To briefly recap on some of the points I made in the Friday Blog, the great news is that there is no shortage of exciting new product around this year – chiefly because churning out this year’s range in a different colour or with refreshed packaging simply isn’t enough in these challenging times for retail. Retailers are looking for fresh, new ideas (I will not use the word ‘newness’ – frankly, it should a punishable offence): innovative, risk-taking lines that follow the trends that are springing up all over the place – if you know where to look.
For example, I think Worlds Apart is on to a winner with its new Tube Superstar line – given the huge excitement around the whole unboxing / YouTube phenomena, the timing is perfect for a product which gives a child all they need to role play being a ‘vlogger’ (I don’t like that word either). Worlds Apart’s offering is driven by a specially developed app which emulates the iconic snapchat effects, but with age appropriate content. I also liked the company’s new Room 2 Build – essentially a bed featuring Lego detailing – and the Scruff a Luvs plush range is a very cute concept.
Click Distribution is another company which has been keeping a close eye on trends, and its new hand-made crochet plush Meegos range is one of the most interesting developments I’ve seen in the collectible plush category for a while. And the fact that the company’s opening order is keeping 14,000 women employed in 200 villages across Bangladesh is something they should be proud of. Click’s new Bijou Bracelet range is another that seems very ‘on trend’, allowing girls to take off individual beads and swap them with their friends – a perennially-popular concept.
Zuru’s Smashers has got off to a strong start by all accounts, and having ‘smashed’ one myself, I can attest to just how therapeutic it is. The new X-Shot Bug Attack is a good addition to the range, while Rainbocorns mixes literally every trend you can think of in the girls’ category – unicorns, eggs, rainbows, surprises, scale, sequins, confetti, collectability – into one single toy. It is a thing of wonder (or at least I can imagine it will be to a six-year-old).
IMC continues to develop its hugely successful Cry Babies range, with the introduction of a new mini-version to bring the brand into the collectible space. Mystery Mao is a great new addition to the Club Petz range, while Baby Wee – yes, it does exactly what it says on the tin – will make a great TV ad. In the games category, Lie Detector really will feature an actual working lie detector…which could make for some very interesting evenings around the country next Christmas.
There’s still great innovation, even in some of the most traditional, bread and butter categories: Imperial’s Lickabubble range features the first-ever edible bubble solution, which tastes of whatever liquid you mix it with. Imagine a vat of that being let loose in Lang Kwai Fong on a Saturday night. I also liked Imperial’s Shine Secrets sequin fashion accessories range, while its lights and sound Disney Bubble Wand offers tremendous value. Imperial will be opening a new UK office this year, with a view to establishing a domestic offering by 2019, an exciting development for this stalwart company.
Another company opening in the UK this year is Canal Toys, whose So Slime Range performed extremely well across the globe last year. A couple of UK retailers picked up on it in 2017, but I would imagine a lot more will come onboard now the company has a UK base. It’s interesting to see a few more boy-oriented SKUs being added to the range, as slime seems to have been quite a girl-driven purchase thus far, although clearly it appeals to everyone. I also liked Canal’s Only 4 Girls craft range, and Power Dough is an innovative twist on a classic category – the dough comes with accessories that move, light up, make noises and generally bring the dough to life.
If Slime is guaranteed another great year, so too are unicorns – they’re still everywhere, but nowhere larger than Martin Grossman’s giant unicorn plush. It would comfortably double as a bean bag and look great in a window display.
PMS’s Elves Behaving Badly range continues to expand, with 80 new items being added to the range this year – I particularly liked the Grow Your Own Candy Canes and Candy Hunt lines. Interestingly, Elf seems to have created its own ‘mini-season’, after Halloween / November 5th but before Christmas properly kicks into gear – a nice opportunity for retailers to gain incremental sales in this in-between period.
Licensing is by no means ‘out’ per se, but it is in a very different place to a couple of years ago, when suppliers threw huge cheques at massive franchises that were supposed to be guaranteed winners. Except they weren’t. Now licensing development is principally being focused around those properties with a strong recent track record (PJ Masks, Paw Patrol, Peppa etc), with a few interesting properties emerging from left-field to offer some variety.
As ever, MV has a strong line-up of licensed ranges, with 12 new introductions including PJ Masks, LOL Surprise, Jo Jo, Rusty Rivets, Incredibles, Super Wings and Jurassic World. Literally something for everyone. With MV’s own IP also growing each year, the ‘foot in both camps’ approach continues to serve them well.
Some of the interesting new licensed introductions I saw included Make It Real’s Juicy Couture range, a classy addition to the company’s portfolio aimed very much at an older, more discerning girl; Five Stars’ new range of Disney paint-based craft kits and Bullyland’s newly-revamped range, which is expanding from its traditional Disney heartland with Digby Dragon, The Hungry Caterpillar and the charming Chubby Unicorn. Jazwares’ Roblox range goes from strength to strength, while new introductions include Rocket League, the number one e-sports game online which mixes motor racing and football, the quirky Hello Neighbour (definitely one for Midco Toys) and a range based on the popular Hotel Transylvania franchise.
Sinco’s modular Hot Wheels carry-case system is a fantastic idea for avid fans who want to display their huge car collection, while its new Shaun and Timmy ranges – including a very cute advent calendar – look strong. I also really liked Bladez Thomas Track playset, while its Hot Wheels Drone Racerz range sees several excellent new items being added. Funko’s range covers all bases, from mainstream properties such as Harry Potter – I like the new Plushies selection – to edgy brands such as Cuphead and Rick and Morty. And the new Royals range – including a Harry and Meghan 2-pack – is bound to be a success this year. Beats an old mug or china plate any day (and I suspect Harry and Meghan would say the same).
Let’s not also forget the more traditional FOB suppliers, many of which work extremely hard to achieve the right balance between keen prices, serviceability and product quality. Turkish company Dolu is building a huge new 55,000 sq ft factory which will be ready at the end of 2019. With a large range (there are 30 new items this year), no MOQs, the ability to sell in £ full-delivered, Brexit will present new opportunities for Dolu in the coming years, whatever the outcome. As well as representing Dolu, Steve Richardson is also representing Maccabi, a sports-merchandise company started six years ago by US industry doyen Jeff Rosen. The company has some innovative products which range from collectible football figures that you can actively play with (Man City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal – but inexplicably no Watford…yet!), to a rather fantastic back-pack / cagoule combo. It’s not a mainstream toy line, but it could be a huge seller in the right retail channels.
And that’s just round one – with three more Toy Fairs to go, I’m sure there is a lot more excitement and innovation to be unveiled yet.