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NRF Forecasts an Average Holiday Season

The National Retail Federation (NRF) is expecting this year’s holiday season to be just average. Although last year’s holiday season outperformed most analysts’ expectations, NRF expects 2011 holiday retail sales to increase 2.8 percent to $465.6 billion, close to the 10-year average holiday sales increase of 2.6 percent. Last year, retailers experienced a 5.2 percent increase.

For the first time this year, NRF used its holiday forecasting model to create a projection for seasonal hiring in retail. According to NRF, retailers are expected to hire between 480,000 and 500,000 seasonal workers this holiday season, which is comparable to the 495,000 seasonal employees they hired last year.

Retail Sales Climb; Fastest Rate in Four Months

Improvements in the U.S. economy bolstered retailers’ February sales, reflecting improved consumer sentiment as it relates to spending. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), retail industry sales (which exclude automobiles, gas stations, and restaurants) for February 0.6 percent seasonally adjusted from January and 4.2 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

“Retailers have done a commendable job keeping their inventory levels where they need to be, while still offering attractive promotions for those who are eager to spend,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “The big challenge retailers will face in the coming months, however, will be going head to head with high cotton, food, and energy prices.”

“February retail sales are in sync with evidence of the expanding economy,” said NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz. “While February is typically a slow month for retailers, consumers showed their spending power, though it’s too soon to tell what type of impact the spike in gasoline prices will have on consumers this spring.”

February retail sales released today by the U.S. Commerce Department show total retail sales (which include non-general merchandise categories such as autos, gasoline stations, and restaurants) increased 1 percent seasonally adjusted over January and 9.1 percent unadjusted year-over-year. Solid growth in discretionary spending was seen across the board.

Tomy to Acquire RC2 Corporation

Tomy Company, Ltd. and RC2 Corporation have entered into a definitive agreement pursuant to which Tomy will acquire RC2 through an all-cash tender offer and second-step merger valued at approximately $640 million. The transaction was approved by Tomy’s board of directors. RC2’s board of directors has also approved the agreement and recommended that RC2’s stockholders tender their shares to Tomy pursuant to the offer. Tomy, through a U.S. subsidiary, will make an offer to purchase all outstanding shares of RC2 common stock for $27.90 per share. The tender offer price represents a 30.9 percent premium to RC2’s average closing stock price over the three-month period ended March 9, 2011, and a 27.2 percent premium over the closing price of RC2’s common stock on March 9, 2011. The tender offer is scheduled to commence in 10 business days and is expected to close during the second quarter of this year. The tender offer is subject to certain customary conditions, including the tender of a majority of the outstanding shares of RC2’s common stock on a fully diluted basis. The transaction is not conditioned on financing. Following completion of the tender offer, Tomy will acquire the remaining outstanding shares of RC2’s common stock for $27.90 per share through a second-step merger.

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NPD Analyst: Retailers Scrambling to Recover Lost Sales

Marshall Cohen, chief industry analyst of The NPD Group, initially expected that the holiday 2010 season would “be remembered as a good year, not a great one.”
“To be great,” said Cohen right before Christmas, “the consumer would have to be in a frenzy and retailers would still be stocked with plenty of product to go around.” According to Cohen, retailers practiced the theory that it is better to sell out than to have leftovers.
On Monday, Cohen revised his outlook saying: “Holiday 2010 just went from a truly Merry Christmas for retailers to a lost weekend with retailers scrambling to recover lost sales.” Cohen called the post-Christmas weekend “brutal,” citing an already shortened post-holiday shopping weekend due to the holiday falling on a Saturday and the Sunday snowstorm in the Midwest and Northeast.
“All-in-all, retailers will lose about 0.5 [percent] of sales with the loss of this big post-Christmas day. And by the time they make it up, the sales will fall out of the range of the ‘holiday numbers’,” Cohen said. “Consumers will now have to wait longer to use those gift cards and make their returns. This is an important part of the sales in that consumers tend to spend approximately an additional 16 percent above the face value of gift cards and returns.”

Wild Creations Named “Fastest Growing Company in South Carolina”

Wild Creations was named the 2010 Fastest Growing Company in South Carolina for their whopping 313 percent average growth. The company was founded in 2007 by Rhett Power and Peter Gasca, and carried one core product: the EcoAquarium. Today, Power and Gasca oversee 80 warehouse employees who package over 80 SKUs to more than 2,000 retailers, including Brookstone, Hallmark, and Learning Express.

According to The Post and Courier, eligible companies “had to be operating for more than three years, have more than $3 million in annual revenue, and be headquartered in South Carolina.”

For more information on Wild Creations and its product lines, visit www.wildcreations.com.

Disney to Pay $269M in Damages to Millionaire Creator After Federal Trial

Last week, a federal jury awarded British-based Celador International, Ltd. $269.4 million in damages after unanimously finding that Disney subsidiaries ABC Television, Buena Vista Television, and Valleycrest Productions, Ltd., had breached their contract with the company to share profits from the game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

The lawsuit (Celador International, Ltd. v. Walt Disney Co.) was filed in 2004 after The Walt Disney Co. reported that Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, created by Celador, never made a profit and generated more than $70 million in losses for the company, although the game show took ABC from No. 4 to No. 1 in network rankings. Celador licensed rights to the game show to ABC Television and Buena Vista Television as part of a deal in which Celador would get 50 percent of the profits from the show.

The nine-member jury, after deliberating for two and a half days, found that the defendants breached the implied “covenant of good faith and fair dealing” they owed to Celador.

Hasbro Denies Potential Company Sale

Despite rumors that Hasbro was holding preliminary talks with private-equity firm Providence Equity Partners, Hasbro stated that it is not having any discussions with any firm regarding the sale of the company. Hasbro did confirm that it had been approached by a private equity firm regarding a transaction. The company said that its board of directors decided not to pursue any deal.

LIMA Reports Decline in Licensing Royalties as Licensing Expo Opens

According to the annual Licensing Industry Survey by the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Association (LIMA), brand owners collected nearly $5.2 billion in licensing royalty revenue in North America in 2009, down 8.7 percent from the year before. This marks the second year of decline; overall royalty revenues declined 5.6 percent in 2008.

In the survey, brand owners cited last year’s sluggish consumer spending, a conservative climate at retail, a longer decision-making cycle, and royalty pressure as reasons for the decline. However, brand owners were optimistic, reporting success in expanding their licensing business internationally in 2009. Licensors also reported a continued trend of more diversified retail distribution.

In 2009, the character segment, which produces 46 percent of licensing industry royalty revenues, declined 7.9 percent. Other major segments of the licensing industry include corporate trademarks/brands (17 percent), fashion (14 percent), and sports (13 percent).

The survey results were released at the opening session of the Licensing International Expo 2010. The numbers were derived from results of LIMA’s annual survey of companies that are directly involved in the licensing business, an examination of public financial documents, and interviews with licensing industry executives.

Transom Capital Group Acquires Uncle Milton

Los Angeles-based private equity firm Transom Capital Group has acquired Uncle Milton Industries, Inc. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

“Toys have been a large part of my life, so it was important to me, personally, that the company find a partner who demonstrated a real commitment to the Uncle Milton legacy,” said Steve Levine, one of the owners of the company, in a press release. “Transom Capital was simply the right fit. They exhibited the same passion for the industry and quickly understood the key issues and dynamics that underlie the company’s success.”

Ken Firtel, managing director of Transom Capital, believes Uncle Milton is “a cornerstone acquisition” for its portfolio. “The founders, the Levine family, have safeguarded the company’s sterling reputation for over half a century by introducing fun and educational toys consistent with the brand’s focus. We believe that Transom Capital can add a level of operational sophistication that will improve its performance both from a top and bottom line perspective,” Firtel said.

Sherwood Partners served as an advisor to Uncle Milton during the transaction.

Walmart CEO Outlines Strategies for “Next Generation Walmart”

At Walmart’s annual shareholders meeting, president and CEO Mike Duke outlined four strategies for building the “Next Generation Walmart.”  He said Walmart is poised to deliver on Sam Walton’s vision of giving “the world an opportunity to see what it’s like to save and have a better life.”

The strategies are: (1) become a truly global company, (2) understand the business challenges that retailers will face and solve them, (3) play an even bigger leadership role on social issues that matter to its customers, and (4) keep its culture strong everywhere.

In order to be a more global company, Duke discussed the need to serve customers as a local store, share best practices, and leverage Walmart’s global supply chain. He stated that over the next five years Walmart will create 500,000 jobs around the world. Duke also discussed the importance on price transparency and low pricing, and being a company that stays strong globally.

The company also announced that its board of directors approved a new repurchase program that authorizes the company to repurchase $15 billion of its shares. This program replaces the previous $15 billion program, which was announced June 5, 2009, and had approximately $4.7 billion of remaining authorization. Under the program, repurchased shares are constructively retired and returned to unissued status.

Photo Credit: Huffington Post