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The heat is on in the battle for water toy supremacy

As world events make summer holiday travel less appealing, more families may look to their own backyards for amusement this year. To cater to that shift in consumer behavior - and to beef up off-peak revenues in an industry that revolves around Q4 - a bevy of toycos have significantly expanded their water toy lines. According to Reyne Rice, director of marketing and communications for industry tracker NPDFunworld, water toys saw an increase of 72% in units sold and 32% in total sales from July to December 2002 over the same period in 2001. Meanwhile, water guns jumped up 90% in units and 20% in sales.
March 1, 2003

As world events make summer holiday travel less appealing, more families may look to their own backyards for amusement this year. To cater to that shift in consumer behavior – and to beef up off-peak revenues in an industry that revolves around Q4 – a bevy of toycos have significantly expanded their water toy lines. According to Reyne Rice, director of marketing and communications for industry tracker NPDFunworld, water toys saw an increase of 72% in units sold and 32% in total sales from July to December 2002 over the same period in 2001. Meanwhile, water guns jumped up 90% in units and 20% in sales.

‘If you get the right item with the right feature, you can garner a lot of excitement and sell a lot of product, but that hasn’t happened in the last couple of years,’ says Duncan Billing, GM for Hasbro’s Super Soaker line. ‘That’s why people are jumping on the category now – they’re seeing there isn’t as much innovation as there could be.’ Billing admits the water blaster sector has been soft in recent years, though Super Soaker still holds nine of the top 10 spots on NPD’s sales chart for the category.

While other toycos plan to duke it out for dominance this year, Pawtucket, Rhode Island-based Hasbro is holding back until 2004, when it plans to relaunch the entire Super Soaker line. The company is introducing a couple of new product groups in March, which it hopes will help maintain its market share lead one more year. These include a system called EES with lights and sounds (US$10 to US$20), and a Secret Strike line (US$15) that has a hidden water reservoir.

Trendmasters’ Storm line, recently acquired by Malibu, California’s Jakks Pacific, comes the closest to challenging Super Soaker’s reign. Alan Cohn, senior VP of sales for Jakks, says the line had a 25% market share in 2002, and he expects it to hit 40% this year. Storm SKUs saw a sell-through rate of more than 90% by the end of the summer in both 2001 and 2002. In May, Jakks is introducing Storm Laser Tag (US$29.99), which features infrared sensors so you can power down your enemy’s water capacity before drenching him. Jakks bought Toy Max in 2002, including its line of Funnoodles pool toys. New owner Jakks has expanded its acquired line of Zoodles (pool noodles with head-shaped fabric toppers on them) by adding licenses from Disney’s The Little Mermaid and Finding Nemo (US$6.99) in February, at the same time debuting Constroodle (US$2.99), a noodle that interlocks with other pieces to build a raft.

The drive to get kids outside is what Wham-O marketing director Peter Sgrono partially credits for the 40% sales increase the company’s Slip ‘n Slide brand saw in 2002. ‘The issue of child obesity is also top of mind with parents, and while video games are great for eye-hand coordination, parents want their kids to be active,’ he says. Emeryville, California-based Wham-O is hoping to catch older kids this year by tying its products to sports themes; its Splash Dunk (US$19.99), for example, mixes water play and basketball.

L.A.’s Manley Toy Quest entered the water toy market last year with 17 items and has expanded its 2003 line of Six Flags-themed products to close to 40 SKUs, including the Splash Balls Sprinkler (US$12.99), Bubbles Blast Pool (US$19.99) and Super Wave Racer Water Slide (US$19.99). ‘I think everyone would like to do summer toys, but it’s a very difficult category to get into,’ says Brian Dubinsky, president of Manley Toy Quest. ‘You can’t come out with just one or two items because there’s just no need for retailers to support that.’ Manley’s marketing strategy includes heavy cross-promotion with Six Flags, including admission coupons and kiosks in all the water parks.

Wild Planet has completely revamped its line of pool toys for 2003 and is taking a stab at the race in water guns by introducing the Waterball Launcher (US$19.99), which features a new technology that launches perfect spheres of water. NL

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