June 13, 2001
Grand Toys is Lord of
Not many companies have to put their fate in the hands of a hobbit named Frodo Baggins or a wizard called Dark Lord Saruman.
But such is life in Middle-earth.
In the toy industry's latest seasonal gamble, Grand Toys International Inc., the company that brought the Furby frenzy to Canada, is hoping to turn its waning fortunes around now that the Montreal-based distributor has been given the Canadian rights to distribute collectibles and accessories based on the film version of J.R.R. Tolkien's classic, The Lord Of The Rings.
``The Lord Of The Rings story has captivated kids and adults alike for over 40 years and we are honoured to be partnering with (manufacturer) Toy Biz to bring the associated toy products to the Canadian market,'' Ian Bradley, president and chief executive officer of Grand Toys, said in a written statement yesterday.
The line of figures and toys based on New Line Cinema's $270 million (U.S.) fantasy trilogy will be available in late August. Grand Toys will ship products in increments over a four-month period.
Tolkien's tale about young hero Frodo Baggins who battles the Dark Lord Saruman to save Middle-Earth from enslavement has sold more than 100 million copies worldwide, in more than 40 languages.
The first film in the trilogy, The Fellowship Of The Ring, will hit multiplexes in December.
But, until then, will children want electronic Light 'N Sound ``Sting'' Swords and will adults collect ``intricately detailed'' action figures?
Maria Weiskott, editor of Playthings Magazine, which tracks the toy industry, has her doubts.
``What something like this means to a company depends on how successful the movie is,'' said Weiskott.
``If the movie is successful to an age group that the toys are made for then the company will be positively impacted by that.
``It's hard to say with Lord Of The Rings because it's geared toward, I think, an older audience.''
Weiskott believes the collectors series may attract an adult buyer and become a hit. But she wonders whether children, who may not yet be familiar with the books, will want action figures like the gigantic Cave Troll and toys like the electronic Middle-Earth sword.
So far, the market has reacted positively to Grand Toys' announcement. Shares closed at 79 cents (U.S.), up 14 cents on the Nasdaq market.
That's a big improvement on its pennies-per-share price in December. In November, the company announced a net loss of $3.6 million for the third quarter ended Sept. 30, 2000. Since then the shares have plunged. They were at a low of 13 cents last December.
In January, the troubled company began to usher in sweeping changes, hiring Bradley, a former executive of Mattel Canada, as president and chief executive officer.
Company co-founders Stephen Altro, who was president and vice-chairman, and David Mars, who was executive vice-president and vice-chairman, resigned their positions in January.
Both remain with the company as directors and consultants.
Grand Toys has said more executive changes are planned.