Having recently been promoted to the position of president of Toy State, it seemed like a good time to sit down with Andy Friess to talk about the state of his company, its high-profile sponsorship agreement with Tommy Baldwin Racing, its upcoming plans for the R/C brand, Nikko, and more.
The Toy Book (TTB): How important are new licensing agreements to the growth of Toy State?
Andy Friess (AF): Licensing plays a major role in our success. With the competition so tough in all toy categories, securing rights to strong licenses can provide the point-of-difference that separates us from our competitors. Toy State’s history of developing products featuring the highest levels of quality and innovation has been a great “selling” tool as we seek new licensing opportunities. We’ve been extremely fortunate to work with a core of outstanding global licensors, and these relationships have been instrumental to the successes we have achieved over our 30-plus-year history. The 13-year, multi-category relationship with Caterpillar has been the foundation of our licensing efforts.
Like anything in business, it’s important to always be on the lookout for new opportunities to keep product lines fresh for consumers and retailers. With this in mind, we are always searching for licensing opportunities to strengthen our product offering, as evidenced by the relationships we’ve just announced with Mattel on the Hot Wheels and Thomas & Friends brands, as well with the WWE and James Bond 007 brands. We are so proud of the licensing portfolio we’ve developed, but continue to look for new licenses to add to our best-in-class lineup. I can promise we will have more exciting news to report on the licensing front very soon!
TTB: Toy State is currently in the middle of an 11-race sponsorship agreement with Tommy Baldwin Racing on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Circuit. Have you been happy with the success of the deal so far?
AF: The sponsorship with Tommy Baldwin Racing (TBR) in the NASCAR Spring Cup Series has been one of Toy State’s big highlights in 2015. The No. 7 Nikko RC/Toy State Chevy, designed by Toy State’s senior art director, Dave Reeves, really stands out on the track and has brought a high level of visibility and awareness to the Nikko brand during the first half of 2015. Becoming part of the NASCAR community has proven to be a tremendous asset for Toy State, and this relationship is sure to produce major dividends as it grows.
After a 10-year hiatus from the U.S. market, we thought it was very important to re-establish Nikko’s brand visibility. So far, the results have been outstanding! In the first six weeks of the NASCAR racing season, the Nikko and Road Rippers brands have secured hundreds of millions of consumer brand impressions, while also increasing social media traffic. With major activation plans scheduled throughout the balance of 2015, in conjunction with TBR and the No. 7 car’s driver, Alex Bowman, we look forward to a strong finish. We have five more races left in this year’s sponsorship, including the last four races in NASCAR’s “Chase for the Cup,” so there promises to be no shortage of excitement for the Nikko and Road Rippers brands!
TTB: Toy State acquired the Nikko R/C brand last year, and you plan on bringing it back to the U.S. this fall. How has it been received by the retail community?
AF: We have been very pleased with the reception that the Nikko R/C re-launch has received. From a consumer standpoint, our NASCAR sponsorship has brought incredible visibility and there remains a great demand for the brand. Consumers are incredibly excited to see it back and available. The buyer front is no different. Every buyer we have met has been thrilled to see Nikko R/C returning to the U.S. market. The brand was the leader in the R/C category, prior to pulling out of the U.S., and the return of a strong Nikko brand will serve to strengthen this key toy category. We realize we have a lot of work to do in reestablishing Nikko R/C, but we are focused and bullish about achieving this goal. The Nikko brand stands for quality and innovation, and it has continued to occupy a leadership position in R/C vehicles throughout Europe and in other key international territories. With Toy State now driving the re-launch of the Nikko brand, we are very confident that we can replicate its international success in the U.S. market and restore Nikko to its global leadership position.
TTB: Where do you see Toy State going as we head into the summer of 2015 and beyond?
AF: 2015 has been an exciting year for Toy State. Coming off five consecutive years of record sales, we have set very aggressive goals for growth. Through the re-launch and development of the Nikko brand in the U.S. and strategic additions to our licensing portfolio, Toy State’s product offering is stronger than ever. Led by our commitment to global marketing and distribution, the future of Toy State is bright. We are fortunate to have an ownership that is invested, and investing, in meeting and exceeding established company growth goals. Led by our product development, marketing, and sales teams, I couldn’t be more excited to be part of Toy State’s journey into 2015 and beyond!