We chat to HTI’s global licensing & brand director Alison Downie about the toy company’s plans.
It is a lovely summer’s day – pretty much perfect for a trip to the seaside – when The Source makes the trip up to HTI’s head office in Fleetwood, near Blackpool. However, inside the licensee’s already impressive showroom, work is underway on expanding it even further to make space for a number of new brands and expanded ranges.
This underlines just how hard the company has been working over the past year on not just its licensed portfolio, but on its own IP and distributed ranges as well.
Alison Downie, HTI’s global licensing and brand director – who was actually celebrating a year in the business when The Source visits – explains that the company wanted to refocus going forward into what it calls its ‘key pillars’. These are wheeled toys; prams and pushchairs; role-play; vehicles; and everyday, or pocket money toys.
Licences feature across all five of these pillars – with some big name additions so far this year.
Earlier in the year, Chicco joined Mamas & Papas and Disney within the prams and pushchairs category, which Alison says is a big growth area for HTI.
Within role-play and pocket money, HTI has secured a new three-year deal with Hasbro’s My Little Pony and Transformers properties, while the wheeled category has been bolstered with Num Noms and the new Spider-Man Homecoming movie. And then there’s the new relationship with Nickelodeon, which has seen the company pick up PAW Patrol, Blaze and the Monster Machines and Shimmer & Shine.
Alison – who made the move from Golden Bear – originally joined to handle the licensing for HTI, but her remit soon got extended. As well as licensing for the company, she now heads up product development – which covers the product managers and their assistants, plus design teams in the UK and Hong Kong – and marketing.
The licensing and marketing teams are in the process of being expanded, and from a product development point of view, this is now structured to ensure that the DNA of every brand is at the core of the NPD process.
“It is important that our licensed products are as ‘on brand’ as possible” says Alison. “We’re building up the UK team to enable us to have more scope so that we can be quicker to market, further improving our relationships with licensors.”
The new focus also stretches to HTI’s approach to licences. “What we are trying to do at the moment is be more focused with the licences that we have within our categories,” Alison explains.
“We had a bit of duplication in some categories, so we’ve renewed accurately and we’ve been quick to pick up on some opportunities, like the Nickelodeon relationship. We’ve very strong on bubbles for instance, and we knew they weren’t doing any bubble products on some of their strong licences, like PAW Patrol, so we’ve been able to bring in some key licences in that area.”
As well as the brands already mentioned, HTI has also signed up Despicable Me, as well as Tsum Tsum in wheeled and Disney Princess in prams. Like a number of licensees at the moment, it is also enjoying success with its My Little Pony lines – its new Teapot Palace was a particular LicensingSource favourite – while interest in Teletubbies, Bing and Peppa Pig is high.
“Interest in the UK for My Little Pony has just gone ‘whoosh’!” exclaims Alison. “It’s really flying for us; Hasbro has got the look and feel of the brand just right. We’re also doing really well with Teletubbies – I think our products are very keenly focused at the right age group, plus we have role-play, musical instruments and will also be doing pocket money going forward, so it’s a nice clear line we’re doing.”
Alison and the HTI team are certainly busy, but confidence is high in the business and it will be interesting to see how its plans develop going forward.
“We want to grow the business to a different level over the next five years,” Alison concludes. “We need to choose categories that complement what we’re already doing, while with licences it’s all about keeping that good balance across our ranges. It’s important for us to show how focused we are now as a business and the support that we want to give to brands.”