The Entertainer's buying director, Stuart Grant, on how the industry is turning a corner.

GUEST EDITOR COMMENT: Stuart Grant, The Entertainer

Another year is in full swing and from the early signs things seem to be looking up.

I firmly believe we are turning a corner. The economy seems to be getting back on track, with unemployment coming down and interest rates being held low. But more importantly in an industry that is driven by brands and products, the line up looks to be the strongest we have seen in the last five years.

We have experienced in the last three years, children’s focus moving away from core toys and into the tablet market. We have enjoyed some of this spend through brands such as Leap Pad, Innotab and Kurio but mostly this turnover has been lost to other industries.

This trend seems to be slowing down though, with poor like for like sales seen in Q4 and with the introduction and relative ‘failure’ of the Samsung Galaxy children’s tablet, this should shift the global consumer electronics manufacturers focus away from our target market and bring back into our court some high ticket spend as we head into Q4 this year.

Aside from this, we have also now seen through to the other side of the dizzy heights of Skylander demand, which again moved children’s spending power to another industry. Hopefully we will see this demand move back into traditional action figures, with the Spider-Man and Turtles movies launching later in the year.

In addition to these positive consumer demand changes, this year we have the best line up of movies, which as we all know drive footfall out of the Christmas season. With DVD launches mostly slated for Q4, we will hopefully see a second wave of demand for the higher priced items within the ranges.

If we look back on 2013, there were four major movie launches to drive our sales in the first 3 quarters (Iron Man, Despicable Me 2, Monsters University and Planes).

Unfortunately due to a variety of factors (good weather being the main reason for July releases – didn’t see that one coming), these launches failed to drive the demand needed to excite children into filling their Christmas lists with movie product. Well, all except one brand, Despicable Me 2 – the one that got away.

As we plan for this year’s focuses, the movie slate seems to be endless – many with proven track records of strong movie and brand performances.

As I write this article we are seeing The LEGO Movie product dominate our top seller reports, with no sign of slowing down. Will Mattel be able to gain back the top spot this year?…..we shall see.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 product and movie release should help drive Easter sales. This will lead us straight into the releases of Postman Pat, How To Train Your Dragon 2 and, of course, Transformers: Age of Extinction, which will see the re-introduction of fan favourite Dino Bots and a complete re-engineering of the toy line, bringing back innovation and excitement into the range.

July 21st will bring us The LEGO Movie DVD release and then into the build up for the highly anticipated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. I haven’t even mentioned Planes: Fire & Rescue, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy (could be a dark horse) and Paddington.

Lastly, and probably most importantly, we have an unbelievable line up of Christmas stars to drive us through the golden quarter.

It was interesting to learn from the NPD presentation at the Toy Fair, why they believe the industry has seen a downturn and which areas of the market, from both price point and categories, they think are suffering the most.

It was of no surprise that the sub £5 products had a tough year with the decline in Moshi but reassuring, even with the decline of the kids tablets, the market is growing at the £50+ price point, driven mainly by Furby and Teksta. This should give us confidence that all is not lost to games consoles and Apple and that we can sell higher price points – snatching back that big Christmas present spend. This year we have the product to do it.

Christmas will see Furby Boom return with a face and style change and Teksta the dog is joined by his cat and dino friend.

Hasbro also has two new lead blasters up their sleeve for Q3 launch, exciting kids everywhere with shooting their brother/sisters on Christmas morning.

Spin is opening up the zoomer range to the whole market, with the addition of a dinosaur and a lower priced dog (a fine job by Smyths last year to drive demand on an exclusive line, a testament to a retailer with true focus and joined up thinking between buying and marketing).

Character and Vivid will go head to head with the launch of Cayla and Wiki Bear respectively. Watch this space for the battle of the marketing strategies.

Flair will launch the Xenoa cute little monster who lives under your bed and Emiglio, which takes me right back to the Christmas morning many years ago when I opened my Omnibot – some things never change.

After a number of years toying around with other categories, Wow Wee will launch back into its core market of robots with MIP. This item has gone down a storm at all the consumer electronic and gadget shows and is a great gift from dad to son, for dad to play with.

LeapFrog has been busy behind the scenes and have three major releases for Q3. I’m under an NDA but the ‘accessory’ product looks like a winner.

So in summary, this year we’ve got the movies, we have the product, the economy is starting to get back on track, the dollar is heading in the right direction, so there are no more excuses.

Best of luck!

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