It's been a strong year for the gift specialist, Zeon with undying love for One Direction, Frozen and Doctor Who fuelling sales. ToyNews talks to Zeon MD, Rob Hughes.

INTERVIEW: Character watch specialist Zeon talks its favourite brands of 2014

How has 2014 been for Zeon so far?

So far, this year has been as we expected. We have seen an uplift with brands, like Disney’s Frozen, which has just been a licence to print money, really. Frozen probably compensates for a couple of others that have been a bit down and it has certainly picked up any slack.

A couple of licences have been a bit down so far, and that has surprised us a bit. Whenever you sign a licence, you expect it to do well. So, it’s disappointing when something doesn’t quite work.

We expected to be doing really well with Marvel. It’s our first year with it and sometimes brands like this take a little while to bed in. So, we will wait for next year, with the new movie.

Which brands have performed best?

Well next to Frozen, Doctor Who is ahead of expectations this year. It was up on last year, which is remarkable because up until the new series launched three weeks ago, there wasn’t really anything happening throughout the summer. Demand has remained very strong for Doctor Who.

Star Wars is still very good. I think Disney will keep that one right up there, what with the new film at the back end of next year. Ours is the classic licence, but the new film will certainly keep the brand in the public eye.

Which of your product lines has performed well this year?

Zeon is principally a watch and clock company and our Disney licence essentially covers timepieces. So, business is certainly coming from our watches.

That said, we have a growing ceramic line. The market we are developing is for 3D, 2D relief and heat- changing mugs, etc. We have done very well in that and have some more great things coming through this year and next. Ceramics is where the growth is coming from in the next six to 12 months.

What is exciting Zeon for 2014/2015?

The Minions is really exciting us. We have recently signed a licence covering both Despicable Me movies and The Minions movie. The development time for that licence has been longer than we would have liked. That’s possibly a reason why we are flat, as we factored in business from The Minions to hit before Christmas. I think it will all be coming in 2015 now.

We have also signed a DC Comics licence, so we will have some Batman and some Superman products on display. When you look at top grossing movies in the last ten years, Batman is always right up there, we are optimistic that one will do well for us.

What brands have taken you by surprise this year?

The longevity of One Direction. We renewed 18 months ago and we have just renewed again. If you had said to me that we’d be doing One Direction in to 2015, I would have called you mad.

How do you choose which brands to work with?

We like to have offerings for boys and girls for pre- school, teenage and for adults. So we look for the gaps. I would say that is where we have been strong in the past – on Hello Kitty and Me To You – but at present this is a bit of a gap for us. We will look at the gaps, then go out and find the best licence to fill them.

With Me To You, we signed it in the year that they decided to take it younger and signed up five toy companies. It didn’t really work for us and as a result the older consumers who we were targeting were turned off the brand.

Will you be developing products for that younger market?

We have always done watches and clocks aimed at pre-schoolers. And one younger licence we are looking at very closely is Teletubbies. The new series was announced recently and I have a lot of respect for Character Options as the new master toy licensee. Looking at what they have done with Peppa Pig and Doctor Who, it would be a silly man to bet against them making a success of Teletubbies. So, that is certainly something that is on our radar.

The problem is the pre- school market is awash with properties, making it a lot harder to pick, and making my job harder.

What are your expectations for Christmas 2014?

This Christmas is a funny one. Generally speaking, the economy is doing better, unemployment is down again, and I think people will get out and spend. We are optimistic about a good final quarter.

Will you be expanding your toy retail presence?

We do good business with Toys R Us. They are adventurous and increasingly willing to have a go on new things. Beyond them, traditional toy retailers are not a big part of our business.

We do trade with Toymaster and we do bits with Smyths Toys, but given how they are doing, we don’t do nearly enough. It is something we will look to increase in the future. One of the product categories we are in quite heavily with is torches.

Kids’ torches traditionally do well in toy outlets. If we thought we had a really strong Teletubbies licence for example and we did torches for that, I would be disappointed if Smyths Toys didn’t look at that.

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