China Toy Fair


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.

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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.

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Toy Industry Veteran Writes Thriller Novel

Book Cover PhotoThe Deadliest Game, Hal Ross’s new thriller novel published by Titletown Publising LLC, incorporates Ross’s 35 years of toy industry experience in this suspenseful crime narrative. In the frightening tale, protagonist Blair Mulligan must make a decision between saving the life of his own daughter and the lives of thousands of other children after a terrorist plot against U.S. toy consumers.

Readers will get an exclusive insider’s perspective of the competitive toy business in The Deadliest Game, which will be released on November 6. Ross has even teamed up with the advertising agency Creative Bube Tube to market the novel through social media, TV, and various contests with awards to range from a Kindle Fire, signed copies of the book, and an Amazon gift card.

Toys “R” Us Appoints CEO; Names President of U.S. Business

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Toys “R” Us Inc. has named two seasoned executives with deep international and domestic retail expertise to lead the global franchise and its domestic business. Antonio Urcelay has been named CEO, Toys “R” Us Inc., effective immediately, after serving as the company’s interim CEO since May. Hank Mullany, an experienced retail executive with a strong background in operations, finance, customer service, and strategic planning, has been named president, Toys “R” Us, U.S., effective November 5.

Urcelay, 61, a respected global retail leader, joined Toys “R” Us in 1996. Over the course of his tenure with the organization, he has held roles of increasing responsibility. He will continue to provide worldwide leadership in driving key strategies and growth initiatives in the company’s more than 1,500 stores in 36 countries and jurisdictions worldwide. Known for building strong teams, implementing best practices across the organization and focusing intently on customer service, Urcelay has been instrumental in creating strategies to drive growth in global markets by placing an emphasis on thinking locally. Prior to joining Toys “R” Us, Urcelay spent the majority of his career working in the retail and consumer packaged goods industries, including Spanish dairy company Leche Pascual, Dutch supermarket chain Royal Ahold, and the Spanish subsidiary of Procter & Gamble.

Mullany, 55, has an established track record of developing and executing strategies, revitalizing underperforming businesses, and consistently delivering results. He previously served as CEO of The ServiceMaster Co., one of the world’s largest residential and commercial service businesses, and prior to that, was executive vice president of Walmart U.S. and president of Walmart’s northern business, with operational responsibility for more than $90 billion in revenue, more than 400,000 associates in 1,300 stores and 28 distribution centers in 19 states. In his new position at Toys “R” Us, Mullany will oversee all merchandising, marketing, e-commerce, and store operations responsibilities for the 878 U.S. store division. He will report to Urcelay.

Frederic Soulie Promoted to SVP of Global Distribution at Saban Brands

Oct7.SabanSaban Brands has promoted Frederic Soulie to senior vice president of global distribution. Soulie will continue to oversee the worldwide distribution strategy Saban Brands’ properties across the TV, home entertainment, and digital platform categories. While managing ongoing and collaborative efforts to distribute the company’s entertainment properties, he will also work closely with Saban Brands’ President Elie Dekel and Chief Operating Officer Janet Scardino.

Soulie joined Saban Brands two years ago with experience overseeing digitial distribution and business development for Cookie Jar Entertainment as well as Endemol USA—the largest independent TV production company in the world.

Douglas Cuddle Toys Welcomes Tara Rubino

image-1Douglas Co., known for their plush toys and plush accessories, has appointed Tara Rubino to the position of National Sales Manager.

Rubino has had more than 20 years experience in plush sales and management, having worked for two other plush companies prior. All Douglas employees have passion for what they do and take the mission seriously to promote imaginative play and emotional connection for children of all ages.

Douglas products are sold at specialty gift and toy stores in the U.S., Canada, and Europe.

TCG Strengthens Sales Force with New Appointments

In a move to strengthen its Canadian sales force, TCG has promoted Laura Giger to vice president and appointed Moe Merali as sales director. Giger has nearly 20 years of experience as a senior-level consumer packaged goods sales executive, more than half of which have been at TCG. Prior to joining TCG in 2003, she held the positions of national account manager for Hasbro Canada and sales representative for Hugh McIvor Agencies. She will oversee all account relationships in the Canadian market.

Merali joins TCG with more than 10 years of experience in the consumer packaged goods and IT sectors. Prior to joining TCG, he served as sales director Canada at Innovation First International.

Toys “R” Us Releases Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids

toysToys “R” Us, Inc. has released the 2013 Toys “R” Us Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids, a toy selection resource for children with special needs. This annual shopping guide is available in Toys “R” Us and Babies “R” Us stores nationwide and online, in English and Spanish, at Toysrus.com/DifferentlyAbled. This year’s edition features 2012 all-around gymnastics gold medalist Gabrielle “Gabby” Douglas on the cover, alongside Special Olympics Young Athletes Isabella Caesar and Samuel Lopez.

This year’s Guide introduces Toys “R” Us’ first Toys “R” Us App Guide for Differently-Abled Kids. The app guide currently features a selection of 25 apps identified to help children with special needs further develop key skills. Apps featured within the 2013 app guide include Swapsies–Occupations, PicSay–Photo Editor, Learning Letters for Kids, Bubble Buster, and Cookie Dunk Jump. All apps featured within this resource can be found in the Google Play Store for Android or the App Store for iOS.

Gabby Douglas is also helping to cheer on aspiring Special Olympics athletes. The Special Olympics Young Athletes program introduces kids to the world of sports and offers children ages 2 to 7 with intellectual and developmental disabilities the opportunity to play, compete, and grow while developing early cognitive, social, and motor skills. The Toys “R” Us Children’s Fund provides ongoing grants to Special Olympics to support the national expansion of Special Olympics’ Young Athletes program. Most recently, it pledged $1 million to become a founding partner of the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games and presenting sponsor of the first Young Athletes Festival, which will provide children and their families with the opportunity to take part in the Young Athletes program, free health screenings, family seminars, and more.

The 2014 Special Olympics USA Games will be in New Jersey from June 14 to 21. This year, Toys “R” Us has partnered with Wynsum Arts, a social enterprise that makes app discovery and mobile technology accessible to children of all abilities.

KidTribe’s Hoopersize Kit Hits Retail

HoopersizeThe battle over childhood obesity, now declared a disease by the American Medical Association, has a new ally in fitness guru and TED Talks alum Kellee McQuinn. In 2002 she founded KidTribe, and has since evoked a new paradigm of physical education, especially with her Hoopersize hula hoops.

Hoopersize is a retail fitness kit designed to keep children active. The kit includes a full sized Pro-Hoop that’s designed to be a bit thicker, heavier, and a lot sturdier than typical hoops. It also includes two DVDs featuring instructional music videos that teach tricks, lead dynamic routines, and entertain while providing nutritional tips. The kit is packed with 12 instructional games and the Hoopersize CD with music to hula hoop along to.

KidTribe’s routines take the form of fitness concerts known as Hoopapalooza, which has grown to be a popular and award-winning school assembly program seen by more than 3.5 million kids and teachers. Hoopapalooza has garnered so much popularity that it has been a staple at the White House Easter Egg Roll since 2010. The energy of Hoopapalooza can now be captured at home with Hoopersize.

Heidi Swedberg and the Sukey Jump Band Releases Second Album

HeidiSwedbergHeidi Swedberg, best-known from her role of Susan on Seinfeld, has built a national reputation for her ukulele-inflected, interactive approach to family music-making. Swedberg produced her second album, My Cup of Tea, for national retail release on September 10. To produce the album of 13 songs, Swedberg raised more than $5,000 through crowd-funding site Kickstarter and involved many of her musician friends to create a diverse album.

Amidst frequent national touring with Heidi and the Sukey Jump Band, Heidi holds ongoing weekly music classes at McCabe’s and Los Angeles schools, plus elementary schools and other venues. Her lessons and chord charts are available via the Sukey Jump channel on GoChords. Heidi and the Sukey Jump Band plan concerts in Southern California this fall. Visit the Sukey Jump calendar page for scheduling details.

Gaby Borges Named New Kidz Bop Spokesperson

kidzbopUnivision Communications Inc. and Kidz Bop have teamed up to support the July 16 release of Kidz Bop 24. Tween sensation and Univision correspondent, Gaby Borges, is the new spokesperson for Kidz Bop’s first Spanish-language campaign. The 14-year-old singer, actor, and dancer is also participating in Kidz Bop’s annual Kidz Star USA Talent Search as a special ambassador to encourage aspiring young Hispanic performers to audition for their chance to win an RCA Records recording contract.

The release of Kidz Bop 24 is also timed to coincide with Kidz Bop’s annual Kidz Star USA Talent Search, the premier talent competition for kids 15 and under. This summer, Kidz Bop has partnered with Six Flags for the Official Kidz Star USA Live Audition Tour, hitting 10 theme parks across the country.