Wheel Life

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Mattel revs up Hot Wheels, licensing the brand for lifestyle products such as skateboards, snowboards, and BMX bikes.

Mattel is motoring along into the action sports category with the goal of translating the speed, power, and performance inherent in its Hot Wheels brand into lifestyle-oriented products for boys.

The initiative is a new business model for the toymaker and provides an opportunity to branch out into new categories and work with best-in-class partners in new channels of distribution. Authenticity is paramount, with Mattel taking the road less traveled in choosing not to pursue a traditional licensing program but rather allowing consumers to discover the products through underground placement in the right distribution channels. "This approach will give us credibility with boys that just can't be bought," says Richard Dickson, executive vice president of worldwide consumer products at Mattel. "Our approach creates a buzz with boys who wear their skateboard and snowboard as their badge, and if they feel the products are authentic and perform, it will create an underground buzz that is organic."

Partnering with Mattel are well-known companies in the category such as Sims Snowboards with a limited-edition snowboard featuring Hot Wheels artwork and several children's boards with Hot Wheels-inspired images. The line premieres this month at specialty and mid-tier retailers. "We wanted to capture a wider audience for our brand, and when we thought about the consumer we were going after, we knew we'd blend perfectly since Sims is the original snowboard brand and Hot Wheels is 'the world's coolest car company,'" says Travis Wood, director of marketing at Sims Snowboards.

THOR also is on board creating a co-branded line of Hot Wheels/THOR Authentic Motocross Gear products such as pants, jerseys, and gloves for adults and kids with distribution only in motorcycle shops and online. Liberty Group Products is coming to market with BMX bikes (with retails from $100 to $600) and skateboards, as well as a co-branded Mitchie "Little Tricky" Brusco skateboard. Hot Wheels is the newest sponsor of Brusco, a 7-year-old skateboarding phenom. Mattel also is working with other celebrity sports stars such as designer Troy Lee and John Parker, a BMX rider who will compete at the X-Games this year.

Additional products such as an adult-sized go-cart are available in Sports Authority and Dick's Sporting Goods. Novelty T-shirts also have been doing well at Nordstrom and Hot Topic. In keeping with the underground aura of the program, Mattel will conduct some small programs such as a traveling bicycle tour with performances, online exposure at hotwheels.com, and print advertising.

For now, Dickson is concentrating on existing categories, but he realizes enormous opportunities lie ahead. "Hot Wheels is synonymous with toys, and as boys grow, with collecting them," he says. "This initiative allows the brand to live on in other places and appeal to boys who are becoming interested in bikes, skating, and other novelty items."

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