Tomy targets big holiday sales in U.S.

by Yuri Kageyama

The Associated Press

Toy maker Tomy Co. is hoping to score a comeback in the U.S. this Christmas with toy trains and cars that boast a 40-year history in Japan but failed previously to catch on abroad.

Tomy, Japan’s No. 2 toy company, which also makes Transformer robots, dominates the plastic train and die-cast car market here.

But it is looking abroad for growth as Japan’s declining birthrate — already one of the lowest in the world — makes future prospects bleak.

Tomy is hopeful about yearend sales in the U.S., the world’s biggest economy, even as worries linger about purse-tightening amid unemployment there near 10 percent.

“The tradition of enjoying the holidays is so much stronger in the U.S.,” Tomy general manager Shigemi Sugaya said Tuesday. “Toy sales are going to hold up compared with other industries.”

The Tomica Mega Station Set, which includes a miniature railway, railroad crossing and two die-cast cars, is selling for $79.99 (about ¥6,690) in the U.S. Other products, such as the Gas Station and Pizza Shop, are smaller and cheaper.

The parts can be placed together in various combinations to create a sprawling fantasy world of vehicles and trains for children ages 4 to 7, company officials said.

Sales are going strong recently, including Black Friday, at U.S. retail chain Toys R Us, with which Tomy has an exclusive deal to sell the sets. Tomy declined to disclose numbers.

Tomica die-cast cars were sold in the U.S. previously, despite the domination of American rival Mattel Inc.’s Hot Wheels, which continues today.

Sales were discontinued partly because of a rising yen, which makes Japanese exports more expensive overseas. Since then, production has shifted to China, Vietnam and Thailand, making the die-cast cars more competitive.

Satoshi Shimizu, a developer at Tomy, acknowledged that toy trains had long been a hard-sell for American children. They’ve been popular in Japan because of the high-profile bullet trains and ubiquitous commuter trains.

Tomy is determined to raise overseas sales to 25 percent of total sales in about two years. The proportion is expected to be 20 percent in the current business year ending next March.

“We feel that this is not enough,” said Mark Shinohara, chief operating officer of Tomy’s U.S. office. The products are already well-known in China and Taiwan, he said in a recent telephone interview from Santa Ana, Calif.

Tomy offerings will be facing off against Thomas & Friends, and also against Danish toy maker Lego, although that tends to be for older children, in addition to Hot Wheels.