The change that we are experiencing within the toy & licensing industries is occurring at a frightening pace. To achieve success, you must be able to stay ahead of the curve. Looking back on 2017 it is clear that HeadStart International was able to assemble a product line and apply a successful activation plan to deliver an outstanding result for the company. As the relentless trade fair season unfolds, beginning in Hong Kong, London and then Nuremberg, we were fortunate to catch up with Andrew Hendy, CEO of HeadStart to reflect a little on 2017 and to talk about 2018.
Looking back on 2017, what was your standout success from a product and market engagement standpoint?
No surprises but L.O.L Surprise and Ooshies were the two biggest brands for HeadStart in 2017. L.O.L Surprise has been a runaway success around the world and we struggled to keep up with the demand all year and this is continuing into 2018 already. Ooshies has become an evergreen platform and we have expanded into a ton of more licenses, our Ooshies fans cannot get enough and as long as we keep providing new assortments and new licenses they will stay loyal.
Upon reflection, what program from last year most surprised you in terms of its contribution to your overall result for the year?
The surprise for me was the number of brands that were working, particularly in the collectable space. Although L.O.L Surprise and Ooshies were the biggest, we had huge success with Mashems, Baby Secrets, Num Noms and Surpizimals.
Ooshies was a revelation for you in 2017 in terms of your own development… What can you tell us about the new series for 2018?
In 2018 we are introducing some great new licenses including Dreamworks, Care Bears, Barbie, Transformers, Incredibles, Star Wars and with the introduction of Ooshies Junior you will see Disney Junior, Sesame Street and PJ Masks. We are now building the portfolio of Ooshies licenses evenly across boys, girls and now preschool. We also have new licenses and we are launching new series for all of our existing core brands such as Marvel, DC, Turtles, WWE and Disney.
The complete redevelopment of the Sesame Street toy line by HeadStart has been a big commitment. Now that we are a season on how did it perform?
Our Sesame Street product performed great, Tickle Me Elmo was one of the top performing items in the preschool category and we had great success introducing a more girly feature plush, Twinkle Wings Abby, something that had never been focused on before. We have totally reset the brand’s product landscape with great product and great price points and have lots in place to further grow Sesame Street in 2018.
Andrew, I read that HeadStart is the fastest growing toy company in Australia, a fabulous achievement for you and your team! How do you plan to manage this growth?
Yes, we grew over 60% in 2017 thanks to an amazing line-up of product and a wonderful team at HeadStart who made it all happen. We are on track for another big growth year in 2018 and if I had a crystal ball I would comment on 2019. Our toy business is 80% product and 20% distribution and marketing; we have been very fortunate to be working with great product and are focused on constantly finding new and exciting lines to introduce into our portfolio.
Can you tell us a little about your latest innovation, the new ‘Best Furry Friends’ from HeadStart?
BFF is a brand new girls brand that we will be introducing into the market in March. It’s all about fashion and friendship and will translate across collectables, dolls, plush, roleplay and hopefully licensed product once the brand is properly established in the toy aisle. We have high hopes for BFF and have put everything behind this brand, including investing in high quality CGI animation and have a marketing campaign that reaches all of the touch points for today’s kids.
Andrew, how do you see your development internationally panning out in 2018?
Our international business is slowly growing. We have a distribution deal for Baby Secrets with the hottest toy company in the world, MGA Entertainment, who are also the maker of L.O.L Surprise. MGA are already selling Baby Secrets in the UK and have totally sold out; they will launch this Easter in USA, Canada and Germany, as well as many other markets across Europe. Baby Secrets has also been a big hit in many markets across Asia including Singapore and Indonesia.
How is HeadStart planning to manage the entry of Amazon into our market?
We are launching a core range of products with Amazon and hope that it will grow into a meaningful account over the coming years. It will be great to have a large retailer to help us sell big box products that aren’t always available in stores, particularly for Little Tikes.
How is the Kids WB partnership working for you?
The Kids WB partnership has been fantastic. It is such a great way to connect our brands with kids every week. With the current free-to-air landscape, Kids WB and Go! is the only commercial network that is really driving kids TV and we are thrilled to be partnered with them.
You have been fortunate to receive a number of high profile awards for your product innovation and marketing… how do you feel about awards?
The awards are very flattering and I can see how proud the team at HeadStart are when we are lucky enough to bring one back. Everyone in our team works so hard to do what we do and any sort of recognition is always great.
Your company has been at the forefront when it comes to innovative measures that speak to the consumer; Unboxing videos, YouTube commercials and social media. How do you see this evolving in 2018?
You will see us bigger and better in this space in 2018. I can’t say too much about what we are doing due to confidentiality reasons but I can tell you that we’ve recently signed a deal with a company in North America who will be working to develop our global social media execution, particularly on YouTube.
Andrew, thanks for your time and it has been really good to speak with you about some of things you have achieved in the past 12-months and your plans for 2018. Now that the toy fairs and trade expos in the early part of the year are completed, I wish you and your team all the best in making 2018 another successful year for HeadStart.