We spent some time recently with Andrew Hendy – Director at HeadStart International. We spoke to Andrew about their priorities for the year ahead. Andrew is already a veteran of the Toy Industry and his team are forging ahead with new brands and product development initiatives to secure the business as we move into 2017 and the future.
HeadStart are all about building and developing sustainable play patterns that will continue to resonate with the consumer. Their brand portfolio includes winning licenses such as Star Wars, Disney Princess, The Simpsons, Turtles, Ben 10, WWE, Little Tikes and much more.
Andrew will tell you that he is passionate about toys and associated brands and he leaves no stone unturned when it comes to acquisitions in this field. We asked Andrew to provide us with some insight into the key brands for 2017 and his vision for the business:
Andrew, your recent acquisition of the Sesame Street toy category for our region is a good example of evergreen, sustainable play patterns. Do you have a long-term vision for this brand?
We will get Sesame Street toys back to being a top three preschool brand. Preschool brands have a tendency to come and go but Sesame Street has stood the test of time and has been engaging multiple generations of kids with their lovable characters.
Although Turtles is a volatile boys property, I must confess that you have done an amazing job of populating the toy platforms and keeping the brand fresh. What’s next for TMNT?
I would have to disagree with you there Mr Bugg as I think Turtles has been anything but volatile. Since we relaunched Turtles in 2012, it was the number one action figure property for three straight years. In December of 2015 when EP7 launched we moved to the number two action figure property second only to Star Wars, which was expected given all of the action around that launch. Since then we’ve remained the number two action figure brand and we don’t see that changing. If you look back through the archives, the last action figure property to be that consistent for four years was Ben 10. We attribute this to the fact that both Turtles and Ben 10 are driven by 52-week a year TV content and movies are a secondary driver. Most of the competitors rely more so on theatrical releases and see much greater peaks and troughs.
As I understand it, HeadStart currently hold a worldwide license for The Simpsons. This is yet another brand with a 25 year history. Can you give us an update on your top priority for The Simpsons for 2017?
We launched a great Simpsons toy line for kids but we have realised that consumers are looking less for play with The Simpsons toys but rather to “collect” them. Therefore, The Simpsons is a natural fit for our Ooshies brand and you’ll hopefully see a Simpsons Ooshies range in the not too distant future.
Little Tikes is one of the foundation brands of the HeadStart portfolio. What are the key items for this year?
We carry over 150 Little Tikes SKUs and there are too many to list here. If I were to highlight some key areas; we are getting a lot of growth from our “four in one” trike business, the Cozy Coupe will shortly be receiving a makeover and we’ll be bringing back an incredibly successful feature pet called Swim to Me Puppy, which is an item we once sold over 50,000pcs of in Australia.
As our market continues to challenge traditional distribution models, HeadStart have been busy developing product ranges, which they can control from a distribution standpoint. We have seen Ooshies launch both Internationally and here locally to spectacular results. What are your priorities for Ooshies during the coming year?
In our wildest dreams we could never have expected Ooshies to be as successful as they were here in Australia. Most of the international markets will launch this year and we are excited to see the same craze take off overseas. We’ve just launched a more girl focused Ooshies line with a huge range of Disney characters and this seems to have more demand than any of the brands we’ve released to date. Girls were already collecting DC, Marvel and Turtles, but Disney is really something exciting for them. WWE is the other big new franchise we’re adding to the Ooshies stable, with the endless number of WWE Superstars past and present to work with, we think this could be a really long term property for Ooshies.
The relaunch of Ben 10 is looking very exciting. The TV is doing well and Cartoon Network will be backing the brand big time. Who is your toy partner? And will you be developing product of your own?
We are lucky enough to be working with our long term partner, Playmates Toys, for all of our Ben 10 product. Playmates are widely known as the best in the business at developing action figure brands and have not disappointed with their opening range of Ben 10 toys.
Can you provide us some insight into your lead items for this year?
The number one selling toy in the USA at the moment is an item from MGA called “L.O.L. Surprise!” which brings the world of unboxing to the dolls category in a way that no one has ever seen before. For boys, the Ben 10 Omnitrix is no doubt the hit new item of the year and for preschoolers, Tickle Me Elmo will be the most wanted Christmas present; just don’t leave it too late to get to stores! The buzz in the school yard will no doubt continue to be Ooshies, with over 500 new Ooshies being released in 2017 the race is on to collect them all!
Along with your commitment to product development, we understand HeadStart has been producing its own Webisodes and TV commercials to support these new initiatives. Will you continue to develop this skill?
Certainly will; our amazingly talented team of creatives produce all our own “stop-motion” animation and many of our TV commercials in house. We will release new content every month for a number of our brands.
Andrew, what plans do you have for the Kids WB partnership for 2017?
Shane Crawford and Lauren Philips will be attending Toy Hobby & Licensing Fair and will be shooting a bunch of Kids WB episodes from our stand at the fair on Tuesday. You’re going to see some awesome interaction with our brands and products shot right there at the fair, amongst our customers. Make sure you come by HeadStart’s booth on Tuesday if you want to see the action.
What do you see as the two most significant trends that will effect the Toy & Licensing business in 2017?
According to NPD data, the Australian toy market was down 8% in 2016. Nearly every other global market (excluding Latin America) saw growth of 3-5% in most cases. The optimist in me can only assume that means there is lots of room for growth in 2017 and we should see a positive trend throughout most of the year.
The biggest trend for toys has been lower priced impulse products, which is great for retailers because it means that foot traffic is up as people are going to stores more often to build on their collections.
Andrew, great to catch up with you during this busy time leading up to the Toy Hobby & Licensing Fair. We wish you every success for the coming year and encourage our readers to take the time and visit the HeadStart stand A01 during the show, where they will be able to view some of the brilliant toys from the 2017 range.