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Mattel Drives a New Thomas Strategy

Mattel and its subsidiaries HIT Entertainment and Fisher-Price are taking the Thomas & Friends franchise to the next level with a new retail business model that will emulate its popular American Girl property with a direct-to-consumer premium channel distribution strategy.

"Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway originally launched through the specialty channel, giving the brand both heritage and equity as a premium franchise. That, along with the property's rich storytelling, presented Mattel with an opportunity to drive both direct-to-consumer product sales, as well as generate incremental mainline product sales by diversifying distribution," says Geoff Walker, executive vice president, global brands, Fisher-Price.

Thomas will now have a dedicated product catalog and e-commerce website. The website,, and the first Thomas & Friends DTC catalog (which is set to hit more than 1.5 million homes over three mailings) will launch this summer.

The website will carry the full range of Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway offerings (a total of 200-plus SKUs at launch, both new and existing), which includes 50-plus SKUs of new and exclusive items that are unique to the catalog and website. Both will offer exclusive, custom train sets, personalized engines and toys tied to publishing content, as well as books and DVDs. Mattel will also expand the current product offerings to include lifestyle items such as bedding, sleepwear, soft storage and plush. (The brand's current website, will continue to operate and offer games and mobile apps.)

Much like American Girl is anchored by its eponymous doll and its dedicated book series, Thomas too will have a robust publishing program that will additionally introduce a new character as part of the Exclusive Sodor story collection, which will also feature four new train sets based on favorite Thomas & Friends characters. Each train set will feature an exclusive hardcover story book, created in conjunction with each set.

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