"Nostalgic toys will be important because there is always an undercurrent of what is old is new," says Dave Schwartz, vice president of marketing at Funrise Toy Corp. "We are entering a period when video games will take a step back, and that will be good for the toy aisle and for retro/ nostalgic toys."
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are coming out of their shells with support from licensees such as Basic Fun and Saturday morning airtime on FoxBox. Patch Products took on Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer from GT Merchandising & Licensing Corp. and plans a line of Rudolph board games, card games, and puzzles.
Classic properties continue to thrive with Scooby-Doo still a top dog for Warner Bros. Consumer Products. Equity Marketing plans three new skus for 2003. Batman, too, will undergo a resurgence with new master toy licensee Mattel planning product launches in spring based on the Batman animated series and in fall based on DC Comics' comic books.
Ohio Art will bring Etch a Sketch "into the 21st century through new case shapes and new licensing alliances," says Jo Wood, vice president of research and development. Limited product will roll out in 2003 with a much greater presence planned for 2004.
Funrise will support tried-and-true brands such as Tonka and G.I. Joe with new wrinkles built into many G.I. Joe vehicles, new motorized vehicles for Tonka, and a line of licensed The Hulk vehicles.
Toys That Nurture
The impact of 9/11 has affected toys as well, with manufacturers developing and enhancing play patterns that encourage nurturing and discourage violence. Zany Brainy recently stopped selling video games in its 170 stores claiming the video game industry is focusing on themes too violent for its young customers.
"We are going to see a violent backlash against violent toys as parents discourage kids from playing with violent toys," says Kenn Viselman, president of Kenn Viselman Presents. Nurturing is the main theme of Viselman's new Lil' Pet Hospital property with good results at FAO Schwarz and Toys "R" Us and recent placement at 1,500 K•B Toys locations. Four more skus are due in spring.
The need to nurture has helped plush sales, with Applause signing on as master licensee for all of Disney, Nickelodeon, and Universal Studios properties. The company also will introduce a line of The Simpsons plush at Toy Fair. "I'm going after the marketplace not with a single hot product, but rather with a portfolio of warm products that create a festival of characters," says Applause Chairman and CEO Bob Solomon.
Education is key for Fisher-Price, with a major learning initiative led by robotic toy Kasey the Kinderbot. "Character-focused properties are on the rise once again," reports Neil Friedman, president of Fisher-Price Brands, with good results and big plans for Elmo, Dora the Explorer, Disney Princesses, Pooh, and Barney. Little People, celebrating its 44th year in 2003, had its best year ever with double-digit growth.
Sesame Workshop has plans for the relaunch of Dragon Tales with an exclusive line of Fisher-Price products at Toys "R" Us on shelves in mid-February. TRU also nabbed the exclusive on a line of Sesame Street ride-ons and ride-in toys from new licensee Processed Plastic. Further, Gund will create Dragon Tales plush for the specialty market.
Disney breaks new ground and "captures multiple play patterns with its Disney Princesses," says Maryellen Zarakas, vice president, global toys at Disney Consumer Products. The company also ventures into new categories signing on with Mega Blocks for a Disney construction line for boys and girls. Further, the Disney parks come to life with a line of toys featuring park icons and rides. Hasbro bows a playset in fall 2003.
No Toy Fair would be complete without myriad electronic toys featuring lots of bells and whistles. But some manufacturers feel that the "back-to-basics" attitude adopted by many of today's parents might adversely impact the electronics area. "I see a trend away from high-tech and mechanical toys and toward basic toys as retailers recognize that electronic, feature-based toys have a shorter shelf life and are riskier," says Play Along's Foreman. "Techno puppies came and went and left a big stain on the rug. There were a lot of items that didn't sell and lots of try-me packaging with dead batteries."
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