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Manley cooks up a Cracker Jack of an idea
May 1, 2002

Manley cooks up a Cracker Jack of an idea

It’s apparent that toycos believe cooking has supplanted fire-fighting as the occupation most kids are aspiring to these days. How else does one explain the buffet of food-related items from the likes of Spin Master (Hershey’s Chocolate Magic), Hasbro (Queasy Bake Oven) and GC Toys (Table Top Cotton Candy Maker) that are currently clogging toy aisles? Manley Toy Quest is the newest player to take a stab at the trend, with its new Cracker Jack Popcorn Factory due out in September. Retro-styled to resemble an old-time street vendor’s pushcart, the battery-powered machine mixes pre-popped popcorn with caramel flavoring and then shoots it out of a separate chamber ready to eat.

To give the toy some parental brand cachet, Manley acquired the Cracker Jack license from Frito-Lay, which owns the trademark to the 106-year-old candy brand. Like the boxes in which the original candy came, each of the caramel flavor packets (which consumers will be able to purchase separately for US$3.99 each) will also contain toy prizes. The company plans to introduce three new flavors next year. Manley will support the release of the Cracker Jack Popcorn Factory (US$19.99) with a TV commercial in Q4, and the company is also exploring cross-promotional opportunities with Frito-Lay, though nothing had been finalized at press time.

The Right Start drives cross-chain traffic

Boasting the new moniker FAO Inc., King of Prussia, Pennsylvania-based The Right Start is beginning to map out a game plan for leveraging its latest acquisitions–specialty toy chains Zany Brainy and FAO Schwarz. The predominant goal, says VP of communications Renee Hollinger, is to increase awareness of all three brands with its core customer target of affluent moms.

So starting this June, the retailer will begin rolling out The Right Start boutiques into 130 of its Zany Brainy stores. (A test store was introduced in Valencia, California last month.) Each boutique will measure approximately 2,000 square feet (the size of an actual TRS store), occupying roughly one-fifth of a Zany Brainy location. The boutiques, which Hollinger says should all be installed by sometime next year, will feature products that are currently carried in TRS locations, such as carriages and developmental toys for kids up to age three.

By 2004, FAO plans to build combination Zany-TRS locations, which will house both store concepts under one roof. Meanwhile, the company has begun adding items that have sold well in one store into its other two chains, so far introducing TRS children’s booster seats into Zany Brainy locations. In the coming months, FAO Schwarz’s private-label plush products will be available in both TRS and ZB stores. ‘Wherever we have some clear dominance with individual brands or categories, we plan to spread the wealth,’ says Hollinger.

Though all three chains are courting the same customer, Zany Brainy and TRS have more overlap in terms of their product offerings, says Hollinger, and therefore will be more involved in cross-merchandising initiatives. Each chain carries educational products for kids, with TRS targeting the infant and toddler group, and ZB primarily catering to older kids. As the dominant up-market toy chain in the U.S., the 23 FAO Schwarz stores within the FAO Inc. family will remain largely unchanged, says Hollinger. As for other cross-marketing activities, all three chains are currently distributing coupons and other bag stuffers to customers to try and drive traffic between them, as well as linking to each other’s websites.

Though the amalgamated retail conglom recently decided to move its corporate HQs from Calabasas, California to King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, TRS, FAO and ZB will continue to maintain their own merchandising groups in California, New York and Pennsylvania respectively.

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