China Toy Fair


License to Build: Familiar Properties Fill Up the Shelves of the Construction Aisle

This article was originally published in the July/August 2014 issue of The Toy Book. To read the entire digital issue, click here.

The construction play pattern has always allowed kids to create buildable worlds and adventures straight from their imaginations. But with a recent surge of licensed toys entering the category, kids are able to build more and more familiar worlds based on their favorite existing properties. According to The NPD Group, dollar sales of licensed building sets grew by 6 percent from 2011 to 2013. As the world becomes more multi-media driven, licensed properties are deeply integrated into kids’ daily lives. Established building toy companies, as well as those looking to get their feet wet in the category, are jumping on the bandwagon with characters and environments that are already a staple among kids—and even collectors. [Read more...]

Making a Case for Mass: Pitching Specialty Products to Mass Retailers

Amy Opheim HRby Amy Opheim, owner, C3 Marketing and Copywriting

It’s show time! The official start of the 2014 sales cycle is marked by Fall Toy Preview in Dallas. The show provides an opportunity for manufacturers to present product to mass market buyers, whose buying cycles are longer than that of specialty toy store owners.

While some product features make perfect sense in specialty—high price point, niche audience, not-so-self-explanatory—the mass market is the Holy Grail for many toy and game manufacturers. But with fewer mass market outlets than ever and thousands of products competing for a very limited amount of shelf space, how can specialty manufacturers catch the eye of mass market buyers?

A sales representative who specializes in selling to a specific mass-market account can help with lots of the legwork. They can help explain which aisle a product belongs in, who buys for that section, what is currently on the shelves, and how mass market buyers might feel about bringing in a new product. They’ll also explain the timing, fulfillment, and pricing requirements for that account. But, specialty manufacturers themselves are the ones who are the most vested in getting their products on the shelves, so they are the ones who can make the most persuasive argument.

Assuming the product line doesn’t feature the hottest kids’ property du jour and there is no extensive TV campaign, one very compelling argument to make to a mass market buyer is to show a proven track record of success in the specialty channel. Of course, success is subjective, so here are some key numbers you can track to help make your case:

  • Number of Doors: There are more than 15,000 toy stores in the U.S. How many of them carry your products? How long did it take you to reach that number?
  • Number of Reorders: Selling something to someone once is one thing, but getting reorders is key. What percent of your accounts have reordered? How many times did they reorder, on average, last year?
  • Number of Product Sold: In total, how many pieces of product did you sell last year?
  • Get Testimonials: Sometimes the personal touch can make a difference. What do store owners have to say about your line? How do they feel it moves in comparison to other products? Can they share any anecdotes (ideally about how customers were lined up to get in and buy your newest release)? Your reps can help you capture these statements.
  • Awards Won: Which awards has your product won? Some awards programs offer entrants the testers’ scorecards and comments, which you can use to grab powerful quotes.
  • Press Hits: Did you get good media coverage for this product in its first year out? Which TV shows, magazines, and newspapers mentioned your product?
  • Social Media Sensation: Did you make a splash online? How many Facebook followers does your brand have? How many of them entered contests to win your product? How many bloggers are talking about your product? What are they saying?
  • Research: Who is your key competition in the mass market? How are they doing? Why is your product better? And, speaking of social media, ask your followers if they’re shopping at the store you’re pitching—it would be great to be able to tell Target that 95 percent of your followers are also Target shoppers.
  • It’s All About the Booth: You’ll need to prove that you are a serious player who’s in it to win it, so your show booth needs to make a serious impression. Invest in the space you need to properly showcase your product, but don’t go so big that it feels empty. Go for professional signage and merchandising units and have your pitch down pat.
  • Cross Your Fingers: Sometimes a buyer’s decision comes down to a gut reaction or a personal connection to your product, so think positive and keep your fingers crossed!

Amy Opheim is the owner of C3, a consultancy helping toy industry partners create clear, concise, and compelling marketing strategies. For more information on C3’s marketing and copywriting services, call (562) 972-1855 or email amysnowopheim@gmail.com.

COMMENTARY: Even More Smart Devices Are Available for Kids

Toy companies creating kid-friendly and parent-approved technology has been a trend for some time, with no signs of slowing down in sight. In the recent past, tablets such as the Kurio 7s and LeapFrog LeapPad Ultra dominated the kiddie-tech market with durable rubber casings, safe settings, and easy-to-set parental controls. Now, however, manufacturers are focusing on putting different devices in the hands and on the wrists of kids. [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:

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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: 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...]

COMMENTARY: Plush Manufacturers Show Off Awesome New Plush at Toy Fair

Toy Fair 14 was a spectacular, four-day event held at the Jacob K. Javits Center in New York City from February 16 to 19. Manufacturers from across the country gathered to debut new items, display classics, and make connections with retailers, buyers, and the press. We here at The Toy Book took the opportunity to forge new professional relationships, engage companies with whom we have established relationships, and discover new companies. As I walked the floors checking out the plush items, I saw dozens of great designs that I loved. Big, small, fat, tall—you name it, it was at Toy Fair. Some plush is cute, some is realistic, some is abstract, some is sculptural. While I appreciate all plush, there were some pieces in particular that really caught my eye.

toothpickToothpick, from GUND, was my hands-down, No. 1, absolute favorite plush at the show. I was already “aww!”-ing at the other bears on the wall in the GUND booth when my eyes landed on Toothpick’s skinny little body with his big, cute head and brown corduroy nose. His body is surprisingly sturdy, letting him sit up easily, but is still soft and cuddly. The material that GUND used for Toothpick’s fur is also super-soft, and has an almost curly sort of look to it. He is just adorable. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: It’s All About the Robots

Earlier this week, Senior Editor Marissa DiBartolo wrote about how the floor of the American International Toy Fair 2014 was lacking in the realm of appcessories, and that many companies were heading back to the classic play patterns, especially in the activities category. I also noticed an emerging trend that does not heavily rely on app technology, but does not veer from the idea of incorporating tech into playtime: robots.

As I walked the floor, I saw a bunch of different robotic products that really displayed where the category is heading—and a lot of that was not app-reliant. Of course, most of these robots can be controlled with or used with smart devices, but gone are the days where “and it has an app!” was a suitable enough novelty to convince consumers to purchase the toy.

Ali.Feb27First, let me introduce you to MiP. MiP, which is short for Mobile Inverted Pendulum, is WowWee’s latest innovation in association with the University of California at San Diego’s Coordinated Robots Lab. MiP has unique dual wheel balancing (thanks to that inverted pendulum science!) and is a fully interactive robot. MiP is able to navigate his surroundings while being controlled by hand gestures or through a Bluetooth link to a smart device. MiP also has a personality that is communicated through motion, sounds, and his LED eyes. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Makeup Kits for Girls Are Fun and Inexpensive

Screen Shot 2014-01-30 at 4.13.43 PMLittle girls love to play with makeup. I know I definitely did. Unfortunately for me, my mom mostly stuck to neutrals, earth tones, and pale pinks—”boring” colors, in my young opinion. I wanted to open that makeup bag and see electric blue eye shadow, fire engine red lipstick, bright pink blush, vermillion glitter nail polish—you know, the works. But I made do with what she had, bland though I may have thought it, because it was fun to play with. For years, I’ve said that if I ever have a daughter, I will keep a stash of all the fun stuff (that I would never wear myself—I now, of course, completely understand why my mom kept the palette she did) and let her have at it as a special treat. However, there are lots of great makeup kits for girls available today, which may save me a trip to the cosmetics aisle of my drugstore.

Alex Toys’ Mix & Makeup Nail Sparkle kit lets girls ages 5 and up create their own sparkly nail polish. Kids make the polish themselves by mixing the colors and glitter in the included mixing cup, then pouring their creation into the cute candy-shaped bottles with the funnel. The polish is easy to apply, and easily peels off. [Read more...]

Google’s Zeitgeist Releases Top 10 Trending Toy Searches for 2013

Google has released its annual Zeitgeist—a “spirit of the times”—which gives us a chance to remember the people, places and topics that got us talking, and ultimately searching, before a new year begins. The list of top toy searches features new toys such as Minions and Palace Pets, but also old favorites, such as Play-Doh. Here are the top 10 trending toy searches this year:

  1. Pokémon
  2. Play-Doh
  3. Digimon Fusion
  4. Minecraft Toys
  5. Minions
  6. Palace Pets
  7. Paw Patrol
  8. Pacific Rim Toys
  9. My Little Pony
  10. Disney Planes

The 2013 Zeitgeist site provides more than 1000 top-10 lists of popular and trending searches from 72 countries, making it the most comprehensive and global list to date.

COMMENTARY: Life-Size Plush Seems Like the Real Deal

Everything seems bigger when you’re a kid. Rooms, yards, playground equipment—it all just seemed so much larger back then. Revisiting childhood places and beloved toys of yesteryear can often be as amusing as it is perplexing, when making the comparison between how you perceived the same thing as a child versus now as an adult. I think that’s one of the things that makes childhood so special: It’s a finite amount of time to see the world from below and feel tiny. One of my great desires as a kid was to have a life-sized stuffed animal. Not a life-sized cat, bird, or bunny. I’m talking a life-sized elephant, lion, bear, camel—something enormous. I just wanted to be able to curl up on it and be engulfed. I’m sure I wasn’t the only kid either. Here are some great, life-sized plush products that will not only make kids feel like they’re up close and personal with nature, but will make an awesome Christmas morning scene under the tree.

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Melissa and Doug actually has a “giant stuffed animals” section online, featuring animals including a cheetah, a lion, an elephant, dogs, a penguin, and my favorite: the giraffe. The giraffe stands more than 4 feet tall, towering over kids with realistic markings and authentic facial features. Even as kids get older, this giraffe can transition into a decorative element of a bedroom without taking up much space. [Read more...]