Hasbro has launched the Hasbro Pulse web-based direct-to-consumer service that mixes products and content in a bid to deepen ties with its brands’ fans, company executives said today during a meeting with investors.
The company introduced the service with pre-orders for the first of its Fortnite-licensed Nerf products that become available on March 22. That’s in addition to other products, including Transformers and Star Wars figures and a Transformers x Ghostbusters collection that packages together Ectotron and “Slimer” figures.
Hasbro Pulse also will feature a subscription club that gives fans, over time, a chance to buy complete collections. There also will be a loyalty program and exclusive products. The programming will include interviews with product designers, actors and authors. Consumers will be able to submit product ideas to HasLabs, which combines crowdsourcing with product development.
“By deepening our direct relationships with consumers, we will benefit from improved consumer insights, lower channel dependency and deliver increased innovation and speed to market,” Hasbro’s John Frascotti said.
While Hasbro’s sales last year were hit by the aftereffects of Toys R Us’ liquidation, Pulse won’t replace traditional retail distribution. Pulse replaces Hasbro’s former ToyShop.com direct-to-consumer operation, which originally launched in 2005, in adding many new features.
“We have hundreds or thousands of retail doors around the world and a broad base of consumer products, and Pulse is really a content and product initiative targeted at the fan community,” Frascotti said. Pulse is “increasing our relationship with consumers in a very focused way and this will give us means for testing and learning many things that we can bring to our (retail) partners globally. It is not meant to be taking something for ourselves, but it is allowing us to be the tip of spear in fostering those relationships” with fans. We know there is a craving for this that is a bit underserved today.”
At the same time, Hasbro is expanding distribution outside its traditional base of specialty and mass retailers. The number of value retailer (i.e. Family Dollar and Dollar General) storefronts in which its toys appeared last year increased 17%. And Hasbro is offering more channel-specific products like two-packs of Play-Doh at Dollar General, 50-packs at Costco and 20-packs to specialty toy retailers, Hasbro’s Eric Nyman said. It also has added Best Buy and Five Below to its retail distribution. To supply the new distribution, Hasbro will open a third distribution center in the Midwest later this year.
While the bulk of Hasbro’s licensing agreements with Disney (Marvel, Lucasfilm) are scheduled to expire late 2020, the company is “very engaged with them across the board in our businesses and we are very excited about what is coming in 2019, 2020 and beyond,” CEO Brian Golder said.
The company also is sharpening its focus on video games-related IP after finding a “convergence of videogame players and Nerf,” Hasbro’s Jonathan Berkowitz said. In addition to Epic Games and Fortnite, Hasbro has a licensing agreement with Activision Blizzard Entertainment for Overwatch Nerf products, the first of which started selling at GameStop in January and will expand distribution in May. After a decline in Nerf sales last year, due largely to Toys R Us’ demise, the brand will “absolutely rebound this year, but whether that will be absolute growth or is very close, we will see,” Goldner said. “The fact is we will make up all the ground.”