Maintaining momentum at retail is a quandary that keeps most licensors and licensees up at night. In the case of Universal Studios Consumer Products Group, it’s been more like a monkey on its back (pardon the pun). Products based on the book property Curious George have been at specialty retail for years, but with the spring release of the film Curious George the sprightly primate migrated to mass retail. With a new preschool TV show launched just last month in North America the pressure is on to keep George grooving in his new retail digs, while making sure his upstairs book-based program doesn’t languish. More than a year in the making, a spate of fall retail promos should help USCPG and its licensees do just that.
According to senior VP of licensing and retail Amy Taylor, Curious George’s first foray into mass retail was a success. All parties involved took pains not to flood the market with product, she says, and the merch sold through. As the DVD release/TV window opens on the entertainment front, ‘the goal is to have retail promos every six months to…play off the themes in the TV show.’
However, to make sure USCPG and its licensees continue to put out the right amount and mix of product, merchandise released through the end of 2006 will be related to the film. TV-inspired, educational products will begin trickling into retail in early 2007.
To get the ball rolling, late this past summer Curious George Character Emporiums opened up in 600 Barnes & Noble stores across the U.S. The areas feature around 30 character SKUs including toys and plush from master toy licensee Marvel Toys, games, puzzles and books (of course). Taylor says the retailer sees the areas as an opportunity to expand further into general merchandise and determine which categories work in-store. Plush such as Tickle & Giggle George (US$19.99) and George dress-up beanies (US$5.99) – which Marvel Toys director of marketing Patricia Rinaldi says are the license’s top sellers – seem to have the lead, but it was too early in the program’s cycle for Taylor to declare the runaway winners.
Moreover, just at press time in mid September, USCPG was readying two major programs for new and classic Curious George. Along with an end cap initiative nationwide at Toys ‘R’ Us, the renowned Times Square store in New York was preparing to launch the Curious George Feature Shop. The cross-merchandised department is stocking toys, games, puzzles and the movie DVD. USCPG also put together a custom 60-second spot that will broadcast for a month on the location’s Geoffrey Tron external wraparound video screen.
At the same time, uptown and in upstairs retail, classic George will have a front-of-store feature section and external signage at FAO Schwartz’s flagship 5th Avenue store. Taylor says the classic themed merchandise is a good fit for FAO, as since its re-launch last year it has been positioning itself as the retail outlet for traditional, high-end playthings.
Finally, a Curious George costumed character, supported by books from publisher Houghton Mifflin and Game Boy Advance licensee Namco, is hitting Minneapolis, Minnesota-based Target’s traveling Children’s Book Festival this fall. Taylor says the festival usually draws between 10,000 and 40,000 attendees per site, depending on the size of the city. This year, George will be part of the day-long festival held at public parks in Detroit, Michigan, Minneapolis, Boston, Massachusetts, and New York City.