Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:22 pm
Cartoon characters are big business
Massive merchandising efforts around major film releases like Columbia Pictures’ Spider-Man may be annoying to some – but to a few southeastern Wisconsin businesses, film tie-ins generate needed revenue.
Fidel Rodriguez, proprietor of Plush Products, opened a Milwaukee facility this spring.
Located in 30,000 square feet of leased space at the former Rexworks building at 445 W. Oklahoma Ave., Rodriguez’s business imports fabric characters from China to the location here, as well as locations in Virginia and Texas, and blows them full of foam pellets before sewing them shut.
Apart from Spider-Man, Rodriguez said Scooby-Doo toys would be big this year due to the merchandising blitz for the upcoming Warner Brothers’ live-action movie based on the cartoon series. The Scooby-Doo movie is due in theaters June 14.
"I work closely with contacts in Hollywood," Rodriguez said. "Last year it was Pooh Bear. This year, Spider-Man and Scooby are big."
Rodriguez could not begin to estimate how many Spider-Man units would be shipped from his loading dock in the months ahead, but estimated that as many as 4,000 plush characters could be stuffed into a semi trailer.
"Once I am at full capacity, I could do two truckloads, three truckloads a day," Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez is in the admirable position of not having to worry about licensing or predict which characters will be popular from one year to the next, as he simply acts as a contractor to those who own the materials. He then delivers the fully formed toys to all of the Six Flags and King’s Island theme parks, as well as Busch Gardens and midway games operators.
While film merchandising drives some products, others are permanent fixtures, Rodriguez said.
"Some staple items – the Looney Toons – will be there forever," Rodriguez said. "Bugs Bunny, Sylvester, Tweety, the Tasmanian Devil. We also have bears, dogs, fish. "
While stuffed action figures are attractive toys, they can’t hold a candle to live actors in costume. At least that is what CBL & Associates Properties, Inc., is betting on. The Chattanooga, Tenn.-based real estate investment trust owns malls throughout the nation and, according to Brookfield Square marketing director Tera Greenland, CBL & Associates has an exclusive contract to present Marvel’s "Who Wants to Be a Superhero" show at its properties. Apart from Brookfield Square, which offered the event May 18, the show will travel to CBL’s other Wisconsin properties including Regency Mall in Racine, East Town and West Town malls in Madison, Janesville Mall and Wausau Center.
"Some of our sister malls have already hosted the event," Greenland said prior to the May 18 event. "They have seen between 350 and 500 at each show. We are expecting about the same."
CBL entered into a contract with Marvel and Paramount Films which, according to Greenland, involved cash payment for the exclusive right to the event. The presentation appeals to children under 10, and focuses on safety and family topics, featuring appearances by costumed Spider-Man, Spider-Girl and Wolverine characters.
June 7, 2002 Small Business Times, Milwaukee