Tickets in hand, you arrive at the venue. The lobby is packed with families and a dozen different representations of your kid’s favorite character. Watching at home every day is one thing, but seeing that furry face on posters, plush toys and collectible figures—knowing that soon you’ll be seeing it on stage and in person—is something else altogether. The show doesn’t start for 20 minutes, so you usher your little one over to the souvenir shop. Something about this area might feel slightly off to you—and that’s by design…
Unlike traditional retail environments, like a Walmart or a Target, kids are the primary drivers behind purchases at live shows, says Minnesota-based VStar Entertainment Group’s director of retail merchandising, Augusta Wood.
“We’re seeing mom and dad bringing kids to the stand and telling them to choose whatever they want as a souvenir,” Wood says.
To address this younger demand driver, VStar lowered its countertops to make them eye-level for children, and placed items close to the front so that little ones can see and touch the products. “If they can grab it and touch it, they want it,” Wood explains.
Location-based brand extensions have grown into a full-blown phenomenon, and companies like VStar see big sales opportunities in these limited-time experiences. In fact, multiple studies show there is a positive relationship between perceived scarcity and impulse buying, and that scarcity has a positive effect on consumers’ willingness to pay.
To further capitalize on consumer products, VStar developed its “six-person rule,” which requires each item to be recognizable and understood by customers with as many as six people in front of them in line.
“We had a character pillow that was absolutely adorable, but guests thought it was a purse or backpack,” says Wood. “If they don’t get it immediately, it just doesn’t work. It’s not a traditional bricks-and-mortar store, where guests can roam around and explore items. There are 30 minutes before the show, and we have a lot of people coming through. It’s a different buying environment.”
It’s not just the environment that’s been tailored to kids’ unique needs. Before the launch of a new stage show, VStar seeks out consumer insights to better understand the target demographic and tailor-make items that will appeal to those children.
Leading up to the launch of Trolls LIVE! in November 2019, the company consulted a focus group of girls ages six to nine and discovered they didn’t want anything “babyish.”
Once the team developed an assortment for that target, however, it had to think of its other guests. The assortment was rounded out with additional items like blasters and stress balls that could appeal to boys and kids outside the key age demo.
The majority of VStar’s product sales take place before the show starts, which means kids hold these items throughout the performance. The company realized this created an opportunity for additional interactivity during stage shows, and has focused on immersive items like light-up wands.
“We don’t want to sell them a plain bag of popcorn, because anyone can do that,” says Wood. “We want to give them something that adds value. At the PAW Patrol shows, we package our popcorn in a plastic Rubble hat. It’s functional because it holds the food, but once they’re done eating, kids can wear it and be even more immersed in the show.”
That additional value has led to strong sales for higher-priced items, she says. After feedback from guests that products were too expensive, VStar introduced options at a lower price point. But those less expensive items don’t sell as well.
“The US$20-to-US$30 range is a sweet spot for us, despite having US$5 items available. Because parents tell kids they can choose one item, kids are looking for what they want and what looks cool, and not necessarily looking at the price tag.”
Because these purchases are connected to a specific event, and only available for a limited time, parents are more likely to approve. Those items with perceived additional value sell out much faster than their more affordable counterparts.
The focus groups, kid-friendly design and take-home value are all crucial aspects of VStar’s consumer products strategy for live shows, but Wood says the surefire way to increase sales is to focus on exclusive offerings.
“There’s a chicken character in PAW Patrol called Chickaletta that isn’t really available in mass retail. So we developed an eye-
popping custom stress ball. It’s a really strong seller for us,” she says. “Knowing that you can only get an item at our show creates this fear of missing out and a sense of urgency. Those things coupled together give our products a value on site that our guests really strive to take part in.”
Ultimately, once the curtains close and the popcorn is eaten, kids’ souvenirs—held especially tight in tiny arms as parents navigate through the crowd and into the parking lot—serve as an extension of the experience for weeks to come.
When it comes to products developed for location-based events, Toronto’s Boat Rocker Media has two very different strategies. The company have partnered with California Live Nation Entertainment and London’s Pineapple Dance Studios on branded workshops and stage shows, for its live-action dance series The Next Step.
The branded workshop collab with Pineapple Dance Studios focuses on dancewear and related accessories including tote bags and water bottles. And while the TNS x Pineapple collection launched through the workshop in October, the items are available at all times both online and at the Pineapple bricks-and-mortar shop.
Items available for purchase at Live Nation’s The Next Step Live—Absolute Dance stage show, meanwhile, are intended to be more exclusive and include sweaters, shirts, accessories and posters. Any goods left over following the tour will be sold online as long as supplies last. Once those products sell out, they won’t be restocked.
While both strategies extend the availability of consumer products tied to experiences, they still take advantage of the perceived “exclusivity” of items connected to limited-time events. And because Pineapple and Live Nation both have significant experience in their respective fields, they were able to provide data that informed which products to focus on.
“They know which designs work, the quantities needed, and which SKUs to do,” says Caroline High, director of licensing at Boat Rocker Media. In fact, data from those partnerships helped inform Boat Rocker’s next move for The Next Step.
Moving forward, High says the team is looking to expand into the health and beauty category with a focus on dance recovery. “We’re progressing conversations at the moment with partners around that, using the strong sales data that we’ve got [from existing products at location-based events].”
Singapore’s One Animation is focusing less on key categories for its location-based CP strategy, and more on key territories. CEO Sashim Parmanand expects the global family entertainment center market will double by 2025, with Asia Pacific and China leading the growth spurt.
One Animation opened its first center in China in December, and plans to roll out a total of 15 locations throughout the country over the next eight years.
“For a new brand to market, like Oddbods is in China, delivering experiences like [family centers] is a great way to quickly build trust, loyalty and long-term commitment from our fans as we create memories together with them and their families,” Parmanand says.
And though she anticipates revenue from merchandise sold at these locations will triple by 2025, Parmanand says the food and beverage category is one IP owners need to be wary of.
“Family entertainment centers are all about fun. For a seamless sales conversion, your product needs to be fun as well. Research shows that the average expenditure on meals at [family centers] is around a quarter of that spent in malls outside the area. [Food and beverage] is often seen as a necessary evil, but to be successful in this category, it should be considered an integral part of the experience— eatertainment.”