Well, it was sweet while it lasted. From mid November 2007 to early January 2008, it was a nice 8 weeks of CARS, CARS & CARS. Shelves were brimming with new CARS and hard to find CARS – Pit Crew Fillmore, Dale Jr., Pit Crew Hornet, Dinoco Helicopter … and while not exactly brimming on the shelves, they were possible to find – Rusty/Dusty, Mrs. The King, and while not the best of value – they were also new and mostly available – Dirt Track Doc, Lightning Ramone, etc, etc …
And it was all going to get even better – Box E was brimming with new CARS: Pit Crew Member Sarge*, Richard Clayton Kensington (Security Van) (2), My Name is Not Chuck (2) & Tow (Piston Cup Tow Truck) (2) plus a bunch of recent hard to find ones.
Ultimately we did get some new ones: My Name is Not Chuck (2) & Tow (Piston Cup Tow Truck) (2) & Ghostlight Ramone (2) (for completists) but of course, that was just the beginning of the change for the worse (recap below):
The BIG question is why? What happened to all those CARS announced and seen not only at Comic Con but also at the CAAF Auction?
And now to speculate:
WAL MART EXCLUSIVE?
That was our initial guess that WM had decided they wanted to play ball but only by their rules. I still think the astounding success of the promotion last year means we’ll see it again but it makes more sense later in the year. Between now and August, WM will be brimming with summer movie toys from Speed Racer to Batman to Indiana Jones to Wall-E so it does make sense to do it in late August, or Autumn when the “toy” movies of summer are gone and before the winter/holiday movies arrive – just like last year. So, while the CARS originally planned for Spring and early Summer will still be out, some of the original late summer ones will presumably be pushed back for another WM exclusive … or perhaps a tie-in to a 2-disc CARS DVD with bonus features which would make it around early November following the recent releases.
I think when commodity prices, inflation, crude oil prices, & dollar fluctuations started getting more serious late last year and early this year, it made Mattel go back and rework all the numbers. They realized they are going to be commiting a lot of resources in plastic & metal to support Speed Racer, Batman and of course, non-diecast lines like Barbie and the Disney hot properties – Hannah Montana & HS Musicial, I think Mattel decided CARS could take a little breather on their part without hurting the collectibility that much. A major part of this is also related to the amount of stuff Mattel is shipping to the stores now with the summer movies coming (especially with Speed Racer & Batman), there are literally only so many pegs a store is willing to commit to a manufacturer and to a type of product … and of course, Mattel is not going to turn over Hot Wheels and Matchbox pegs and space … they’d rather lose a couple or 5 CARS pegs until June or July when Speed Racer or Batman has had its main run and cuts back to a couple pegs – and then “take them back” for CARS
Of course, Mattel is not really giving up the space entirely, they are only re-configuring and adding in CARS MINI ADVENTURES for two reasons – as they present it to retailers.
First, they present it something like this for metal diecast cars – let’s say there are 60 pegs in a store devoted to diecast cars that Mattel is able to control (others are ERTL, Johnny Lightning, etc …) so Mattel presents it as such. 30 for Hot Wheels and Matchbox because parents and buyers have been coming into your store for 40 years expecting these … 10 pegs for the hot kids movie of early summer, Speed Racer, 10 pegs for Batman, the teen & adult collector movie of summer and 10 pegs for the line that two years, they keep coming back, CARS … this of course is a generality and will vary from some stores that might have 60 pegs for diecasts and others might have 200 pegs …
Part of retailing is to constantly present new and how much marketing they intend to back it up with. Stores like companies to come up with line extensions because people like new – hey, Oreos Cakester and anything that creates the aura of hip & new (otherwise, you’re mostly a big square box store that sells shampoo, diapers and motor oil), we have the perfect spin-off in CARS MINI Adventures, a few dollars cheaper but a “part” of the biggest hit lineup of toys since Star Wars – these are all plastic, smaller than 1:64 so completely different! (well, that’s how they sell to retailers – NEW but not so new – different but not that different! – new but really old new!) SOLD!
Of course, that’s always difficult to manage – other than the Star Wars line, there are not a lot of collectibles that are equal parts rabid collector/completists (to some degree) and also the casual/gift giving buyer but honestly, Mattel realizes that with CARS, they stumbled upon the everlastinggobstopper diecast line … if they decided to stop making anymore new CARS, CARS would still continue to sell – certainly at a much slower rate but still at a huge profit. It’s a self purpetuating line because kids are turning 2 or 3 EVERY DAY and parents will buy CARS on DVD as the natural course of raising kids in our culture today. It would be like denying them chocolate milk :-) And it’s not like CARS is some obscure pop culture thing where you cannot walk more than 4 aisles without seeing some CARS thing so EVERYDAY if not every minute, some kid is being introduced to CARS the Movie and of course, who wouldn’t buy their kid a $3.50 diecast to play with?
The evidence of this and why those who think Mattel should ‘retire’ some CARS is wrong. Yes, there are stores who seem to be full up on CARS and never sell any but if you look closely, while there are always a few long-time pegwarmers, eventually they ALL SELL. Of course, Boost or Lizzie is not going to be as popular as McQ or Mater but eventually they all sell because everyday, kids are turning 2 or 3 and ready to play with CARS – and if a new to CARS parent can’t find a McQ or Mater, why would they start?
So, they have to keep shipping the “townies.” If you started today or a month ago, you’re more worried about getting the townies first and then you start thinking about Supercharged versus Desert Art … for those who got in at the beginning or a year ago, at this point in the line, you’re either all-in or you’re dropping out but Mattel realizes this – there is no way to convince 100% of (quasi) completists to stay in 100% of the way … people are going to drop out either way – if they had released all the “missing/more” new CARS or so of 2008 (about 10), a bunch of people might’ve dropped out because they said enough is enough, what do I want with more than 100 CARS and with gas nearing $4 a gallon, not worth driving around for naught … and conversely, since there are a lot fewer CARS to buy the last few months, some people have dropped out because they grew restless or bored that the frenzy is down. I’m not saying either is wrong or right – they’re your feelings – go with them. Search your heart :-)
Mattel hopes that if you drop out temporarily, you’ll be standing in a store in 2 months and realize, how many CARS am I behind now? And curse the day you thought you could drop out :-)
And meanwhile, everyday, some kid is going to see CARS for the first time or some Hot Wheels collector will realize – there are 99 CARS I don’t have – do I have it in me to start now? Can I get caught up in weeks? months? Welcome to Hotel CARSIFORNIA … where you can never leave :-)
And is Mattel scientifically separating the herd? From the Toy Fair 2008 photos, we can see new launchers and new Gift Packs with mostly Piston Cup Racers.
So where as we speculated Mattel might bundle 7-8 CARS in a box for $29 to resell us the 36-CAR Piston Cup Speedway of the South set, maybe it’s a smaller chunks that hurts us like a pirahna bite? Because they know there is a limit to the number of people willing to pony up nearly $300 for the set (with taxes & shipping – presumably).
So maybe it’s $7.99 at a time as 36 different Launchers? Or in combination of $9.99/$10.99 Gift Packs?
Just look at the Gold Mia/Gold Tia & Bling Bling McQueen** Gift Pack for $10.99 – instead of selling you a Movie Moments twin-pack with just “the girls,” Mattel has gotten you to buy one other CAR that you would not have bought.
Or this forthcoming Leak Less Gift Pack with his Pit Crew & Crew Chief … instead of selling you two individual CARS (Pit Crew & Crew Chief for $3.50 each), they will have re-sold you Leak Less along with 2 other CARS for $10.99 …
Here’s RPM on a Launcher for $7.99 – will you buy it again? Or Mood Springs with a Launcher for $7.99?
Some people will wait and hope that they get released on a solo card but of course, the main collectors won’t. BUT if they do get released on a solo card, many completist will buy him again … cue Mattel’s manical laugh.
It’s also smart in that they don’t have to make as many – the % of people who want the entire & complete pit crews is much smaller than the people who want Fillmore. Just look at the sales of Pit Crew Fillmore – lagging while you never really ever see any Fillmore’s pegwarming for very long so this way, they make it more valuable by making fewer and essentially selling it to you at a higher price.
So, I think that might be the gameplan for 2008. The single cards will be used to release “new” CARS that are of general interest, Chuki and of course, a car like the Elvis RV and while the sealed boxes will contain new CARS, they’re not going to make it 50% new like we thought. They are going to keep re-stocking McQ, Mater, Sally, etc … as people are still buying enough of them – not enough to knock over people and strip the shelves clear but to Mattel, that only serves to force them to ship faster – this way sales are steadier … and of course, do you feel like there’s less pressure to be completist, or will you just leave? That’s the balance Mattel is going to try and strike and your call.
Meanwhile, they will try and stack the deck the other way – with launchers/multi-packs that serve to sell you at least one CAR you might not have wanted to buy.
As for the Movie Moments continuing? Hard to say what’s going on there but it seems to be a store by store issue – some smaller stores might not get an new stock until the older ones are completely gone – especially at stores like Target that use one UPC for all Movie Moments – while larger stores might replenished automatically once stock is low – but then a department manager might not be willing to put them out. So as of now, I don’t believe they are canceled but beyond summer of 2008, that is much harder to forecast (HAZY. TRY AGAIN).
We might have more answers at the NYC comic con on April 18th.
* I was always suspicious that PCM Sarge was only 1 to the box … as if Mattel was not really serious about that …
** Okay, technically, this Bling Bling McQueen is sporting the eyes of Dinoco McQueen, yes, really but 90% of buyers won’t really care …
ADDITIONAL RETAILER NOTE: AS EM & BMW brought up in the comments, there are always extraneous factors – for instance, one thing most consumers don’t really think about is retailer-manufacturer relations. We sort of tend to think that manufacturers offer things for sale and retailers buy them if csonumers want to purchase them. This is true of small retailers and was mostly true 20-30 years ago. But now, for instance, a retailer might not want a particular brand of fabric softener because it’s the 3rd best selling in America and they only want to devote shelf space to two because they’d rather carry palm trees … even though the 3rd best selling in that category is still a huge brand, they just decided two is enough and then they go back to #1 and #2 and say, we’ll only choose you two if you give us more advertising rebates and cut prices 2%. That’s the clout WM has … so while toys are more short term products, it’s essentially the same … as many have noted, Target’s seem mostly empty of Mattel diecast products – who is “boycotting” whom? Hard to say – maybe Target wants more $.99 Hot Wheels and less $2.49 Hot Wheels, clearly the $2.49 Hot Wheels are nicer but certainly there is not $1.50 extra raw materials in the $2.49 Hot Wheel, it might have another $.25 of materials, design and overhead but of course, it makes Mattel more money … or perhaps Mattel wants Target to guarantee X hundreds of thousands of cases of Pixar CARS for 2008 and Target is balking because who needs another 200,000 Boosts? Or perhaps Mattel is only willing to commit so many resources because honestly, it’s hard to tell how much “frenzy” is left in CARS (popular yes, crazy popular – always hard to gauge when the boom is lowered) and if Speed Racer bombs or Hannah Montana & HS Musical slows? Perhaps WM has told them, you have to ship to us first, “we insist” so Mattel has to decide, to not annoy WM with a 40% market share of toys? And let slide the relationship with TRU (#2 in toys) and Target (#3 in toys)? TRU clearly needs Mattel but WM can always cut back an aisle of toys to hold a buy 2-get 1 box of ammo sale :-) . And of course, commodity & crude oil pricing plays a factor … maybe Mattel cuts back on production a little so they can bunch them closer together and use up more a ship to save a little on shipping? Unless the four parties involved in this actually come forward and say – it’s all just a guess and it might be all the scenarios here. WM is telling Mattel to make us your BFF (at least for 6 months) and perhaps Mattel is saying Target, “I’ll call you.” or is secretly telling Target, “Buy up another 100,000 and I promise to text you 10 times a day! … No, 15 times a day?” And Target is like, “Me’h, we got 100,000 tangerine chaise loungers to display at $39.99, who cares about you sending us more Buzz & Woody’s?” Meanwhile, the giraffee is just looking for a hug.
So, yea, it’s the real world intruding upon on our little paradise … blame it on the suits … or what we need to do is to form citizen commitees saying WM can only open 120,000 square foot stores if they only sell diecast CARS.