Harry Potter may have cast a spell on the world of children’s books, but his magic isn’t having the same effect on toy buyers. With the merchandise program for the first movie, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, scheduled to hit stores in less than nine months, retailers say they aren’t entirely convinced of the selling power of Harry Potter, which many in the industry have already pegged to be the breakout licensed toy hit of 2001. At least one top-10 U.S. chain, in fact, has already reduced its initial orders based on the disappointing sell-through of limited book-based merchandise that was available during this past holiday season.
‘With all of the pent-up demand for the property, caused by the success of the books, we thought the Harry Potter [puzzles and trivia game from Mattel] would have blown off the shelves. It didn’t happen. Therefore, we’re scaling back our projections,’ says one buyer, who requested anonymity.
Retailers appear committed to avoiding another Star Wars fiasco-a situation that saw stores over-order, only to eventually lose millions through markdowns-even if that means they run short of Potter product initially.
‘One of the last things we all need is to get burnt by another license,’ says Manny Francione, divisional merchandise manager for Paramus, New Jersey-based Toys `R’ Us. Speaking in early January, Francione, like most retailers, had yet to see all of the film-related merchandise, but he said that Toys `R’ Us would not initially be supporting every product line in the program.
‘Right now we’re doing a comprehensive line review, we’re looking at everything that will be offered and determining what we believe will be the most compelling assortment,’ says Francione.
The buying strategy most retailers say they are pursuing will see them concentrating on stocking core categories and then gradually flowing in more ancillary product if early sales velocities warrant it.
Of the movie-based toys available, the consensus among some retailers is that they will support the entire Mattel and Hasbro lines.
Standouts in the toy area include a large and highly-detailed Hogwarts Castle (Mattel); dioramas depicting scenes from the movie (Mattel); as well as an array of gross-out candies, such as ear wax- and vomit-flavored jelly beans, and chocolate frogs (both from Hasbro).
Most retailers say they will be dedicating a large area in their stores to showcase the movie product, which will hit shelves in mid-October, roughly a month before the film debuts in theaters. Toys `R’ Us, for instance, has tentative plans to establish a feature wall to house the movie merch, which it will position alongside product from the Harry Potter book program.
Though he thinks the movie will do well, TRU’s Francione says he does not expect the selling period for the film’s merchandise to extend beyond the average 25- to 45-day window enjoyed by most theatrical programs, despite the continuing publishing program and at least one more Potter flick in the works.
Ultimately, retailers say the key to the program’s success will rest on licensor Warner Bros.’ ability to ensure that the product and the entertainment target the same demographic. According to industry sources, both the film and the merchandise, including the toys from Mattel and Hasbro, will be geared to kids in the same eight and up crowd that reads the Potter books.
Still, some are concerned that the hype that’s been swirling around Harry Potter for the last three years may have already undercut its ability to drive sales of related merchandise.
Says one retailer: ‘If you go through the malls now, you’re seeing an abundance of Harry Potter product, whether its ornaments or games or puzzles. Having been through too many film properties recently that didn’t do well, we know the attention spans of consumers are very short. Our concern is, if you cannot push out huge quantities of licensed [Potter] product at Christmas, when can you?’