NEW YORK — Children have no idea how good they have it nowadays.
If you grew up in the 1980s or 1990s, you remember that the sweet Nerf gun that Santa brought you almost certainly didn’t have the firepower to send darts through the blustery New England winds. The Play-Doh that you occasionally ingested when the baby sitter wasn’t looking tasted pretty gross. And no one finished a game of “Monopoly.” Ever.
Now there’s a Nerf Ultra Blaster that shoots 120 feet — significantly longer than the length of a basketball court — and a new, smaller device on the way that will send darts the same distance. You still shouldn’t eat Play-Doh, but the wide array of scented products they offer makes it downright appetizing.
Oh yeah, and then there’s a version of “Monopoly” that promises to be over in 10 minutes, so the kids can go back to playing “Fortnight.”
These are the things you learn at the just-ended Hasbro Toy Fair, the invitation-only showcase that the Pawtucket, R.I., company puts on in New York City to highlight new products each year. It’s held in conjunction with the American International Toy Fair.
And while the big-screen success of Hasbro properties like Transformers and G.I. Joe has made the company a player in the movie business, and excitement for a new line of Baby Yoda products is breaking the Internet, Hasbro continues to find ways to reinvent – and cash in on – the iconic brands that kids have adored for generations.
Indeed, Hasbro appears to be laughing all the way to the bank. (The company, which is searching for a new headquarters, has repeatedly been rumored to be considering leaving Pawtucket, possibly for Providence or someplace out of state. But a spokeswoman on Monday said there were no updates about its search.)
During an earnings call this month, CEO Brain Goldner said the company saw net revenue grow 3 percent to $4.72 billion in 2019. The company also completed its nearly $4 billion purchase of Entertainment One, creator of the megahit Peppa Pig and owner of Death Row Records. (Sorry hip hop fans, it does not appear that a Mr. Tupac Potato Head is on the horizon.)
“The toy business is pretty healthy right now,” said Adrienne Appell, a spokeswoman for the Toy Association, the largest trade association for kids’ play products.
Overall, US toy sales totaled nearly $21 billion in 2019, a slight decline from the previous year, according to industry analyst The NPD Group. Appell said companies have attributed the drop last year to an unexpected spike in 2018 from liquidation sales at Toys ”R” Us.
The death of the famous toy store chain caused retail inventories to plunge by nearly $200 million in 2019, shaking the industry. But Goldner told investors “what will stand out in the market this year are excellent brands across gaming, toys, and consumer products with innovative product lines, and an increasing array of compelling stories.”
That starts with a refreshed line of evergreen products.
“Monopoly,” for example, is celebrating its 85th anniversary, so it has several new editions out this year. In addition to the speedy version of the game, there’s a version that takes even longer than the original one. For hardcore collectors, a limited-edition version that had just 500 copies sold out Monday. Add in the versions that focus on electronic banking and cater to sore losers, and you’ve got a game for everyone.
But wait, there’s more.
This being an election year, Hasbro is selling a version of “Monopoly” in which the object is to win the presidency. Called “House Divided,” it’s a political junkie’s dream.
Other board games getting a makeover include “Clue,” which has added a strategy element so players can lie to each other about cards they’re holding, and “Connect Four,” which now has a shooting component. And “Mall Madness” is making a comeback — at least for as long as malls still exist.
“The industry is very cyclical,” Appell said. “Typically, we see trends resurge and brands come back.”
Then there’s an entire market for modernizing longstanding brands by connecting them to popular entertainment franchises. For Nerf, that includes guns attached to “Fortnight” and “Halo.”
And for those who never want to grow up, there’s a Nerf gun that’s tailored for teenagers — or adults — that shoots round darts. (Think paintball without the mess.)
“The brand is still our top brand for the company," Goldner said on the earnings call.
With Play-Doh, Hasbro has leaned into a slime craze that has enamored children in recent years, offering products that are more colorful and have different textures. Apparently, new compounds are very popular with the kids, which has driven growth for the company.
Even the new toys offer trips down memory lane.
Hasbro’s most popular rollout is its line of Baby Yoda products, which are tied to “The Mandalorian,” a “Star Wars” spin-off. There are also entirely new versions of Transformers, Power Rangers, and My Little Pony products being released this year.
And with another “Ghostbusters” movie coming to the big screen this year, you can bet Hasbro will be selling proton packs, slimers, and marshmallow men in the coming months.
Appell said that all the shows and games can drive toy sales. When kids go to see “Frozen 2,” they’ll want the products seen in the movies. That’s how the iconic brands can stay relevant.
Or, as Appell put it: “The content starts the love affair.”