THE BIG INTERVIEW: Simon Hedge, MD, Flair

An ambitious GP Flair is pushing on in a big way this year, with its sights firmly set on being a top five manufacturer. Samantha Loveday talks to managing director Simon Hedges, in his first interview since taking on the new role.
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Firstly, could you give me a quick recap of how 2012 was for Flair? Was the year better or worse than expected?

2012 was a challenging year in the UK, with the market being at best flat and trading being so late, but it was good for us. We managed to progress up to the number six spot in terms of toy companies by the end of it, and for that we’re very pleased.

Things that really did it for us – The Trash Pack got off to a great start and it opened up a new area for us as we hadn’t really been in the boys category before. We managed to get five million Trashies into kids’ hands which is an incredible achievement, and it was the number four top new property in the whole market, number two in Collectable Trading Toys and number three in the Blind Packs study that NPD created, with eight per cent share.

Our creative play brands, like Aqua Beads and Cool Cardz, had a cracking year. We also introduced new products like Gelarti, Inkoos and CuddleUpPets, which have all done remarkably well and helped boost our standing. Sylvanian Families is still a top performing property and then, on December 1st, we launched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which gave us a great finish to the year.

And how has 2013 started for you?

We’ve had a great start. Up to week eight, the market is tracking at up two per cent and we’re up 29 per cent, so we’re very pleased with that. Toy Fair was a great showcase for all the opportunities we can offer our customers and licensing partners. The momentum has continued for Turtles and The Trash Pack, and we revealed our first foray into pre-school with Tree Fu Tom and Doc McStuffins.

Speaking of Turtles, after such an impressive start what’s coming up next for the brand?

There’s no doubt that Turtles has given us a massive boost: it is the number three top new property so far after only about 12 weeks in total on the market, and the Basic Figure Assortment is the number one item in the total Action Figure supercategory.

The excitement about the return of Turtles was building even before the toys hit the shelves, and that’s come from the buying community, the licensing community and consumers themselves.

Nickelodeon has done a fantastic job in bringing the brand up to a new level, getting behind it and giving it that new zest for life. The TV series starts showing on CITV in mid-April, so that will give it a further boost in terms of audience.

In terms of product highlights this year, 17 new figures are being introduced in several waves through the year, plus we have Flinger Turtles (a new way to launch weapons), new vehicles, play-sets, role-play and creative play kits.

By the end of 2013 we’d like to have established TMNT as a top three evergreen action figure brand with £24 million sales at retail.

Why do you think it’s been such a hit again second time around?

There are three things that stand out for me. It’s about four brothers and they are some really nice characters, plus it’s one of the few shows that mixes humour with action. This has always been something in the series that has appealed and Nickelodeon has done a fantastic job of bringing the humour back. Finally, there’s a quality to the animation and a feel good factor to it.

What are some of the other highlights from your portfolio for this year?

Doc McStuffins is a much sought after property; it’s one of Disney Junior’s top performing shows and the success it’s enjoyed in the US is now filtering across to the UK. To week eight, Doc is the number 15 top new toy already in no time at all.

Tree Fu Tom, which is GP/Flair’s own launch, has also had a great launch, with lots of PR activity including a Twitter Party in half-term which achieved six million tweets. Pinkie Cooper is a whole new innovation for the fashion doll sector and we’re also excited about Skwooshi, a revolution in the compound market, and Glitzi Globes which won Australian Toy of the Year.

Pre-school certainly seems to be a key focus for Flair this year…

To be an all encompassing toy company we need to get into other areas, but we need to do it properly and have a great proposition for our customers and consumers. 

We’re diving into pre-school this year with some of the biggest and most exciting properties. I’ve mentioned Doc McStuffins already (pictured below) – we have the Just Play range from the US but will also be doing our own products in the latter part of the year – and Tree Fu Tom. Also in pre-school, we have Hello Kitty play-sets and vehicles, and in plush we have our own brand called SnugglePets, plus licensed CuddleUpPets and Shamzees swelling the range. Also, Tummy Stuffers bring a whole new way for parents to encourage children to tidy their rooms.

You told us at the beginning of 2012 that you were aiming for a 14th year of successive growth, and also to break into the top five toy manufacturers in NPD. How are you looking to achieve this in the current climate?

Well, it’s been an interesting start to the year and Flair has already made the number five position in January and February, so we just want to maintain that and keep the momentum up.

What’s your own personal view of the UK toy business at the moment?

It’s tough and we’re all having to run faster to keep up, as in any job probably. But overall if you have a reputation for building great brands and supporting them well with marketing, you’re more likely to be successful.

Retailers are in the same position and for that reason are more demanding of us. We do everything we can to help them with this. Hopefully this year will see a return to overall toy market growth.

What would you most like to have achieved with Flair by the end of 2013?

We want to continue to deliver first class service to our customers and grow our brands. In doing so, the company will grow too and we will become first choice for our suppliers when deciding on distributors for new opportunities.

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