“We have become the ‘go-to’ company for many of the pop culture properties that are not 100 per cent for kids,” Underground Toys’ licensing manager, Robyn Morgan, explains to Licensing.biz.
The firm’s portfolio is certainly very varied: as well as kids licences such as Star Wars Clone Wars and WWE, it also boasts the likes of Thunderbirds, Doctor Who, Transformers, Domo, Heroes, Torchwood and Skelanimals among others. And within its In Your Pocket line it really goes to town with some classics including Carry On, Al Murray Pub Landlord, Dirty Dancing, Mr T and Rambo to name just a few.
Morgan describes the past 12 months as being fair to good, with rapid expansion with many new licences both in the UK and the US. To go with its wide variety of licences, the company produces a matching array of products, including plush, keychains, voice keychains, USB hubs, clip ons, mugs, playing cards and some action figures.
It currently has 27 licences in its stable. Current successes include Star Wars In Your Pocket, which Morgan says should be its strongest item this year, while Family Guy is robust in the plush sector and the firm has just renewed its deal with 20th Century Fox.
However, it’s the In Your Pocket line which has caused a considerable stir of excitement, both at retail level and within the licensing business itself.
“The idea spawned from our Mr T In Your Pocket, which was really supposed to be a one off at the outset,” Morgan explains. “Initially we weren’t sure if it would translate to other licences, but straight away Bullseye worked so we rolled it out to over 25 titles and now we have the retail space to regularly refresh the range.”
Apparently when Underground Toys first took the IYP idea out to licensors, some of them got it and many didn’t. Although Morgan is far too polite to mention any names. Instead, she adds: “It’s given us the ability to trawl through licensor back catalogue on anything that makes sense and target the slightly older audience of a well-known movie or TV show, which wouldn’t otherwise see much activity.
“In one or two cases we think it has helped relaunch the whole licence. For licensors, it is essentially some money for not a lot of work. In other cases we have to be persuasive.”
And retail has wholeheartedly embraced the product, with its best supporters including HMV, Clinton Cards, Play.com, Bhs, Debenhams, Paperchase, Halfords and Urban Outfitters; some outlets you wouldn’t normally associate with licensed product.
“One of the most interesting aspects is finding an In Your Pocket item that fits for a specific retailer,” Morgan continues. “For example, Family Guy works well for Halfords and Dirty Dancing for Urban Outfitters. There is always something appropriate for a customer. Plus we think many buyers like the items themselves versus something they are buying for their standard toy audience. Also, it doesn’t have to make sense with the rest of their range as it’s often positioned at till point – even though they aren’t low priced there is an impulse element to them.”
Star Wars is the latest brand to get the IYP treatment, with Star Trek, Terminator and Rambo following shortly.
Away from the In Your Pocket brand, Underground Toys has what Morgan describes as a “really fantastic” plush factory which it intends to work with later in year and in 2009. “I think people will be very surprised at the quality we will achieve for the price,” Morgan says. “We have a small overhead and, as a result, we are able to deliver a better quality product than some other licensees.”
Looking forward, the company has a simple aim: “We would like people to respect us for making toys and products no one else would have dreamt could be made for a particular market (be it mass or specialty),” Morgan continues. “For our US business we are helping a few UK manufacturers with distribution, as well as distributing our own products on the worldwide deals there. We have been surprised how well some UK manufacturers have been received in the States – for example Character Options’ Doctor Who line has done well for us and we have made some exclusive US product with them for the brand.”