Turtles bump Nintendo for top toy honors

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Author: Stacy Botwinick
Date: Dec. 1990
From: Playthings(Vol. 88, Issue 12)
Publisher: BridgeTower Media Holding Company, LLC
Document Type: Article
Length: 3,450 words

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Turtles bump Nintendo for top toy honors

The toy industry is shell shocked. After three years at number one on PLAYTHINGS' Best Selling Toy Survey, Nintendo has been dethroned. Top toy honors for 1990 go to none other than those raucous reptiles, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!

That's right, dudes. Those keen, green fighting machines have crawled their way to the top of the toy heap, overcoming the strength of Nintendo and fending off the advances of Mattel's sweetheart, Barbie.

According to PLAYTHINGS' 8th annual best seller survey of buyers representing over 10,000 retail operations, such as K & K Toys, Affiliated/Associated Drug Stores, and Target Stores, the top ten toys of 1990 are:

1) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Playmates)

2) Barbie (Mattel)

3) WWF Wrestling figures (Hasbro)

4) New Kids on the Block (Hasbro)

5) Game Boy (Nintendo)

6) My Pretty Ballerina (Tyco)

7) Super Mario Bros. 3 (Nintendo)

8) Batman (Kenner)

9) G.I. Joe (Hasbro)

10) Scattergories (Milton Bradley)

Of the top ten, three (Turtles, Barbie, and G.I. Joe) appeared on last year's survey, while the remaining seven (WWF Wrestling figures, New Kids on the Block dolls, Game Boy, My Pretty Ballerina, Super Mario Bros. 3, Kenner's Batman, and Scattergories) are newcomers to the list.

Though not making the top ten, special honorable mentions go to such standouts as:

* Magic Nursery Dolls (Mattel)

* Monopoly Jr. (Parker Brothers)

* Go-Go My Walking Pup (Hasbro)

* Victorian Dollhouse (Playmobil)

* Magna Doodle (Tyco)

* Lynx (Atari)

* Golden Activity Books (Western Publishing)

* Quints (Tyco)

* Koosh Ball (Oddzon)

* Turbo Football (Nerf)

In addition, a selection of good, old-fashioned basics also rated mention. Items such as as Silly Putty (Binney & Smith), Play-Doh (Kenner), Slinky (James Industries), yo-yos (Duncan), Crayola crayons (Binney & Smith), playballs (Hedstrom), bubbles (Strombecker, Manhattan, Imperial), and baseball cards (Topps, Score, Donruss, Upper Deck, Fleer) continued to make cash registers ring.

After years of pushing "basics," the toy industry hoped to have found their megahit with the Turtles. But this blockbuster has still not sparked the creativity of the industry. Buyers lament that other than the Turtles, there has been nothing exciting to boost toy sales.

"Again in 1990, the toy industry (with the exception of Ninja Turtles) failed to bring forth any new, exciting or innovative product categories to market," said Joe Thompson, buyer for Nationmark, a large wholesale distributor.

Toy sales have been described as unpredictable, and rightfully so. According to the Toy Manufacturers of America (TMA), toy shipments have doubled during the last ten years, from $4.5 billion in 1980 to $9 billion in 1989. Retail sales for the decade also doubled, from an estimated $6.7 billion in 1980 to $13.4 billion in 1989.

However, during the eighties, the toy industry experienced a period of explosive growth (51 percent from 1983 to 1984), followed by essentially flat sales. The 1983-1984 surge in sales was caused by a proliferation of megahit toys, whose often short supply drew customers into toy stores in droves.

But now it seems the toy industry has stabilized. The TMA reported that 1989's retail sales of $13.4 billion were up 3.2 percent from the $12.97 billion in 1988. Shipments also rose, increasing 3.4 percent from $8.7 billion in 1988 to $9 billion in 1989.

In the nineties, manufacturers are concentrating on expanding their product lines and improving their merchandising mix to produce year-round sales. In addition, small and medium-sized toy makers are getting in on the action, looking for opportunities to get their share of the market.

But with warnings of a recession echoing down toy store aisles, will sales be affected? Buyers seem to think they will.

"The economy is on a downswing, and that will certainly affect toy sales," predicted Stephen Sandberg, owner of H. Sandberg & Son/Sanco Toy. "I don't think toy buyers will be as aggressive in their purchasing of new items. Also, buyers will take a hard look at licenses in terms of their visibility."

New licenses join classics

Today's hottest licenses reflect best selling toys, exciting new properties, and well-known classics. In addition to the Turtles, New Kids on the Block, Batman, WWF Wrestling, and Barbie are gracing everything from toothbrushes to lunchboxes.

The Simpsons have burst onto the scene, and are doing their best to grab a sizable portion of the market, with everyone from teens to toddlers snatching up dolls, t-shirts and oodles of other Simpsons paraphernalia.

Old favorites such as Sesame Street and Disney represent quality and tradition to consumers, and the Cabbage Patch license is making a comeback. Nintendo also participates in a strong licensing program, signaling to the toy industry that interest in video games is still alive and kicking.

Video games still sizzling

Although Nintendo was knocked from its number one slot on the best seller list, the video game war is hardly over, as evidenced by the appearance of Nintendo's Game Boy and Super Mario Bros. 3 on the survey, along with Atari's Lynx as an honorable mention.

The video game market has experienced quite a few ups and downs during the last ten years, but now it looks like the category has found a permanent spot on the toy charts.

According to NPD Research, manufacturers' shipments in dollars for TV video games (including units, software, and accessories) rose 28.6 percent to $2.43 billion in 1989, up from $1.89 billion in 1988. Units also increased, up 30.8 percent from 52 million in 1988 to 68 million in 1989.

Retail sales for 1989 were over $3 billion, and 1990 sales are estimated to reach the $4 billion mark.

In addition, electronic handheld/tabletop games rose a whopping 113.7 percent in manufacturers' shipments in dollars, from $117 million reported in 1988 to $250 million in 1989. Shipments were also up in units, from 3 million in 1988 to 8 million in 1989, an increase of approximately 167 percent.

Smart marketing and advancements in technology are constantly bringing about new software, exciting peripherals, enhanced graphics, and many other innovations that have kept today's video game enthusiasts clamoring for more.

Atari has been making waves with its color handheld video game, Lynx, and superior graphics have set companies such as Sega and NEC apart from the rest in the video game biz. Manufacturers have been employing savvy marketing techniques with software, keeping up demand with a constantly changing, tight supply of game titles featuring the latest, hottest licenses.

However, while software sales are on the rise, the hardware segment of the market has begun to slow down a bit. While from 1988 to 1989 manufacturers' shipments of software rose 33.3 percent, comparatively hardware was only up 20.8 percent.

In addition, a look at manufacturers' shipments in units shows software up 27.8 percent, while hardware rose only 11.1 percent.

These figures seem to indicate that most kids (and adults) who want a TV video game unit have already purchased one.

In addition, the average consumer will normally only buy one hardware unit, but will supplement his purchase with the seemingly endless selection of new games, thus creating multiple sales for software.

But never fear. The slew of handhelds are creating whole new markets for not only the hardware, but the smaller-sized software they require as well.

Board games battle back

Still reeling from the competition brought on by video games, board games are doing their best to stay in the black.

With no real big hits since Trivial Pursuit and the more recent Pictionary, game makers are pulling out all the stops, trying mightily to offer a fun, social alternative to video games.

With the adult market looking strong, games such as Milton Bradley's Scattergories are topping the charts.

New versions of recent hits, such as Trivial Pursuit of the Eighties and Pictionary's Party Edition, have also been faring well.

Classics like Clue, Life, Scrabble, and Monopoly are seeing more and more play, and new twists on these games, such as Monopoy Jr. for kids, are creating a whole new generation of game lovers.

Games get into licensing

The board game industry has also found success with licensing, and games can be found depicting the likenesses, of such superstars as Batman, Barbie, Dick Tracy, and The Simpsons, just to name a few.

The specialization of the category is also evident, with games like Western Publishing's Dweebs, Geeks and Weirdos catering to boys, and offerings such as Cardinal's Barbie Just Us Girls and Milton Bradley's Sweet Valley High, directed towards the girls' market.

Little girls bring big profits

Once ignored in the shuffle of video madness, now the strength of the girls' market has toy designers rushing to their drawing boards.

Through longtime stars like Barbie, and recent successes like New Kids on the Block dolls, My Pretty Ballerina, Magic Nursery dolls, Oopsie Daisy, and Quints, manufacturers, especially those unable to compete in the technical world of video games, have finally realized that there is big money to be made with little girls.

Retail figures report 1989 doll unit sales increasing 6.5 percent and dollar sales up 12.8 percent over 1988. Likewise, manufacturers have seen 1989 doll shipments up 9.3 percent over 1988 in dollars and up 7.4 percent in units. And predictions are that the doll boom is just beginning.

Parents who have been spending big bucks on their sons for high-priced items like video games and R/C cars, are now looking for something substantial for their daughters. And a huge variety of dolls and other products marketed to girls are fitting the bill.

Figures back in action

But the big bucks spent on boys aren't just for video games. Action figures and their related playsets are getting increasingly harder to keep on toy store shelves.

Statistics show that figures are back in action. For 1989, the category showed a 5.7 percent rise in manufacturers' shipments in dollars, from $523 million in 1988, up to $553 million in 1989. Considering that action figures and accessories experienced a 25.5 percent dropoff from 1987 to 1988, this increase is certainly substantial.

Perennial best sellers, such as G.I. Joe, can be counted on to perform well from year to year, with ever-growing and changing product lines. And every year, new figures like WWF Wrestlers join old favorites in the profit column.

But the undisputed leaders in action figures this year are who else but the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Turtles crawl to the top

After debuting at number three on last year's survey, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have now found themselves at number one for 1990.

Defending life, liberty and the pursuit of pizza, Playmates' Turtle line includes not only the wildly successful action figures, but a huge assortment of playsets and accessories that have kept sales humming. These include the Turtle Party Wagon, Pizza Thrower, Turtlecycle, and many more.

It is reported that over 300 licensed Turtle toys, products, and entertainment vehicles will be available this holiday season.

The home video of the quartet's record breaking spring movie has just been released, and a second motion picture is scheduled for the spring. The Turtles' record album, "Coming Out of Their Shells," has already sold more than two million copies since its September release.

"Turtles II," the second video game based on the Turtles introduced by Konami, is scheduled for release in time for Christmas, when Playmates will also unveil "Turtle Claus," a limited edition plush figure.

Playmates will also be introducing several new Turtle figures, including "Don, the Undercover Turtle," and "Raph, the Space Cadet."

According to Mark Freedman, president of Surge Licensing, exclusive worldwide marketer of the property, high volume sales during the last quarter of 1990 are expected to push the total retail performance of all Turtle merchandise over $1 billion for the year.

And, as the Turtles would say, 1990 has been awesome and "Turtle Power" is sure to continue.

Barbie sitting pretty

Sitting comfortably in the number two spot for the second year in a row, Barbie is holding tight to her title of "Queen of Dolls." Mattel's marketing magic has kep the Barbie line going strong for 31 years. 1990 marks her seventh appearance on the survey.

To keep an oldtimer like Barbie on the charts, it is imperative to add new and exciting extensions to the line, and this year was no exception.

Always at the height of fashion, My First Princess Barbie wears an iridescent gown, and Wedding Fantasy Barbie is clad in the ultimate wedding dress. The epitome of chic, Barbie also shows off in her very own Bob Mackie gown.

As a busy woman of the nineties, Air Force Barbie reports for duty as a pilot, while Flight Time Barbie opens up the exciting world of travel. Barbie grooves with Dance Magic, swims with Wet 'N Wild, shoots hoops with All-Star, sings with a rock group with Barbie and the Beat, and skates in an ice show with Ice Capades Barbie.

And if she's worn out after all that, she can jump in her Western Fun Motor Home and drive up to her Magical Mansion for a night of rest and relaxation with her faithful beau, Ken.

It seems that as Barbie gets older, she just keeps on getting better. With her amazing track record, it's a good bet that she'll be around for even longer, acting out little girls' fantasies for generations to come.

WWF puts up a fight

Fighting their way to the number three spot on the survey is Hasbro's assortment of World Wrestling Federation (WWF) action figures.

Banking on the success of action figures and the popularity of professional wrestling, this toy line has certainly scored big in 1990.

These mat-pounding all-stars are all under five inches tall and resemble actual wrestling stars, each with its own special wrestling maneuver.

Included on the WWF Wrestling card are such favorites as Hulk Hogan (with Gorilla Press Slam), Jake "The Snake" Roberts (with Python Punch), and Andre the Giant (with Giant Jolt).

And, for added punch, kids can conduct their own championship matches in the official WWF Wrestling Ring.

With more figures and additional playsets planned for next year, Hasbro will do their best to keep a strong hold on this fast-growing category.

New Kids move in

Hanging tough at number four are Hasbro's New Kids on the Block dolls and accessories.

With the overwhelming popularity of the New Kids on the Block singing group and the current clamor for quality girls' toys, Hasbro seems to have really tuned into the demands of the market with this line, which includes dolls, fashions, a playset, puzzles, and electronics.

The New Kids on the Block dolls are 12-1/4 inches tall and feature two assortments. The first has all five Kids decked out in their favorite "street clothes," while the othr has them in their concert attire. Four different fashion assortments are also available for dress-up play.

The dolls can perform on their own Stage Playset, which comes with pretend instruments, microphones, a spotlight, and a poster.

The new Kids on the Block Telephone really works, as does the battery-operated Microphone. The Cassette Players features headphones for private listening and the AM/FM Radio boasts a wild triangular shape.

With the enthusiastic sales response from loyal fans, it looks like Hasbro has found the "right stuff" with the New Kids.

Game Boy gets good play

Just when you thought owning a TV video game was enough, Nintendo let loose with another "gotta have."

Game Boy, a compact, handheld video game system, did a good job of getting Nintendo out of the living room and onto the streets.

In the saturated world of video games, Game Boy presented fans with a new dimension in handhelds. Game Boy rejuvenated the category with product innovation: digital stero sound and game paks plus the ability to play head-to-head, all in a handheld game.

With unlimited opportunities for new licensed game cartridges and accessories, and the past marketing success of the Nintendo Entertainment System, the success of Game Boy could carry way into the future. But for now, it settles in at number five on the survey.

My Pretty Ballerina gives it a whirl

Realizing the power of the doll market, Tyco offers up My Pretty Ballerina, following on the heels of last year's hit doll entry Oopsie Daisy.

My Pretty Ballerina comes complete with a pink tutu, tights, laced ballet shoes and an audio cassette of ballet music. Little girls can make the doll dance gracefully "on point" and perform such ballet moves as an arabesque or a pirouette.

"With Danskin sales up 40 percent and enrollment at ballet schools up 30 percent, it's clear that little girls are yearning for My Pretty Ballerina," said Maurene Souza, vice president of marketing, girls' toys for Tyco.

And little girls must agree, for this popular doll has danced into enough of their hearts to earn it a number six spot on the survey.

Super Mario Bros. 3 to the rescue

In the ultra-competitive video game software market, it's amazing that one game stands head and shoulders above the rest. Battling constant sellouts and a multitude of rival games, Nintendo's Super Mario Bros. 3 has earned itself seventh place on the best seller list.

In this much sought-after game, Mario has new powers as he sets off to rescue Princess Toadstool, this time with special suits for flying, sliding and swimming.

With increased memory capacity, Super Mario Bros. 3 offers players more intense play depth and more complex graphics than its predecessors.

Batman on a crusade

Swooping in the number eight, Kenner's Batman, The Dark Knight Collection, is still going strong, even in the calm after the hit movie and subsequent video release.

Based on the popular Batman movie character, Kenner's collection features exciting action figures, vehicles, and realistic role playing toys.

In action figures, Bruce Wayne, Shadow King Batman, Iron Winch Batman, Crime Attack Batman and Wall Scaler Batman, and Sky Escape Joker create a myriad of play situations.

Vehicles such as the Batmobile, Batjet, Turbojet Batwing, and the Jokercycle add to the play value of the line.

In addition, Kenner offers unique role playing toys, such as the Batman Armor Set, Sonic Neutralizer, Crime Control Belt, and Batarang Blaster that help kids bring their hero to life.

G.I. Joe digs in

For the eight year in a row, Hasbro's G.I. Joe has answered PLAYTHINGS' call, this time in the number nine slot on the best seller list.

In the new decade, America's favorite military man has introduced a host of new troops and highly-sophisticated vehicles to battle the forces of Cobra and Destro. The addition of Sky Patrol brings even greater strength to G.I. Joe's aerial forces.

And, as proven by his impeccable record, it seems as if the sky's the limit for G.I.Joe in the nineties.

Scattegories makes a move

Squeaking in the number ten, Milton Bradley's Scattergories comes to the rescue for board games.

In this extremely popular family/party game, two to six players, ages 12 to adult race against the timer to match categories using words starting with the same letter.

Scattergories epitomizes what game manufacturers in the nineties have been trying to achieve: a family-oriented game that takes people away from the television set and brings them together for an old fashioned good time.

Honorable mentions reflect trends

In addition to those products on the best seller list, honorable mentions are good indicators of industry trends.

Mattel's Magic Nursery dolls, Tyco's Quints, Hasbro's Go-Go My Walking Pup, and Playmobil's Victorian dollhouse all demonstrate the effect of the growing girl's market.

Parker Brothers' Monopoly Jr. illustrates the strength of children's board games, while Atari's Lynx represents the continuing power of video games.

Tyco's Magna Doodle and Western Publishing's Golden Activity Books exhibit the popularity of activity toys, while Nerf's Turbo Football scores big among junior sporting goods.

Last, but certainly not least, Oddzon's Koosh Ball, a top selling novelty item, proves that toys placed by the cash register, no matter how small or inexpensive, can add up to big sales.

A look ahead

Looking to 1991, opinions on the toy outlook centered around the unstable economy and the importance of industry creativity.

"With the Middle East problems and the tough economy, 1991 will probably be a flat year, with higher prices effecting consumer spending patterns," said Lon Resnick, merchandise manager for Affiliated/Associated Drug Stores.

"I think the toy outlook for 1991 will be fair to good," commented Kay Trongeau, senior buyer for Target Stores. "New, creative product will be the key to success next year."

However, the future of the toy industry remains to be seen, as buyers anxiously await the unveiling of what they hope will be the next blockbuster hit at Toy Fair 1991.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|A9272918