggest impact.


Looney Labs’ Pyramid Arcade

Silly and Simple

While complicated strategy games for adults are populating the shelves, games that require almost no instructions for silly and simple fun are also selling out at retail. The incredible success of Hasbro’s Pie Face last year proves that easy-to-learn, laughter-inducing games are popular with consumers. And this year, North Star Games’ Happy Salmon will be a sure hit in this category. At ASTRA Marketplace & Academy, the fast-paced action card game drew a huge crowd. Goliath Games also has a wide range of products in this genre, which has contributed to the company’s growth in North America.

Adult Party Games

Games aren’t just for kids. Adult party games that gather lots of people together for a good laugh have been gaining traction in the past few years, thanks to mega hits like Cards Against Humanity. And by “adult” I mean “cheeky,” and by “cheeky” I mean “kinda dirty.” This not-so-family-friendly trend continues this year with games such as Galactic Sneeze’s recent release Spank the Yeti, No Kidding’s Rotten Apples, PlayMonster’s Game of Nasty Things, and more.

Going Green

Game companies are jumping on the conservation train this year by using smaller boxes, pouches instead of boxes, and less internal packaging. This not only helps the environment, but it also helps cut costs and allows retailers to expand their offerings since smaller packaging means more products fit on a shelf. Hasbro recently earned Newsweek’s 2016 Green Rankings at No. 1 out of the 500 largest publicly traded companies in the U.S. on overall environmental performance.

Galactic Sneeze_SpanktheYeti

Galactic Sneezes’ Spank the Yeti

The Importance of STREAM

Hot on the heels of the familiar STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and STEAM (which adds art to the mix) trends, is STREAM (which includes reading and writing). Games are a great way to help kids learn these important educational concepts, and demand for these products is at a high. This year, ThinkFun’s Circuit Maze, Foxmind’s Pack’n Go!, Griddly Games’ Rocket Lander, Pressman’s Pass the Pen, and Blue Orange’s Dr. Eureka are great options for STREAM learning.

Screen Fatigue

Peggy Brown, game inventor and producer of the upcoming documentary film OPERATION Operation: The Power of Play, believes the rise in the popularity of board games across all genres is because people are unconsciously longing to connect with more meaningful story-based experiences, and desperate to connect with each other. She says, “While board games can be perceived as old-fashioned, there’s no doubt that they bring us together and force us to interact with each other in ways nothing else does. Playing board games, for players of any age, can reconnect us, compel us to discover and invent new and different ways to communicate and solve problems, and refresh our basic social skills which, for most of us, get rusty in the fast and often lonely connections of the interwebs. In an era where we’ve become connected to everybody and are subsequently close to nobody, board games plug us in to each other as we unplug from our devices, even if it’s only for a short time.”

I don’t see an end in sight to the continued rise of board games. At London, Nuremberg, and New York Toy Fairs, as well as ASTRA Marketplace recently, I heard many times from retailers that they were increasing their board game selection and allocated space, all of which is golden news, contributing to a burgeoning golden age.

MaryHeadMary Couzin is CEO and founder of the Chicago Toy & Game Group, with a mission of promoting the importance of play through hosting consumer, fashion, inventor, and media events. Events include Chicago Toy & Game Fair, Inventor and Innovation Conferences, Toy & Game Innovation Awards, PlayCHIC Fashion Show, Young Inventor Challenge, and more.

Construction Toys Build Up Success

by Sean McGowan, founder, SMG Leisure

The construction category accounted for about 10.5 percent of total U.S. toy industry retail sales in 2015, according to The NPD Group. The category rose 9 percent in 2015, on top of a rise of 11 percent in 2014. Over the past 15 years or so, construction toys have been the most consistent growth segment of the U.S. toy industry. Growth has been so strong and so consistent that if you were to exclude construction toys from total industry sales, there would have been essentially no growth in U.S. toy industry sales from 2003 through 2014 (prior to the massive surge in action figure sales last year), especially excluding the effects of inflation. It is the only one of the NPD toy industry super categories not to show at least one year-on-year annual decline during this period.

It is notable that not only does the category not owe its strong and steady growth during this period to the increased use of technology (electronics, Wi-Fi connections, apps, etc.), but also that the growth is actually in spite of an explosion in consumer interest in video games and smart gadgets. The category’s best years actually came after the introduction of the iPhone. (A side corollary here is that the biggest gains in Lego’s profitability came at a time when its main raw material—plastic resins—were undergoing a dramatic increase in costs, although recent years have offered some relief. Lego may be the most “plastic” of all toys, and yet wild gyrations in the cost of the feedstock did nothing to disrupt its growth, even as other toy makers were blaming rising resin costs for their own dips in profitability.)


Lego Friends Adventure Camp Treehouse

Lego’s category market share, which we estimate at greater than 80 percent, suggests that Lego did not simply ride the strength of the category—it created it. In my view, the company’s success has been based on several key components operating both separately and together. First, it changed its corporate culture (with astonishing speed, given its size, age, and prior success) to become more attentive to feedback from both retailers and consumers. Second, it stepped up its already impressive research and development efforts, developing a team of designers with an uncanny ability to discern what consumers worldwide would be interested in seeing in the way of new themes. Third, it expanded its licensing efforts to incorporate a broad range of topical as well as timeless licenses. However, it is crucial to note that Lego’s growth over the past decade has not simply been the result of a significant increase in licensed toys. This is not all about Marvel and Star Wars. The company’s City line sets have seen growth that keeps pace with licensed categories. Fourth, it introduced Lego Friends, by far its most successful effort to attract girls to the play pattern that for so many years was considered one for boys.

And, in a sense, it is this success that leads to what I consider the fifth reason for Lego’s striking and consistent growth: It effectively expanded the construction category to incorporate elements of play that had previously been associated with other, non-construction toys. The rising popularity of its movie-licensed play sets and figures effectively put Lego in the action figure category, since kids would be playing with the Lego figures and play sets in much the same way that they might play with other licensed action figures. The Friends line tapped into young girls’ desire for dollhouse play, for collectibles, and for mini-dolls. Original themed sets, such as Ninjago and Chima, feature extensive vehicle play. The company even branched out into “board games” (although with less success than some of its other efforts). The Dimensions and Fusion lines are strong entrants in the toys-to-life and smart toy categories. In other words, much of Lego’s growth came as a result of taking the brand into new toy categories. In doing so, it effectively grew the construction toy category by taking over some of the play patterns previously held by non-construction toys.


Spin Master’s Meccano Micronoid

Looking at the category more broadly than just its bigger player, what is interesting lately is that Lego is not the only construction toy maker that is seeing growth. For most of the years between 2005 and 2015, Lego essentially got more than 100 percent of the category’s growth, while many of its construction toy rivals were seeing declines in sales. More recently, these other brands have seen growth.

• Since its acquisition by Mattel, Mega Bloks sales have stabilized and resumed growth (following a period of forced contraction after the acquisition).
• The Bridge Direct has picked up some share with its C3 line of construction sets (featuring licenses from the NBA, WWE, and Shopkins).
• K’nex may be a fraction of its peak size, but it has resumed rapid growth, benefitting from a shift back to domestic manufacturing, use of key licenses, and expansion of the brand into other play patterns. In other words, following a similar playbook as Lego.
• Meccano, acquired by Spin Master in 2013, has enjoyed a strong surge in shelf space, sales, and innovation.

It is worth noting again that with the exception of some of the Lego and Meccano lines, none of these toys are tech toys. Indeed, I believe a big part of their appeal is that they are not screen-based; they appeal to parents’ nostalgia for their own toys and their desire to keep their kids from staring at screens all day. In this sense, perhaps the future of construction toys has never been brighter.

I’ve learned you can never say never—and that you can never say always—in the toy industry, but it certainly feels like this is a category with a promising future. Construction toys offer boundless hours of open ended-play (even if they are based on licensed themes), a play pattern that is inherently good for a developing young mind, an option that millennial parents see as part of the highly coveted STEM movement, and incredible durability. (My parents’ basement was flooded during Hurricane Sandy, and the only toys that survived were Lego bricks.) I believe Lego is likely to continue to be the dominant player in this category, but the fact that it is no longer the only player that is doing well is a very good sign for the whole segment. »

SeanMcGowanSean McGowan is the founder of SMG Leisure. He has been closely following the toy industry for 30 years, analyzing product trends, cost changes, marketing practices, and other aspects of how products and companies succeed (or don’t). He also follows digital gaming, sporting goods, and juvenile products. McGowan started SMG Leisure in January 2016 to continue this work beyond the parameters of Wall Street. 

Fresh, Fierce, and Fabulous: Innovative and Classic Dolls to Spur Sales Through Q4

by Kristin Morency Goldman, communications specialist, Toy Industry Association

This spring, The NPD Group reported a 16 percent uptick in doll sales for the first quarter of the year, and industry experts at BMO Capital Markets predict that doll sales will continue to grow by about 10 percent overall this year, thanks to a slew of innovative, licensed, and classic dolls hitting store shelves through the holiday season.

“The initial launch of Hasbro’s version of the Disney Princess dolls, the introduction of the curvy Fashionista Barbie from Mattel, and a new line of DC Super Hero Girls action dolls, also from Mattel, appear to be generating strong sales at retail,” says Gerrick Johnson, toy analyst at BMO Capital Markets.


Barbie Fashionistas, from Mattel

Johnson said this could be the strongest year for dolls since 2009, when Mattel introduced Barbie Fashionistas and the I Can Be… Barbie line; MGA Entertainment brought Moxie Girls to market; and Spin Master introduced its Liv dolls. In 2010, Mattel introduced Monster High, “adding even more firepower to the category,” says Johnson.

“The doll segment went from being a negative trending category for the five years prior, to one of the strongest categories for the next five years,” says Johnson, adding that he is expecting a similar reaction this year. “We’ll see in the fall if kids keep up the momentum.”

Innovations and new licenses in the category are stimulating demand, but the enduring value of classic play is also having an impact on doll sales, according to Adrienne Appell, trend expert at the Toy Industry Association (TIA).

“We know that toys in general are faring quite well, and some of the classic categories—including dolls—are experiencing a surge because kids still love to use their imaginations and role play,” says Appell.

Earlier this year, TIA identified the top trends in toys for 2016, including toys-to-life, which combine technology with traditional play, as well as toys that encourage families to play together.


Cabbage Patch Kids Baby So Real, from Wicked Cool Toys

“We are seeing tech-driven dolls, as well as licensed fashion dolls that appeal to both kids and adult collectors, which coincide with two of our top trends and tell us that the doll category is one to watch,” says Appell. “And we can’t forget about the enduring popularity of traditional dolls—like the classic baby doll—that allow kids to act out their future roles as parents.”

New introductions from leaders in the doll segment (Mattel and Hasbro) will spur interest in dolls—and sales—across the entire industry. From new innovations to tried-and-true classics, the following are just a few examples that are expected to impact the market through Q4:

Cabbage Patch Kids Baby So Real (coming in August), from Wicked Cool Toys, is an interactive, lifelike Cabbage Patch Kid that combines traditional doll play with groundbreaking technology. The soft and cuddly doll comes to life with animated LCD eyes that open, close, and look around as well as sensors for peek-a-boo, tickle play, and other interactions. An accompanying app heightens the play experience by allowing kids to bring the fun of parenting online with a virtual nursery, games, and video clips.

Little Friends Doll Feli, from Haba, is unlike any other Little Friends doll because her clothes and hairstyles can be removed and interchanged, allowing for customization. The 4-inch tall bendy doll is posable and compatible with all Haba dollhouse furniture and dollhouses.

Asana Yoga Girl, from Azaim Girlz, is an aspirational doll that encourages children to be active and develop lifelong healthy habits. The doll is sold with a pilates ball, hand weights, a yoga mat (which doubles as a slap bracelet), and a hair brush. A percentage of profits from the sale of each Asana doll will benefit the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, which is dedicated to reducing the prevalence of childhood obesity.

Mon Premier Bébé Bath Sail Away (Corolle) is a classic 12-inch doll for kids to play with in the bath, pool, or ocean. The lifelike baby doll is soft and posable, making it perfect for rocking and cuddling. It can also be hung to dry from the tab on the back of its neck after bathing or water play.

Based on the popular line of Star Darlings books and animation, the Disney Star Darlings doll line from Jakks Pacific encourages kids to “be confident, believe in themselves, and to shoot for the stars!” The fully posable dolls are decked out in outrageous fashions, and feature shimmer skin and sparkly eyes.

Betty Spaghetty dolls, from Moose Toys

Betty Spaghetty dolls, from Moose Toys

Harley Quinn, The Joker, and The Penguin are the new DC Comics Fashion Squad dolls, slated to “hit the runway” this fall. Appealing to doll lovers and collectors of all ages, members of the DC Comics Fashion Squad are decked out in couture costumes and represented in Madame Alexander’s 16-inch fashion doll sculpt.

Splashlings, from TPF Toys, is a beautiful line of collectible dolls and characters from under the sea with unique personalities. Collectible items within the line include mermaids and their “splashlings” (pets), treasures, gems, and play sets. Accompanying webisode content can be found at the Splashlings website.

Moose Toys is bringing back the classic Betty Spaghetty doll. First introduced in the late ’90s, the all-new Betty Spaghetty will let kids use their imaginations as they mix and match her outfits and hair to create a personalized doll that is completely unique.

The Hanna, Jane, and Theresa dolls from Little Poland Gallery are beautifully made of 100-percent cotton and other natural resources. The 15-inch tall playmates are perfect for little ones ages 18 months and up. »

Eight Reasons Why Pokémon Go Is Succeeding Where Toys Have Failed

20160706012433!Pokemon_GoIf you haven’t noticed the runaway success of Pokémon Go this past week, you’re living under a rock. Look outside—all those people looking at their phones, glancing around, and walking slowly into traffic (hopefully not) are playing the hottest new augmented reality (AR) game. The word on the street is that this is the future of gaming. Perhaps it is. But it’s certainly not the first augmented reality game. The toy industry has been taking shots at this category for years with little to no success. At Toy Fair 2012, WowWee introduced its App Gear line. [Read more...]

Being Smart About Smart Toys

What manufacturers should do to stay on top of this evolving toy category.

by Sean McGowan, founder, SMG Leisure

Toys featuring tech elements such as sound chips, programmability, or the ability to communicate with other toys are not new, but for the last few years, smart toys are eating up more and more shelf space. In this piece, I will look at several aspects of this burgeoning toy category. Some of these toys are truly groundbreaking, but both parents and toy manufacturers need to exercise a great deal of caution and forethought to make sure these toys safely deliver their intended benefit.

For the purpose of this discussion, I’ll clarify what I mean by “smart toy,” or, just as usefully, what I do not mean. I am not talking about toys designed to make your baby, toddler, or preschooler smarter. Instead, the term “smart toy” focuses on the smartness of the toy itself.


Sphero’s BB-8 app-enabled droid launched last year and allows kids to control the robotic ball with an app.

Not-So-Smart Toys

Products typified by Tickle Me Elmo, where a child presses a button (or issues a voice command) and the toy runs through a pre-programmed routine, are not considered smart toys. Some people in the industry refer to these as “watch me toys,” but I have provocatively called them “toys that play with themselves.” These toys don’t make anyone smarter, nor do they use technology that is all that impressive.

The broad category of electronic learning aids, which encompasses educational offerings from companies like LeapFrog and VTech, are not smart toys either, even though some of the tech-infused devices are pretty smart, and many of them are now connected either to each other or to the web.

Smart toys interact with other devices and/or programs, such as apps, other toys, or other devices in the area. These toys often have a capacity to learn about their environments and to respond—sometimes in subtle ways—to changes in the environment.

In some ways, products like Furby, Tamagotchi, and Webkins were the precursors to smart toys. They weren’t actually all that smart, especially compared to today’s smart toys. But I consider them to be the original smart toys because they appeared to be interactive, learn over time, and respond to changes in the environment. In fact, they were really just running on pre-set clocks, testing for a small number of changes the user made, even though they seemed to respond to the user, grow (or die, if you didn’t “feed” them), and interact.

Smart Toys 1.0

The toys I call smart toys 1.0 were effectively crude physical extensions of computer programs and apps. Think of those early apptivities—or app-based toys—that allowed kids to scan in some physical product (a little toy car, a figurine, a plastic gun) to cause changes in an app on a tablet or smartphone. In hindsight, these were little more than app-based games that invited the consumer to use a physical object other than their fingers to control the action. Why was this a good idea? It wasn’t, but it gave toymakers and retailers a way to be involved in a segment of the industry that was rapidly evolving away from them. In my view, the fundamental problem with these toys is that they didn’t allow kids to have more fun than they would have simply playing with the app.

Smart Toys 2.0

The toys I consider smart toys 2.0 are those that promote interaction between a tablet or a smartphone and the physical toy, to create an experience that is very different from—and better than—that which can be enjoyed without that interaction. Perhaps the best example is Furby Boom, but Sphero’s robotic ball (and its best-selling BB-8 version) and Ooboly also fit into this category. Plus, the entire toys-to-life sub-category pioneered by Activision’s Skylanders and now also populated by Nintendo’s amiibo, and LEGO and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment’s LEGO Dimensions, are also part of smart toys 2.0. While these toys are different from each other in many ways, what they share in common is the focus on both the screen—whether it’s a TV, a tablet, or a smartphone—and the toy.


CogniToys’ Dino is a cloud-based, Wi-Fi connected toy that allows kids to engage in intelligent conversations.

Smart Toys 3.0

As technology becomes even more accessible, a growing number of smart toys either involve minimal screen-time or none at all, which brings us to smart toys 3.0. The emergence of these screen-liberated toys is due in part to backlash from parents who seek to reduce the amount of time their children spend staring at screens (which has apparently been linked to shortened attention spans and difficulty in learning). Additionally, technology that allows the devices to work simply and intuitively without a screen has emerged, such as chip sets, connection technology, and user interfaces. These toys may require a device to control, setup, or program the toys, but the focus is on the toy itself, not the screen of a tablet or smartphone.

We have seen a host of 3.0 toys in the past year, such as Anki Overdrive, which allows artificially intelligent cars to race around connectible track, as well as interactive smart toys masquerading as plain old traditional toys, such as CogniToy and an adorable reworking of a classic, Edwin the Duck. These toys are a break from the prior generation of smart toys because all of the action and fun is in the toys. Kids are not just watching or using a toy to enhance an app experience. Instead, they are using the secondary device to enhance the power of the toy.

One of the aspects I love about the newest generation of smart toys is how some of them encourage all kids to get involved with technology, including girls. LittleBits are designed with a gender-neutral color palette and can be used to create anything kids can imagine. Sphero’s BB-8 app-enabled droid is programmable and can be part of any kids’ play fantasy.

Safety First

Still, some of the same issues that loomed over the prior generations of smart toys continue to linger. First and most important is the question of security. Let’s face it: Anything that interacts with your home’s Wi-Fi network is a potential security risk, but that doesn’t mean it’s pointless to try to make the toys secure—just the opposite. It is imperative that toy manufacturers use security measures that are every bit as secure as those used to secure a teenager’s iPhone camera roll. Adults who purchase connected toys must remain vigilant that they are not serving as Trojan Horses to let hackers into their homes.

While there will almost always be a way to hack a system, the key is to make it so difficult that the hacker will seek more fertile grounds. (Like the old joke about the two campers seeking to avoid bear attacks: The first camper says he plans to wear running shoes. The other camper laughs and says, “You really think you can outrun a bear?” The first one replies, “I don’t need to outrun the bear. I only need to outrun you.”)

And hacking isn’t the only safety issue. For young children, there can be just as much danger if a toy simply serves as an entryway onto the web. Remember Commonwealth Toy’s WikiBear? Unintended consequences can ensue when you let an innocent looking toy surf the web. The idea of a teddy bear kids could use to ask unlimited questions and gain tons of knowledge seemed quite clever, but it wasn’t thought through well enough.

Accessibility is Everything

Another issue to be tackled is cost, and its inherent connection to the widening gap between consumers who can afford costly toys and those who can’t. While a very high percentage of the consumer base has access to smartphones, not all have access to the same phones or the fastest Internet connections, and I believe these toys should be designed to be as widely accessible as possible.

The cost for the consumer is not the only cost to consider—developing smart toys isn’t cheap. They require all of the traditional costs associated with getting a toy manufactured, plus extensive upfront development costs, additional bill-of-material costs, and ongoing costs, such as server costs, higher customer service costs, and the cost of operating an ongoing service: Toys as a service (TAAS).

For larger, well-funded toy makers, these costs raise the risks but can probably be justified. For smaller, less lucrative companies, these costs can be prohibitive. Companies such as Seebo, an Israel-based technology company, provide turn-key solutions that allow even the smallest companies to quickly, efficiently, and inexpensively turn their products into smart, connected toys, lowering the costs and the risks.

Keep Your Promises

Finally—and this is ultimately true of any toy—smart toys must deliver on the promise of fun. They can’t be simply showing off some clever feature, or showcasing a new connectivity breakthrough. In fact, they can’t even be simply replicating traditional play, but in a more tech-enhanced way. They have to provide original experiences that engage kids in new ways. Otherwise, who needs them?

SeanMcGowanSean McGowan is the founder of SMG Leisure. He has been closely following the toy industry for 30 years, analyzing product trends, cost changes, marketing practices, and other aspects of how products and companies succeed (or don’t). He also follows digital gaming, sporting goods, and juvenile products. McGowan started SMG Leisure in January 2016 to continue this work beyond the parameters of Wall Street. 

Summer Toy Trends

New toys and games hitting shelves will inspire summertime play whether kids are at home, on vacation, or at the playground. The Toy Industry Association (TIA) spoke with industry experts to gain insight into what’s trending in outdoor play, what indoor playthings encourage creative skill-building and learning, and the top franchises and licenses expected to impact toy sales this summer.

Outdoor Play & New Destinations

As excitement builds for the “lazy days” of summer, toys sales show that families are anything but lazy. The NPD Group reported that the Outdoor & Sports Toys category saw a 9 percent increase in sales last year to $3.59 billion.

“The traditional outdoor play patterns—especially those related to exercise, like bicycling, running, and jumping—may not change much,” says Adrienne Appell, TIA toy trend specialist, “but toymakers are putting twists on classic toys and activities to keep kids engaged.”

New tech trends are complementing outdoor play, says J. Alison Bryant, CEO and chief play officer of PlayScience, PlayLab & Sandbox, adding that kids and families are using mobile technologies to enjoy navigational techniques such as geocaching, so they can learn about what they see on nature hikes or while playing on a beach.

“This is still relatively nascent, but what is great about it is that families are using technology to augment and enhance their play experience, not replace it,” Bryant notes.

Traveling to specialty toy stores can be perfect summer outings, especially during times when it may be rainy or too hot to be outside. Kimberly Mosley, president of the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA), says this season’s store-based events break up families’ packed schedules and provide venues for fun group activities.

“Specialty toy stores compete by making their stores a destination and providing child- and family-centered experiences that are unique in their communities,” Mosley says. “So, in ASTRA stores you’ll often see creative and fun opportunities pop up in the summer—everything from Make Your Own Garden Stone to a several-days-long Build-a-Fort Art Camp.”

Fun Ways to Play Indoors

Not all summer play takes place outside. Kids also enjoy playing inside, especially with toys and games that will boost their creative and artistic abilities. The new offerings from one of TIA’s main trends for this year, named “Ultimate Creator,” encourages kids to find and build their talents as digital artists, filmmakers, jewelers, and more.

“The season also presents opportunities for kids to explore their passions and interests through play,” says Appell. “Once they’ve returned to the house after a day outside, kids may be inspired to make their own ice cream with their parents, or design swimwear with toys and products under the Ultimate Creator trend.”

Additionally, products that teach or reinforce Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM) are providing ways to keep learning fun outside of the classroom. Kids wishing to visit exotic and atypical places can arrive there almost instantly with new virtual reality (VR) products and content. Whether with a brand’s VR kit or by assembling cardboard glasses to connect to a smartphone, the sector breaks new ground in terms of offering 360-degree experiences.

“The essence of VR is to be immersed in a location it will teach children about, and transport them to places they couldn’t otherwise visit—deep in the ocean, the edge of a volcano, into a rain forest, or even into the nucleus of an atom,” says David Kleeman, senior vice president of global trends at Dubit. “It’s inexpensive, comfortable, and simple for [kids] to use, and we anticipate a growing amount of content for kids beginning this spring and summer, as the devices become widespread.”

Summer Blockbusters

Licensed toys account for 32 percent of U.S. toy sales, according to The NPD Group, and that number is expected to climb as various new entertainment reaches fans on the silver screen. This summer, theaters will be packed with blockbuster films featuring new and classic characters.

“Fans and industry professionals have high expectations for Captain America: Civil War, while families will likely make an outing for PG movies like Finding Dory,” Appell notes.

Other family-friendly summer blockbusters slated for release include The Angry Birds Movie, and sequels to Ice Age and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The licensed toys and games they inspire will run the gamut from tech to traditional and will keep kids busy playing for hours.

“Films’ toys often further the family fun even after the credits roll because they tend to be engaging and appropriate for all ages,” says Appell. “The play experiences offered by life-size accessories, mobile games, and everything in between should be able to keep toy sales strong and kids playing for hours.”

TIA tracks trends on a year-round basis to provide industry stakeholders with insight into what’s new and what’s on the horizon in the toy and youth entertainment product industry. Visit www.toyassociation.org/trends for more information.

Justin_HeadshotJustin Smulison is the newest member of TIA’s Marketing Communications team, after years as a journalist and custom content producer in legal publishing. A proud husband and father, he is thrilled to report on toys and characters that he and his 2-year-old daughter play with together, and to be involved in an industry that positively impacts her and future generations.

A New Landscape: How Smart Toys Are Changing the Toy Market

by Mykola Golovko, toys and games project manager, Euromonitor International

Technology has a transformative impact on countless aspects of our everyday lives. The list of markets disrupted by technology and rapid innovation continues to grow, and as smart toys become more prevalent, significant shifts are expected in how the global toy market works. The changes will be driven primarily by digital natives entering and overtaking the toy consumer base.

Digital Natives

By 2017, annual sales of smartphones will surpass 1 billion units. Tablets and—more recently—wearable electronics have also become mainstream products. In 2016, mobile Internet subscriptions are expected to top 3 billion, and will likely surpass the 4 billion mark by 2019. This puts a smartphone with an Internet connection in the majority of households, in addition to computers, smart TVs, and other connected devices, which are rapidly gaining in popularity. Children worldwide are growing up surrounded by technology. For them, it is a natural component of everyday life, and toys that offer interactive features and integrate virtual components into gameplay will feel natural to this audience. Manufacturers will respond with increasingly sophisticated products that blend physical and virtual gameplay.


Source: Euromonitor International

Software and Content Gain Market Power

So far, the most commercially successful products blending virtual and physical gameplay have been in the toys-to-life category, but going forward, we expect to see expanding physical playability to be the focus of development. Making smart toys more interactive in the real world will require the integration of contextual computing and elements of augmented reality. This will make the software platforms for toys increasingly complex, causing a shift away from the walled garden model of toys-to-life products toward more open platforms that minimize development costs.

This is exactly what happened with mobile phones. As these products became increasingly sophisticated, there was significant consolidation in software platforms, to the point where the market became essentially a duopoly of two operating systems. As software, content, and services gained importance in mobile computing, hardware became commoditized, with significant declines in prices. Similar dynamics are expected in toys and games as smart toys become mainstream products. The value of a toy will be a combination of the physical product, the capabilities of the software platform, and the content this platform can deliver.

Adjusting to Changes

Toys are already becoming more complex products, as licensing becomes an ever-expanding part of the global market. The most successful toy lines are no longer stand-alone products, but integral parts of entertainment franchises that can span feature films, TV shows, and video games, along with apparel and other licensed products.

Smart toys will add software platforms to the total value proposition of a toy. The role of software will enable interaction with digital content in meaningful and engaging ways. Products that integrate new technology for the sake of technology itself have typically done poorly. Products that use augmented reality and contextually aware software to allow children to interact with their favorite characters in new ways will be the must-have toys of the future.

mykolaMykola Golovko is the toys and games project manager at Euromonitor International, a provider of strategic market research. Golovko studies the ways in which technology diffusion rates accelerate and permeate a growing number of aspects of the daily life of consumers.