OP-ED: Sustainability, and Why It’s Good for Business

By Brian MacKinnon, Toy State senior vice president of sales

BrianMacKinnon.picFirst and foremost, toy makers are committed to providing retailers with high quality products. But if we can do this in an environmentally friendly way and be more profitable—well, now we are talking!

Over the past few months, Toy State has been part of a Wal-Mart-sponsored pilot program, RedE, intended to educate companies on ways to utilize sustainability best practices to both save energy over time as well as increase profitability. This past April, we were proud to be recognized by Wal-Mart as a global leader in this effort.

Let me share with you what we’ve learned through this pilot program so far: [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Games Are Fun, and Can Keep Kids Thinkin’ Over Summer Vacation

I think any kid would back me up when I make the claim that the best part about summer vacation is having no school. As a youngster, the summer meant the beach, sports, barbeques, and playing outside all day, which made it my favorite time of year. However, summer can also mean reading, keeping up with topics, and building on concepts that were learned months before. That list isn’t always a kid’s favorite cup of tea, but something that they all love is toys and games.

The door in the educational category for toys is now wide open, especially with schools under extra pressure because of Common Core standards. There are quite a few games to keep kids’ noggins churning while having fun, which is one of the best ways to keep them engaged and interested while school is out. Some examples of such are these new games from Funnybone Toys:

cubu-1-250x250Cubu plays on visual illusions to confuse players as they try to follow number and color sequences. This game forces players to use both sides of their brain at the same time, which stimulates the mind in a way that you wouldn’t expect. The challenge lies in keeping up with the number, color, and position of boxes on the cards, while the key hurdle is identifying the pattern and seeing what cards you have in your hand to make your next move. The game lasts until someone reaches 100 points and is declared the winner. The instructions also offer a speed round of Cubu and alternate ways to play the game. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Video Game-Based Toys Can Ease Kids into Other Kinds of Play

KNEX.SuperMarioDesertIt’s summertime, which for a lot of kids means playing outside in the sunshine, swimming, and maybe even going on trips to visit nature. But for others, summer means staying indoors and playing video games all day. It’s probably best to moderate any activity that involves staring at a screen; however, the question is, how to get video game-obsessed kids to take up a different form of play? The answer may be toys based on popular video game titles, and there are quite a few of those available right now.

We kick off our non-comprehensive list with K’NEX, which since 2010, has partnered with Nintendo on construction toys based on its popular Mario property. Recently, I spoke to an executive at the company, who said that no small part of the partnership’s success came from replicating game elements in K’NEX’s construction sets: For example, many of its Super Mario building sets have a mechanism that simulates the avatar’s in-game jumping ability. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Discover the World of Dora and Friends

dora-and-friends-about-the-show-mainImageKids’ favorite explorer Dora will introduce a whole new group of friends in this summer’s new Nickelodeon series Dora and Friends: Into the City. Friends Alana, Emma, Naiya, Kate, and Pablo will all be available in a product line developed by Fisher-Price. The line goes beyond traditional characters such as Boots, Perrito, and even that mischievous Swiper the Fox and brings kids a fresh range of all-new friends that Dora meets in the show’s beautiful pan-Latino metropolis, Playa Verde.

These new, friendly faces will be an instant hit among kids who can choose to collect all of the friends, or obsess over their favorites. I’m naturally drawn to red-headed characters, so I already know that Kate is definitely going to be my favorite—but I’ll give the others a chance to be my favorite, too. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Summer Is Here!

Yes, yes, I know that summer actually starts next month. But for all intents and purposes, Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of summer, and for the next three months, we’ll be cramming in as many cookouts, camping trips, beach days, and family get-togethers as we can. Kids have already started the countdown to the end of the school year, and after the long, harsh winter we had here in the northeast this year, they’re ready to get out and make the most of their summer vacation. Here are some great outdoor toys that will make it a summer to remember:

slipnslide

The Slip ‘n Slide Wave Rider, from Wham-O, is an obvious go-to for a hot summer day. This 16-foot slide is a classic way for kids ages 5 to 12 to cool off and have hours of fun. Hydro-glide technology creates water beads on the surface, giving kids a fast ride, and the included boogie board gives an even smoother time as kids slide alongside the water bumper and into the splash pool. The bumper also continuously sprays water, guaranteeing a cool, wet ride. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Teen Titans Go! Has Licensed Toys Ready to Go

Phil.TeenTitans1.RobinFunkoIt’s been a good year for superhero comics on TV, what with the success of DC Comics’ Arrow and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., not to mention the planned fall arrivals of The Flash and Gotham. But let’s not forget the animated side of small screen super-heroics, as the second season of Teen Titans Go! premieres next month. The series resurrects Teen Titans, which aired during the mid-to-late 2000s, as something wackier and anarchic. Both shows are based on the long-running comic book of the same name, which is centered on some of the best-known teenage characters in DC’s pantheon.

Along with everyone’s favorite young sidekick, Robin, the cast includes Starfire, Cyborg, Raven, and Beast Boy. While adept at defeating evil-doers, Teen Titans Go! more often depicts them hanging out unsupervised at their team headquarters, at which point trouble worse than any super-villain tends to break out. The series is a fun romp, not to mention a good antidote to the spate of more serious, live-action superhero adaptations of late. Teen Titans Go! is currently licensed by a number of toy companies, with items for collectors, young kids, and everyone in between. But in all cases, the property’s lighthearted attitude shines through. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: These Chocolate Chip Cookie-Themed Toys Are as Sweet as the Real Thing

Happy holidays, everybody! In honor of May 15, aka National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day, named after the delectable treat invented at a Massachusetts restaurant during the 1930s, here are some toys featuring either the real thing or a synthetic one.

It was a little surprising to find so many playthings featuring the classic snack, but it makes sense: First, the chocolate chip cookie is every bit as iconic as any character in kids’ licensing. Secondly, in general, little kids are as passionate for cookies as they are for toys, so a cookie-based toy lets them have their cake and eat it, too (though not literally, unless you add a few extra eggs into the batter. But I digress).

Either way, these items gladden our hearts and make our mouths water just by looking at them:

NewSproutsBakeItcroppedNew Sprouts Bake It!, from Learning Resources: This 15-piece collection of baking tools lets kids indulge their ambitions with baking sheets, large bowl, measuring cup, and more. Best of all, the set comes with four toy chocolate chip cookies, which kids can practice lifting off the baking sheet with the toy spatula (A good skill to have mastered before eventually moving on to the real thing). Suitable for kids ages 2 and up. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Role Play Toys Engage Kids in Superhero Action

It’s no secret that kids are extremely influenced by the characters they see in movies and on TV. Superheroes are particularly influential, with their mankind-saving tendencies and super-human abilities. The best thing about superheroes is that they appeal to kids and adults alike, since many of the iconic superheroes we know and love have been around for decades. Fisher-Price’s DC Super Friends line is geared toward kids as young as 3 years old, and Lego will introduce DC characters into its Duplo line for the first time this year. While play sets and building blocks are popular play patterns for kids and adding their favorite superheroes to the mix is a great way to get kids excited, the toys that make kids feel like they are becoming their favorite superhero are some of the most engaging toys on the market.

Everyone’s favorite friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is now back on the block with new enemies. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 opened in theaters Friday, May 2, and now kids can take home all of the web-slinging action, thanks to Hasbro’s intense line of role-play and action figure toys.

Marissa.May13.Hasbro.SPIDER-MAN-MOTORIZED-SPIDER-FORCE-WEB-BLASTERWith the wrist-mounted Motorized Spider Force Web Blaster, kids can fire foam discs featuring web embellishments up to 20 feet with rapid speed. Each Motorized Spider Force Web Blaster comes with 10 Nerf foam discs that can be stored in the storage compartment on the top of the toy so they won’t get lost. Don’t worry—the foam discs are harmless and don’t hurt if you get hit with them. Designed for kids ages 5 and up, kids can take on any villain with this fun role-play toy. I should also note—it’s unbelievably fun for adults, too (especially if you have kids around willing to scoop up the discs for you). Just don’t let the name fool you—there are no messy webs with this product, just soft, foam discs! [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: A Fresh Take on Traditional Outdoor Toys and Games

These days, it’s pretty crucial for toy companies to be as innovative as possible. But sometimes, providing kids with a new take on an old-school toy or game is just as effective. Sure, kids are ridiculously interested in tablets, iPhones, and computers, but when it comes to play the rules haven’t changed all that much. Although kids are now growing up in the “digital age,” they are always going to love running, jumping, laughing, and exerting energy in a physical way.

Toys such as pogo sticks, Skip-Its (my favorite), and sidewalk chalk were staples throughout my childhood, and contrary to those who believe kids are actually digital robots, they remain favorites for children growing up now, too.

Kidoozie Pogo JumperI never got around to mastering the pogo stick, but this bouncing device still remains a popular activity for kids of all ages. The Kidoozie Pogo Jumper from International Playthings offers kids a lot of hop, but enhances the fun by adding a built-in speaker that squeaks with every bounce. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Digital Properties and Toys Are a Match Made in Heaven

Today’s culture of apps and Internet memes has spawned a new category for licensees. These new digital brands have inspired toys that carry the excitement, reference, or joke of a digital property beyond its original state and into the physical world. Smartphones, apps, and the Internet have allowed people of all ages to swap images, play games, and contribute to digital communities faster than ever before. The appeal of a licensed toy can largely be attributed to an emotional connection—such as victory, challenge, or humor—to the property by a consumer. When I see a toy (or any other type of product) that I identify with a funny meme or a favorite app, I’m instantly drawn to it, almost like being in on an inside joke.

For the past few years, many a birthday card that I’ve given and received has featured cringeworthy images of a person (or several) in an array of ridiculous outfits, making odd facial expressions, in questionable poses, and more. Since 2009, Awkward Family Photos (AFP) has accrued nearly 2 million Facebook fans and currently offers plenty of products for fans to enjoy. AFP has also expanded its brand to include Awkward Family Pet Photos, adding a whole new hilarious dimension to the theme. Fans can purchase the AFP puzzle in either the pets or siblings versions, which feature 999 puzzle pieces and come together to create a collage of several awkward images.

afpboardgame

Fans can also enjoy a rousing game of ridiculous photos, questions, and answers with the AFP Board Game, from All Things Equal. A player flips over a card featuring an Awkward Family Photo and reads an open-ended question aloud. The other players must come up with their own answers; the player with the best answer wins the round. [Read more...]