Finding Neverland | How adult fans are driving toy sales across the UK

There’s no shame in admitting it, toys, games, gaming, and play doesn’t have to have an age limit; something that a growing portion of the UK population can attest to. Last year, the UK’s kidult market hit new heights, fuelled by a pandemic that left grown ups and kids at heart with a lot more time on their hands to revisit their old passions. Given the audience size, it’s a market that can’t be stopped

[divider style=”solid” top=”20″ bottom=”20″]

A factoid that gets overheard often when you spend any length of time within a city setting, is that you’re at no point, more than seven feet away from a mouse. The same could probably be said for Funko Pop! figures.

In fact, the statistic is likely somewhat higher. Higher still if you swap out specifics for the term now used to categorise a demographic of people that appears to be expanding at an alarming rate. If the most recent NPD figures are anything to go by, the UK’s ‘kidult’ sector, that is the adult audience of toy fans, appears to be, well, breeding like mice.

Accounting for a staggering 27 per cent of the total toy sales here in the UK for the year end 2020, the kidult sector is one that can be, by any means, no longer ignored.

What started decades ago, with the advent of the pop culture consumer products scene has shifted from an underground following of ‘ultra-nerdom’ to a mainstream – if not staple – sector within the UK toy space. Time was, tell a room full of adults about your collection of Transformers toys or your Mage level in the latest tabletop campaign, you’d be faced with stifled chortles and a lifetime of social isolation. Today, those self-confessed nerds are our celebrities, our pop icons, and our sports stars. And that’s OK. These days, when it comes to the topic of adult collectors of toys games, there really is no kidding around.

Take the pop culture gift and consumer products specialist, Fanattik, for instance. In its last financial year report, the firm found itself up around 123 per cent. We’re all aware that 2020 will forever be classed as a ‘freak’ year for sales figures, with online shopping helping drive sales in sectors that wouldn’t necessarily be replicated on the high street, but how would you account for the 40 per cent growth, year on year, that Fanattik has enjoyed each year before Covid-19?

“Traditionally, we never supplied toy retail, our focus was always on the gift trade,” Fanattik’s managing director, Anthony Marks, tells ToyNews. “But enquiries from the toy sector dramatically increased last year, retailers were looking for something different to add to their online offering, and the ones that trialed our range never looked back.”

It’s become a common narrative across the toy industry that the kidult audience is being recognised and catered to at a growing pace by companies and retailers once more aligned with the traditional children’s audience. There’s a reason that the Toymaster catalogue has started including Wizards of the Coast’s Dungeons & Dragons, just as it has welcomed Games Workshop into the fold in recent years, and why Pokemon Trading Card Game sales are in the midst of a world-wide resurgence, and why the local toy shop is just a likely to stock miniatures painting kits as it is Jellycat plush toys for pre-schoolers.

The audience for toys today is multi-generational.

“The genie is out of the bottle,” exclaims Marks. “Just look at the success Playmobil has had with its Back to the Future range. The retailers we are speaking with throughout Europe say that they will always have shelf-space for the latest blockbuster, but the iconic film and gaming brands cannot be ignored anymore.”

Late last month, Fanattik released details of a major new partnership with Hasbro and its Wizards of the Coast segment through which it will launch a range of licensed gifts and collectables based on its Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons gaming franchises. It’s a marker of success for the firm that has managed to carve a reputable name for itself in a market notoriously protective of its favoured IP. Marks has high hopes that the range will replicate the success retailers saw with Fanattik’s Yu-Gi-Oh! ranges when the collection launches in Q3 this year.

“We do not go for the latest film or game release, it has to be a brand with multi-generational appeal, an existing fanbase that
due to the market’s focus on the latest game or film release, finds itself being ignored,” says Marks.

“The Kidult sector has been growing year on year, and the pandemic gave it a major push forward. With no new film releases, for example, fans were going back and watching their old favourites and introducing those films to family members who missed it, or were too young to appreciate them the first time around.

“There are also millions of new gamers that have been created by having to spend more time at home, and that’s an audience that cannot be ignored either.”

This article – and a more in depth look at some of the firms taking on the ‘kidult’ sector – appears in the Spring/Summer issue of ToyNews.