As we (Bugg Media) launch our brand new toy publication, The Toy Universe into the market, we have been fortunate to spend some time with Geoff Oliver (GO) who is the Marketing Director for Spin Master across Australia and New Zealand. Spin Master is a leading global children’s entertainment company, creating exceptional play experiences through its three creative centres: Toys, Entertainment and Digital Games. Spin Master continue to develop their footprint on the ground here in our market and for this first edition of The Toy Universe, we are really appreciative for the opportunity to speak to Geoff. We began by asking Geoff about his time in Australia…
Geoff, we understand that you made the move from Canada a few years ago. Can you give us a quick insight into how you see this market as opposed to the U.S. and Canadian markets?
GO: Great question. In many ways the markets are very similar, up to the point where Australia is frequently used as a test market to launch new and exciting brands here first, before going global. There are a couple of exciting points of difference however — firstly, Australia has the amazing mid-year toy event that is great for launching global-first products and brands. Secondly, the eCommerce channel, though rapidly gaining speed, isn’t quite as prevalent in size as it is in the U.S. COVID certainly changed buying habits for consumers and make no mistake, we’re fully up and running now, but back in 2018 when I arrived we weren’t quite as online-loving as our North American friends were.
Though I can’t give away any secrets, I will say that on the DC side, there is a very exciting slate of movies coming in the next few years and we couldn’t be more excited to bring those movies to life on shelf.Geoff Oliver
We notice with interest that you have recently renewed your toy relationship with Warner Bros. Can you tell us a little about your new plans for this relationship and their brands?
GO: Our partnership with Warner Bros. is definitely one of the high points in the portfolio. Globally, there are almost no other properties as recognised and beloved as DC and Wizarding World. It’s an absolute privilege to be able to partner with them and make award winning toys for fans. Though I can’t give away any secrets, I will say that on the DC side, there is a very exciting slate of movies coming in the next few years and we couldn’t be more excited to bring those movies to life on shelf.
We recently read that Spin Master had been successful in winning some infringement cases for use of your global brands. How does your company view this important protection process?
GO: Our brands are the lifeblood of the company and any of the other toy manufacturers can attest to how much effort and investment it takes to get a brand up and running, and to build momentum, so it’s critically important to ensure we protect that. We’re a highly innovative company; it’s always been a competitive advantage and I’m proud of the work that our internal teams do to protect our IP and innovation.
Geoff, the recent release of the second PAW Patrol movie was very strong and we wonder how has it impacted on your toy line sales and profile?
GO: Being our very first feature length release, we were completely overjoyed with both the global box office and excellent reviews we received. Our strong relationship with ViacomCBS meant that we were firing on all cylinders on the consumer products side. From toys to soft-lines and everything in between, it was an amazing team effort to bring the excitement to shelves across Australia. I do wish that the movie launch hadn’t coincided with lockdowns in both VIC and NSW, but despite that hurdle sales were amazing and globally it’s absolutely elevated PAW Patrol to a new level.
We are very interested in the current and on-going outlook for the GUND brand, a long-standing favourite for many years! What will 2022 bring for this brand in our market?
GO: GUND has a heritage, reputation and level of trust that not many brands obtain and that’s something to be proud of. Some of the cutest and most heart-warming items come from this brand, and 2022 is no different. In partnership with our friends at Jasnor, I’m confident that Australian customers will love what we have coming in 2022. Starting with Baby GUND items that families can start creating memories with, to innovative items that are soft and cuddly and have amazing features, to trend based plush items that consumers will be chasing, GUND is poised for its best year yet.
How does Spin Master see the commentary surrounding sustainability. Is it something that figures into your development and marketing mix?
GO: Operating in a socially responsible business entails minimizing our impact on the health of our planet and taking steps to find renewable sources of energy, opportunities to reduce waste within our manufacturing and operations, developing sustainable product materials and packaging, whilst taking a product’s entire life cycle into consideration. We’re excited to be partnered with TerraCycle in both the U.S. and Australia, as this will allow consumers to recycle all of their old Spin Master toys. Further upstream, simply put, it’s about reducing plastics, investing in biodegradable/compostable or recycled materials in our products and using things like eco-friendly inks as well as numerous other actions to help minimize our overall impact.
We’re excited to be partnered with TerraCycle in both the US and Australia, as this will allow consumers to recycle all of their old Spin Master toys.Geoff Oliver
Geoff it’s been a long two years managing the health challenges we have all endured. How have you and your Spin Master team been able to manage this both individually and collectively?
GO: The health and well-being of our teams globally is of primary concern for the executives and that permeates through the entire company. On a local level, the whole team has done an amazing job supporting each other through lockdowns and uncertainty and I couldn’t be prouder of how we all rallied around each other and I believe we’ve come out stronger as a result. This wasn’t a foregone conclusion mind you, being intentional with things like Zoom drinks in lockdown, reaching out to the team regularly and even bringing in coaches to work with the team; there were several actions that were taken and continue to this day, to ensure that we are looking after the well-being of the team.
How do you see the year ahead for your retail partners? Where are the challenges and where do you see the opportunities?
GO: The largest challenge I see continues to be around the uncertainty that is still pervasive in the global supply chain. This uncertainty has many factors, from the increase in COVID in Asia, increased oil prices, exchange rates, etc. I think we’re all a little on tenterhooks at the moment but in saying that, I’ve seen all our retail partners expertly navigate the last two years of craziness, grow their online business and continue to deliver for the Australian consumer. Wherever there are challenges, there are opportunities to improve: streamlining processes for maximum efficiency, increasing our nimbleness in the face of increased global uncertainty, and ensuring to listen to customers and meet them where they are at, with the top things that jump to mind.
Wherever there are challenges, there are opportunities to improve: streamlining processes for maximum efficiency, increasing our nimbleness in the face of increased global uncertainty and ensuring to listen to customers and meet them where they are at, with the top things that jump to mind.Geoff Oliver
Do you have a view on the developing and emerging global toy fair structure, which I suspect involves many considerations such as timing, frequency and the commercial realities of available budgets?
GO: First, wouldn’t it be fantastic to be able to get together in person again! I think the technologies that have become prevalent over the last two years have fundamentally changed how we all do business, and offer opportunities for companies to be a little more efficient and save money on travel and trade show expenses. Having said that, I personally don’t think there is a replacement for in-person meetings and having retailers be able to see and touch new products is something that can’t be replaced by virtual technologies, something that is vital to our industry. Do I think that all of the toy fairs that happened globally will have made it through the last two years, probably not, but the big ones will for sure. My sincere hope is to see the major global toys fairs back in full swing next year, including our own Melbourne Toy Fair.
Geoff we really do appreciate you taking the time to speak to The Toy Universe and feature in our first magazine! Hopefully there is a big year ahead for the toy business in 2022 and beyond. We will certainly check in with you again during the year to get your read on how the market is travelling and we hope to see you soon!