SCOTTSDALE, AZ -- What's the next big thing in bulk vending? Believe it or not, it could be MMORPGs with the industry's own avatars and eco-friendly toys powered by the sun. Brand Vending Products reports that it has created the world's first vending-machine-distributed online games site for children. Part of an ongoing integrated marketing campaign for the company's "squishy" bulk vending toy line, the "Sqwishland" program is being previewed at the National Bulk Vendors Association annual trade show in Kissimmee, FL, April 8-10. The Scottsdale, AZ, product supplier also has begun adding solar-powered toys to its bulk assortments.
The Sqwishland program, slated to roll out in June, is a website -- sqwishland.com -- and the rebranding of the company's popular squishy toys, such as Sea Mania and Pet Friends, as the Sqwishland series. Each capsule containing a Sqwishland toy also will have a "fortune-cookie style" secret code that can be used to unlock that particular character in Sqwishland, thereby granting access to games and other interaction, and what the company describes as "a world of fun."
Brand Vending chief executive Dax Logue explained that when the company introduced its first squishy toys in 2006, it had no idea that they would prove so durable. Traditionally, he reported, Brand's novelty items sold around two million pieces a year. "We knew something was different when this figurine series reached the two-year mark and we were still sold out, and backorders continued to grow," he said.
Evidence of what was taking place surfaced in the form of videos showing collections of the squishy toys on YouTube. Having seen that eight-year-olds were taking the initiative to make fairly impressive home movies, Logue noted, it did not require much imagination to think up an Internet game.
Online games for children have become enormously popular, he continued, driven by the large investments made by Disney in Club Penguin, and Ganz in Webkinz. While the substantial cost of developing a quality Internet game system has discouraged most entrepreneurs from attempting to capitalize on the trend, Brand Vending considered the opportunity to make a fundamental change in the way game codes are delivered to children was great enough to warrant the investment and repositioning of the squishies lines.
To help fund the Sqwishland project, which began a year ago, Brand partnered with a New York City game developer, which is said to have its own successful game. A separate company was formed in the Philippines to leverage an inexpensive but talented labor pool. Brand's own design studio, Desert Sky Graphics, is also involved in the project.
Like Club Penguin and Webkinz, Sqwishland is a MMORPG, or massively multiplayer online role-playing game, involving a virtual world of online games, activities and avatars. "It will work because it will be the first time the vending industry will be able to bounce kids back to machines," Logue told VT. Brand plans to place millions of codes in capsules, which the company believes will send young customers to bulk venders.
"We have always relied on operators to distribute our products, so when we set about building Sqwishland, a key focus was on how to drive kids back to vending machines to buy more Sqwishies," Logue emphasized. "In doing so, we knew this would increase sales and further cement the partnerships we enjoy with our operators."
The key difference between traditionally distributed products and Sqwishland is the price point and its broad distribution, the Brand executive explained. "Whereas most ‘Web-enriched' toys sell for $15 or more, a Sqwishland collectible retails for just 50¢," he said. "This makes it incredibly affordable to create collections, and provides kids with access to feature-rich gaming and social content for a fraction of the price of other Web-enabled alternatives."
A central feature of the Sqwishland software is a management tool, Sqwishfinder, that allows operators to enter the locations of their vending machines and the various Sqwishland series they are vending. Collectors of Brand squishy toys will be able to review this database of local vending machines in order to find the closest vending location at which to buy their favorite Sqwishland game character and its associated code.
Logue is convinced that kids all over the world will want to play Sqwishland, in view of the well-established distribution network and the desirable collectible figurines.
"Children between the ages of six and 16 now will have a community to go to – where they can meet and play with other Sqwishland character enthusiasts," Logue said.
SOLAR POWER IN A CAPSULE
For Logue, the biggest challenge in bulk vending is the capsule delivery system. "The capsule has more material than the product in it," he said. "To sell product, I have to create an environmentally unfriendly plastic capsule that will likely outlive the toy in it."
In line with company's commitment to reduce its own carbon footprint, and to offset the capsule challenge, Brand is rolling out a line of motorized, miniature toys that are solar powered. By tapping the solar panel, kids can set the toy in motion. No chemical batteries are needed, just sunlight outdoors or incandescent light indoors.
Initially, the Scottsdale company is offering two solar items, a car and grasshopper, and more are planned. They're now available in Brand's X-Treme and Gonzo bulk vending mixes (see Page 93). X-treme mixes consist of 10 pieces and Gonzo offers 30. Both are designed for 2" round capsules.
"The solar-powered toys complement Brand's green initiatives," said sales manager Craig Goodman. "They also allow us to create higher perceived value in the bulk vending channel. Solar toys are just coming out in retail in limited quantities."
The X-treme line of bulk toys does just that. A solar-powered car joins MP3 players, LCD videogames, FM radios with light and flash memory drives, among other high-end gadgets. (MP3 players require a special license to be sold through bulk vending machines.)
"We didn't invent solar-powered toys," Logue added, "but we're bringing them to bulk vending."