Playground equipment and backyard products manufacturer PlayCore is a company with big product and even bigger ideas about how kids play, so partnering with Scholastic for a Clifford the Big Red Dog consumer and commercial range seemed…well, obvious.
Two years ago, PlayCore VP of commercial marketing and product development Brian Johnson attended Licensing Show to find a property that would fit with his company’s approach to play, which is based on developmental research conducted by the University of Texas and the University of South Florida. ‘We believe that play and playgrounds help children develop,’ says Johnson. ‘We were trying to find a property that would synch with that philosophy.’
And what could make a larger playground statement than a big, red dog? ‘In the show, you see kids climbing on Clifford and sliding down his back,’ says Johnson. ‘It’s a natural draw that goes above and beyond what we’ve seen in playgrounds.’
While PlayCore had dabbled in licensing with a modular skate park license for comic book property Spawn, Clifford marked the company’s first character license and its first move into the toy channel. PlayCore’s Clifford-themed line of swings, slides, climbers and sandboxes, produced under its consumer division Swing-N-Slide, hit shelves at Toys ‘R’ Us this spring. And the company’s GameTime commercial division will begin rolling out playgrounds at schools, daycare centers and parks this fall.
Of course, the deal was an equally big move for Scholastic, even with a property the size of Clifford. ‘I thought that people just kind of built these things and other people put them together. I learned a lot from dealing with PlayCore,’ says Scholastic VP of consumer products Peter Van Raalte. ‘As we did our due diligence on the company, we found that it really goes beyond any of the safety guidelines that are set up in the U.S. PlayCore’s concern for safety was probably the most important thing that attracted us.’
What has kept Scholastic so enthusiastic about the license is that, as of this fall, it will take the company into new distribution channels. ‘To be on playgrounds in municipalities or daycare centers is a fabulous new use of the character that not many licensors have tried, if any,’ says Van Raalte. ‘These things stay up for a long time, and there’s great interaction with kids. Clifford is used to teach reading in some preschools, so to find a company that can extend that experience from the classroom to the playground is perfect.’
The innovation that PlayCore brings to its product also impresses Van Raalte. ‘This isn’t just a matter of slapping Clifford’s face on a couple of things and then calling it a playset; PlayCore really tries to include some of his play patterns, like him being big and kids being able to climb on him.’
While PlayCore has yet to find another license to match Clifford, Johnson is open to exploring additional deals, as long as they are for properties with longevity. In the meantime, PlayCore is developing rock-climbing walls, new and interesting slides, and products that improve upper-body conditioning (Johnson says that upper-body climbers are especially great for preschoolers). ‘We’re really developing a great knowledge base to better help us design and build products that meet the level of challenge kids are looking for,’ says Johnson.
Future lines will reflect and promote physical activity among kids. ‘Childhood obesity is such a major issue right now, and anything that we can do to get kids out on the playground being active is a real focus for us,’ says Johnson. To that end, Johnson believes that licenses like Clifford will help that effort along.
As for Scholastic, one can’t help but hear the Cheshire cat-like smile in Van Raalte’s voice when he says: ‘I would encourage anybody to deal with this company…once we get all of our Clifford product out. When you launch a property, you can do the usual deals in apparel and toys, but when you get something like this that is really unique for the licensing industry, it’s a story to tell.’