Toy Makers Learn That Construction Sets Aren’t Just For Boys Anymore

By Shan Li
Los Angeles Times.

For decades, toy makers believed the industry gospel: Boys want to build things; girls want to play princess.

But now, female chief executives are leading huge corporations, including Yahoo Inc. and General Motors Corp., and more women are becoming engineers and mathematicians. Meanwhile, toy companies are realizing that girls want to build bridges and wire circuits.

Parents, too, are demanding playthings that nurture a love of science and math in their daughters, driven in part by nationwide hand-wringing over a lack of interest in STEM careers (short for science, technology, engineering and math).

As a result, construction toys, bolstered by demand from girls, are a bright spot in the $22-billion industry, which has seen other categories stagnate or decline.

Eager to make up for lost time, Mattel Inc. in April acquired Mega Brands, known for its construction sets. Giant toy maker Lego has retooled its classic building kits with a splash of purple and themes such as pet salon and beauty shop. Upstart toy companies are designing girl-friendly toys that combine fun with scientific principles.

“It’s baffling that it took this long for toy makers to get on board,” said Jaime Katz, an equity analyst at Morningstar. “If you aren’t catering to the girls’ side you are leaving half of the market on the table.”

Although building sets were flat last year, the category climbed 22% to $2 billion in 2012, up from $1.6 billion in 2011, according to NPD Group. Over those two years, action figures dropped by 2.1% and plush toys slid by 5.4%.

“This is an untapped opportunity,” said Michael Swartz, research analyst at SunTrust Robinson Humphrey. “The hot product begets copycats.”

Toy makers have challenged traditional gender roles in the past — especially during the feminist movement in the 1960s and 1970s.

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