TIA Announces Toy of the Year 2017 Winners

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Last night, the Toy Industry Association (TIA) announced the 2017 Toy of the Year award winners at the 17th annual Toy of the Year Awards and Toy Industry Hall of Fame induction ceremony, hosted at The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City.

Winners in each of the categories include:

Toy of the Year
LEGO Friends Amusement Park Roller Coaster (LEGO Systems)

People’s Choice
Pop! Vinyl (Funko)

Action Figure of the Year
DC Super Hero Girls Action Figure Assortment (Mattel)

Active/Outdoor Toy of the Year
Bunch O Balloons (Zuru)

Activity Toy of the Year
Crayola Air Marker Sprayer (Crayola)

Collectible of the Year
Pop! Vinyl (Funko)

Construction Toy of the Year
LEGO Friends Amusement Park Roller Coaster (LEGO Systems)

Doll of the Year
Barbie Fashionista Doll (Mattel)

Game of the Year
Yeti in My Spaghetti (PlayMonster)

Infant/Preschool Toy of the Year
Doc McStuffins Toy Hospital Care Cart (Just Play)

Innovative Toy of the Year
Hatchimals (Spin Master)

License of the Year
Paw Patrol (Spin Master)

Rookie of the Year
3DoodlerStart Essentials Pen Set (WobbleWorks)

Specialty Toy of the Year
LEGO Disney Castle (LEGO Systems)

Tech Toy of the Year
CodeGamer (Thames & Kosmos)

Vehicle of the Year
Air Hogs Star Wars X-Wing vs. Death Star – Rebel Assault (Spin Master)

Known as the “Oscars” of the toy industry, the TOTY Awards ceremony annually attracts hundreds of global toy executives and guests. Several new categories were introduced for this year’s program, including Action Figure of the Year, Collectible of the Year, Construction Toy of the Year, Doll of the Year, Rookie of the Year, and Vehicle of the Year. Additionally, a more transparent and efficient judging process was used to determine the finalists. Winners in each category were selected based on votes from toy retailers (mass and specialty), media, TIA members, and consumers. The “People’s Choice” award winner was selected solely by consumer votes cast at www.ToyAwards.org.

Winners were selected from a pool of 700 finalists that were nominated by 25 judges, including toy and play experts, retailers, academics, and journalists.
The TOTY Awards serve as the official kick off to the 114th North American International Toy Fair and support the philanthropic work of the Toy Industry Foundation.                     

Tech 4 Kids and The Bridge Merge

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Strategic Partnership Aims to Yield Growth and New Opportunities

The toy industry is known for its mergers and acquisitions. They say no one leaves the toy industry—they just move around. One of the main reasons for this is the opportunity for growth. While some companies grow slowly but steadily with a hit here and a hit there, some of the most successful companies in this industry got to where they are via strategic acquisitions or mergers. Toy industry giants such as Mattel, Hasbro, Spin Master, and Jakks Pacific show how vital these moves are to taking a company to the next level.

The first, critical step is finding a complementary, like-minded company with which to merge. Brad Pedersen, president and CEO of Tech 4 Kids, and Jay Foreman, president and CEO of The Bridge Direct, met at toy industry event PlayCon several years ago, where they were introduced by a mutual colleague.

“This is a very social business, and while we all compete in some way, there are always opportunities and synergies that like-minded people can find to make their businesses stronger,” says Pedersen.

This year, Pedersen and Foreman will merge The Bridge Direct and Tech 4 Kids into a new company focused on classic play. The new company will have an entirely new name (yet to be determined), and will be managed in North America and Hong Kong by an experienced team made up of executives from both companies. Foreman will be CEO, and Pedersen will serve as the president of the new company. The head office will be in Boca Raton, Fla., “which has become a micro-hub of the toy industry,” according to Foreman. The company will also continue to operate Tech 4 Kids’ Canadian office, and will consolidate the Hong Kong offices into one operation to maintain and grow that space.

Pedersen says that the companies have already started to integrate the operational side of the businesses, and, over the next 100 to 200 days, plan to merge more functions together to begin to operate as one. While each company will operate out of its respective gallery at the North American International Toy Fair, the companies will come together under one roof at Fall Toy Preview in Dallas this October.

The Bridge Direct and Tech 4 Kids are both traditional toy companies, and the merged company will remain a multi-line traditional toy business, “playing in a variety of product categories both large and small, taking senior as well as ancillary support positions in categories,” says Foreman. “We will look to consolidate product lines where it makes sense, but expect that the combined portfolio will create a much more robust offering for the market. The plan is to merge operational efficiencies but look to continue to grow our existing product lines and expand our portfolio into other high-volume categories. The key will be to offer the trade highly desirable product at great margins and superior value to the consumer.”

The company will continue to offer toys in the impulse collectibles, retro, construction, and activity toy categories, according to Pedersen. “We want to continue to develop and innovate new product concepts to drive organic growth, while at the same time pursue an aggressive acquisition strategy,” he says. “Our strategy is to more fully leverage the complementary distribution channels, develop accretive, parallel channels, and drive acquisitions,” he explains.

So, why now? “This industry continues to change at a rapid pace,” says Foreman. “It’s come to a point where many of the key stakeholders, including retailers, licensors, and vendors are looking to do more business with fewer partners. The overall key motivation for this opportunity is how hard it is to compete in today’s increasingly competitive retail landscape as a sub $50 million company. You simply don’t have the critical mass to compete on a large enough scale and be the best you can be to customers and partners. By scaling up, this opportunity will let us do just that—our weakness becomes our strength.”

“With added scale, we believe we will accelerate the growth of our value proposition for retailers,” adds Pedersen. “Both companies enjoy a good reputation for providing innovative products, driving sales with effective marketing, shipping on time, and delivering good margins. We will deliver on a more meaningful basis all the things our customers are looking for in a partner.”

While the new company has no plans for an IPO in the near future, there will be an opportunity for private equity firms. “We will become a new strategic player in the business for financial firms that have invested in small to mid-size toy companies,” says Pedersen.

In the near-term, Foreman says the main focus is on a smooth integration and seamless transition for the companies’ partners. Once the company is on solid footing, the door will be open for acquisitions of smaller cap toy companies, with the goal of merging with or acquiring a new company every six to 18 months.

For Pedersen and Foreman, this is the first step toward an even bigger future. “The new combined company will put us in the top 30 toy manufacturers, globally,” says Pedersen. “In less than three years we expect to be in the top 15, and in five years, we will be in the top 10!”

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