1. Archive

Poor sales could make Barney a real dinosaur

Poor Barney. The plush purple-and-green Tyrannosaurus rex, beloved by toddlers if not their parents, is having a bad year.

Sales of Barney merchandise are dropping as briskly as they took off. The most popular toys in stores this year are the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers action figures. And therein may lie a marketing lesson in overexposure.

At Hasbro Inc., the toymaker in Pawtucket, R.I., that is the biggest Barney licensee, revenues from the Barney product line have tumbled to an estimated $30-million this year, from more than $130-million last year, said Jill Krutick, a Smith Barney analyst.

Barney shares the blame for a fall in Hasbro's stock, which closed at $31.50 on the American Stock Exchange on Thursday, down 12{ cents on the day, and down from a high of $40 in 1993.

Barney's problem may be that he has become too popular.

"Barney isn't dead," Ms. Krutick said. "But oversaturation really contracted the life of the product."

Barney, the only product of the Lyons Group, a privately held company in Allen, Texas, was created in 1988 by Sheryl Leach, after she searched in vain for a television program of value for her 2-year-old to watch.

Lyons Group, which is operated by Ms. Leach, produces the Barney television program, videos and records, and licenses Barney toys, dolls, books, sheets, toiletries, towels, luggage and clothes.

While children still enjoy the programing, parents appear to have had their fill of Barney merchandise.

The products took in an estimated $500-million last year, said Karen Raugust, executive editor of the Licensing Letter in Brooklyn, N.Y., which tracks product licensing. She could not provide a figure for this year but said sales were down significantly.

Many other licensing stars, from the Simpsons to Cabbage Patch dolls, faded almost as quickly as the demand for products was filled. An exception is the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, whose sales during the last six years totaled $4-billion, making it the biggest licensing blockbuster ever, Ms. Raugust said.

Analysts say the Lyons Group may have created a Barney backlash by selling too many licenses and not adequately limiting the supply of the products. In contrast, Bandai of America, which is based in Cerritos, Calif., and sells the Power Rangers, kept excitement high by restricting availability.

"We tried to limit the supply by putting a moratorium on new licenses in the fall of 1992," Cecilia Anzaldua, director of licensing for Lyons Group, said of Barney.

Lyons Group would not disclose sales figures. But even as Barney merchandise has faded, the company has maintained strong sales of videocassettes, television programing, books and recordings.

The biggest bonanza may be from the sale of videos. Eleven of the 25 most popular videos this year feature Barney, compared with 10 starring the Power Rangers, according to Videoscan Inc., of Hartsdale, N.Y., which tracks video sales.

The television program Barney & Friends, which has appeared on the Public Broadcasting System for two years, was rated the No. 2 children's program in July, after X-Men. A radio program, started this year, is in about 50 markets.

And there is more to come. Next month Lyons Group will begin filming 20 programs for PBS, with new characters.

The first issue of Barney magazine, from Welch Publishing, appeared on newsstands last month, and Barney will star on a new float in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.

Geffen Pictures is developing a Barney movie. And there will soon be a German Barney, a Japanese Barney and a Spanish Barney.