It's amazing what can happen in five months. Back in November 2011 when I visited Tomy’s Sutton HQ, the new-look sales and marketing team had just been revealed and the firm was in the middle of integrating the RC2 business following the acquisition earlier in the year - and some ambitious and confident statements were made.
Returning on a very wet day in April, head of European sales, Clive Wooster, and head of marketing, Joanne Gray are like rays of sunshine as they excitedly talk of the progress which has been made. And, when I catch up with Gary Hunter a few days later, he is just as upbeat that Tomy has all the wheels in motion to be a successful player and have a good year.
“It’s all looking pretty good,” he says. “We’ve got some great listings coming through for autumn/winter, some good PR, our plan has been approved by the board and going forward they are 100 per cent behind us so it’s all up and away. Next year at Toy Fair we will be showing a lot of new product, which we’re already working on behind the scenes. We’re changing things, they’re looking good, and in 2013/2014 we expect to have a bumper number of new products coming through.”
And what of that bold statement that Tomy is aiming to be the largest toy company worldwide by 2015? I can see Hunter smiling down the phone as I remind him of the ambitious line from the integration press release.
“We’re number four now in the world and we believe that we can climb at least another one, if not two places in the next two years; we’re planning to grow across the world,” he says. “In some markets, just combining the Tomy and TC2 businesses has meant we’ve climbed the ladder significantly. In the UK, we want to be number two or three in the next few years.”
“WE’RE GOING FOR IT”
There’s no denying that there have been a lot of internal changes at Tomy, but the message now is that the firm is definitely heading in the right direction. “We’re back on the map,” says Gray. “The focus now is about reassuring our customers we’ve got a plan, we’ve got a team and we’re going for it.”
For the sales team, one of the big jobs was getting all of the separate offices together. As well as the UK, the French, Spanish, German and Benelux offices are now all integrated as Tomy. The same exercise has been repeated in areas where the firm uses distributors, for example Italy, the Middle East, parts of Africa, Greece and the Nordics.
“It’s been quite a big step to pull all of those things together,” says Wooster. “The work is in the detail.”
In terms of the UK, there are now four national account managers (two it turns out from both Tomy and Learning Curve), while there is also a specific nursery manager – something which is repeated for each territory – and an eight-strong field sales team. On top of this, there is a distributor team which works across the other countries, and a head for the Gacha business.
Wooster continues: “There has been a lot of goodwill, which we were delighted to see. Our message now is that we’re functional, we’re ready to go and we’ve now got to turn that goodwill into solid business and results. Some of the things we’ve done in terms of sales, we’ve got a lot more room for manoeuvre because the product range is wider and we can channel manage more effectively. For the last three months, the sales team really have been working all the major customers; we’re getting our listings in now for autumn/winter and, touchwood, they’re all really strong.
“What the trade is looking for now is us to deliver good products, at a good margin, that sell well and are delivered on time.”
FROM PRE-SCHOOL TO PRE-COOL
Gray admits it was fortunate that the portfolios of Tomy and RC2 were extremely complementary, and she believes the company now has a comprehensive offer from birth to school age – completing the ‘Tomy journey’.
“Tomy was constantly looking for that infant, real baby toy gap. We want to take consumers on a journey, we want them to buy into our products for their baby and then stay with us. So when we got Lamaze I was delighted,” she says. “Our real heartland was infant pre-school, then growing into the boys area. But we had a ‘pre-cool’ gap of four to five year olds; now, from RC2, we’ve got the likes of Chuggington and the licensed portfolio. So the gaps have been filled and we have a total portfolio now. Plus we actually have a company name that is a brand and has some meaning for consumers. As a marketer, this gives us a really good foundation.”
From a marketing point of view, Gray and her team are now looking to leverage the power of the Tomy brand. There are new TV creatives which reinforce the brand identity – including the addition of a new ‘sonic signature’ – while there will also be greater emphasis on cross sell and cross promotional opportunities between its categories: from nursery to infant (monitors to Lamaze), infant to pre-school (Lamaze to Play to Learn) and pre-school to pre-cool (Chuggington to Tomika).
Tomy has also recognised that when it comes to marketing to consumers there is now a huge array of tools available, and it’s a question of using the right ones for the right audience.
“There’s a danger sometimes if you spread yourself too thin, you don’t do anything very well,” Gray explains. “It’s really important that the guys in my team are all really understanding how their target end-user is consuming the media.”
Traditional media, such as press and TV, continue to play an important role, along with broadcast sponsorship, but social media will also become a bigger focus. Experiential marketing – such as the Making K’Nexions Challenges which are taking place across the country – will continue to help kids get hands on with the products, while Tomy will also look at striking more partnerships with brands which are targeting the same audience, but in a different industry. To this end, it has recently teamed up with Huggies and is currently in the process of linking up with a national day nursery chain.
Gray continues: “It’s exciting times to be working at Tomy and in marketing because we’ve got some great products, and we’ve also got some great methods to get our message out there.”
Speaking of products, while for 2012 a major focus has been on licensed properties Raa Raa the Noisy Lion and Winnie the Pooh, Gray says that 2013 will see Tomy look to grow its proprietary brands, such as Play to Learn, Aquafun and Aquadoodle, which are all well-established evergreen brands. “I think next year will see the biggest number of Play to Learn lines launched in one single year,” she says. “Historically we would launch two or three items, but we’re looking closer to ten.”
In addition, some big news in the boys space is due, while Tomy’s new global approach has meant that licensors are coming knocking: “Part of our strategy is looking for more big global licensing deals, so that’s on the horizon, too.”
The plans are still ambitious, and there’s no doubt that Tomy has a hunger for success, but with strong listings and a solid structure now in place, they certainly look achievable.
DEVELOPMENT: THE GLOBAL APPROACH
Tomy has global development centres in Hong Kong, Japan, Europe and the US, something which head of product development and product integrity Pete Kellond believes is pretty unique.
“I’m trying to think of another company which has that reach of actual proper development from each of those territories, but I can’t,” he says. “It benefits us in a number of ways. From a cultural position, people are finding toys or inventing play patterns that you wouldn’t necessarily have seen in the West but which you do see in Japan, for example. Having a local development centre enables us to look at that line of products, take the core line and then build onto that things which would appeal to other territories.
“The benefits extend to the ideas and concepts, and these are generated and shared across all of our development centres. We all work together and work towards, I suppose, a cloud-based solution where ideas are filtered though. Everyone is then free to pick from those. Licensors can also benefit from our global development centres – they can launch on a global level and have development on a global level, but they can also have a global product but with local nuances added. We can tailor every region specifically to the requirements of the licensor.”
Both Gray and Kellond believe this is why the likes of Disney and Chapman are enjoying working with Tomy. And, as Gray points out, it also gives other licensors a reason to come and knock on Tomy’s door, “because they’re going to see something different”.
While Kellond’s immediate team is just six, globally he can tap into just short of a thousand people. “It’s got to be close to that, when you think of all the engineers and all the resource that goes into creating a toy,” he says. “The best way to describe it, is you’re the director of a film – you have a vision in your head of what you want do, but a director can’t make the movie by himself, he needs everyone.
“So, you need engineers to create that magic, you need the best cost engineers to tackle the inflating prices from all around the world. But you also need the vision at the end to deliver something that meets the needs of people like Clive and Joe, but also the buyers.”