With global revenue primed to break the $300billion mark for the first time this year and near double digit growth forecasted, the Toy industry is bursting with potential. Potential that many brands, old and new, are looking to build upon.
One such company, a LEGO licensed product distributor rooted in over thirty years of toy distribution, is currently navigating this highly competitive market. Most recently they have made a bold move, birthing their second distribution brand in four years.
MacGregor Black caught up with CEO & Founder of YAMANN, and the newly formed Bablu, Dominik Piotrowski to discuss the ins and outs of the global toy distribution industry. Including, licensing agreements, partnerships and what it takes to launch a successful brand in this fast-paced, billion dollar market.
MacGregor Black: Thank you for taking the time to chat with us today, Dominik.
Let’s kick things off with a simple one, what exactly does licensing involve?
So, when it comes to licensing, firstly you’ve got the brand owner…you could say for example, LEGO, Disney, or Nickelodeon.
At some point, this brand owner decides that they don’t just want to create their own products anymore, they’re big enough that they can allow other manufacturers to create and sell products using their intellectual property. Such as, their branding, patents, and trademarks. Which is great for the manufacturers because they get to use globally recognised branding. But it’s also beneficial for the brand owner, as they get to expand their experience for their customers.
Usually, for the end customer, there’s no distinguishable difference. All they see is their favourite movie or game characters and assume the product was created by the brand themselves. More often than not, it was manufactured by a completely different company.
Now here’s where it can get slightly confusing. Many people confuse licensing with partnerships…
Licensing is essentially one company renting out their branding to another company, whereas a brand partnership will see the two companies come together with a collaborative approach. Usually, resulting in a range of products using both companies’ branding. LEGO have quite a few brand partnerships with the likes of Adidas, Nintendo, and Moleskin, that you’ve probably seen before.
MacGregor Black: Can you tell us more about what YAMANN does?
Absolutely! YAMANN is a LEGO licensed product distributor in Poland. So, we work with the manufacturers to distribute their licensed products to retailers.
As soon as the LEGO licensed products are with YAMANN, we manage the entire process from that point onwards. So, YAMANN manages the relationships with buyers, the product placement on shelves, right through to territory marketing. We’re responsible for pretty much the entire customer experience.
YAMANN was founded almost four years ago, but we’re a company rooted in family tradition, with more than thirty years of LEGO distribution running through our veins. We’re a monobrand, and we have most of the LEGO licensed products under our portfolio. Which is so unique, and I think, gives us our biggest competitive advantage.
YAMANN’s relationship with LEGO is a legacy and a huge part of our brand purpose. It’s really important that we stick to that. But we do still want to grow and explore different opportunities, which is why we’ve just officially launched our daughter brand, Bablu!
MacGregor Black: Congratulations on the launch! So, can you tell us more about what Bablu does?
Only cool stuff…
MacGregor Black: Is that the company tag line? ‘Only Cool Stuff’…
Haha, you guessed it!
Bablu is a distributor of top brands and sought-after licenses! The company has been in the works for a while now, but we officially launched at the International Kids’ Time Toy Fair in Kielce. It was fantastic!
MacGregor Black: Tell us more about Bablu? Why did you decide to launch the brand?
Like I said, YAMANN’s core identity is LEGO. Introducing non-LEGO products into YAMANN’s portfolio just didn’t fit with our identity. This is where Bablu comes in.
Launching Bablu meant that we could build a separate brand with a diverse catalogue of cool products and suppliers. Over the last two years, everyone at Bablu has been scouting Europe for brands we’d like to add into our portfolio. So far, Bablu is working with several strong licenses, with the likes of Hot Wheels, Pokémon, Chupa-Chups and Gabby’s Dollhouse, and we’re also working with some really cool independent brands like Waboba, Wild Planet and Mitama.
Sourcing the coolest, rarest, most exciting products on the market is Bablu’s number one goal. We visited numerous industry trade shows like, Distoy, The Toy Fair, KIDS’ TIME, and Nuremberg, to find the best partners. I definitely owe your consultant, Abbie Richardson a dinner! She recommended a few of those shows and they really paid off.
MacGregor Black: We’ll make sure to let her know! It sounds like you’re working with some really interesting brands, what are the factors in your decision making when sourcing new products?
Well, I’m very much a ‘gut feeling’ driven person. One of my personal mottos is, follow your gut, look for goosebumps. But, aside from that, it’s going to trade shows, speaking with people in the industry, keeping your eyes open for products that are unique and rare on the market.
Before I go to any tradeshow, I ask my team to run through the agenda so I can get a few different perspectives about what’s happening in the market. That helps the process massively because they might send me to see something different, or speak to someone I might not have spotted on my own. Teamwork is a huge part of what we do.
Another big part of the process is also, of course, market research. We speak with buyers in Poland to get their opinions and feedback on our ideas. They’re the experts and they have so much experience.
We have strong personal relationships with our buyers, something that many of the bigger wholesalers can’t offer buyers because they just don’t have the time. I think cultivating personal relationships is how both companies get the most out of the interaction, it’s honest, it’s friendly and it’s fun. This is something we’re really proud of at YAMANN and definitely an element we want to carry over into Bablu. You know, I met a buyer last week and it was just like meeting an old friend, that’s something I love about my job.
MacGregor Black: What are you expecting to see in the licensing and distribution industry in 2023, and where does Bablu fit into this?
Well, the industry titans like LEGO, Paw Patrol, Peppa Pig, Harry Potter, and Minecraft will remain strong in 2023. All of those brands are regularly releasing new licensed products and partnerships. But what we have noticed is, there’s a few new kids on the block looking for a slice of the market share too, like Gabby’s Dollhouse. They’re growing rapidly at the moment!
What we’ve also noticed is a rising consumer interest in Anime. As a result, Pokémon has seen a huge revival and we’re seeing more demand from titles like, Naruto, Jujutsu Kaisen and My Hero Academia.
At Bablu, we’re staying up to date with the latest trends to guarantee we’re seeing the most rare and exciting products on the market, and there’s some independent brands out there that are making some really cool, well-designed, surprising products. Bablu brings the best of these two worlds together. We have some really strong licensed products in our portfolio, but we’re also courageous enough to introduce new brands to the market.
We have something for each of our customers to love.