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Ty's Toy Box, the on-line retailer based in Erlanger, Kentucky, is learning that life as a licensee has its rewards. Ty's success as the limited-time, exclusive licensee and retailer for The Doodlebops from Toronto, Canada's Cookie Jar Entertainment has whet the company's whistle. If you're a property owner looking to seed the market for a new launch, the e-tailer's strategy is worth a second look.
April 1, 2006

Ty’s Toy Box, the on-line retailer based in Erlanger, Kentucky, is learning that life as a licensee has its rewards. Ty’s success as the limited-time, exclusive licensee and retailer for The Doodlebops from Toronto, Canada’s Cookie Jar Entertainment has whet the company’s whistle. If you’re a property owner looking to seed the market for a new launch, the e-tailer’s strategy is worth a second look.

‘We’ve captured more than 5,000 Doodlebops customers in the two-and-a-half months since we placed our first three t-shirt styles on the site,’ George Stolpe, Ty’s VP of business development and marketing says. ‘We see The Doodlebops merchandise tracking similarly to the growth of our business with [HIT's] The Wiggles brand.’ Annually, the e-tailer sells more than US$1 million worth of The Wiggles-inspired merchandise, a property it’s carried since 2003.

The Doodlebops debuted on Canada’s CBC in February ’05, and started broadcasting on Playhouse Disney US two months later. Based on kids’ reactions to the program, consumer inquiries to www.tystoybox.com and old-fashioned instinct, the e-tailer pitched the direct-to-retail concept to Cookie Jar last June. Offering industry-standard royalty rates and guarantees, Ty’s struck DTR licensing deals for t-shirts, lunch bags, backpacks, clocks, watches and picture frames. And by getting Doodlebops soft goods on-line in November 05, Ty’s effectively halved the average one-year lag time between a TV show’s launch and the arrival of licensed goods at retail.

Being the first to deliver merch to hungry fans has paid off for Ty’s. The retailer moved more than 2,000 t-shirts in the first five weeks and has since produced additional runs of the wearables. More than 300 units of lunch bags and backpacks sold in their first week and a half on the site in early February, while more than 1,000 watches got snapped up during the first 10 days on offer.

For Cookie Jar, assigning licensing rights to Ty’s and getting an introductory program to market made sense. ‘With the early reaction we got from ratings, e-mails from consumers asking for specific products and reports that Ty’s customer service team was nearly getting harassed for product,’ Cookie Jar’s senior VP of consumer products John Gildea says the teams opted to seed the marketplace with product to create continued exposure for the brand.

The e-tailer isn’t close to moving mass-retail volumes, but it averages a 54% profit margin on sales and rarely discounts product. It turns out customers who find their way to Ty’s virtual shelves, primarily via the official property websites and on-line fan centers, are more interested in acquiring the product than getting a deal on it. Moreover, the site currently draws an average of 5,000 unique visitors daily, and that annual figure has shot up 50% in the last year to 1.825 million.

As an official licensee, the retailer hand-selected its best vendors to source Doodlebops goods. Ty’s matchmaking will most likely result in some of the vendors being named licensees in the coming months.

While Ty’s exclusive expires at the start of the third quarter, its involvement with The Doodlebops only deepens. By the time Cookie Jar takes merch into full retail distribution, Ty’s will have built a virtual store for the brand, which will carry goods from a number of yet to be named licensees in apparel, bedding and accessories categories.

With the experience Ty’s has had so far, it’s no surprise the company is actively looking to replicate the success of the Cookie Jar relationship. It’s also contemplating producing merch for categories beyond apparel, watches and back-to-school, such as room décor and posters.

Stolpe admits this model doesn’t fit with every brand, adding The Doodlebops merchandise program worked because of what he calls its ‘break out potential,’ such as movement, bright colors and dancing. ‘All of these appeal to kids,’ he says.

That said, Ty’s intends to build 10 new on-line licensed marketplaces and cut product deals for each over the next 12 months, using The Doodlebops program as its blueprint. Properties topping Stolpe’s wish list include the likes of Toddworld (Suppertime Entertainment), Miffy (Big Tent Entertainment), Disney Fairies (Disney Consumer Products) and Ben 10 (Cartoon Network).

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