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Panini aims to stick around in North America

While it has been a mainstay with European kids for more than 40 years, the collectible sticker album hasn't really made significant inroads in North America. But the number-one manufacturer associated with the category globally is hoping to change that. After undertaking a soft-launch last spring, Panini is making a full-on attempt to crack the US market.
January 12, 2011

While it has been a mainstay with European kids for more than 40 years, the collectible sticker album hasn’t really made significant inroads in North America. But the number-one manufacturer associated with the category globally is hoping to change that. After undertaking a soft-launch last spring, Panini is making a full-on attempt to crack the US market.

‘It seemed like the right time,’ says Mark Warsop, CEO of Panini America, the Arlington, Texas-based arm of the international company. ‘We have never really had an office here – it’s a market we never had a huge presence in.’

Conditions are ripe now, says Warsop, because the established trading card and collectibles market in North America has edged up in demographic and price-point over the last decade. ‘Trading cards have become extremely sophisticated,’ he says. ‘They have become intricate and we think this has alienated kids.’

And with the price-point on trading cards leaving kids behind, Panini believes it’s a perfect time to enter the market with its high-volume, low-cost strategy. Each Panini sticker album retails for US$2 and packets of eight stickers are priced at US$1 each. ‘We sell five-sticker packs in other territories, but we added three more so we could reach that US$1 threshold,’ says Warsop.

Panini took its first kick at the can with a World Cup FIFA licensed offering in spring 2010 that targeted Hispanic regions in the US, specifically California, Texas and Florida. ‘We had incredible success,’ says Warsop. ‘We were pleasantly surprised; it was our first time with a real US-focused program and we moved more than 10 million units.’

With retail support across the board at major big-box stores such as Walmart and Target, longstanding licensing relationships with Disney and DreamWorks, and new ones with US sports leagues the NFL, NBA and the NHL, Panini is set to go wide with new product ranges in 2011. (Among those will be an extensive one for Disney/Pixar’s Cars 2, which hits theaters worldwide this summer.)

However, Warsop admits that the North American market has its own hurdles in terms of making sticker collecting a part of kid culture like it is in Europe.

‘Our biggest challenge is educating kids in the US about the concept,’ Warsop says, adding that European children are more likely to visit news kiosks and small independent shops – the retail mainstays for the category – than their American counterparts. ‘It’s going to take awhile for them to understand the idea.’

A recent promotion that took place in Boston, Massachusetts is a good example of the way Panini is tackling the problem. The manufacturer inserted roughly 450,000 NFL sticker albums into the Boston Globe in early November. Over the following weeks, sheets of corresponding stickers were also inserted into the newspaper.

‘Over three weeks we probably gave away two or three million dollars worth of product,’ says Warsop. ‘But it was necessary to introduce the product and concept. We are still analyzing the results of that promotion, but Boston is certainly tracking a lot higher than other US cities at this point.’

Another weapon in Panini’s arsenal is the quickness with which it can deliver products. A case in point is the recent acquisition of the Justin Bieber license for the category. While the major Bieber sticker book push will coincide with Easter this spring, an initial product range arrived on retail shelves only a few weeks after the deal had been signed. The company’s longstanding relationship with retailers has also enabled Panini to produce and place new products into stores in the relative blink of an eye.

‘If we really motor, we can go from start to finish in six weeks,’ Warsop says. And for that reason Panini is always on the lookout for the newest and hottest licenses. ‘The retailers see the value in hopping on these trends fast.’ So Panini US is now looking to pick up the next big licenses across most genres and demos.

Setting up shop in the US has been a bit of a gamble, but if the North American market adopts the product the way Europe has, annual sales of US$300 million are not out of reach for the new division. ‘We know the potential is huge, but we also know we have to be patient,’ notes Warsop.

About The Author
Gary Rusak is a freelance writer based in Toronto. He has covered the kids entertainment industry for the last decade with a special interest in licensing, retail and consumer products. You can reach him at garyrusak@gmail.com

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