While the past few years have undeniably been challenging, Golden Bear has been busy taking the opportunities which come with so many things happening in a fast changing world. From the successful launch of Curlimals and the creation of a virtual Toy Fair platform – which has now been incorporated into a hybrid trade fair presence – through to advances in its digital marketing and continued growth within the licensed arena, the company has certainly not been resting on its laurels. PreschoolNews.net catches up with managing director, Barry Hughes, to find out more.
Like every one of the last three years in particular, 2022 contained lots of change and hurdles, but also lots of opportunities, Barry Hughes, md of Golden Bear Toys, begins.
Among the challenges experienced across the toy industry as a whole – including container costs (although Barry says these are now nearly down to where they were pre-pandemic), Covid disruption, exchange rate changes – the company enjoyed international growth, a successful launch for its own animated plush brand Curlimals, plus also saw its Hey Duggee Transforming Duggee Rocket Toy launched for real into space.
“That was crazy,” exclaims Barry. “We’d known that the BBC were planning it but were sworn to secrecy – and I was actually in a meeting in Hong Kong with the factory which made the rocket when it popped up on a newsflash that it had happened… it was one of the strangest meetings I had last year!”
Meanwhile, Curlimals has been a metaphorical rocket in terms of sales. It was number one in special feature plush in volume in NPD in November 2022 and has hugely exceeded expectations, says Barry. “It’s now taking the world by storm – not just in the UK – and we have lots of other markets coming online in 2023; this helped us grow internationally by 30+% last year.”
The Curlimals range is due to be expanded further this year, while Barry also teased new products for Bing, Hey Duggee and In the Night Garden including a Peek-a-Boo Bing, a Sleepy Time Duggee and a refresh of the ITNG plush range.
There will also be lots of completely new launches, too, says Barry: “While licensed preschool remains our core and our bedrock, we’ve also expanded into other areas. We’re now in games and will be launching the family friendly Squirty Gertie and Farty Freddie – we’ve seen how kids react to them already. Our Smart Ball soccer range has been going great guns, and with the World Cup going up until Christmas it has been growing and growing for us. We have a new exciting higher price point item called Soccer Bot, which we are excited about demonstrating on the stand. We’ve also got a toy line like you’ve never seen before called Little Long Legs – it’s really fun and got a lot of attention at Toy Fair.”
Barry explains that Golden Bear has been very focused on real product innovation and he teases that the company will be speaking to licensors about developing its own intellectual property that it can put across multiple licences.
As well as the innovations on the product side, Golden Bear has also been agile and flexible with its marketing. It has a photo studio on-site at its Telford headquarters and its own digital marketing team, with Barry saying the company has learnt so much in that world in the last year in particular.
Indeed, Barry’s aim for 2023 is to continue to drive Golden Bear towards its vision of being the “most pioneering and innovative UK-owned toy company”. He offers: “I’ve been really pleased to see some posts on LinkedIn where people have mentioned how pioneering and innovative we are. Three to four years ago, we were more perceived as being traditional, so I think that’s been wonderful and I’d like to continue that journey, as well as growing both domestically and internationally.”
“The toy industry is normally more robust than a lot of industries when it comes to economic hardships, but when people are having to focus on heating and eating, it is having an impact, and we’re seeing that globally. But we know that companies which change and pivot when there are tough times are the ones that have great success. We pride ourselves on analysing insights and then acting on them quickly. We’re a small family run company so we can move quickly… we will continue to do that and take advantage of opportunity.”
He continues: “Curlimals has proved there is still growth to be had; it’s been selling like hot cakes since July 2022. When you’ve got the right product that offers innovation, difference, value for money, you can still get the cut through.”
Speaking of cut through, but this time on the football pitch, Barry’s other aim for 2023 isn’t something in his control: “Personally, I would like to be cheering Arsenal on to Premier League success… although I have a feeling that Man City might interfere with that!”