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New technology wakes up slumber

It's a bed, it's a toy, it's a sleepover revolution! Tapping into new technology that speeds up and automates the inflating process, and coupling this advance with tougher vinyl that can withstand a little rough-housing, manufacturers are redefining the parameters of the sleepover/slumber retail category with portable sleeping playsets that straddle the line between toys and furniture. With the ability to sell into multiple mass-market aisles and new specialty channels, these sleeptime SKUs seem poised to inflate the category's size significantly this year.
June 1, 2004

It’s a bed, it’s a toy, it’s a sleepover revolution! Tapping into new technology that speeds up and automates the inflating process, and coupling this advance with tougher vinyl that can withstand a little rough-housing, manufacturers are redefining the parameters of the sleepover/slumber retail category with portable sleeping playsets that straddle the line between toys and furniture. With the ability to sell into multiple mass-market aisles and new specialty channels, these sleeptime SKUs seem poised to inflate the category’s size significantly this year.

L.A.-based Toy Quest is launching the mother of all sleepover accessories this month with its debut line of Think Big Beds (SRP US$49.99). Trading on the concept of the portable, inflatable Aero bed, these kid-sized vinyl iterations come with their own battery-operated air pump and carrying case. The idea is that kids can take the bed with them to sleepovers, to grandma’s house or wherever there’s enough room to unfurl it. Once inflated, these beds do double duty as sleeping spots and play lands.

Toy Quest is using licenses from Disney, Barbie, Hot Wheels and Power Rangers to engender the beds with play patterns kids are familiar with. The Power Rangers bed, for example, comes with three inflatable swords that put a neat spin on the traditional pillow fight. The Lion King bed has palm trees for bedposts and simulates a jungle environment, the Winnie the Pooh model has a honey pot that stores an inflatable piglet toy, and the Hot Wheels bed is shaped like a car with a trunk and glove compartment that open for storage.

Dana Graham, associate product manager at Toy Quest, says although themed beds – particularly vehicle-shaped numbers – have been in the market for quite some time, they’ve been stationary and relatively expensive (hovering close to US$400) until now. He predicts parents will prefer the Think Bigs because they’re portable and take up very little room when deflated. So when Junior outgrows his passion for toy cars, there’s no need to find storage space for cumbersome furniture.

But the hybrid nature of the bed initially created some challenges at retail. ‘One of our problems was figuring out what area of the store to put it in – the bedding aisle or the toy aisle?’ says Graham. Toy Quest’s MO so far is to hit both, and the product is opening up some new retail channels for the company as well. Along with Toys ‘R’ Us, home décor giants Linen & Things and Bed Bath & Beyond (which is merchandising the Think Bigs with its juvenile licensed bedding) have both placed chain-wide orders. Graham estimates that his company has had an initial sell-in of 10,000 units this spring for the June debut, and he says more orders are pending.

Toy Quest isn’t looking for any additional licenses in this category right now, but City of Industry, California-based Playhut is definitely on the hunt for more properties to strengthen its Play’N Slumber line of inflatable, convertible slumber bags and coordinating bed canopy structures. Disney, Marvel, Sesame Street and Care Bears licenses are already signed for the company’s 60x40x4-inch inflatable sleeping bag (SRP US$29.95), which rolled out in March. These units come with a manual foot pump (Think Big’s are automated) and are fully portable. But if kids want to leave the sleepers blown up, they convert, futon-like, into chairs. Parents can also pick up a 60×60-square-inch canopy (SRP$US 39.99) that accommodates two sleeping bags and sets up easily using a twist-and-fold method. The portable canopy acts as a play room with walls and windows, giving kids privacy to play games and use their imaginations.

Playhut president Brian Zheng says it’s a really good time to get into the slumber category because ‘parents are paying more attention to their kids’ rooms.’ Products like Toy Quest’s and Playhut’s give them a chance to spruce up their kids’ spaces with some fun gear without spending a lot of money.

Like Toy Quest, Playhut has broken out of the toy aisle with its slumber products, and the company attended its first furniture trade show with the line in tow this past April. ‘I think everybody sees the difficulty of narrow retail channels for toy companies,’ says Zheng. ‘This is play combined with useful furniture, and it’s a natural area for growth.’

Arlington Heights, Illinois-based bedding manufacturer Hedstrom is also taking a run at the slumber category, which product manager Don Rice estimates is worth US$49 million right now. Much like Playhut’s model, the company’s 61x26x8-inch Inflatable Slumber Bag (US$29.99) is a blow-up mattress encased in a cloth sleeping bag that will come with a foot pump when it launches at Toys ‘R’ Us in July. Hedstrom has placed an estimated 30,000 units of Strawberry Shortcake, My Little Pony, Shrek 2 and Transformers bags with TRU so far, and it’s planning to roll the line out in other mass outlets later this year. Hedstrom’s development team is currently working up SKUs based on preschool series The Koala Brothers and upcoming Fox film Robots, but Rice would like to secure an additional three to five licenses for the phase-two rollout in 2005.

Along with merchandising the bags in toy and bedding aisles, some of Hedstrom’s retail accounts are taking further advantage of the category’s versatility and plan to merchandise the Slumber Bags as camping equipment in their sporting goods sections.

About The Author
Lana Castleman is the Editor & Content Director of Kidscreen and oversees all content for Kidscreen magazine, kidscreen.com and related kidscreen events. lcastleman@brunico.com

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