Date: June 2005

What could be a more classic collector's item than a teddy bear and that will be the cornerstone of merchandise sales for VEE Corp.'s latest tour, Care Bears Live. Both the Bears and Dragon Tales are slated to play approximately 45 weeks in 50-60 markets, giving seven to eight weekly performances.

Along with Sesame Street Live, the granddaddy units of VEE, that provides a lot of opportunities to sell show-related merchandise. “We expect the Care Bears to be a very plush-oriented concession line,” said Dayna Deutsch, senior vice president of sales and marketing for VEE, of the cuddly, colorful characters. “What surprised us on the test tour [last summer] is that kids arrived at the theaters with their own plush toys in hand. It was darling, but it also made us worry and think, 'I hope they'll want something else.'” So, did they? “Yes, they did,” Deutsch said. “You just can't have too much plush.” Other popular items were T-shirts, caps, character head mugs and visors.

All VEE lines will follow the example of the company's highly successful Sesame Street Live merchandise, focusing on plush and souvenir programs that follow the story line of each show. The Care Bears show will also feature playing cards and puzzles. “Since it was a test tour, we only had a limited amount of items available,” Deutsch said, “because we were not sure where it would go.”

Sesame Street Live's season will open in August and wrap in late May or early June and Dragon Tales will open on July 7 in West Palm Beach, Fla. Los Angeles' Snap Creative has been working with VEE for more than five years on merchandise for the Sesame Street shows and CEO Bill Howard said this year will bring a number of fresh and creative additions to the line.

Most recently, Snap has manufactured a line of 8-inch plush Elmo, Cookie Monster and Zoe dolls for the show, as well as a figurine playset with eight characters in an enclosure that folds down into a miniature stage ($20). For last year's 25th anniversary show, Snap created a figurine mug and an oversized 25th anniversary 18-inch plush Elmo with a silver bowtie which, even with the highest price point of any item offered at the show ($25), was a strong seller, according to Deutsch.

Merchandise colors stay within the color scheme of the show for which they are made. Sesame Street Live, for instance, features primary colors. Deutsch said the children relate to the television show and the live show is the living extension of that so it has to be authentic to what they know to be true from television and the characters they have grown to love. “They like to freshen up their line with new items pretty regularly because they do a certain amount of repeat business,” said Howard. “To some extent, it's the same people coming through a lot, so it's always a challenge for us to come up with new concepts and push the envelope of creativity.” On the other hand, “you don't want to put too much product out there,” said Deutsch. “Too many choices confuses a child and can be frustrating for mom and dad, who tell the child they can have one thing. It's best to keep it simple; more is not always better.”

Deutsch said VEE knows what its customers like and they try to approach concessions with the mindset that families want a nice keepsake from the show. That could be anything from balloons to toy soccer balls, pennants, balloons, caps and one of the most popular items, anything that lights up ($5-$15).

The prices for those items have remained relatively unchanged for the upcoming season. “Kids love things that light up and spin and the numbers tell us that these items are perennially popular,” she said. “We have wand lights, but we also have spinning lights, which is a stick with three extensions that have lights at the end. Kids can push a button and the extensions spin around. Each light has the logo of one of the characters or a theme on the actual stick. We keep looking at other lights but they are slower to develop. Everything needs to be safety tested.”

Though there was an initial concern about the extra shipping and storage costs for the $25 anniversary plush, Deutsch said, “it's selling and it's special.” “We also custom produce our own show program, which is more than a program book. It's an oversized story highlight, activity and coloring book,” Deutsch said. “Parents like them because it's a keepsake of the show and the child can take it home and experience it again and again and share with mom and dad.” Howard said none of the merchandise Snap has created for VEE has been retired yet, which he chalks up to the strong relationship between intellectual property holder Sesame Workshop and licensee VEE.

“Sesame Workshop approves all the concepts and looks over samples and VEE has such a good relationship with Sesame that it makes for a very efficient product development process,” Howard said.

Interviewed for this story: Bill Howard, (818) 735-3823; Dayna Deutsch, (612) 852-2369