POP AIDS MILTON BRADLEY MOVE

CHICAGO -- For games marketer Milton Bradley Co., the trick to expanding distribution beyond the toy and discount chains, where it traditionally dominates, is nimble use of point-of-purchase displays.The company shifted to an aggressive POP posture in the past year, fueled by what it learned from the launch of its successful Magic Works line, which consists of six SKUs of children's magic tricks designed

CHICAGO -- For games marketer Milton Bradley Co., the trick to expanding distribution beyond the toy and discount chains, where it traditionally dominates, is nimble use of point-of-purchase displays.

The company shifted to an aggressive POP posture in the past year, fueled by what it learned from the launch of its successful Magic Works line, which consists of six SKUs of children's magic tricks designed to be merchandised together in an off-shelf shipper, said Richard P. Berne, vice president of sales, Milton Bradley Co., Springfield, Mass., a subsidiary of Western Publishing's Hasbro toy company.

Widespread in-store display placement helped Magic Works rapidly create a $30 million-a-year toy category, said Berne. Its success has already spawned a second series of six SKUs, and prompted the company to develop similar POP strategies for several other Milton Bradley game lines, including travel games, flash cards, puzzles and versions of its popular Memory Game.

In a presentation at the recent Point-of-Purchase Advertising Institute's POPAI Marketplace convention here, Berne said that until last February, Milton Bradley had no budget whatsoever for POP materials.

"Mattel spent a fortune on POP, but we spent nothing," he said, referring to Milton Bradley's chief rival in the games business.

Nevertheless, when Milton Bradley decided to develop Magic Works, the company already controlled a 47% market share in games, making it the clear market leader. Berne said the company hypothesized that the line of higher-priced magic toys had potential to boost this share further, provided it could be merchandised for in-store impact.

Said Berne, "The game department is pretty bland in most stores. It looks like so many shoe boxes. The peg section is similarly dull. It is a very cluttered field."

Magic Works' six SKUs were designed to be merchandised together. Their $8.99 retail per trick is "pretty high, when some magic products offered 100 tricks for $12 or $15," he said.

To encourage retailers to merchandise the items prominently and away from typical toy department shelves or pegs, the company created freestanding, corrugated shippers decorated with images from television advertising.

So far, Magic Works has racked up sales of 3 million units, said Berne. Now Milton Bradley is adapting those in-store merchandising techniques to several of its other games that come in smaller packages. In addition to the shippers, Milton Bradley has begun using so-called "side-kick" displays, which attach on the side of end caps. These can be shipped prepacked, and they fit easily onto existing supermarket and drug store gondolas.

With Milton Bradley's biggest customers -- Toys 'R' Us, Wal-Mart, Kmart, Target and Kaybee -- representing 75% of the company's sales volume, Berne said expansion into other mass retail channels that have not previously carried their products holds great promise for continued further sales growth.

"This has opened a whole new business with grocery and drug accounts," he said.