Toymakers Create Their Dream Projects (But Ask for Cash Upfront)

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Thomas Brandt has loved the Masters of the Universe series since childhood. Fascinated by the sword and magic, he has amassed an extensive collection of He-Man toys over the years.

Brandt, now 41, eagerly supported a crowdfunding project for the “game set I’ve always wanted”: Snake Mountain, He-Man’s archenemy Skeleton’s hideout. At 36 inches high and 48 inches wide, the highly detailed purple mountain made by Super7, a San Francisco-based boutique toy manufacturer, dwarfs the original version Mattel made in 1984.

Brandt, an account manager in health care living with his wife in Nashville, paid $600 (plus $150 shipping) and had to wait a year for delivery. “It’s a gamble when you support a project,” he said, but Super7 had built a reputation for reliability, so he felt comfortable with the risk.

Other collectors open their wallets to buy special items like $575. transformers $350 action figure from Hasbro Star Wars battleship $75 from Lego Magic 8 Ball from Mattel and $250 Bear Walker skateboard From Pokémon.

The strategy is part of toy companies’ efforts to build stronger bonds with fans by offering once-in-a-lifetime toys. Many companies have strengthened their e-commerce presence to sell limited edition products not available at Walmart or Target.

After falling 4 percent in 2019, Toy sales increased in the US It rose 16 percent last year to $25.1 billion, according to the NPD Group, a research firm. “2020 was an unprecedented year for the US toy industry,” said Juli Lennett, vice president and industry adviser for NPD’s US toy division.

Much of the expansion has resulted from pandemic-induced quarantines that have driven consumers to shop online for entertainment options. NPD said overall online toy sales in the first three quarters of 2020 increased 75 percent from the previous year.

Executives of major toy manufacturers like Hasbro and Mattel are stepping up their efforts to create dreamy projects by leveraging online growth. Digital strategies such as crowdfunding allow smaller companies to bypass the barriers of selling a concept to established retailers who may be discouraged from giving valuable shelf space to a large, expensive toy or an untested product.

“Retailers are aware of their costs and overheads; “They’re being very meticulous,” said Nic Wood, editor-in-chief of The Fwoosh, a website that offers toy news and reviews. “It’s hard for small companies to take that risk.”

Brian Flynn, founder and CEO of Super7, said a crowdfunding project that sells toys through a one-month pre-order window has helped cut costs for toy companies.

“The biggest challenge for a small company is determining the number of products to be produced,” he said. “I maximize the number of times I can and minimize overhead.”

It’s not yet clear how long the pandemic escalation will last, but toy manufacturers seem eager to capitalize on the increased attention.

“They seem to have stepped up in terms of the frequency with which they present these projects,” Mr Wood said. “What the lasting full effect is will not be known for at least another year.”

Hasbro launched its e-commerce site Hasbro Pulse in 2015 to offer insider reviews and access to exclusive merchandise, as well as popular toys from the Star Wars and Transformers series. Three years later, the site was expanded to include: HasLab, a crowdfunding platform for high-quality toys. The first project was a 49-inch-tall replica of Jabba’s sailing barge from the movie “Return of the Jedi.”

“It was a crazy idea some of our designers had,” said Brian Chapman, Hasbro’s global head of design and development. However, the company doubted its selling ability. “We had to throw all this out the window,” Mr Chapman said. “This was new to us.”

Even at a price of $500, the sail barge exceeded its funding goal, prompting Hasbro to offer other premium products, including the $350 Sentinel action figure from Marvel Comics and the $350 Razor Crest vehicle from “The Mandalorian.” To encourage supporters, the company has tried to release production videos and interviews with the designers, as well as offering basic and premium packages and incentives.

“We are going where the consumer wants us to be,” said Kwamina Crankson, general manager and vice president of Hasbro Pulse. “We have a solid roadmap of upcoming dream items.”

Not only was one project funded, the $300 Cookie Monster plush replica, but Mr Crankson said backers were not to blame and the failed project offered valuable insights for the company.

Next up: Hasbro plans a crowdfunding project for Rancor from “Return of the Jedi,” the first product of the leading Star Wars: The Black Series franchise to appear on HasLab. The company also teased a toy image of Galactus, a supervillain of Marvel Comics, that looked large enough to consume a real planet.

“Because of the high price tag and long delivery time, the challenge for toy manufacturers is to maintain a sense of anticipation,” said Mr Wood of The Fwoosh. A production cycle can take up to a year and buyers can be nervous, meaning companies need to stay in touch with regular updates.

“There’s a lower barrier to internet access, but it’s a different kind of job to connect and build that base,” said Mr Wood. “From an initial risk perspective, that’s easier, but you have to deliver later.”

Mattel went with a simpler model, skipping crowdfunding and opting instead to run a limited number of specials on its website. Mattel Creations. Projects include collaborations with artists like Madsaki and Gianni Lee, and with companies like Herschel Supply and Tesla. Mattel has even wiggled a finger in the digital art world with the auction of immutable tokens or NFTs of classic Hot Wheels cars.

With Comic-Con International, the annual pop-culture festival in San Diego, California, which has gone virtual again this year due to the pandemic, Mattel will use the opportunity to sell Mattel Creations exclusive convention merchandise, including Masters of the Universe, for $50. Mega construction built with artist Frank Kozik and the $35 Scare Glow action figure from the Netflix series “Masters of the Universe: Revelation.”

“The world has changed in terms of e-commerce,” he said. Richard DicksonMattel’s president and chief operating officer, who sees Mattel Creations as a way to showcase the company’s history while presenting new products that appeal to fans and art collectors alike.

Some of these items include a $75 Barbie doll made of translucent resin and the Shogun Warriors Skeletor, a $300 Masters of the Universe figure, and are nearly two feet tall. (Naturally, Mr Brandt bought it as well.)

“We work with avid collectors,” said Mr Dickson. “They can make the toys bigger, but they never cease to admire.”

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