Today's Christmas toys are still being unwrapped, but toy makers say they have already wrapped up their best year ever and are ready with a whole new generation of GoBots, games and goodies for Christmas 1985.
"The toys of 1985 have now been cast," said David Leibowitz, an American Securities Corp. analyst who follows the toy industry. "When you say Christmas today, the toy manufacturers are thinking Christmas 365 days from now."
Toy manufacturers will not officially unveil their new lines until February at the annual toy show in New York. But all of the toy samples and hand-made mock-ups are complete or in their final stages of construction for display at the trade show.
"From what has leaked out, there are going to be more sizes of the GoBots and Transformers," said Leibowitz, referring to the popular toys that can be transformed from robots into cars and trucks. "There will be new characters in the lines -- more good guys and bad guys. There will be more entrants in the robotic toy field besides Hasbro and Tonka."
Plush stuffed animals will continue to see heavy cuddling action again next year, and Raggedy Ann and Andy will be promoted more heavily by ITT, which owns the rights to the dolls, some analysts predicted. Teddy bears, Cabbage Patch Kids and Rainbow Brite dolls all will continue to be big sellers, they added.
"1984 was a tremendous year for toy manufacturers," said Steven Eisenberg, leisure-time analyst for Bear, Stearns & Co. in New York. "Nominal toy shipments were up about 25 percent with real growth up 19-20 percent. Historically, nominal growth is only about 7-8 percent in the toy industry, with real growth at about 3-4 percent."
"1984 was unusual to the extent that there was a tremendous amount of new categories -- all at the expense of the video games," Eisenberg said. GoBots and Transformers opened up a whole new "multi-purpose toy" category. Dollars were also going to more traditional products -- board games, dolls, and stuffed animals.
Analysts said that when the toy industry looks back on the last few years, excluding this one, it will be one of their least prosperous periods because of the tooling that went into video toys. "When all was said and done, consumers went back to the toys they had been buying all along and the newer electronic games were a passing fad," said a leisure-time analyst in Boston.
This Christmas, however, "will go down as one of the great years in the industry," agreed Leibowitz. "The shipments of Cabbage Patch and Trivial Pursuit games for this year could be as high as $1 billion," Eisenberg said. "Sales of robotic GoBots and Transformers might well be in excess of 30 million units."
Mattel Inc. is one of the toy companies that did particularly well. Its "Rainbow Brite " was the top-selling doll and its "Masters of the Universe" action figures were the top-selling toys for boys this Christmas. Thirty-five million have been sold this year, which its promoters say translates to 95,628 per day, 3,984 per hour and 66.4 sold per minute.
"If you lined up the 70 million 5 1/2-inch Master of the Universe figures sold since the toy was introduced in 1981, they would extend from New York City to Los Angeles and back again," said Richard Weiner of Richard Weiner Inc., which promotes the toys.
"The Masters of the Universe line appeal to boys of a large age spectrum beause it's a fantasy toy," Weiner added. "They're not just push 'em -- pull 'em toys."
Mattel's third-quarter financial figures showed that its sales were up 46 percent from the same period in 1983. Profits were $39.5 million, compared with a loss of $46.3 million in the 1983 period, when it was suffering from what Paul Valentine of Standard & Poor's Corp. called an "ill-fated encounter with video games."
Among traditional toys, Tyco Industries Inc. reported electric train sales were up 35 percent; Tonka Corp.'s toy truck sales rose 10 percent; and R. Dakin Co. predicts its teddy bear sales will be up 40 percent from 1983.
Toy sales behaved differently in 1984 compared with previous years, analysts explained. Along with the improved economic climate for toys generally, analysts pointed to a waning interest in low-end computer hardware, software and video games.
Some of the popular 1984 toy lines will be greatly expanded next year. "The Rainbrow Brite line by Mattel will expand and there will be more competition in the male action figure category that already has G.I. Joe and Masters of the Universe," said Leibowitz.
Even Cabbage Patch dolls might see their share of competition next year. "Tonka has a line of adoptable pets from the dog pound called Pound Puppies," Leibowitz added.
"There will be more trivia games than one could shake a stick at," Leibowitz said.
Licensing of toy lines to create related products has substantially effected the industry. The GoBot toy alone is not what's bringing in the cash to Tonka -- it's the television cartoons, cereals, T-shirts and everything else with the Tonka GoBot trademark.
One analyst predicted that more emphasis will be put on educational toys rather than "just bell and whistle" toys.
"Kids want to be active participants now, rather than the passive participants as they were with the electronic games," he said.