|Meet M.A.X. He is asleep at the moment...|
For the past few years, Meccano products have been moving away from the hobby buyers and moving towards the toy market. I have made no secret of the fact that I believe this is the only way forward in today’s market. Meccano are not making Meccano for us aging enthusiasts, they are making toys for today’s kids and are competing in an ever more competitive and diverse market that is built around box-shifting.
Today’s retailers are a far cry from the independent toy shops of the past. They are global brands, such that have outlets in countries all around the world. They are not geared up for selling parts; neither do they stock a full range of sets. Buyers will often cherry-pick the range and that results in differing selections of sets from one seller to another. You will also find that most of these sellers show much larger selection of sets on their websites.
The other, perhaps more important, shift has been in the way parents and kids buy toys today. In the past, we would buy brand. When asked what we wanted for Christmas or birthday, we would ask for ‘Meccano’, that is not the case today. Most kids are not as brand-aware as we were. Even Lego becomes a suffix as in “Can I have some Star-wars Lego?” Today’s youngster is more likely to ask for a ‘thing’, a motorbike, a car etc.
Walking onto Spin Master’s stand yesterday was a bit of a surprise, even for us. We had not heard of any new exciting products in the way of sets, as is usually the case. Nothing had leaked out prior to press day and we had not been working on any new products ourselves. We were confronted with many of the models we had already seen. A fair number of which were on display last year and still on the inventory. This is due to a deliberate slowdown in what the trade refer to as ‘refreshing’. For the first few years of Spin Mater’s ownership, Meccano were releasing product twice a year, once in the spring and again in the autumn, to coincide with the release of the Argos catalogue, as most of the mass-market UK toy trade manufacturers and importers tend to do.
Last year saw some of the products refreshed twice with some sets being sold through in half the time we would have expected. Sets like the Safari Animals and Dinosaur sets were replaced by new sets before the year was out.
|New style packaging for the robots|
Well, as this is a blog about Meccano as a hobby, for the enthusiast the honest answer is probably not a lot this year. The Meccano branding has changed yet again as the marketing guys tailor it to more reflect the direction in which they see themselves going. The ‘Maker System’ branding has been replaced with ‘Engineering & Robotics’. The ‘engineering’ part seems a bit strange. It was explained to us some time ago, that Meccano would be exploring the materials and engineering used today. This seems to have manifested itself in the form of automotive engineering and the greater use of modern materials such as plastics, if this year’s offerings are anything to go by.
|MeccaSpider is coming|
The robotics side of it has gone down the toy route offering ‘Closed system’ toys, with the introduction of M.A.X. and MeccaSpider, a totally new toy that has nothing to do with the combination creature built using a Helicopter set and a Meccanoid 2.0. - See HERE.
The Meccanoids were nowhere to be seen on the stand and when we asked about them it appears that they are to be used more on the educational side of things. I get the impression that the ‘Tech’ series will become central to the future of educational development between Meccano and the schools. I have not pushed for details on this as the guys, responsible for Meccanoid and its technical development, were not here in London this week. I will contact them after the madness of Toy Fair season is over in a month or so, and see what I can discover.
|I suppose you could say this is a modern day car constructor set...|
|...A long way from what we think of as Meccano|
|Simplistic remote control car|
So, not a lot to excite the enthusiast, but I was half expecting that. Meccano have moved on. The product has changed more in the past few years than it did in the previous few decades. For the company that is a good thing. Meccano sales are very strong are outstripping predictions. Building a global brand (or rebuilding in this case) is not an easy thing to do but Meccano, under Spin Master’s direction, have moved on to be an exciting and innovative TOY company. Selling product that today’s kids want. For Sue and I, that is exactly where it should be. As far as we are concerned, we have plenty of dealers selling the more traditional parts we need, and if there are parts in the new sets that will expand our options, that is a bonus.