February 12, 2010 / 3:29 PM / 8 years ago

Lego to market board games in U.S. in 2010

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Danish toymaker Lego Group plans to start selling board games in the United States this summer as it extends its business beyond colorful building blocks.

The company will announce 10 board games at the American International Toy Fair, which begins Sunday in New York.

Lego will also tout toys tied to movies like “Toy Story 3” and “Prince of Persia,” as well as new videogames under the “Star Wars 3” and “Harry Potter” licenses.

The company sees “tremendous potential” in its North American markets, Soren Torp Laursen, president of Lego Americas, told Reuters ahead of Toy Fair.

Lego’s U.S. sales rose 30 percent in 2009 despite a wider pullback in consumer spending. It commands about 4 percent of the nation’s toy market.

Priced between $9.99 and $34.99, the board games, which include “Ramses Pyramid” and “Minotaurus,” will mostly hit store shelves in July. A few will be available online from late March.

The games promise to test memory and logical skills of children as they compete to reach a certain destination.

“We are pretty sure we are sitting on a formula that will be worthwhile for the retailers to support,” Laursen said, citing the success of a test launch of the games in Britain and Germany.

AGAINST THE TIDE?

Even as many U.S. retailers look for growth overseas, Laursen said Lego was confident of its bet on the United States. A search for value and a sense of nostalgia drove parents to classic toys in the economic downturn.

“The consumer is clearly voting in our favor right now,” he said. “We are getting to the stage now when parents of today’s kids grew up with Lego themselves. The impact of them having an emotional attachment cannot be underestimated.”

Lego, whose name originates from the Danish words for “play well,” started as a small carpenter’s workshop in Billund, Denmark, about 80 years ago.

Laursen noted that Lego saw more growth in toys priced above $30 in 2009, underscoring parents’ willingness to invest in trusted names.

The company can also afford to experiment and take some risks in 2010, Laursen said. It recently ramped up its Mexico manufacturing operations to cope with rising demand.

And unlike past years, when Lego relied heavily on Hollywood-related properties to boost its business, its core lines of building sets like “Lego City” and “Power Miners” performed well in 2009.

Asked about his long-term goals for the U.S. business, Laursen said: “I am not going to retire before we have 10 percent market share. That’s a reasonable ambition ... I am 46 and I have no immediate plans to retire.”

Reporting by Dhanya Skariachan; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn

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