By Christopher Palmeri and Matt Townsend
NEW YORK - Kids looking to grab an Iron Man toy after being wowed by the hit “Marvel’s The Avengers” have some choices on store shelves, including leftovers from the 2010 movie “Iron Man 2.”
Stores, burned after years of slow-selling Hollywood toys, held back on orders for “Avengers” products. With the film a huge success, retailers, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Toys “R” Us Inc., have been peddling old Thor hammers and Captain America action figures at or close to full price.
The “Avengers” surprise illustrates the challenges marketers face capitalizing even on hits. Hasbro Inc., which licenses the rights to make many Marvel-related toys from Walt Disney Co., will generate about $150 million in sales from “Avengers” merchandise this year, according to Gerrick Johnson, a New York-based analyst at BMO Capital Markets Inc.
Normally, a movie that makes more than $1 billion at the box office would produce $250 million to $300 million in toy sales, said Johnson, who has an underperform rating on shares of the Pawtucket -based company.
“Nobody thought the movie would be this big,” said Isaac Larian, chief executive officer of toymaker MGA Entertainment Inc., which doesn’t make “Avengers” products. “Retailers didn’t buy deep and Hasbro didn’t push hard. Sales took off and now they are catching up.”
Second-quarter sales of boys’ toys at Hasbro fell 16 percent to $389 million from a year earlier, as “strong growth” in Marvel products failed to counter declines in other brands, the company said. Analysts project the company will register $4.27 billion in revenue this year, down slightly from last year’s $4.29 billion, so $150 million in lost “Avengers” sales translates into no growth this year.
“Avengers’ is ahead of expectations and selling well,” Wayne Charness, a Hasbro spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement. “Retailers still have some inventory of ‘Iron Man 2’ and ‘Thor,’ but we are well-positioned to meet holiday demand for ‘Avengers’ products.”
Last week, a Toys “R” Us store in central Los Angeles was selling a mask with packaging emphasizing 2010’s “Iron Man 2” film for $9.99. The same mask in an “Avengers” wrapper was offered for $11.99 nearby.
The Wayne, N.J.-based retailer has stocked its shelves with older “Iron Man 2,” “Captain America: The First Avenger” and “Thor” movie products for “an avid collector base, as well as kids,” according to Bob Friedland, a spokesman.
Hasbro rose 0.5 percent to $37.49 on Aug. 24 in New York. The stock has gained 18 percent this year, trailing the 28 percent gain of its larger competitor, Mattel Inc. In March 2011, Hasbro traded at a 37 percent premium to Mattel, based on a multiple of earnings. Mattel, with a price-earnings ratio of 15.7 now, is at a 13 percent premium to Hasbro’s 13.9.
“The Avengers” has taken in almost $1.5 billion in theaters worldwide since its May release, becoming the top- grossing film this year and the third-highest of all time, after “Avatar” and “Titanic,” according to Box Office Mojo, an industry researcher.
Robert Iger, chairman and chief executive officer of Burbank, California-based Disney, said on a May conference call that while orders for “Avengers” goods exceeded those of “Captain America” and “Thor,” two Marvel films last year, “the interest was not commensurate with what we’ve seen in terms of the success of the movie.”
Disney generates royalties on sales of movie-related merchandise from licensees such as Hasbro. Revenue in Disney’s consumer products division rose 8.3 percent to $742 million in the quarter that ended June 30. A smaller percentage of the unit’s sales came from movie-related merchandise than in the year-earlier period, the company said.
“This is kind of a long-term proposition,” Iger said on an Aug. 7 conference call. “‘Avengers’ is not as strong as ‘Cars,’ but until the DVD comes out and we get into the Christmas season, it’s way too early to assess this.”
Lego Systems Inc. increased its production of “Avengers”- themed construction toys in the weeks before the film’s release based on media interest and customer surveys, according to Michael McNally, a spokesman for the closely held Enfield, Connecticut-based company.
“It’s pretty rare to do that and we’re very glad we did,” McNally said.
Changes in toy preferences have made it harder to predict sales, said Johnson, the BMO analyst. Sales of action figures in the U.S. fell 7 percent to $1.3 billion last year, according to NPD Group Inc., a market researcher based in Port Washington, N.Y.
Hasbro’s own calculations likely had an impact. The company also makes Spider-Man toys and had to weigh how they and “Avengers” characters, such as Iron Man and the Incredible Hulk, would fare against each other and in competition with Batman products from “The Dark Knight Rises.” At a Target Corp. store in West Hollywood, Calif., Spider-Man occupied as much shelf space as Avengers.
“‘Avengers’ toys actually got off to a pretty good start and slowed after Spidey and Batman hit shelves,” said Sean McGowan, an analyst at Needham & Co. who recommends buying Hasbro stock. “They were trying to maximize the overall pot.”