I’ve mentioned LeapFrog Enterprises, Inc. (NYSE:L) before when discussing toy manufacturers and how it is a favorite of mine. The company has produced top-selling educational toys for the past two holiday seasons, and even managed to produce four of the top 10 toys last year in regards to sales. There’s a good chance that it will end up doing well again this year as well with its new Leap Reader device. While one hot toy does not a good investment make, when a toy company starts showing consistency in regard to producing top holiday sellers year after year then it might be time to sit up and take notice.
The holiday shopping season
The time of the year is very important in the toy industry. While there will be sales throughout the year, they generally don’t compare to the sales that are made leading up to Christmas. Falling flat when it comes to Christmas sales means that you’re not only ending the year badly, but that you’re also going to be stuck in a rut for a while since the months following Christmas are traditionally some of the worst for toy sales. Several “hot toys” lists are published each year in the months leading up to Christmas, tracking the trends that drive toy sales and predicting which toys will be at the tops of everyone’s letters to Santa. If you’re a toy manufacturer, you want your products to be on at least one of these lists.
This is one place that LeapFrog Enterprises, Inc. (NYSE:L) has excelled. A major trend in toys has moved toward electronics in recent years, especially into the realm of interactive toys similar to the tablets and other devices that parents use. LeapFrog has created several popular handheld devices as well as the LeapPad tablet line, and is also actively developing LeapFrog Enterprises, Inc. (NYSE:L) apps for other tablets such as Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)’s iPad.
Comfortably behind the competition
In most cases, you wouldn’t expect companies to brag about not being at the top of their industry. With LeapFrog Enterprises, Inc. (NYSE:L), though, it could almost be seen as a badge of honor. The company prides itself in putting learning first in the toys it develops, making sure that its toys are fun and educational instead of just a tool to drive profits higher. While competitors such as Hasbro, Inc. (NASDAQ:HAS) and Mattel, Inc. (NASDAQ:MAT) grow faster than LeapFrog as a result of its more intense focus, they also suffer many more misses when trying to mass-produce toys in hopes of sparking a new toy trend.
Holding a 16% share of the toy market, Mattel, Inc. (NASDAQ:MAT) reported a net income of $776.5 million in 2012 that included sales from perennial best-sellers such as the company’s “Barbie” and “Hot Wheels” franchises. Unfortunately for Mattel, Inc. (NASDAQ:MAT), attempts to follow the trend toward electronic toys have fallen somewhat flat. While still the market leader, the company has suffered more misses than hits in recent years when trying to create electronic toys that kids want to play with.
Hasbro, Inc. (NASDAQ:HAS) has also had its problems when trying to follow the electronic trend. With an 11% market share and a net income of $336 million in 2012, Hasbro, Inc. (NASDAQ:HAS) owns the popular “Transformers” and “G.I. Joe” franchises as well as several game properties such as “Battleship” and “Monopoly.” Hasbro has also licensed several of its properties for film and animation, though critical reviews of films based off of its properties haven’t all been kind in recent years.
Attractive valuation and earnings potential
One benefit to trailing comfortably behind the competition is that LeapFrog Enterprises, Inc. (NYSE:L) gets to maintain its affordability while building momentum and improving its overall value. Though the company was hit hard by the recession, as consumers are spending more there is a building interest in LeapFrog’s products. This is reflected in the company’s stock prices when compared to trends of the last few years; the post-Christmas slump largely disappeared, and investor confidence has kept trading volumes near their pre-Christmas levels. Stock prices have nearly doubled in the past 12 months, with current share prices of around $9.50 inching closer to an all-time high for the company.