Shelf Talk

Neurosmith edges towards global and mass breakout
October 1, 2002

Neurosmith edges towards global and mass breakout

Long Beach, California-based toyco Neurosmith has tapped Sharpe Licensing to oversee its global expansion strategy. As per the representation agreement, Sharpe will identify leading partners in select territories to distribute Neurosmith’s line of electronic learning aids, which includes the musical learning toy Musini and The Phonics Tiles, a device designed to help preschoolers enhance their spelling and linguistic skills.

‘We’re looking for companies that can take the lead in each country – not only in placing the product, but also in generating excitement for the company’s lines at retail through PR and marketing initiatives,’ says Charles Day, CEO of L.A.-based Sharpe. Initially, Neurosmith will focus on the U.K., Germany, Benelux, Spain and Australia. Day is currently fielding brand plans from prospective partners, but says he doesn’t expect international distribution of the toyco’s lines to begin before 2003.

Global expansion is the next logical step for the five-year-old company, whose 2002 revenues are on pace to triple those of last year. Neurosmith currently does less than 1% of its business outside of the U.S. (through existing distribution agreements), but CEO Todd Coyle says the company’s goal is to boost that figure to 25% by 2004, although it has yet to cement any specific launch dates.

Closer to home, Neurosmith, which has sold its products exclusively in State-side specialty channels to date, is also seriously considering expanding into mass market channels. Coyle says the company must expand its distribution into mass in order to sustain the high research and development costs that creating innovative products entails.

Retro play contributes to comic book sales hike

Though Marvel may have garnered much of the press surrounding the comic book industry’s recent rebound (which saw sales spike by 20% over the first six months of the year), its success is not the sole reason for the medium’s revival. Orange, California-based Image Comics, the U.S.’s third-largest comic book publisher, has also contributed mightily to the sector’s rebirth by aiming squarely for the nostalgia bone of Generation X.

Titles based on ’80s toon and toy properties such as Transformers, G.I. Joe, Battle of the Planets, Micronauts and Thunder Cats have been all over the top-seller lists for most of this year. In fact, Transformers was the top-selling series for the first half of 2002, according to Comic Buyer’s Guide editor John Miller; and July saw Battle of the Planets, based on the same-name ’70s cartoon, nab the number-three position behind two Transformers titles.

While Image Comics VP and publisher Jim Valentino says the majority of retro comic readers are 20- and 30-somethings, he believes there’s also a sizable young teen audience buying in. That doesn’t mean, however, that there are more comic book riches to be gleaned from mining other bygone toys and toons. ‘At this point,’ says Valentino, ‘we’ve hit on all the major ones from the ’80s. The only things that are left are properties like Alf; and love him or hate him, I don’t see there being a big demand for Alf comics.’

Nevertheless, Image (which functions as a kind of comic book co-op, distributing and marketing titles by independent studios) plans to publish a monthly He-Man: Masters of the Universe comic starting in November. To tie in, Lynchburg, Virginia-based MV Creations, the studio creating the comics, plans to run a special promo with He-Man interactive licensee TDK Mediactive, giving away a free comic to consumers who purchase TDK’s He-Man title for Game Boy and GBA.

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