It seems that there are two ways to succeed in the pre-school market. Licensing is the obvious, but expensive, route and the other relies purely on the quality of the product offering and appealing to those
so-called aspirational parents, which might be even less of a risk given the unquantifiable nature of success in the pre-school character market. But, it is a much longer road to travel down and research and development is not necessarily cheap.
Get it right, however, build a brand that is trusted by parents and products that are recognised and enjoyed by children, and you are definitely onto a winner. It is the method which pre-school specialist Wow Toys has employed to great effect.
The firm enjoyed a robust 2009, with sales up 44 per cent in the UK, according to boss Nadim Laperouse. It also made progress in the independent sector, doubling its business with the Toymaster group.
Its attention to retail is starting to pay dividends and it is developing a number of solutions to increase its distribution in different channels.
Laperouse explains the philosophy: “It’s about getting people to buy Wow for the first time. In the toy industry there is often a big disparity with the promise of what the product delivers. Play value is a quality issue.
“Each product we make has to be as good as it ever was. And morally, we won’t give into any thought of compromising that. In pre-school it makes a difference, because they are thrown about more than other toys. And people mark you accordingly.”
Stand-out at retail is vital and the firm has created an in-store solution which gives retailers a ready-made, branded, Wow Toys area which has already been well-received in a number of different retail channels.
“We put a big shop-fit display into 20 stores,” says Laperouse. “A mix of indies, garden centres and other stores and we tracked them on EPOS and there was a phenomenal increase of between 200-300 per cent. It’s amazing what can be achieved when you go that extra mile.
“It’s all about in-store presentation. We’re putting another 30 of them out there. Some are 12-feet wide. When we said we wanted to invest thousands into a store, more hands went up than we had imagined.
“What we didn’t realise is that there is also a need for a shop-fit in stores which are smaller. So, this year we are putting 150 four-feet units in shops.
The firm is experimenting with a TV campaign in the UK for the first time this year and is also looking at some distribution into the nursery sector, too. In addition, four new staff have been added so far this year, and the range will be a third bigger in 2011. All in all, Wow Toys is on the upward curve.
“At Wow Toys, we’re very confident that the track we are following is what the public wants. The difficulty though, is in getting the retailer to see that. That is the big job in marketing.”
Innovation in design is the real pillar of Wow’s success. Its chunky pre-school toys are colourful and design-lead, making them a particularly popular range with younger mums with certain aspirations.
“When we are able to do our own form of innovation, we know a toy will sell for ten years and we usually get payback in year one. So we get nine years of stability, which is why we’re able to plan ahead. That’s the fun part. That’s kind of the point of it.”
But market conditions don’t make it easy for innovators in the toy market. Retailers are still very rigid when it comes to pricing, he claims.
“If there’s one frustration with the toy business it’s how retailers still want products to be £9.99, which is the same price as it was ten years ago. How can it be that way, when everything else has doubled in price?
“That short-sightedness stifles innovation. It makes people take quick and short-sighted decisions. Real innovation only takes place in the toy market when the price allows it to. If we could lift the lid on pricing, the public would pay for it.
“It would allow a lot more innovation to come through to the sector because companies would have a lot more space to create long-term propositions.”
If not exactly a rarity, there’s certainly room for plenty more innovation. But, right now, if it doesn’t make it entirely unique, Wow Toys’ devotion to product development certainly marks it apart.