Toy makers turn to proven hits after a grim holiday season
Baby Yoda is new, but toy makers this year increasingly are turning to the old stuff in a bid to shore up business.
Scrambling to recover from their worst holiday season in memory, toy manufacturers are looking to resuscitate old classics like Tonka trucks, Care Bears and the Mall Madness board game — moves that some companies see as less risky in an industry that’s increasingly unforgiving.
In the case of Tonka, the 74-year-old toy truck line’s current licensee, Basic Fun, has tapped Shaquille O’Neal to star in a TV ad campaign that will begin in August or September and run through the Christmas season. The NBA legend headlined a ribbon-cutting for the new Tonka line at Toy Fair in New York over the weekend.
“I’m on a mission alongside Tonka and Basic Fun to motivate kids to ‘Get Out and Play!’” O’Neal said in a statement.
The idea, says Basic Fun Chief Executive Jay Foreman, is to promote traditional play, where kids are moving things around instead of pushing buttons and looking at screens.
“We have placed a lot of bets on the retro category because we don’t have anything that’s blowing off the shelves,” Foreman said.
Between the bankruptcy of Toys ‘R’ Us in late 2017 and the threat of tariffs last year, the toy business has yet to find its footing. US toy sales dropped more than 4 percent last year to $20.91 billion, compounding the pain of a 2-percent drop a year earlier after four consecutive years of growth, according to NPD Group.
Last week, Walmart reported weak toy sales, despite the fact that it, along with Target and Amazon, is among the only major retailers still in the category.
Manufacturing giants Hasbro and Mattel saw modest to flat growth last year. Both are doubling down on their entertainment divisions, which means selling licensed merchandise linked to hits like the “Star Wars” franchise and “Frozen 2,” say experts.
Nevertheless, the 61-year-old Barbie franchise was among Mattel’s few bright spots last year, with sales growing 7 percent worldwide versus the company’s overall flat results.
Hasbro, meanwhile, is unveiling a new version of Mall Madness, a hit board game that debuted in 1988, which will boast electronic features.
Elsewhere, Basic Fun will gear up for a fall revival of Care Bears, the rainbow-colored plush toys that exploded in 1985 with a touchy-feely marketing message, but which haven’t been a major presence since 2007, according to Foreman.
At a time of weakening sales, trotting out old hits makes sense, D.A. Davidson analyst Linda Bolton Weiser said. “About 80 percent of the [toys] in the toy industry are new each year, but they should be going into their [intellectual property] toy vaults. It’s much cheaper to do that,” she explained.
Toronto-based WowWee is best known for its 2017 megahit, Fingerlings, an electronic finger puppet that moves and makes noises. This year, however, it’s betting on BriteBrush, a $20 toothbrush that lights up, plays music and is supposed to encourage kids to brush longer.
“There is more financial stability in products like this that are more need- than want-based,” WowWee’s Chief Technology Officer David Sufer told The Post. “Creating a whole host of new brands is like pushing a bulldozer up the hill.”
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