Industry roundtable: View from the top

Jade Burke

By Jade Burke

February 28th 2017 at 10:11AM
UPDATED February 28th 2017 at 2:32PM
Industry roundtable: View from the top

2016 certainly was a year to remember, thanks to the Hatchimals frenzy that has captured the nation and the introduction of three new Barbie types. Here, Jade Burke catches up with key execs from MGA, Vivid, Jazwares and K’NEX for their personal views on the toy industry and what they believe the New Year has in store for them.

How has this year been for you? In what areas have you seen the most growth? 

Eileen Thornton, head of marketing, K’NEX UK: We’ve seen growth across the board for K’NEX, and are now officially the number two brand in standard construction in the UK. Our Thrill Rides have helped drive growth, in particular our sell out item Electric Inferno, which was new for 2016. 

Andrew Laughton, MD EMEA, MGA Entertainment: 2016 has been a very strong year across the board with our Zapf and MGA properties performing very well. We launched our first collectable range, Num Noms, earlier this year and it’s grown to be the fifth biggest new property YTD, meanwhile Little Tikes introduced a range of innovative developments across an array of categories this year, which has enabled the brand to sustain a very strong market positioning. 

Jonny Taylor, MD, Jazwares: It’s been a great year for us. Animal Jam and Tube Heroes have both been very strong properties. There has also been strong demand for CHiP, the smart, affectionate and trainable robot dog. These lines and several more have contributed to a solid year of growth in 2016. To support this growth, we’ve also increased the UK team, bringing in excellent toy and licensing talent. 

Mary Wood, marketing director, Vivid: Vivid has had a strong year on many fronts – Crayola has benefited from the interest in adult colouring which has led to double digit growth for the whole brand and our games division is showing every indication of significant growth. Vivid’s toy division is also having a great time particularly with plush in the form of AniMagic, Flip a Zoo and Care Bears, with tech as Nocto Bat sales start to fly as well as our collectables with Fungus Amungus.

What has been your best performing property this year?

Thornton, K’NEX: We’ve had strong performances across Thrill Rides, building tubs and K-FORCE.

Laughton, MGA: All properties have seen healthy growth in 2016. Considering how competitive the mini-doll/collectable market is, Num Noms definitely deserves a mention as a top-performing property. With innovative product development across categories and the strengthening of our classics, the sustained prevalent positioning of Little Tikes as a property itself is something we’re also very proud of.

Taylor, Jazwares: The reaction from existing fans of Animal Jam has been extremely strong. The range has also drawn a new audience, who go on to discover the online world via the unique codes supplied with each toy. Animal Jam has performed very well in the highly competitive collectables space and there is strong retail support going into spring/summer 2017. 

Wood, Vivid: Overall, it has to be Crayola but Care Bears has also shown growth throughout the year and is a well-established favourite with consumers. 

What have been your biggest hitters of the year?

Thornton, K’NEX: Standouts include Thrill Rides Electric Inferno, K-FORCE Flash Fire and also our 35, 52 and 70 Model K’NEX Tubs.

Laughton, MGA: Num Noms has definitely been one of our biggest hitters this year. Becoming a true ‘playground craze,’ the brand proved such a success that it was completely sold out for a period of time and we found it difficult keeping stock on the shelves.

Little Tikes has delivered several big hitters this year. The brand brought great innovation to the infant pre-school category this autumn with the Light ‘n Go and Wheelz range. 

Meanwhile, the Baby Annabell and Baby Born brands continue to be big hitters.

Taylor, Jazwares: Our Animal Jam Adopt a Pets have been very strong. We were delighted to see CHiP feature on several retailer top 10 Christmas lists at the end of last year. Anything featuring Dan-TDM from our Tube Heroes line also performed particularly well for us.

Wood, Vivid: Within games we are expecting big numbers from Articulate, Logo and Wordsearch as well as Flip A Zoo within toys. 

What made the biggest impact on your business in 2016? 

Thornton, K’NEX: Investing in digital activity and heavyweight TV campaigns has seen K’NEX reach 20 per cent share of voice with UK boys aged from six to nine against our key competitors. We also took on distribution of the K’NEX Education line in 2016 and this has proved so successful we will be offering a number of education items at retail in 2017.

Wood, Vivid: Brexit and therefore planning and re-planning for 2017.

Why should retailers choose to work with you this year? 

Thornton, K’NEX: We provide genuine innovation in the toy aisle, as proven by our current ranking as number two in standard construction. In 2017 our range will extend to age three plus, so more children than ever can enjoy playing with K’NEX. In 2017 we will continue to invest in the brand to drive growth across all ranges.

Laughton, MGA: We really have got something for everyone. The immense breadth and depth of the MGA, Zapf and Little Tikes portfolios means we have ranges to suit all needs. I don’t think many manufacturers can say that with such confidence.

Taylor, Jazwares: Jazwares is proud to work with some of the hottest licenses around the world, particularly in the gaming space, where we are bringing digital worlds to life.

Wood, Vivid: We genuinely think we have some winners on our hands for the year ahead. 

From January 1 st, 2017, Vivid will be taking over the distribution of Ooshies a brand that is having phenomenal success in Australia; Flip a Zoo extends into smaller sizes in spring and will be joined by the Flipzee Girls in autumn/winter 17; also coming into our plush range is Play Face Pals. 

Vivid has just agreed a strategic alliance with Sky Rocket to launch the Sky Viper brand innovative licensed virtual reality range in AW17.  We have major marketing plans in place to support the launch of Genie Girls. Vivid’s outdoor range is going to be stronger than ever with Phlat Ball and Wubble is set to have another amazing year; we are bringing an innovate kite launcher to market (Kite A Pult) from the creators of Phlat Ball; finally we have a product that we think will be a craze – Smackerz – it’s one of those products you can’t put down.

What plans do you have for the New Year? 

Thornton, K’NEX: We are really excited to enter the junior construction market with both Kid K’NEX and My Little Pony. We’ve also extended our range of tubs from age seven plus to five plus and added motorised elements to the tub line for the first time. Thrill Rides Web Weaver is our most innovative coaster ever and with Mario set to be bigger than ever in 2017, we are really pleased to continue working with this powerhouse license too.

Laughton, MGA: Big plans ¬– we have new brands, new categories and new products. MGA is renowned for bringing innovative products and concepts to the market and we will continue to foster this approach in 2017. 

Taylor, Jazwares: At London Toy Fair, we will be unveiling a very exciting new boys’ property, which is currently under wraps. 

There will also be a range extension to CHiP – ‘Chippies’, the puppy version of the original, at a sharp price point.

In the girls’ space, we will continue to develop the Animal Jam range with Series Two and Three launches and continued heavyweight marketing support. 

We think ‘Fingerlings’, interactive pet monkeys packed with tech and fun, is also one to keep an eye on.

For the pre-school market, Jazwares is launching an all-new Chuggington Toy range. We’ll also have a strengthened consumer electronics portfolio with new Paw Patrol and Peppa Pig products.

We are working to a spring/summer 2017 launch for First Act and are confident there is a major opportunity here in the UK market for high quality, tunable instruments. We’re excited to continue 2016’s momentum into 2017 and beyond.

Wood, Vivid: Two key spring launches for Vivid will be our home grown girls collectable Genie Girls and Ooshies with DC, Marvel, Princess, WWE and Turtles licenses, so we are working hard to implement the marketing plans to support them. We have also secured the distribution of Surprizimals, a plush character that comes hidden, so a great blind purchase. The focus for January is opening our HK showroom, as well as preparing for London Toy Fair.