2014: News of the year

From out of the blue big name acquisitions, high profile exec moves, the dominance of Frozen, Loom Bands and LEGO, through to new retailers staking their claim on the UK High Street, 2014 was another busy year for the toy trade. Samantha Loveday looks back at some of the key headlines
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January
The year kicks off with over 80 per cent of independent and multiple stores telling ToyNews that they feel
confident about the year ahead. Responding to our annual retail survey, outlets cited their quality customer
service, the rise of in-store events and strong product lines as reasons to be cheerful.

The Entertainer says it delivered record breaking sales during the Christmas trading period. Total sales
for the five weeks to December 28th, 2013 were 11.98 per cent up compared with 2012. Like for like sales
(including VAT) rose by 6.93 per cent, while Click & Collect sales were up 93 per cent year on year.

Big winners at the Toy Industry Awards 2013 include Bentalls (Overall Toy Retailer of the Year); Shop Direct (Online Toy Retailer of the Year); John Adams (Supplier of the Year); and Teksta (Toy of the Year). Hasbro, LEGO, Character Options, VTech, Flair and Mattel are among the suppliers picking up accolades at the event,
which was held at the Science Museum.

The year starts on a strong note for sales, with the total UK toy market growing with both value and volume sales
up eight per cent.

Number one product: Furby Boom

February

Conways Toymaster enters administration. The retailer had released an initial statement in January of intent to appoint an administrator. Toymaster’s Roger Dyson said that it was sad news for Toymaster and the whole
of the UK toy industry, and a demonstration of the difficult trading conditions experienced by UK toy
retailers in 2013.

Over 76,000 trade visitors from 112 countries made the trip to the biggest Spielwarenmesse of all time, trumping the 2013 attendance of 72,595. The extra buyers and traders came mainly from the United States, Asia and Europe, with visitors also being impressed by new hall 3A including the Trend Gallery.

The LEGO Movie hits cinemas and immediately takes up residence in the number one spot. At time of writing, the film had notched up $468 million at the worldwide box office.

Meanwhile, the LEGO Group also posts an 11 per cent sales increase for 2013, with product lines such as
LEGO Friends, LEGO City, LEGO Duplo, LEGO Technic and LEGO Creator all seeing double digit growth.

Revenue increased to €3,403 million from €3,103 million the year before.

Mattel acquires Mega Brands for $460 million. Mattel’s portfolio of brands will now feature Mega Bloks licensed ranges including properties like Halo, Skylanders, Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, Power Rangers, Hello Kitty and Spongebob Squarepants.

NPD data confirms that the LeapPad was the number one children’s tablet brand in the UK in 2013. NPD reports that sales for the month grew by two per cent (value, year to date).

Number one product: LEGO Minifigures

March

ToyNews launches the first ever Women in Toys power list. Created in association with the Women in Toys organisation, the list celebrates influential leaders, creative individuals and unsung heroes from all sectors of the industry, covering sales, marketing, retail, PR, recruitment, toy safety, media and licensing among others.

Big name executive moves include the departure of Vivid’s UK MD Neil Bandtock, who leaves the company
to seek a new challenge. Meanwhile, Chris Spalding leaves his role as MD and SVP at LeapFrog to become
CEO of HTI Group, and Seth Bishop steps down as sales and marketing director at Re:creation after 16 years
with the firm.

Meanwhile, it’s all change at the BTHA as Simon Pilling – head of operations and sales for Toy Fair –confirms he is to leave the organisation to set up his own events and marketing business, Warway Pilling. The new firm’s first event – Toytopia – is scheduled for October 2015.

Majen Immink is appointed to the role, having spent over six years with the BTHA as part of the communications team.

The Entertainer is named the Growth Retailer of the Year at the 2014 Oracle Retail Week Awards. The Toy Store confirms it has plans to open stores in the UK. Owned by Gulf Greetings, the chain has been in operation for ten years and currently has 11 stores across UAE, Oman, Bahrain and Qatar. The Toy Store’s first UK outlet will be a 27,000 sq. ft site in the West One shopping centre at Bond Street.

NPD says that toy sales were hit heavily by the movement of Easter and the school holidays. Value was down three per cent and units dropped 19 per cent. However, the first four weeks of March actually all saw value growth in the market, and it was only in the final week that value growth was hit so heavily.

Number one product:LEGO Minifigures

April

Panini embarks on one of its biggest marketing campaigns ever as it launches its FIFA World cup trading card and sticker collection. The campaign will include TV advertising, covermount activity, press and web ads, digital initiatives, sampling and regional newspaper activity.

Fisher-Price launches its Real Mums marketing campaign, searching online for mums and mums to be to
share their parenting journey and become official toy testers for the company’s product range.

Mattel enters the blaster sector with the launch of new lifestyle brand, BOOMco. The range includes an assortment of blasters and accessories, and is backed by a heavyweight marketing campaign.

KDUK’s marketing and licensing director, Tracey Devine completes the London Marathon, raising
over £6,000 for charity – an achievement made even more impressive by the fact she had never run more than six miles prior to the challenge. Nicola Webster from Walker Books and Ezekiel Sweiry from Fabric
Flavours also complete the 26.2-mile course in aid of licensing industry charity, The Light Fund.

With Easter and the main school holidays in April, the month was a strong one for the toy market with both
value and volume growth, up 14 per cent in value and 16 per cent in units.

Number one product: 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Official Stickers

May

The Entertainer’s buying director Stuart Grant takes over editing duties for a special Retail Issue of ToyNews. As part of his remit, he quizzes key execs from LEGO, Mattel, Spin Master, Bandai, VTech, LeapFrog, Vivid and HTI for their views on major launches, acquisitions and where they see the future of bricks and mortar stores.

Air Hogs celebrates its 15th anniversary, with Spin Master managing director Kevin Jones telling ToyNews that the key elements of its success have been “innovation led technology and first to market product execution supported by dynamic TV commercials”.

Learning Resources celebrates its 20th anniversary with a special event in its home town of King’s Lynn, Norfolk.

A Linkee-inspired game show makes its debut on BBC1, with the game’s creators Big Potato saying it is “the next big step in Linkee’s life”. The BBC commissioned 25 episodes of The Link, which was hosted by Mark Williams, which challenged players to spot the link between answers to a set of questions in order to win money and progress to the next round.

Toymaster’s May Show at The Majestic Hotel in Harrogate is another resounding success. This year’s event sold out in just seven days back in January. The association also celebrated its 25th anniversary at the event.

Toy State secures the worldwide rights to RC specialist Nikko by acquiring the consolidated operations of its Japan and Hong Kong offices. Toy State also acquires the firm’s European arm, Nikko Entertainment BV.

Meanwhile, Schleich is acquired by independent private investment company, Ardian.

NPD says that value growth is up nine per cent and units an impressive 44 per cent for the
month, driven by the performance of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Official Album Stickers which sold
over 4.6 million of the standard packs in May alone.

Number one product: 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Official Stickers

June

Bananagrams fans can look forward to reading about tips and hints for the game in the upcoming The Collins Little Book of Bananagrams. Written by the brand’s creative consultant Deej Johnson, the book also includes a foreword written by Dame Judi Dench.

2014 is christened the ‘Year of the Loom’, with retailers and suppliers both expecting the playground craze to continue throughout the remainder of the year. Character Options, in particular, has enjoyed strong sales of its Cra-Z-Loom line with it surpassing all expectations according to marketing director, Jerry Healy.

The Toy Trust Isle of Wight Big Challenge raises over £174,000, with the money being distributed to charities that help disabled and disadvantaged children. Over 255 industry execs took part in the challenge which consisted of either a 130km bike ride, 20km walk, 20km run or a biathlon consisting of a 130km cycle
ride and a 20km run. The main beneficiary is the UK charity WhizzKidz, which will receive £90,000 to provide mobility equipment that fits the needs of disabled children and transforms their lives.

Vivid and Drumond Park merge operations in the UK and Ireland, creating ‘the largest independent toy and games group in the UK market’. The deal sees Vivid manage the sales, marketing and distribution of Drumond
Park games brands, with a new Drumond Park sales division set up within Vivid UK.

A raft of toy industry news is announced at Licensing Expo in Las Vegas – including Hasbro teaming with Rovio for the launch of Angry Birds Transformers, plus Mattel extending its agreement with Warner Bros. Consumer Products and DC Entertainment for the universe of DC Comics characters.

Value sales grow nine per cent for the month, while volume is up an impressive 50 per cent says NPD.

Number one product: 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Official Stickers

July

Following on from the publication of the top 100 women in the UK toy industry in March, ToyNews holds the first Women of the Year networking event at BAFTA in London. Over 100 executives from the industry – both male and female – witnessed Gerbie Quilter, sales director at Vivid Imaginations, become the first recipient of the ToyNews Woman of the Year award.

Flair predicts that it will have a hit on its hands with the robotic pet, Xeno, telling ToyNews it will be a sell out
success in 2015.

Mask-arade sees its European business soar, with One Direction,Breaking Bad and the World Cup all proving fruitful for the firm.

Lindsay Hardy leaves her role as marketing services director at Flair, becoming the new marketing director
at Trends UK.

Michael Acton Smith confirms he will step down as CEO of Mind Candy so that he can focus on the creative side of the business.

Ten out of the 11 super categories are in growth for the month, NPD reports, driving total value up six
per cent and volume up 20 per cent compared with July 2013. Four out of the top five best selling items in
the arts and crafts category are loom-related items.

Number one product: 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Official Stickers

August

An amendment to the EU toy safety standard is causing reverb among toy suppliers as a new scope of testing sets out to scrutinise all musical products. From drums to whistles, all toys that are intended to make a noise
will now be subjected to testing to ensure they meet the new acoustic requirements outlined in the EU toy
standard, EN71-1.

Pants on Fire becomes the first board game company to receive investment from Dragons’ Den. The firm’s Richard McLuckie and Stuart McKenzie-Walker left the Den with £50,000 backing from Duncan Bannatyne and Peter Jones.

Following its appearance on the BBC2 show, Pants on Fire goes on to sign Marmite to create a brace of new games.

HTI’s UK MD Mark Walls steps down from the role to pursue interests outside of the toy industry. Walls had worked for HTI for a number of years and had overseen significant changes to the company.

LeapFrog launches the LeapBand, the first children’s wearable activity tracker, at a special event featuring
Olympic medal winners Greg Rutherford and Beth Tweddle.

Several toy licensees benefit from high profile exposure at Hamleys thanks to a deal struck by eOne as part of the tenth anniversary celebrations for Peppa Pig. A special themed window display showcased products from Character Options, TY, HTI and Golden Bear among others.

The BTHA confirms that it is to honour co-founder and CEO of The Entertainer, Gary Grant, with a
Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2015 Industry Day. The accolade is only presented in exceptional circumstances to individuals who have made a truly outstanding and significant contribution to the toy industry.

NPD says the UK toy market grew once again, with value up seven per cent and volume up 17 per cent
compared to the previous year.

Number one product: Disney Frozen Sparkle Doll Elsa/Kristof

September

The first Toy & Game Inventors Workshop takes place at Rich Mix in East London. The event – held in
association with Britain’s Next Hot Toy – saw almost 100 inventors pitch to suppliers including Asobi,
Cartamundi, Hasbro, Flair, John Adams, Sambro, Vivid, Casdon, Trends UK, HTI, Wow Stuff and Guandong Alpha Animation.

A conference programme also includes panel sessions with inventors (including founder of Bluebird Toys Sir Torquil Norman), board game experts and retailers, while there are also talks from Dr Jim Wyatt from Wow Labs; Phil Sage, director of global product acquisition and inventor relations at Hasbro; Wendy Philips from The Toy Safety Experts; and Lesley Singleton from Playtime PR.

Vivid secures an exclusive distribution deal with Just Play to bring Care Bears to the UK, France, Germany and Benelux from spring 2015.

The firm will launch three plush skus and will support the brand with a dedicated TV campaign from release, a
new interactive website and bespoke PR drive.

K’Nex unveils a life-sized replica of the Bloodhound Supersonic Car at Brooklands Motor and Aviation Museum. The impressive construction is awarded the Guinness World Record for the World’s Largest K’Nex Structure, taking over 380,000 K’Nex parts to build.

The Entertainer removes loom band charms from sale across the country after fears emerged that some may contain dangerous levels of phalates.

Character Options becomes master toy partner for the new series of Teletubbies after striking a deal with
DHX Brands. The firm will launch its range in 2016 in the UK, with other territories to follow. Core categories will be plush, plastics and bath toys.

The Licensing Awards 2014 are revealed at a glitzy ceremony at the Grosvenor House Hotel. Among the winners are Character Options, which picked up Best Licensed Toys or Games Range for its Peppa Pig Weebles; Rubie’s scooped Best Licensed Dress-up or Partyware Range for Frozen; Posh Paws won Best Licensed Giftware Range for its Despicable Me Backpacks; and Panini UK was awarded Best Written, Listening or Learning Range for its FIFA World Cup Stickers and Sticker Book.

ToyShopUK reveals its sixth annual Independent Toy Awards. Gold medal winners include Vivid, Tobar, Spin
Master, DKL, VTech, Wow Stuff, Drumond Park, Maps Toys, Bladez, Golden Bear, Casdon, LeapFrog and
Coiledspring Games.

September marks the sixth consecutive month of growth according to NPD – with value up two per cent
and volume up four per cent.

Number one product: Disney Frozen Sparkle Doll Elsa/Kristof

October

Disney admits that the success of Frozen has been “truly unprecedented”.

Speaking exclusively to ToyNews, Mike Stagg, general manager, retail at The Walt Disney Company UK, said: “Frozen is a longterm opportunity for the business. I believe this is still just the beginning of the journey for Frozen at retail.”

Brand Licensing Europe welcomes 7,164 visitors to Olympia; a figure consistent with the record breaking 2013 event. This year saw an increase in overseas visitors, while there was a 28 per cent rise in retailers attending the show.

Exhibitor numbers also increased in all three zones – Brands & Lifestyle up 25 per cent; Art, Design & Image up nine per cent; and Character & Entertainment up four per cent year on year.

Mega Brands teams up with toy retailers and parenting sites to bring back Bloktober following the success of last year’s initiative. The campaign is aiming to drive promotional savings across the firm’s number one selling preschool range, Mega Blok First Builders.

Nickelodeon reveals that it is to open a number of branded stores internationally, beginning with a flagship outlet in London’s Leicester Square. Famosa secures a partnership with Posh Paws, granting the firm
distribution rights across its entire licensed plush portfolio with ranges spanning My Little Pony, Mr Potato Head, Furby, Transformers and Littlest Pet Shop.

HIT Entertainment unveils a new look and voice cast for Bob the Builder, to a somewhat mixed reaction
from fans. TV and film actor, Lee Ingleby, is taking on the role of Bob in the new CG animation.

Mind Candy signs up Giochi Preziosi Group as the European toy partner for its new brand, World of Warriors. GP will oversee the development and marketing of a range of collectables, figures, play-sets, accessories,
role-play and vehicles in Europe and CEE.

This year’s Slow Toy Awards winners are revealed at a special event at John Lewis on Oxford Street. Products from Le Toy Van, Hippychick, Tegu, Bigjigs, Meccano, Fiesta Crafts and Calafant are all named in the final Slow Seven.

ToyTesters.tv holds its first ever awards at Cineworld’s Sky Superscreen in London’s O2 arena. Hosted
by Nigel Clarke, the awards saw 100 children test a range of nominated toys before a panel of head toy testers decided on the accolades, a line of awards created by the testers themselves.

Initial sales show growth continuing for the seventh month in a row – with value up five per cent and volume up seven per cent.

Nine out of the 11 super categories add value to the market, with the fastest growth coming from action figures (up 25 per cent driven by film properties like Transformers, Spiderman and Teenage Mutant
Ninja Turtles).

Number one product: LeapPad Explorer

November

NPD says that sales of toys in Britain increased by six per cent between January 1st and October 11th, 2014, compared to the same period in 2013. This marks the best sales result for the British toy industry since 2010, with unit sales also experiencing a robust increase, climbing 17 per cent from the start of the year. NPD went on to predict an increase in toy spend this Christmas, which will help the industry realise year-end growth of up to four per cent, bringing annual sales to over £3 billion, an increase of £166 million in one year.

The annual Dream Toys listing is revealed, with products from Mattel, Hasbro, Jakks, VTech, Character Options, Vivid, LEGO and Spin Master all named in the top 12. In total, 72 products are highlighted across all the categories.

Paul Windle Designs celebrates 25 years in the industry, with the firm having picked up a range of new licences and enjoy success with the likes of Frozen, Peppa Pig, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Hello
Kitty and LEGO among others. It will also be launching Star Wars Rebels cards and games next year.

Bananagrams is named the official After Party sponsor of the British Academy Children’s Awards.

Toy Fair 2015 sells out, with more than 260 companies set to exhibit at London’s Olympia from January 20th to 22nd, 2015. The final company to secure a stand was Bonnie & Pearl, which has a handmade range of dolls, clothing and accessories.

Brick 2014 takes place at London’s ExCeL. The show had to extend its hours on the Thursday and Friday to 9pm to cope with the demand from LEGO fans wanting to attend the show.

Pixar Animation Studios and Disney confirm that Toy Story 4 will be hitting cinemas in 2017. Tom Hanks
and Tim Allen will reprise their roles as Woody and Buzz Lightyear, while John Lasseter will also return to
direct the movie. The release of the film will mark seven years since the release of Toy Story 3, which grossed almost $1.1 billion at the worldwide box office.

Vivid picks up the rights to Kickstarter hit Real FX. The firm will handle the marketing and distribution
of Real FX – which was developed by Wow Labs– in the UK/ROI, France, Benelux, Austria and Germany. The product is set to launch in the UK from autumn 2015.

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