Jeremy (a.k.a. blueduck37), my husband Jim, and I took a group tour of the Playmates Toys Toy Fair 2002 showroom display on Monday morning, February 11th. The Playmates representatives allowed us to take photos of the toys on display, after which company executive Jeff Trojan was gracious enough to answer our questions . First off, I want to thank Jeff Trojan for being so personable and generous with information. He took almost half an hour out of his busy schedule to stand and talk about the Playmates company and its Simpsons line right in the showroom with me. I didn’t really ask him these questions one after the other. The conversation floated all over the place, as I was unsure how much time he was going to be able to devote to me. Therefore the following consists mostly of paraphrased responses and my impressions. I have tried to group the information into a question and answer format to make it easier to follow. And, always remember that we are dealing with a large toy company here. Things change, items get cancelled, etc. This information is what is current right now. Enjoy!
* How long is Playmates planning to continue the WoS line? How do WoS sales and profitability compare with your other toy lines?
The Simpsons WoS line is the current #1 seller for boys' toys at Playmates. Jeff said they want to run with it and things are going great with no end in sight. We did discuss what happens when items start to sit on the pegs or have to be clearanced. That is when a retailer might make a hasty bad decision thinking, “This toy line is dead,” and stop ordering any more. It is always looming out there, which is why Playmates is careful to not overproduce the figures. He wouldn’t give me any numbers, but did say that they have slowly increased production numbers wave by wave.
* Who is your target audience (age, demographics) for this toy line?
He came right out and said that this is a COLLECTOR-based line. He knows full well that kids, for the most part, are not purchasing these items. We were both in agreement that a younger kid might walk by some figures on display, see a cool looking Bart, and buy it. But, basically, it sounds like Fox and Playmates knows where the money is coming from with the sale of these toys. In addition, he directed me toward their display board sign (pictured in our Toy Fair coverage) that lists stats for TV viewers of The Simpsons. I believe the male 18-34 range is the “collector” range we are describing, but it is clear that other younger males consider the show in their top three favorites as well. Playmates wants to turn those younger viewers into future customers with different products (see next question).
* What are Playmates' plans, if any, for increasing their consumer base in regards to advertising?
Now, we had quite an interesting detour conversation on this. He said that after the first shipment of wave 1 figures were sold, Playmates ran tv ads targeted at kids for the WoS line. Ads are fairly costly, even with a connection to FOX, etc., and after running the ads, there were no increased sales of the line by that age range. It was believed that the ads had no real effect on generating new sales for that target group. So, no more ads. What Playmates wants to do is have some kind of focus groups with younger kids to find out what kind of Simpsons toys they would like to play with, want to buy, etc. If, after holding these focus groups, doing the necessary research, etc., they come up with particular new items targeted at younger kids, they might begin another TV ad campaign for those items.
* Are there any plans to re-issue some of the early or hard-to-get figures to attract new collectors to the line?
Straight out: No. The bottom line of many of these questions is that Playmates is happy right now. They are selling all of their product, they don’t have items dusting up shelves, and they are making money. I honestly don’t believe they feel they want to bring in “new collectors” in that fashion. He also said, "We want to keep the secondary market where it's at now." Then he mentioned the Star Trek “1701” fiasco and we both had a good laugh. I told him I wasn't familiar with that line, but I had heard the story many times and he said, "Everyone has heard that story!" He said that instead of releasing wave 1 figures again, the focus might instead be aimed at issuing variants of hard-to-obtain figures. You will notice the Sunday Best Lisa and Resort Smithers in the upcoming waves.
* What is the current status on a Moe's playset?
Jeff hopes to see a Moe’s playset at Toy Fair 2003 in their display. I think since Playmates and Fox realize now that this is generally an older, collector-based line, they are going to relax a bit in terms of products they feel would be bad for a younger age group. Watch the trend of all the approved licensed products that Rix is making this year. Duffman is all over the place. I think the only tricky part is that generally the playsets are selling at stores like Toys "R" Us, Target, Wal-mart, etc. If Moe’s were an exclusive playset, you would avoid the potential age problem that those retailers might be concerned with.
* On the status of other items:
Blockos (Series 2 and 3): We didn’t see any, but I believe they plan to continue these phases. I think it depends on sales of the first set.
Bongo Comics figures: KB Toys exclusive items! Prototypes for two more series were done, but not completed. I was pretty surprised that this wasn’t going to be a Diamond Comics exclusive.
Be Sharps exclusive: No definitive word on this, please refer to Wizard World question below.
Future “All-Star” voice approvals: This is the direction that Playmates will be going towards in a big way. They love this concept and the possibilities are almost endless. We discussed the fact that there is a great deal of crossover market interest here as well. Are you a huge Phil Hartman fan that doesn’t collect Simpsons items? You still might buy all of his characters, one or two more, and a compatible playset. It broadens the buyer base. In addition, Jeff mentioned that with stars involved, you might have Entertainment Tonight or entertainment magazines give what would basically be free advertising to the line.
* Will there ever be a release of smaller accessories or figures such as the Happy Little Elves, Mr. Teeny, Blinky, Mojo, Baby Gerald, etc.?
“It’s possible.” That’s all I got for that. I think they are aware that there is interest in this.
* We understand that Maggie Roswell will be returning as the voice of Maude in the next Halloween episode. Does this mean that the difficulties between her and FOX have improved somewhat, at least enough to make the possibility of action figures of her characters (Ms. Hoover, Maude Flanders, Helen Lovejoy) a reality?
He said they really want Maggie because they are interested in a Flanders house playset. He didn’t seem to be too aware of the situation between her personally and FOX. The breakdown of figure and playset requests was explained to me in the following manner. Playmates gives FOX a big list of wants. FOX then goes down the list and says, “Yes. No. Yes. Yes. No,” and so on. Moe’s and Maggie Roswell are usually on the list that they hand to FOX. Maybe one day they will both be marked yes.
* Is the lack of female WoS figures due to the fact that most of the characters (apart from Maggie Roswell’s) are celebrity voices? Will we see more women in the upcoming “All-Star” lines?
He was gung-ho about a possible Helen Hunt (Renee) figure. I think that is on the top of his “female” list. However, he wondered if her history with Hank Azaria would pose any problems to her agreement. Jeff also mentioned Glenn Close. He said that the All-Star line certainly offers more opportunity for female characters. When I questioned him about the rate of sale for female figures versus male, he said female WoS figures do just as well as the men.
* Many overseas collectors would like to know, are there any plans on bringing the WoS line back to Canada and the UK?
He stated that this isn’t really up to Playmates, but rather their international distributors to carry the line. He would be happy if retailers picked up the line in Canada and the UK. So, for those of you overseas collectors motivated enough, I think you should be contacting those companies directly.
* What is the process by which an exclusive is awarded? Do they consider the track record of the retailer?
The retailer must carry the main line. They must have carried the line for at least a year. We then went off on a tangent and talked about Toys "R" Us. TRU has the best long-term relationship with Playmates and this line. Evidently, TRU carried the line before any other retailer and was the first retailer to commit to carry Simpsons items, even before Playmates signed on to make the figures. Playmates signed on when the voice feature was approved. TRU was willing to carry the line and “see how it went” so to speak. That is why they are getting so many exclusives this year, and I am sure will continue to do so.
* What companies are in line to have exclusives this year, and what can you tell us about the exclusives themselves?
KB Toys: Bongo Series 1 figures, with the implication of a Series 2 and 3.
Toys "R" Us: Lurleen Lumpkin and Colonel Homer 2-pack, 9-pack of Series 1 Blockos, Main Street playset (with 6 resistor pegs and at least one line for every figure made so far!!), Treehouse of Horror 3 (not approved yet, so they wouldn’t tell us), and a “holiday-themed” playset. I made sure to ask that Main Street would not be the holiday playset and was told they are separate items.
Diamond Comics: High School Prom 2-pack (co-exclusive with Electronics Boutique), three 3-packs of Blocko figures, each with a diorama display. The Toys "R" Us 9-pack will not contain the dioramas.
* What are current relations between Playmates and Wizard Entertainment Group? Several collectors are dissatisfied with the way they have handled exclusives this past year.
Well, I did most of the talking here, which says something in itself. What he did tell me was that there would be NO INDIVIDUAL exclusives (i.e. single figures) awarded this year to anyone. What does this mean? Toyfare/Wizard World could still get a 4-pack Be Sharps exclusive. My “feeling” is that there is a pretty strong bond between ToyFare and Playmates, for the huge amount of free advertising the magazine gives them by putting their product pics on the front cover. When you walk into the Playmates Simpsons showroom display, there are four framed ToyFare covers at the beginning of the display. That spoke pretty loudly to me. He did say that TF/WW assured Playmates that they have obtained a new distribution house (their explanation for the mistakes?) and he was well aware of all the e-mails describing the dissatisfaction with TF/WW’s customer service.
* Are they thinking of taking WOS into new directions such as deluxe figures with additional features (actions or extra articulation), vehicles, playsets with motion, etc.?
Jeff said, "We are currently exploring new technology," and taking the line in new directions. It was almost as if a wink was coming on, as if he was saying, “I know something, but I am not going to tell you about it.”
* Are there any plans to expand the line into the early days of the Simpsons, when they were on The Tracey Ullman Show, a.k.a. retro Simpsons?
They have discussed it.
* What are the criteria for choosing playset quotes? Some characters (MuuMuu Homer) have voice quotes that were never actually in the playset location, or from the specific episode where that version of the character appeared. In addition, some figures only have one or two quotes or only work in a single environment.
This was very interesting. FOX chooses all the quotes used. Playmates gets the approval for the specific character and FOX gives them the quotes. They are working on expanding memory, etc. for the playset voice chips.
* Has Playmates ever considered producing interchangeable voice chips for playsets that a consumer could buy to obtain additional voice quotes for more characters and future releases?
I basically told them about this idea, and they were intrigued.
* Other tidbits:
We asked Dave, the Playmates Simpsons presenter, what the bump is on the Krusty Burger floor. He said he didn't know and was curious himself. So he ran to ask Jeff who was out of the room at the time. Jeff said it was gum and cost and time issues prevented them from painting it. He said cost and time issues also resulted in the lack of corn on the Kitchen curtains.
I went on the entire Playmates product tour. I was amazed at the percentage of their line that will have the Intellitronic voice chips. Over half of their lines will be talking or interactive in some way.
The 3” multi-pack figures have 4 points of articulation. The packaging is very collector-oriented with the episode title and air date on the front and other facts and info on the back.
The packaging for the All-Star figures is all-new (reverse color scheme and new art layout), but the packaging for the regular release waves will stay the same, at least at this point in time.
* Jeremy had this to add:
When I first walked back to the Playmates showroom (while the reps from FOX were still there), the WoS tour guide Dave asked who I was with. When I said "Simpsons Collector Sector" and explained to him what it was, a rep from FOX came over. She said she wanted to ask me a question. She wanted to know what Simpsons collectors look for in terms in merchandise (i.e. what kind of merchandise do we want to see?). I told her that the people collecting Simpsons are the hardcore fans and like merchandise that reflects that fanbase. I said stuff like generic products is fine, but fans really like stuff that has the same type of details and in-jokes that the hardcore fans like in the show (like some of the little details in the WoS line). She said that makes sense and they have been leaning more in that direction. She also said that 2001 was a landmark year for sales of Simpsons products.
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