Artiwood Australia's win of the 2020 Specialty Toy product of the year holds special significance for the business, Artiwood director Andrew McGregor has told Toy & Hobby Retailer.
Taking the award home for the I'm Toy Pastel Melody Mix, McGregor said that the idea to run the product in pastel colours was that of Artiwood's.
"We were delighted when the I’m Toy Pastel Melody Mix was awarded Product of the Year in the Australian Toy Association’s speciality category.
"Artiwood was instrumental in bringing to life this popular refresh of a well-established, top-selling toy.
"I’m International resisted repeated requests for several years to introduce a pastel version. We finally convinced them to give it a go in 2019," he said.
And the persistence paid off, with the pastel version quickly gaining popularity in the market.
"Within weeks of its introduction, the Pastel Melody Mix was a top ten selling item in our catalogue," McGregor said.
"Furthermore, after the award was announced, its sales grew again while orders for the original design remained unchanged.
"We even doubled the size of a production run mid-stream to keep up with demand.
"The Pastel Melody Mix is now selling in similar volume to its original companion both here and overseas," he said.
McGregor adds that the award win helps to demonstrate the impact the Australian industry can have on a global scale.
"It’s enormously encouraging to see an Australian-led initiative successfully grew an established toy category.
"This experience speaks to the unique role the Australian industry can play in a global market.
"The Australian marketplace offers a full spectrum of consumer demographics in a relatively condensed channel.
"This means we can test a product faster, and often at a lower cost, than larger markets overseas," he said.
And the I'm Toy Pastel Melody Mix isn't the first time Artiwood has helped to refresh product lines.
The business has also assisted Kinderfeets with its balance bike range, McGregor explains.
"Artiwood works closely with many of suppliers to develop new products.
"We were instrumental in helping Kinderfeets refresh its balance bike range and develop the recently launched Tiny Tot Plus.
"A rising tide of Australian consumer, and retailer, feedback was a major catalyst in our push for Kinderfeets to develop the Tiny Tot Plus.
"It’s now selling the Tiny Tot Plus in similar volumes to the original design without cannibalising either product’s historical sales.
"Kinderfeets says that Australian consumers are highly visible on its social media platforms [too].
"Local Instagram followers are particularly active. Their efforts feature increasingly in many of its promotional initiatives and are a growing source of content repurposed for global use.
"I cannot tell you how many times I’ve requested a copy of lifestyle image only to be told it’s come from an Australian consumer," he said.
Since taking out the award in March, Artiwood has - similarly to the whole industry - witnessed the change in shopping habits throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
McGregor said that it will be interesting to see whether this shift in behaviour is sustained once life returns to "normal."
"The COVID-19 crisis is potentially a paradigm changing event for the Australian retail landscape.
"A national, two-month lockdown saw many parents working from home and desperate to keep house-bound children entertained. This unique situation dramatically boosted online sales for a number of toy categories.
"Online retailers we spoke to described the sudden spike in demand as, "a Christmas that keeps on giving."
"The question now is whether this new-found taste for online shopping represents a permanent change in Australia’s retail landscape. Local online sales have lagged behind other OECD nations for many years.
"A boost in online sales could do much to offset the full impact of recession in our industry," he continues.
"Recessions often encourage a return to simpler, less material, priorities.
"In the past this shift has typically manifest itself as a backlash against deposable consumerism and a stronger focus on well-being, natural products and fewer gimmicks.
"For more than two decades Artiwood has focused on toys made from eco-friendly materials.
"As times get tough, we’re optimistic that our non-plastic focus will resonate strongly in a recessionary market.
"Equally, as people turn away from disposable consumerism, we hope that sales for heirloom quality toys from brands like Indigo Jamm will prove more resilient that most," he said.