Feb 3, 2015
Retro Retail
Abby Heugel, Party & Paper Retailer Contributor

How classic characters have stood the test of time

Trends come and go, but some popular themes seem to stand the test of time. Certain characters, such as the gang from “Sesame Street” and crime-fighting superheroes like Superman and Spider-Man, have been around for decades, and younger generations today are enjoying them just as much as their parents did – and still do.

Icons from the childhood of adults are making appearances at their children’s parties today, proving that even though people might warm up to “Frozen,” the classics can still stay red hot.

Mousing around

Despite the overwhelming popularity of Disney’s “Frozen” this past year, responders to Party & Paper Retailer’s 2014 Licensing Survey said Mickey and Minnie Mouse topped the charts, followed closely by comic book superheroes. What gives these classical icons such staying power?

“These characters remain popular because of the brand equity that has been built over the years,” said Steve Rose of burton + BURTON. “These characters are everywhere – clothes, toys, even food packaging. As a result, children and their parents recognize these characters, and retailers benefit from all the marketing done by the owners of these brand franchises over the years.”

Andrea Zuchowski of Creative Converting added that the characters have evolved and are more current in their appearances and language, so they’re able to connect with today’s younger audiences while still maintaining their core values and heroic messages. Parents may be more willing to spend on parties for characters and themes they’re familiar with and support.

Minnie and Mickey Mouse have been the most popular licensed character requests the past several years for Dori Pomerantz Saypol of Total Party, LLC. They usually get the theme request for first birthdays, but they’ve also done it for a few Sweet 16s. She added that the television show, “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse,” is popular with babies to toddlers, and parents put it on for their kids because they know it’s a safe show.

“Another popular first birthday license theme is ‘Sesame Street,’ but we’ve found most of the Sesame Street balloons we like have been discontinued,” Pomerantz said. “In order to fulfill a recent client request, I had to call in favors from my balloon colleagues across the country to find the Big Bird and Ernie head balloons. I’m not sure how much longer we’ll be able to decorate for this theme without the character head balloons and wish someone would make them again!”

In addition to Mickey and Minnie Mouse and superheroes, Rose said Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Spider-Man and Disney princesses did really well this past year. In addition, “Frozen” characters, Hello Kitty, Thomas the Tank Engine, Sofia the First, Dora the Explorer and Jake and the Neverland Pirates have been doing great.

“Most of the entertainment character party goods business, as we know, is driven by the 1- to 8-year-old demographic,” said Scott Brown of Unique Industries. “Core adult fans are still going to demand the classic characters as they are today, but some licensors, such as Disney, have also developed retro looks to appeal to that adult customer.”

While Mickey, Minnie, Spider-Man and My Little Pony have remained consistent performers, Brown said the best-selling classic theme has to be Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

“Since the launch of the new animated series in 2013 and the feature film release in August 2014, the Turtles have proven they are a favorite amongst kids once again,” he said.

Show your stuff

When it comes to appealing to both the young and old, Rose said that, as always,

balloons need to be inflated.

“We offer a 3-foot-tall Spider-Man character balloon that has Spider-Man positioned like he’s about to pounce from building to building,” Rose said. “This balloon is very impressive, but doesn’t have the same impact when left in the package. It and other oversized balloons must be inflated and kept full on the sales floor in order to maximize sales.”

The top-selling themes for Mary Ulmer at Party It Up this past year have been Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Disney princesses, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Hello Kitty and Batman. They display the classic character themes together and rotate to keep the most popular pattern front and center. They also purchase complementary items for the patterns to catch the eye of the young and old, such as the stuffed products by TY.

“We purchased the Hello Kitty dressed like the band KISS and had them sitting by our Hello Kitty products,” Ulmer said. “The kids ask why she looks that way and the adults get a kick out of explaining. We have also purchased the stuffed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and My Little Ponies and have them sitting by their patterns. The parents seem to become nostalgic and it spurs conversations about their first toys.”

Ulmer said they’ve found the use of balloons to be very helpful in directing kids to a certain section of the store. When the kids come in and see Mickey or Minnie standing by the pattern or Hello Kitty on the shelf by her pattern, it directs their attention, and nine times out of 10 they end up purchasing the pattern and the balloons.

Retro retail

So will this current craze of classic characters stick around for a while? Most likely, but with the addition of more recent hits like “Frozen” and a few new faces joining in the fun.

“We don’t anticipate Frozen will slow down,” Rose said. “Some of the characters that appeal to the preschool crowd also show potential. Characters like Doc McStuffins and Bubble Guppies are popular and recognizable by children, and parents appreciate the positive educational messages presented by these characters.”

Saypol agreed that many little girls request the princess theme – from first birthdays to Sweet 16s and even some weddings, and that the Frozen princesses add to the princess frenzy and show the theme is only going to get stronger.

Ulmer echoed that sentiment, predicting that Frozen products will continue to top their sales charts in 2015.

“Since the movie was released we cannot keep the pattern in stock,” she said. “I also believe that Star Wars is going to make a strong presence in 2015. Even though the movie is not set to be released until December of 2015, we have already begun to see a spike in sales and receive requests for additional Star Wars merchandise.”

In other words, while there will be some new faces, when it comes to the classics, customers aren’t ready to “let it go” quite yet.

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