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Bandai Bets on Movie, Girls to Revive Toy Sales

Toy Story

By Michael Volpe

Orange County Business Journal Staff

A young warrior chased by evil races against time to collect a set of seven magical orbs that will grant him unlimited power.

That’s the plot of “Dragonball Evolution,” a martial arts adventure movie due out in April.

Cypress-based Bandai America Inc., a toymaker that’s part of Japan’s Namco Bandai Holdings Inc., is hoping to find some magic of its own with toys tied to the movie, which is based on a comic book from Japan that became a U.S. cartoon in the 1990s.

Bandai has made toys tied to the “Dragonball Z” TV series for the past decade through a deal with the show’s creators and U.S. licensee Funimation Productions Ltd. of Texas.

Now Bandai is looking to the movie to revive interest in Dragonball, which saw its heyday in the late 1990s.

“From the standpoint of the toy industry, theatrical or television-based properties represent the best direction in terms of sustainability and growth,” said Mark Schaffner, executive vice president of toys at Bandai in Cypress. “A lot goes back to that emotional connection to wanting to be a superhero and good winning over evil.”

Bandai already has a line of seven action figures tied to the movie on store shelves. Next up are ads on Cartoon Network and other channels geared toward kids—or more specifically, boys.

“We know the boy’s toys market fairly well,” Schaffner said.

Namco Bandai, which was created with Bandai’s 2005 acquisition of Japanese video game maker Namco Co., has yearly sales of $4 billion. It is the third largest toymaker after El Segundo-based Mattel Inc. and Rhode Island’s Hasbro Inc.

In 2007, Hasbro had a nice run making toys tied to the movie “Transformers,” which also revived a faded Japanese import.

“Dragonball Evolution” stars Chow Yun-Fat and has been in the works for a while. Bandai’s Cypress office has been working on toys for the film for the past year and a half.

“We’re talking about a fairly long time to develop, implement and tweak to really get the product ready for market,” Schaffner said.

Bandai’s Cypress office handles North American sales and marketing as well as some redesigning of toys for the market here.

The company’s toys are made by contract manufacturers in China.

The toymaker brought on Schaffner two months ago to oversee North American sales and marketing.

Schaffner’s background is in consumer electronics, having earlier worked at Royal Philips Electronics NV. He was president at Fiskars Corp.’s Power Sentry division before it was bought by Phillips in 2006.

“There are many similarities, especially when it comes to packaging,” Schaffner said, referring to toys and consumer electronics. “The packaging has to pop within the first two to three seconds.”

Toys for Girls

Bandai also is looking to expand with toys for girls, a market dominated by Mattel and Van Nuys-based MGA Entertainment Inc., maker of Bratz dolls.

Bandai soon plans to start selling Harumika, a fashion and design toy that allows girls make simple outfits on a tiny mannequin.

“The fashion activity is going to be one of our most important key drivers for our business this year,” Schaffner said.

But he said he’s cautious about expectations for Harumika: “I’m not telling you we’re going to come out with a new girl doll and somehow topple Barbie.”

Harumika also is the company’s first foray into connecting toys with the Internet in an effort to drive sales at stores. When girls are done with their designs, they can upload photos to the Harumika Web site.

The Internet has become one of the biggest challenges for toymakers as they try to sell to kids who have grown up with the Web.

So far, only Walt Disney Co. has had success with its buy of Club Penguin, a game and social networking site for kids.

Bandai hopes to create something similar with its Harumika toy line.

“You’ll be able to go online and share your dress designs as well as other activities,” Schaffner said. “The overall model of sustainability is how do you get that consumer back to the point of sale.”

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