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Character Options is making some aggressive forecasts for next year, hoping to add another £45m to its turnover, buoyed by what it believes will be its biggest range to date and some canny refreshments and additions to its existing line-up. ToyNews reports...
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At a time when many companies are being cautious in the face of economic uncertainty, Character Options is confident that 2009 is going to be a stellar year for the firm.

Group turnover is forecasted to surge from £100m in calendar year 2008 to £145m next year. Although, the firm predicts that 2008 will actually turn out to be something of a flat year overall.

The belief comes from the new product line-up, which features seven new ranges, including a boys action figure and accessories range - HM Armed Forces - which will be the firm’s biggest ever launch. More on that next issue.

“We’re going to be really aggressive for next year,” said managing director Jon Diver. “All the brands are in a very good position to go into next year with improvements.

“Every year we have one or two good categories but we’ve got some great categories this year.”

The firm is expecting to see a 28 per cent uplift in sales of Peppa Pig, 47 per cent in Hannah Montana and 25 per-cent in the refreshed Scooby Doo.

And this optimism comes in a year when the firm’s best-selling Doctor Who range is expected to dip as the series comes off air for a year and coming off the back of a flat year.

“It’s been a bit bumpy through the year,” says Diver, “but then brands are surviving and with refreshments which will allow us to hit lower price points we can achieve growth.
The industry is more cautious on stock so the new and refreshed products are coming through. No-one is taking a risk in terms of stock.”

“We’ve had an average time this year,” concurs marketing manager Jerry Healy, “but we’ve managed it well. We’re managing the business a lot leaner than in the past and we’re not chasing those last 20 per cent purchases. We’ve avoided that and it means we will end the year clean of stock and the retailers need to be clean too.”

Next year will see the firm adopt a new approach to its release schedule, with a bias towards the earlier part of the year.

“The vast majority of product launches are coming first half. As a company we’ve tended to under-perform in the first half. This time we’re trying to get in early and get the numbers right for the back end,” adds Healy.

Plenty of Options
Character’s 2009 ranges…

Scooby Doo

New range of Mystery Mates. 21/2 inch figures launching in January. There are 24 different figures to collect and you get a good guy and a bad guy in a pack of two for £4.99. There are rescaled vehicles to go with the figures and a resized Mystery Mansion too.

“It’s probably the safest licensed character out there,” says Healy.

Primeval

“Primeval was always on six weeks before Doctor Who. This year there is no Doctor Who, so it should fall into that slot.”

The range features two-figure packs with a monster and a human and a flying version of Rex the Lizard as one of the hero products.

“It’s one of our easiest sells,” says Healy, “and it should be very successful given that there’s not a lot on TV during the first quarter.”

Dork Hunters from Outer Space

The show, about a race of aliens that have invaded Earth and disguised themselves as Dorks, features on GMTV and is rapidly growing an audience in the prime-time Saturday slot.

“This is a very tight range. Assuming the ratings carry on as they have been we’re very hopeful for it. It’s getting stronger and stronger at the moment.”

Characters range features Stinkblasters (Dorks have bad breath) and scratch and sniff stickers 3 ¾ inch mini-figures, Dork Car vehicles and the Dork Detector.

Doctor Who

A £16m brand for Character and its leading product line. With no Doctor Who series on TV in 2009, the firm has tempered expectations for the range, expecting a drop of just over ten per cent. The franchise will be kept warm with four specials during 2009.

“With Doctor Who, if it’s new it sells well,” says Healy.

Products include a series of figures which come with one component to make up the iconic Giant Robot. Also new is the Time Squad, a more ‘cartoony’ range of figures which are being released in January in packs of two and five.

The Cyberman electronic voice changer will top many Christmas lists and there’s also gadgets such as the Journal of Impossible Things with a mini-sonic screwdriver and a futuristic version of the sonic screwdriver. Captain Jack’s Temporal Manipulator is also new to the range.

“We’ve got lots of low-priced items,” says Healy. “Nothing above £15. And as the specials come out throughout the year we will release new items. Now, the strategy is about freshness and newness in the range. And based on the reaction from the trade, we think it will be solid.”

Gladiators

Figures of all the Gladiators from the series are available and each comes with a range of accessories including a pugilstick (massive cotton bud thing for whacking contestants). Also available are full-sized inflatable pugilsticks, big fists, and an announcers’ set plus a Tat 2 Art pen.

Terminator Salvation

One of the big film licences for next year and the first in a new trilogy of Terminator films. The Playmates range include 3 ¾-inch and 12-inch figures, role play items, Terminator mask, electronic fists and a Terminator Voice Changer.

Girls

Disney plays a big part in the Character girls’ range and it has upped its quota of Disney licensed products.

The Hannah Montana range includes a line of jewellery (bracelets and keychains) with LCD display and photo storage, readying for a spring launch.

Camp Rock is a new Disney Channel movie which has just been released in the UK and it is hoped it will achieve a similar level of success. “Disney is putting a lot of faith in where this will go,” says Healy.

The aforementioned High School Musical is also an important part of the Character line-up and there are Hop-It and Skip-It activity products and a jewellery line similar to the Hannah Montana range with LCD display and photo storage device.

The firm believes the Disney Princess range has benefited from a downturn in the fortunes of Bratz and Barbie. “As they’ve gone off the boil, we’ve picked up a lot of sales.”

Next year will see the Ariel theme introduced featuring Mini Colour-Theme Ariel, Long Hair Ariel and an Underwater Sea World play-set plus an Ariel carriage and Bubble Seahorse.

For girls that like to bake, the Cupcake Maker is going to be one of Character’s big Christmas lines. It is part of the Girl Gourmet range, all backed by TV advertising, which also includes a Ice Cream Maker, released in summer, and the Fruit Factory smoothie, lolly and shake maker.

Art and craft

In the craft category Spongi is a new modelling compound, marketed as an alternative to plasticine and comes with various plastic components, such as arms and legs to make modelling easier. As £2.99 packs of Spongi it also comes in £7.99 and £9.99 sets.

The firm has also taken on the Sea Monkeys range from Benjamin Toys and will be relaunching on December 31st, with a TV campaign running on boxing day.

Bindeez have recovered from their recall nightmare of last year and next year will see the range thinned down to core products. Refreshments will include a new-look bead pen; a Travel Activity Pack; No Mess Desk (launching in spring/summer ’09 for £19.99) and new alphabet packs.

Blo Pens are being made available in spring/summer in buy five get five free packs for £3.99.

Aqua Sand (formerly Magic Sand) which can be put into water and still come out dry, comes in a number of different play-sets. – Pirate Adventure Set, Mermaid and two other £9.99 packs.

Peppa Pig

The pre-school phemonenon will have every line TV-promoted in 2009. Three key new products are the Moon Landing and Aqua Splash play-sets and Push Along Beach Buggy. Princess Peppa is a new theme with a Royal Family figure range available and the Peppa Pig Train is now a Royal Train.

Postman Pat

Relaunched and reinvented as Postman Pat’s Special Delivery Service, Character has a range of vehicles and playsets based on the new Cbeebies series including the Special Delivery Van, Motorbike, Helicopter and Fork Lift which feature in the series.

Figures come in tube packaging for £5.99 and there are also eight-inch plush figures for £6.99 and a 12-inch Pilot Pat Talking Plush for £14.99.

Playsets include the SDS Sorting Office, Greendale Post Office, Greendale Rocket set Staionery Set and Bathtime Alphabet Set.

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