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Interview: MGA

Interview: MGA

Fortune Favors the Bold!

After 41 years in the toy business, MGA owner Isaac Larian knows a thing or two about what children want. Total Licensing visited Isaac at his new state-of-the-art facility in Chatsworth, California to find out more.

Isaac Larian is an extraordinary man. Now a proud father and grandfather, Larian arrived in the United States from Iran in 1971 with, essentially, nothing. Today he owns the largest private toy company in the USA and has over 1500 employees worldwide.

As controller of his own destiny, Larian isn’t fond of corporate-speak. Refreshingly, he says things as he finds them. And that includes some of the issues facing today’s toy industry.

“The toy industry is getting tougher and tougher,” he explained. “Losing Toys R Us was a massive blow – particularly to year-round sales. The big merchants now are only really interested in Christmas and Holiday sales. It means that retail is getting more and more difficult.”

Clearly, Isaac recognises how difficult it is for retailers to take risks. But in his eyes, that creates the opportunity. “When we launched LOL Surprise, people honestly thought we were crazy,” he explained. 

But how wrong they were. The miniature doll phenomenon became wildly successful – one of the hottest toys around with sales of $5.5 billion last year.

And Larian believes that whilst the demise of Toys R Us was a blow to the industry, toy makers cannot blame everything on it. As he explained ahead of announcing an earnings report in Spring last year, “Lately, it is fashionable by most publicly traded toy companies to blame the demise of Toys R Us for everything. Thankfully, due to our continued innovations, our worldwide shipping was up 46 percent for the first quarter.”

Isaac believes that innovation is the key to his success. “I figured out that the only solution is to produce great new innovative products – if you do this, retailers have no choice but to buy them.”

Without a doubt, MGA takes risks – something that, as a private company, they are more able to do than some of their publicly-quoted competitors although, as Isaac explained, some of these companies are now having to rethink their strategies.

“The toy business is one of the toughest businesses to be in,” continued Isaac. “To succeed, you really need to look at products through the eyes of a child.”

LOL Surprise is a great example of this. “I always want to do things differently,” continued Isaac. “When we first came up with LOL Surprise, I took it to Walmart and the buyer said no. I then took it to Target and, again, the buyer said no. They were scared of taking on something different. Fortunately, I knew the buyers’ boss who recognised the opportunity. Now, the toy is an immense success and we also have 650 licenses around the world.”

Licensing is hugely important to MGA’s success. “But the toys always come first,” explained Isaac.

LOL Surprise has been an astonishing hit right around the world – it leads the way virtually everywhere from Brazil to China. It is also the leading toy line in Russia and recently such is the success that Russian rapper Timothy created a LOL Surprise video which attracted over 800,000 views in its first 24 hours!

So is it only that MGA are more innovative that sets them apart from their competitors? Isaac Larian believes it is also down to the culture at MGA. “We come up with more innovation,” he explained, “But we are also very quick to market. For example, LOL Surprise took only six months. We’re able to make quick decisions without the politics that so often accompany a large organisation.”

Isaac is always on the look out for ideas. Having acquired Little Tikes, he was inspired by his toddler grandson who loves Little Baby Bum. Of course, Isaac’s little grandson is one of the luckiest kids in the world with a grandpa who owns a toy company! As a result, last year Little Tikes was appointed the exclusive master toy licensee for Little Baby Bum. “For the last 50 years, Little Tikes has created innovative products that have spanned generations,” commented Isaac. “Little Baby Bum’s exceptional content and vast online presence, combined with Little Tikes’ deep understanding of kids and parents, makes it a perfect match.”

Of course, Little Tikes produce the extraordinarily successful Cozy Coupe which, for many decades has been America’s best-selling car!

Having signed the Little Baby Bum license, what’s next for MGA? “We are certainly interested in taking on other licenses but, to be honest, we only really look at maybe one out of ten that are offered to us.” 

MGA is also looking at entertainment content. “We did an LOL movie with Amazon,” explained Isaac. “It became the number one kids’ movie on the platform. Certainly we may look to do more.”

Of course Bratz was MGA’s first massive hit and Isaac tells us that Bratz will be back in a bit way in 2021 – their 20th anniversary. In the meantime, MGA are working on ‘something big’ for Little Tikes.

The company’s latest innovative product line is Na! Na! Na! Surprise, an unbox two-in-one surprise that includes a soft, poseable fashion doll and plush pom, complete with a confetti balloon unboxing experience and two fashion surprises in each balloon. The YouTube videos have already enjoyed over 10 million views in a short space of time and MGA looks set for another major hit on their hands.

And this year, MGA unveiled their new campus in Chatsworth, outside Los Angeles. The new complex, when complete with be a 24 acres headquarters based on a ‘live-work-and-play’ idea and including offices, apartments, a preschool, dining options, retail, a transit plaza, a village green with outdoor movie theatre, a running track and an amphitheatre. At its center is MGA’s headquarters which houses the production, design and development in 255,000 square feet, beautifully designed with open ceilings, glass and steel – and, of course, a mass of toys, as you would expect!

About The Author

Rebecca Ash

Rebecca is the Editorial Director at Total Licensing Ltd. She can be reached at becky@totallicensing.com

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