MD Chris Spalding speaks to ToyNews about the firm's new-found bullishness.
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LeapFrog is somewhat unique among toy firms, in that it crosses over into the giddy world of the video games market, albeit at a younger level. And just like the games market is it often subject to the vagaries of product cycles as it seeks to establish another junior gaming platform.

This is a year where the firm is on an upward cycle with a number of key products. It has taken a while for it to re-establish itself after the success of LeapPad, but this year it has a number of aces up its sleeve. There’s a definite feelgood factor about the firm right at the moment.

MD Chris Spalding is particularly upbeat about the firm’s prospects, with big plans for several key lines, backed with wide-ranging marketing.

“We’re having a good year, and we haven’t launched any of our new product yet,” he enthuses.

“If you look at the industry over the last 18 months, expectations have been set low. In recessionary times companies do one of two things. They either batten down the hatches or they go out and grab market share.

“So we took the decision to go for it. This will be our biggest launch for five or six years.”

The launch he refers to is the Leapster Explorer, the latest in its series of handheld console products, which Spalding believes is every bit as good as some of its more grown up cousins such as Nintendo’s DS.

It features touchscreen technology, improved graphics, downloadable content and can be used as a games machine, e-book or for watching video content. Software includes a range of well-known licensed titles such as Madagascar Penguins, Ben 10, Toy Story 3, Fairies and Dora the Explorer. An attachable camera will be coming out later in the year.

Marketing spend for the product is around the £1m mark. Central to the campaign, indeed central to all current LeapFrog products, is its Learning Path site and the email database that this has helped create which enables to contact parents who have already bought LeapFrog products and opted to receive more. It currently stands at around 1.2 million worldwide.

“It all goes back to our connected strategy. By the end of the year we will have 350,000 people on our database in the UK and they have all chosen to hear from us. We know the age of the child as well, so we can send them targeted, appropriate information. We’re working hard on that side of things. We’re keen to have people coming back to us.

“It’s a huge launch for us and we have a really well thought-through media campaign.”

In addition, the firm has established Tag and Tag Junior as the true heirs to LeapPad, with sales up 60 per cent year on year, and there are 12 more books launching this year on Tag Jr to keep the momentum going.

My Pal Scout has already sold 140,000 units in the UK and a million worldwide. “Which is phenomenal success at a quiet time for the industry,” comments Spalding.

Pricing is also a talking point for the firm this year, as it has looked to bring price-points lower.

“We took a conscious decision to be more aggressive on price and packaging. Scout is £19.99 for example, which is great value for money. We’ve engineered our products smartly to keep the price down. We lowered our margins because we need to encourage people into the brand at a younger age.

“If you go on the feedback site our products are nearly always five star. And if we can communicate and keep those customers with us they will stay until they’re eight or nine.”

The firm’s online offering continues to evolve and improve and the launch of Leapworld, which is an online universe accessible using the Leapster line, involves children in the brand with trailers and play demos and helps create a dialogue between LeapFrog and its customers.

“When they give a game or something a thumbs up on the site, we can then fire off an email to their parents telling them what they like,” explains Spalding.

The firm’s commitment to this kind of marketing, marks it out in the toy market, which is slowly starting to grasp the possibilities of online marketing, microsites and other connected methodology.

For LeapFrog, it remains as vital as ever to remain a market leader rather than a follower.




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