LEGO once derided licensing, saying it would never move away from its core generic, unadulterated building set business. But new thinking was needed amid hard times not so many years ago, and the Star Wars license turned the company around.
Star Wars was truly just the beginning of LEGO’s licensing, and it is licensing that has made the company one of the top global toy manufacturers. Recently, I asked a cousin’s 8-year-old daughter which LEGO sets she has. (I’d been tipped off that she was heavy into Star Wars.) “I’d rather tell you which ones I’d like to get,” she replied, and proceeded to rattle off 19 sets – all of them Harry Potter – before scrunching her nose. “There are 21 I want. Which two am I forgetting?”
Certainly Angry Birds did a lot for Commonwealth Toys a few years ago. And now it will be interesting to see how Germany’s Schleich will fare. Schleich’s core business is upmarket plastic figurines of prehistoric animals, generic knights, wild life, and farm life. They tend to be sold in specialty toy stores.
Years ago, the company licensed Smurfs, and its success led Schleich to license extensively. The company had severe financial difficulties and swore off licensing, except for continuing its Smurfs relationship. It tried developing its own fantasy property, Bayala, that it hoped to license out into other categories (the property still exists, but I’m not sure much ever got licensed). And now the company’s Toy Fair presence was dominated by its new DC Comics (specifically Justice League) and Peanuts licenses. The people at the booth, who are from Schleich’s North Carolina-based U.S. distribution operation, weren’t familiar with the company history but, noted Soren Philip Hjorth, who is president of Schleich USA, “This isn’t that company.”
Licensed Minions products will be everywhere in advance of the July 2015 release date for the Despicable Me spinoff, right in time for the all-important back-to-school season. The question for licensees and retailers is whether the Frozen short that Disney is releasing in front of Cinderella next month, and the complementary marketing the Disney machine will undertake until the next full-length feature, will keep Frozen dominant right through to the next movie or whether Minions can steal share of market the way Frozen did from Barbie, American Girl, and just about every other doll on the market in 2014.