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Is Hasbro Slowly Choking The Collecting Communities?

Today I want to talk about Hasbro’s current business strategy. This is not about whether or not Hasbro will go down, they will not, but ever since Chris Cocks took over from late CEO Brian Goldner things have not exactly been great for the company. And things have especially been less than great in what matters to us the most, the action figure toy lines, and here I am not just talking about Star Wars, but also Marvel. So the question is if Hasbro’s extremely ambitious goals and current business strategy are biting the very hands that feed them and if irreparable damage could be done to the various collecting communities, hurting the toy lines in the long run. Click through for more!

Hasbro HasLab failures

A sign of the times?

This will be a lengthy article, but I urge you to read it all if you want to get some insight into Hasbro’s current strategy and how that affects prices and collectors.

To understand what is currently going on at Hasbro we have to take a quick look at Hasbro’s current goals, which in turn inform their current business strategy.

Back in October 2022 Hasbro released their less than impressive Q3/2022 earnings report, sales were down 15% and operating profit a whopping 47% when compared to Q3/2021. Hasbro then announced what their long term goals are. And Chris Cocks is quite ambitious.

The company wants to increase their operating profit by 50% until 2025 and they want to further increase their profit margins to 20+% by 2027 (current margin is something like 13-15%). A goal that is simply too ambitious and highly unrealistic, according to various Wall Street analysts.

This follows earlier statements by Hasbro in which they announced their plan to increase profit margins for their licensed partner brands to something like 11% at least (up to that point margins were in the 6-7% range maybe) and statements by Brian Goldner, shortly before his death, in which he expressed confidence that the market would accept higher prices.

Months later the situation looks different. While Chris Cocks has all these ambitious plans he also admitted that “the average consumer (has) become increasingly price-sensitive as the year has progressed, impacting point-of-sales trends”. No kidding!

We all know what the prices are, but still, let me illustrate the issue, and it does not simply affect Star Wars, but other toylines as well!

The TVC Paz Vizla figure was announced at a retail price of $27.99. Mind you, for a 3.75 in figure! The Black Series version of the character retailed for $29.99.

Early in 2022 MSRP for the TVC Boba Fett figure was $20.99. Actually, the average retail price of a TVC figure has increased to $16.99 in late 2022. MSRP was just $12.99 about two years ago.

The Black Series also has experienced price hikes.

$70 repaints…

Believe it or not, Hasbro wants $69.99 for this Amazon exclusive 2-pack of a carbonized ERG and TIE Pilot. And we talk about repaints here. Not a single cent was spent on tooling here, both sculpts are, at this point, quite old.

And then we also have retailers who think they can squeeze the lemon just a bit more on top of that… look at this:

A Target in New York thinks they can find some idiot who pays $41.49 for a repacked figure., Source: RiversideAviator via Reddit

A Target store in New York actually demands more than $41 for a repack! MSRP is still an outrageous $33.99, for a figure that originally retailed for $29.99. It’s the exact same figure of course, nothing was changed.

The point here is: while inflation does put pressure on all businesses Hasbro’s price hikes greatly outpace any inflation. And you can see why Hasbro is squeezing customers more and more: because Chris Cocks believes he can actually increase profit by 50% and increase margins to 20% in the next few years.

But how can you grow your business like that when very few new customers are won over? You have to bleed the existing customer base dry. And another way to do that is by cutting costs, and especially the Star Wars lines see this in effect with more and more repaints and kitbashes making up the bulk of the lines. Now the question is for how much longer customers will accept this.

One more example, this time Marvel Legends. A brand new Ronan the Accuser figure was revealed recently (in late 2022). Price? A whopping $38.99. For a figure that is mostly re-use, i.e. the typical Marvel kitbash.

Behold the $39 figure

A figure of similar size, Thanos, retailed for $29.99 in 2021. As you can see these price hikes affect not just Star Wars, but other lines. And this is of course expected when Hasbro wants to basically double their profit margins for their partner brands to 11% or so and company wide profit margins to 20+%.

Now let’s look at partner brand revenue…

Partner brand revenue in Q3/2022 was down by 5% compared to Q3/2021, and this despite price hikes for the prestigious Star Wars and Marvel Legends lines of up to 30%. So despite this enormous price hike revenue was still down. That immediately tells you people either buy much less and/or people simple quit the hobby and would rather pay for essential things instead which you actually need in life. That revenue declined despite quite steep price increases is a big warning sign. People are either leaving the hobby altogether or they buy much less. And a customer lost is almost always lost forever, it’s very difficult to win back people who have jumped ship. Yet that does not seem to concern Hasbro all that much yet.

Here is a bar chart of partner brands revenue by quarter that shows you the development over time:

Click to enlarge

The different quarters are color coded. Look at the green bar which stands for Q3 partner brands revenue, you can see the downward trend ever since 2019. In fact, if you look at the 2022 numbers they are stagnating across all quarters, even though prices were increased by a lot compared to 2021. And 2021 already saw some price hikes to begin with. In fact, if you compare Q3 2022 to the really bad and abysmal year 2018, you find that Q3/2018 had 16% lower revenue, but prices have approximately increased 30% since then for various partner brand toy lines. In short: all the growth since 2018 in 2022 is down to pricing, not higher unit sales, quite the opposite most likely, unit sales are down. It seems the momentum gained by The Mandalorian has ebbed down again and increased prices can barely cover up the fact that revenue is stagnating and unit sales declining.

And sure, Hasbro says that Star Wars attributed to partner brands growth, offset by other things, but as mentioned in the previous paragraph you don’t need to think very long and hard to see that almost certainly all of that growth is down to price increases, most likely even offset by fewer unit sales. You don’t get 5% less partner brands revenue with prices that are up to 30% higher unless people jump ship or buy much less.

Then we have the latest news, according to a BMO analyst Hasbro had a very, very bad holiday season. These analysts do have access to (expensive) market studies from companies such as the NPD Group who monitor and analyze toy sales in the US and several other key markets. This analyst believes Hasbro’s holiday season was among the weakest in the US toy industry. And according to him things like Marvel and Star Wars look “tired”.

How tired? Well, apparently Hasbro put the info about the number of pre-orders for any given toy in their HTML source code on Hasbro Pulse. Some inquisitive fans found out about it and before Hasbro could patch the code (the info is no longer available now) people found that pre-order numbers for various toys on Pulse are… extremely low.

The TVC throne room? 500 pre-orders on day 1. Five Hundred! Hasbro’s “starting line-up” figures of various sports stars? About 1,000 pre-orders on Pulse per figure.

Then there are the constant, neverending shipping issues. Holiday figures that are not in stores or at least available online for the actual holiday they are meant for. In fact, Hasbro pushed back last year’s holiday figures to this year. The Halloween figures were available in early December despite promises by the Hasbro team that the figures would be available in time for Halloween.

How much longer will customers accept these delays? Especially since other companies often DO manage to get toys to retailers in time.

Then there’s HasLab and maybe the most prominent sign that not all things go according to Chris Cock’s plan. We all know about the pathetic Rancor HasLab and the sad, very sad Reva Lightsaber project that crashed and burned right out of the gate.

But let me quickly tell you the tale of Hasbro’s latest Marvel Legends HasLab. Until now Marvel HasLabs were very, very successful, people eagerly paid $350 for relatively enormous action figures.

And then Hasbro came up with the Ghost Rider HasLab, what you’d get would be the Dodge Charger car and the Ghost Rider figure. Now for some reason unknown to anyone but Hasbro (or Disney/Marvel), Hasbro did not base this Ghost Rider on the classic version, but on a relatively new version, introduced about a decade ago. There was some early bird incentive with a human Ghost Rider figure… but the required backer numbers were not met and the early bird incentive failed.

The $350 Dodge Charger

So Hasbro resorted to the same tactics as with the Rancor… panic mode. When the early bird tier, a human Ghost Rider figure, failed, people began cancelling their orders, so Hasbro tried to counter this by adding an alternative Ghost Rider headsculpt. They then claimed no more tiers would follow.

When people were still less than impressed new tiers WERE announced after all… and Hasbro insulted Marvel Legends fans by offering the Goblin Queen. The issue with her is that a) she’s not a character that is even remotely associated with Ghost Rider (similar to how Salacious Crumb doesn’t interact with the Rancor, only even worse, because Crumb was at least still in the same palace as the Rancor) and b) her sculpt, the costume, was highly inaccurate (and she would have been a kitbash of course).

It then came to light that apparently Disney indeed has a blacklist of characters Hasbro cannot make for mass retail. Even here on JTA people who worked on projects for Disney talked about this blacklist. Apparently the Marvel Legends team can’t make demonic characters or any scantily clad female characters that show underboob for mass retail. And yes, as you can imagine the original Goblin Queen costume is extremely revealing, with lots of underboob. But the figure Hasbro mocked up had a very chaste top instead.

Left: The HasLab Goblin Queen, Right: The 2021 comic cook version of the Goblin Queen. Find the difference!

Hasbro then went into headless chicken mode, just like with the Rancor previously, by throwing more and more tiers at a more and more bored and disillusioned Marvel Legends fanbase and in the end the Ghost Rider HasLab crashed and burned even worse than the Rancor. It had less than 5,000 backers out of the required 9,000 when the campaign ended.

One thing that apparently damaged the campaign a lot was the fact that soon after the initial reveal various fans pointed out that you can get great and very detailed 1/12 scale toy cars for something like $35-$50. A $37 Bratz Dolls car was used as an example here, a car with highly detailed interior, including a gear stick you can move, actual seatbelts, doors and trunk you can open, all with LED lights of course. For 1/10 of the price Hasbro wanted for their Dodge Charger with one Ghost Rider figure (and a few accessories like flaming tires).

It seems even Marvel Legends fans have their breaking point and thus the Ghost Rider HasLab became the very first spectacular HasLab Marvel Legends failure.

Many Marvel Legends collectors who had previously supported already overpriced $350 action figures considered the Ghost Rider project to be simple price gouging, something that, at best, is maybe worth $150-$200, with ALL tiers included of course. One underlying issue here was the same Hasbro had with the Rancor. Size. Both the Dodge Charger and the Rancor were a lot smaller than previous HasLabs that went for the same price. So perceived value was much lower. And while the Star Wars team justified the price with the high number of paint apps, the Marvel team instead said that the car has a premium LED package. Mind you, the $37 Bratz Dolls car has lights as well. My 50 euros Playmobil Knight Rider car not only comes with that cool Cylon style scanner light in the front, but with various sound effects too.

And then there’s Hasbro’s recent push into environment friendly windowless plastic free packaging. a move that has yet to be followed by any of their competitors. Now in theory plastic free packaging is certainly not a bad idea, but windowless boxes? What about those? Here is a photo from a Walmart via Reddit, please click on the photo for the 100% view so you can read the handwritten notes on the price tags!

Each and every Marvel Legends figure on the pegs here has missing/stolen parts. Source: MikePhicen via Reddit

Every. Single. Figure. Has. Stolen. Parts. Now that is also a testament about how scummy collectors in the US may be, I never encountered anything like that here in Germany, but still, Hasbro should have known that a windowless box is an open invitation to thieves and swappers and to steal BAF parts or swap figures left and right. Some poor employee here was tasked with checking all the boxes… but many other stores will probably not do this.

Whatever your stance on environment friendly packaging is, I suppose we can all agree that windowless cardboard boxes are just bad for collectors. Now it may very well be that Hasbro is about to leave brick and mortar behind, with their sights set on online, and here theft and swaps would not be an issue, that still leaves all the mint in box collectors behind who like to display the figure in the box. But certainly not a render or photo of the figure on a windowless cardboard box.

And before I move on to the conclusion one final development. The Dungeons & Dragons community is currently in somewhat of an uproar, to put it mildly. You see, Dungeons & Dragons, which is owned by Wizards of the Coast, the makers of Magic The Gathering, which in turn is owned by Hasbro, has, well, had, an open source policy concerning the D&D ruleset. Meaning other people can use the ruleset to build their (video) game around it. However, Hasbro now wants to change that and their plans are to demand 25% royalties, Twenty. Five. Percent., for games that use the D&D ruleset and that reach a certain revenue threshold. Despite promises to the contrary previously and a long standing tradition of open source rules. And here we thought that 20+% royalty rates by Disney for Star Wars were greedy. As expected developers are now scrambling to use different rulesets for their games and even regular D&D fans are quite upset with Hasbro.

UPDATE: after a very negative response by the D&D community Wizards of the Coast / Hasbro have backpedaled and promised to change the new OGL 1.1 (Open Game License), royalties are off the table again, so content creators who use the D&D rules won’t have to pay 25% royalties after all if their revenue exceeds 750,000.  Further changes to things that irked the community were also announced (it’s much more community friendly again). It remains to be seen how much this has damaged the reputation of WotC (and Hasbro). But to their credit they reacted swiftly and listened to the very loud criticism they received. Which once again shows us that in the end the consumers have all the power, companies need us to buy and use their products. Not the other way around.

So where does all of that leave us?

It has become pretty evident that Chris Cocks wants to squeeze the existing customer base in order to reach his extremely lofty goals for overall profit and profit margins. In turn prices for action figures have skyrocketed, outpacing any inflation there is in the US and elsewhere. On top of that the Hasbro design teams have to deal with an outright silly licensor, namely Disney, that prevents them from doing certain things.

Apparently Disney is scared people may accuse them of turning kids into satan worshippers if demonic Marvel Legends figures are available at mass retail, making them only an option for exclusive HasLabs. And even then Hasbro cannot make truly accurate versions of certain characters, because Disney hates underboobs, because the female anatomy is apparently considered offensive by them, or maybe they feel pervy fans use these sexualized characters to daydream about certain things… all the while the actual comics DO depict those characters in quite revealing outfits. It just makes no sense. As it turns out the deciding factor here is indeed visible underboob, since characters wearing bikinis or lingerie are ok. That’s Disney logic to you. Again, to reiterate, this is not Hasbro’s doing, the actual design teams are made up of actual fans who love the source material, who love fans… but management is at the steering wheel of course.

How much more can Hasbro turn the thumb screws before more and more people feel it’s not worth it anymore?

The Black Series and Vintage Collection “deluxe” scam figures and the Boba Fett tax are pretty apparent ploys to artificially inflate profit margins, to reach Chris Cocks’ goals.

When will Hasbro have to reverse course? In early February Hasbro will reveal their numbers for Q4/2022 and the full year, if the assesssment by the BMO analyst is true, that holiday sales were extremely disappointing for Hasbro, the company may have to seriously reconsider their business strategy.

This will still leave us with Disney, a company that has its own issues at the moment and is a licensor that puts arbitrary limits on what the Marvel or Star Wars teams can do. And never forget that Hasbro “closely coordinates” on HasLabs with Disney, including what tiers can be made.

Now, as I said earlier, this is not about Hasbro going under, they will not. But the cracks in the collecting communities are getting stronger and deeper. When do we reach the breaking point? Will people still buy a $70 set of two repainted – very old – figures? Will they buy $39 kitbashed Marvel Legends figures? $28 TVC “deluxe” figures or $230 “playsets”?

Moderate price increases are to be expected in the current economic climate. But what Hasbro is doing is greatly outpacing any inflation or other increased costs. This is purely about Hasbro’s lofty goals. Which is of course in their right to do, they are a publicly traded capitalist company after all. But will their customers follow them?

How have your purchasing habits changed in the past 12-24 months? Do you still spend about the same money as before? Have you cut back on spending money? When will you say “enough is enough” and let a $28 TVC figure stay on shelves (or in a Amazon warehouse)? When will you say that repaints for $70 are just ludicrous?

And finally… investors are less than enamored with Hasbro’s current strategy. 2022 was not a good year for the stock market, the S&P 500 index declined by 20% in 2022. Hasbro’s stock price declined by 30% however, so they are greatly underperforming, Mattel’s stock price? Declined just by 9%. They also haven’t increased prices to ludicrous levels and still offer toys in boxes that have windows – and Mattel’s Eternia playset was successfully crowdfunded, despite a steep $500 price, it ended up with more than 9,000 backers, required were 5,000.

Sources:

Hasbro wants to grow profits by 50%
Chris Cocks observes that customers show resistance to higher prices
Very bad holiday season for Hasbro

 

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