The Hollywood shuffle

Retailers keep step with the studios when deciding the selling cycles of kids licensed products...
June 1, 1998

Retailers keep step with the studios when deciding the selling cycles of kids licensed products

As goes Hollywood, so go retailers.

Retailers selling kids licensed product aren’t influenced by normal selling cycles, but by the whims of Hollywood studios.

Even though classic licenses are coming more into vogue, it’s the big-budget movies that generate excitement with consumers at the retail level. With the bulk of these releases coming in the early summer and the winter holiday season, that’s a lot of product to sort through and sell in a limited time period. Retailers are playing a calculated guessing game as to the potential winners and losers among a crowded field of candidates.

Licensing ‘seasons’ aren’t built by retailers, or created by consumer demand, but are dictated by Hollywood release schedules, be it summer, winter, spring or fall. ‘It’s not so much the consumer thinking of buying in those seasons, it’s just that that’s how Hollywood has decided to bring out its product line,’ says David Niggli, executive vice president of merchandising at FAO Schwarz.

It’s not earth-shattering news that the holidays, summer and back-to-school are the strongest periods to move licensed product. However, a well-timed release during an off-season can create impact in the marketplace, as the theatrical re-release of the Star Wars trilogy in the spring of 1997 proved. ‘If you give people something they want to see, they’ll go and buy,’ says Niggli.

What kids licensed product hasn’t done, particularly in the toy area, is made an impact on other traditional seasonal holidays, with the exception of Halloween, when costumes of classic and current popular characters have always been part of the selling cycle.

As for other holidays, such as Easter, St. Patrick’s Day or Valentine’s Day, kids licensing continues to burn at a low flame, except in the gift category. ‘In the Toys `R’ Us world, other holidays aren’t really in play,’ says Michael Tabakin, director of trend merchandising at Toys `R’ Us. ‘From a kids’ point of view, [other holidays don't] really register.’

‘I haven’t seen the overabundance of growth that Halloween has seen during Easter or other holidays,’ says Niggli. Where appropriate, those holidays lend themselves to more classic licenses, such as Beatrix Potter, or to faddish-type characters, like Valentine’s Day-related Beanie Babies, according to Howard Labow, vice president of Play Co., a chain of 13 southern California toy stores.

Because so much of the business at mass-market retailers seems to be concentrated on the arrival of big-budget movies, evergreen licenses or licenses based on television properties are used to fill in the blanks during the licensing off-seasons (first and third quarters) and to keep a fresh flow of new product in stores.

‘Kids watch Arthur year-round, so there’s no special season for [Arthur] items because they are good all of the time,’ says Henry Lee, vice president of marketing at Noodle Kidoodle. Noodle Kidoodle is an example of a specialty toy store chain that tends to stay away from event licensing because those types of properties are rarely consistent with the store’s merchandising philosophy.

Traditionally, back-to-school has been the launch stage for TV-related product, but that is changing, as noted by the launch of Teletubbies product this May and Blue’s Clues items in June. ‘TV properties aren’t as regimented as Hollywood,’ says Niggli. ‘It’s better for us because it allows us to create newness throughout the year, rather than the three or four times of the year when everything is coming out at once.’ The fact that a TV property will be around for awhile affords retailers the option of either getting in front of it and supporting it from the start (like many have done with Teletubbies), or taking a wait-and-see approach to gauge how the show is accepted by kids.

During those frenetic licensing seasons in summer and the holidays that are a retailer’s version of survival of the fittest, retailers create boutiques, endcap displays and other statement positions to build excitement about the line of products. But ultimately, if the entertainment fails to deliver, the product isn’t going to move, and there’s plenty of other property-related product waiting to replace it on the shelves. ‘There’s not as great a buy-in as in the past,’ says Labow. ‘You like to leave your options open because should a movie not make it, some products literally go to zero value.’ EK

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