Sometimes the smallest changes have the biggest impact at market. Just ask Canadian toyco Mega Bloks, which scored an unexpected double-digit sales increase in 2004 that seemed to stem from nothing more complicated than adding a couple of new blocks to some product ranges and tweaking its packaging strategy.
In an effort to balance out a boy-heavy gender skew in its preschool construction category, Mega Bloks began retrofitting its Maxi Bloks range with girl-friendly blocks (some had eyes printed on them to encourage animal character construction, for example) in 2002. But a new design approach to the toys’ 2004 packaging – featuring girls more prominently – was really the catalyst behind a 20% year-on-year sales spike.
This surprise result set in motion the development of several more girl SKUs in ’04, starting with a line of licensed Disney Princess buckets. The company also revisited its range of shapes, colors and textures with an eye to attracting female builders, adding translucent pink blocks with sparkles and designing building sets that are more story-driven. For example, the addition of block buddies (character pieces that fit onto the molded blocks) should shift play patterns in this direction by giving kids a whole cast with which to develop narrative threads.
‘I think the entire product approach has surpassed our hopes,’ says marketing director Andrew Witkin. ‘We thought [the line's gender ratio] would go from 70/30 to 60/40, but it’s about 50/50 now.’ For fall, Mega Bloks will be expanding the line with five new Cabbage Patch Kids products targeting a slightly older four to six set.
Witkin says this move is part of a conscious corporate strategy to start going after more older girls. It’ll be a challenge, though, considering that the boy-to-girl split in Mega Bloks’ broader four to nine consumer base currently sits at roughly 90/10. But Witkin says the company’s R&D team is working on strategies for incorporating more sophisticated girl play patterns into construction toys in ways that don’t feel forced or unnatural, adding that the company hopes to have a handful of initial products to unveil to retail partners in 2006 or 2007.