INTERVIEW: Paul and Stephen Haines, Carte Blanche

Greetings specialist Carte Blanche's chairman Stephen Haines (right) and brother Paul Haines, the licensing and business development director (left), chat with Dominic Sacco to discuss how Tatty Teddy took the toy aisle.
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When Clinton Cards entered administration, did that influence your move into toys?

Stephen: No, it had nothing to do with it. We’d actually started a strategic review of our business a long time before Clintons entered administration and identified key areas of opportunity and change. 

Your Me To You brand lends itself well to plush. Was it an obvious move into toys? 

Stephen: It was. It’s a brand new category for us and it’s very different to our niche – cards and gifts. The margins are tighter, there’s no room for mistakes.

We’ve been [in the toy industry] for nine months. We’re the new kid on the block, but the toy trade has embraced us because it knows the heritage of the brand – as well as retailers and consumers. 

Are you happy with your progress in toys so far?

Stephen: Yes very much so, it’s almost like a new business. We have a very diverse product range. We’ve got all bases covered, and from a toy category we’ve gone into the interactive plush sector ourselves – that’s what we know best. We also use a number of best in class licensees to do the things we don’t have the expertise in (see box at the bottom of this article).

Why not make all the toys yourself, like you do plush, rather than use licensees?

Paul: We could, but licensing isn’t just about product expertise and manufacturing. Success is about teaming with the right people.

How challenging is it to reinvent a classic brand like Me to You?

Stephen: This is our 25th anniversary; I founded the company in 1987. When you look at how many firms that are still around after 25 years, it’s a tiny figure. You don’t keep churning out the same thing over and over. We constantly reinvent and you have to nurture and grow a brand. 

Who is your core consumer?

Stephen: For toys it’s four to eight year old girls and their parents. We also have a brand called Tiny Tatty Teddy which is our nursery proposition for kids under three. We have different artwork styles for Me to You and that talks to consumers from eight to 80 years old. There’s a place for Me to You in the hearts of pretty much everybody, it’s a hugely powerful heritage brand in every sense.

What share of your turnover do toys make up? 

Paul: Given we’ve been in toys for nine months but in the greetings market for 25 years, toy represents a small per cent [of our turnover]. It’s a difficult question to answer because a lot of it depends on our global distribution and licensing programme. Five years down the line it could be 25 per cent or it could be a lot higher. We’re ambitious, certainly.

Is Tatty Puppy your hero product for 2013?

Stephen: Absolutely. We’ve been very innovative and created a toy that would stand out in a crowded marketplace. There are other interactive puppy toys on the market certainly, but none quite like Tatty Puppy. As a standalone toy it is brilliant with a strong appeal to girls aged eight and under. The standalone app encourages creativity, musicality, numeracy and memory skills, and is also fantastic, but bring the toy and the app together and they become something very special.

What’s your 2013 aims?

Paul: This is the year to firmly establish ourselves in toys. We have our expectations for us and for our licensees, and we’re confident we’re going to achieve that.

Haines recently announced his plans to retire.

Tatty Teddy toy licensees

Carte Blanche produces its own plush and works with toy licensees, including:

- Worlds Apart (master toy licensee) – soft-touch characters, play-sets and accessory packs.

- Flair – Tatty Teddy Shaker Maker/Journal Friendship Maker.

- HTI – role-play sets, toy pushchairs, skates, scooters, bikes and more.

- InspirationWorks – Secret Magic Wardrobe Journal.

- Ravensburger – Tatty Teddy and My Blue Nose Friends puzzle and Mandala Designer.

- Clementoni – Tatty Teddy Learning Laptop.

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