Zuru’s global marketing director Renee Lee: “We are investing more in the UK market and globally than ever before”

While the lockdown forced the temporary closure of toy shops the world over, it was far from being a quiet time for an industry that, boosted by families spending more time together and in need of home entertainment, and a spell of freakishly good weather here in the UK, found silver linings in the shape of sales pick up across particular categories.

For the international toy maker, Zuru, sales pick up came in the form of an outdoor category that nearly doubled its numbers sold in a variety of different markets. For families compelled to bring the entertainment into their gardens, sales were led by its popular Bunch O Balloons and X-Shot Water Blaster ranges, and, as a direct result, the toy firm is now forecasting a “nice growth this year” on a global scale. How’s that for a silver lining?

ToyNews catches up with Zuru’s global marketing director, Renee Lee, to talk about the global toy market post lockdown, the company’s agility, and what the biggest learnings to take away from the world’s big pause are now.

How has business been for Zuru certainly over the past few months, but the year overall? We’ve seen lots of reports of toy sales rising during the lockdown period, have you seen much uplift in particular categories over this time?

This year has thrown some unique challenges at our industry and beyond, however we are lucky to be experiencing really strong sales at retail where our partners have remained open. Our outdoor category sales have nearly doubled in different markets led by Bunch O Balloons and our X-Shot Water Blaster range, as families look to bring the fun back to their backyard. For those retail partners that faced closure during the lockdown period, we are seeing strong sales after reopening and based on this we are still forecasting nice growth this year globally.

We know there will be increased pressure on disposal income and a shift to digital so have made significant shifts in our marketing approach and even our product focuses and brand initiatives to speak more to the value of our brands and products further.

How has this period has affected or influenced consumer mindset and what do you think this will spell moving forward? Could there be a greater investment in ‘play’ and toys from a consumer point of view?

I do think the lockdown period has had a lot of silver linings where people have been able to spend more time with their families and kids and invest further in their wellbeing and home environment. We believe, and have seen in research we conduct, more value being placed on toys that offer shared play experiences and I do not think this will subside.

What are the key learnings for you guys during this period, and how will they influence your strategy or movements as the world eases out of lockdown?

A key learning for us was just how vital it is to build and inspire a culture of flexibility and adaptability, especially in such a trend driven industry. We had always prided ourselves on being an agile business, but the lockdown accelerated this further as we need to adapt to changing supply chains, retailer situations, how we presented our entire spring/summer line up for 2021 and consumer demands. We will continue to focus on this as a key value of our business and our culture.

Another key learning was around how quickly eCommerce models could be adopted and we are therefore putting a lot more emphasis on how we structure and build out our brands for online. We are working with each of our retail partners on how we ensure we align with changes they are making and can deliver a smooth and streamlined consumer experience across stores and online.

What are the next steps that Zuru is taking to reignite the activity and noise around its own product portfolio? Any strategies to support the retailers getting themselves up and running again here in the UK? And from a global perspective?

We are ramping up for all our exciting new launches for the Fall season – nothing is changing there. We have some incredible new launches within our current brands like Rainbocorns, Smashers and Pets Alive alongside new innovations like the recently released Itty Bitty Prettys Tea Party Surprise which has completely modernized a traditional tea party play pattern.

We are also incredibly excited to finally launch the viral phenomenon 5 Surprise Mini Brands into the UK this September. This will be a top seller and on a lot of Christmas wish lists this season.

We are investing more in the UK market and globally than ever before and are building even deeper partnerships with our retail partners to ensure our investment is supporting their needs – in particular when it comes to driving traffic to stores and online.

What big things will Zuru be shouting about for the rest of 2020 and as the industry looks towards Christmas to lift spirits etc?

Aside from our new launches under Rainbocorns, Smashers, 5 Surprise, Pets Alive, Robo Alive, Oosh and a whole lot more, we will be shouting a lot around value and the value of play. Zuru has always prided itself on delivering exceptionally high-quality products at accessible price points, which given the pressures on families this year is a message we feel is important to shine the light on. Every parent wants to have something special under the Christmas tree and so we want to help them to find those options without the added financial pressure of having to spend over £100 to do so.

There is nothing better than being able to see the excitement on your child’s face unwrapping a giant Rainbocorns or Smashers Egg that you were able to get for less than £25.

We also will be putting a lot of weight behind our launch of Itty Bitty Prettys Tea Party Surprise. This is a modern twist on the classical tea party, packed full of surprises, giant teacups and sassy dolls to collect. We will be launching this brand officially on World Tea Party day on Saturday, August 8th, and have built this day to celebrate fun, friendship, inclusivity, and kindness.

Our message is clear that no matter where you come from, or what you enjoy, there is always a seat at this tea party for you. I think brands should be leading the way in bringing more kindness and inclusivity into the world and am excited by the teams plans here. I think this message will definitely be welcomed and hopefully lift spirits.

So much of the activity to come from Zuru in recent years and months has been geared at redefining accepted tradition in the toy space – can you talk us through the Zuru ethos and mission statement?

Our mission statement is to Re-imagine Play, and that is what the team strives to do on a daily basis. We are constantly challenging each other to think differently whether that be a completely new toy or an entirely different way to manufacture and take things to market. ZURU, has always, and will always, be a disruptor and a company that wants to push the boundaries and to be honest this is the only way to survive in such a fast-paced, trend driven industry.

We engrain this type of thinking and behaviour across our business and try to foster an environment where people have high autonomy and are working towards larger business goals no matter how old you are or what level you are at.

Another topic would be the environment and sustainability – how important is this message to Zuru, and how do you start to address or tackle it through your toys?

Our Sustainability Agenda is a vital pillar in our growth strategy as we are seeing increasing demands from consumers, our retail partners and even regulatory changes that mean we must adapt or be left behind. At Zuru we follow a ‘three R’ approach to Rethink, Reduce, and Recycle and are consistently looking at brand lead initiatives that foster more sustainable business practices. We just announced on Earth Day we are transitioning all our Bunch O Balloons stems over to 100 per cent certified and traceable post-consumer recycled plastic which will launch first in Australia and New Zealand this September.

This has been a huge initiative across the business and will see more than 800 tonnes of virgin plastic removed from our supply chain each year. This goes alongside our global partnership with recycling partner TerraCycle. We are also making changes to our other brands including transitioning to all paper surprise unboxing bags and PET plastic where possible which is more easily recycled.

It’s important to us to make changes that are good for the environment long term and not fall victim to fads though, like compostable or plant-based plastics which in most cases are worse for the environment.

About Robert Hutchins

Robert Hutchins is the editor of Licensing.biz and ToyNews. Hutchins has worked his way up from Staff Writer to the position of Editor across the two titles, having spent almost eight years with both ToyNews and Licensing.biz, and what now seems like a lifetime surrounded by toys. You can contact him by emailing robert.hutchins@biz-media.co.uk or calling him on 0203 143 8780 You can even follow him on Twitter @RobGHutchins if ranting is your thing...

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