Annie Laurie Zomermaand, Chief Commercial Officer of Schleich, discusses the latest trends, industry happenings, and how business strategies are evolving in the specialty toy market.

The Toy Book: How have you done business differently since stay-at-home orders were put into place across most of the U.S.?
Annie Laurie Zomermaand: We have put a heavier focus on those brick-and-mortar business partners that are still open, such as our farm channels. We’ve put a strong emphasis on our e-commerce business partners, and also have taken the opportunity to grow our own online store.

TB: What do you think the short- and long-term impacts of the global coronavirus pandemic on the toy industry will be?
ALZ: Certainly, sales have declined for some, but others have seen increases. I think we have to take this as an opportunity to rethink the way we get our products to consumers. I don’t think brick-and-mortar retail is going anywhere, but clearly, consumers need other ways to access product. It seems that a brand’s own e-commerce channel is more important now than ever. What’s become clear through this crisis is that toys are a critical part of a child’s development and parents need help engaging their children. This won’t change.

TB: With ASTRA’s Marketplace & Academy canceled this year, how do you plan to connect with retailers?
ALZ: While ASTRA Marketplace & Academy was canceled, we plan to partner with ASTRA on their digital-format activations. We’ve also been in close contact with our specialty accounts to see how they’re faring and what support we can provide during this unusual time.

TB: What are your predictions for the state of toy retail in 2020?
ALZ: We believe that the toy industry will be stabilized in 2020; however, we are anticipating a shift to digital. While this is something we saw coming, it’s a more rapid transition and one that will take some calibration in how we, as an industry, do business.

TB: What major toy trends are you seeing this year?
ALZ: The two biggest trends we’re seeing right now are dragons and dinosaurs. Both are classic characters that stand the test of time.

This year, we’ve launched a colorful dragon in our Bayala line, as well as a fierce dragon in Eldrador Creatures, providing something for everyone. We have also expanded our Dinosaurs franchise, and for the first time, are launching playsets in October. This will help grow the franchise and add more play value to consumers.

TB: How important is it for toy companies to make an effort to be more eco-friendly?
ALZ: Being eco-friendly is incredibly important. We, as a global organization, are defining our sustainability strategy to help reduce our footprint in all areas, from packaging to the lighting in our offices.

TB: Which products or categories do you expect to drive sales this year? How do your expectations compare to last year’s results?
ALZ: We have a broad product portfolio with multiple franchises that allows us to reach a wide range of interests and ages. We expect that Horse Club will continue to drive sales and be one of our top product lines. However, as noted with the trends in the industry, Dinosaur and Eldrador will continue to see large increases year over year. Our expectations are that we will be able to achieve last years’ success, with confirmed incremental partner programs driving that success.

TB: Do you take advantage of ASTRA member programs? If so, what do you find most beneficial?
ALZ: ASTRA Marketplace and email communications have been the programs with the most impact for our business. With the show being canceled, we’re excited to tap into the full breadth of what ASTRA has to offer to help educate and grow our business as we navigate the changes in how we go to market.

TB: With less consumers out shopping, how are you getting the word out to drive awareness about new product lines and brands?
ALZ: Digital advertising, social media, and consumer-facing pages on our recently launched e-commerce website have been our main drivers in reaching consumers. We’ve added a Fun at Home page that provides consumers with family activities that incorporate their current Schleich products. We’ve also brought our year-long Power of Imagination campaign online with its own website with resources for parents related to the importance of open-ended play.

TB: Do you have a drop-ship program or plan on putting one in place? What are the benefits or challenges?
ALZ: We are fortunate to have a key drop-ship partner in Flat River, which is considered best in class. This is in addition to our own capabilities to drop-ship. With the rapid shift to e-commerce, the ability to drop-ship directly to consumers is a benefit not only to our retail partners, but also to our consumers.

TB: Has your direct-to-consumer distribution strategy changed, and if so, how?
ALZ: Our direct-to-consumer strategy has not changed. We remain focused on working with our partners, as well as providing a brand-centric web page to provide entertainment and information about the Schleich brand.

TB: How have you kept up with retailer orders for your products?
ALZ: We have been able to keep up with retailer orders during this time. We’re constantly working on our strategy to ensure that we can continue to deliver product to our partners in a timely manner.

TB: What are some of your most in-demand items right now?
ALZ: We’re seeing a high demand for many products, all for varying reasons. With schools closed due to COVID-19, many parents have been leaning into our products to help support at-home education. We especially see this with our Farm World and Wild Life franchises.

We’re also seeing sales across all franchises as kids are looking for ways to express themselves and exercise their imaginations. Schleich figurines are a great way for kids to engage in open-ended imaginative play.

TB: What innovation in your products are you offering to consumers this year?
ALZ: Schleich products are all about authenticity and attention to detail. Our products are designed to spark imagination in kids. It’s less about innovation and more about staying true to the products and experience that we’re putting out.

Our Power of Imagination campaign is designed to show how Schleich builds a child’s ability to create their own world based on how they play and interact with Schleich figurines. What an adult sees and what a child experiences as they are playing are not necessarily the same thing.

TB: What are the ways in which you maintain relationships with specialty retailers?
ALZ: We are proud of the relationships we have with our specialty retailer partners. We have a dedicated team at Schleich headquarters to maintain a strong level of support. This includes newsletters, meaningful promotions, branded statements, and experiences through our flagship store program.

TB: What advice would you give to other manufacturers during this time?
ALZ: The world is ever-changing, and the only way to be successful is to be flexible. Being able to adapt your strategy to the business environment is key. Constant communication, both within the organization and with business partners, allows us to navigate this unknown experience.

This Chatting with the Industry Q&A response originally appeared in the June 2020 issue of the Toy Book. Click here to read more!