With Juratoys, Argos Wityu has taken on the challenge of investing in a sector undergoing profound change

The market for toys and games is undergoing profound change. In July 2018, Argos Wityu entered the sector, becoming the majority shareholder of Juratoys, a company located in the Jura département of France and specialized in the design of traditional, educational toys and games. Based on its two strong brands, Janod and Kaloo, and supported by the fund, Juratoys is now focusing on innovative products for children, digital technology, family ties and international expansion.

Investing in toys and games in 2018 had all the appearances of a risky venture, and the recent difficulties of Toys “R” Us and the French store chain La Grande Récré were there to demonstrate it. But this was before Argos Wityu came on the scene. The investment fund is accustomed to complex transactions and decided in July 2018 to take over Juratoys, a company located in the Jura département of France (more than €50 million in sales in 2018), specialized in creating traditional, educational toys and games with a modern design.

“We like to be daring at Argos, and we were convinced that this was an attractive opportunity despite the difficult environment”, confirms Gilles Lorang, managing partner at Argos Wityu. The objective was to stimulate and accelerate the company’s growth at a time when the worldwide market for toys and games is undergoing profound change in the way they are sold. The market represents €3.4 billion but attracts few investors.

200

new products created every year

+50 M€

in sales

6

pillars in the new strategy

Processed with VSCO with a5 preset

+2500

physical points of sale in France

What
we saw

  • Well-known brands
  • A robust positioning in traditional, educational toys and games and a company with a strong presence abroad
  • Expertise in product design and creation, key to driving growth and generating interest among children

What
we have done

  • Reduced debt to give the company more breathing room to grow and develop
  • Stepped up international presence
  • Developed both on-line and off-line distribution networks
  • Pursued digitalization
  • Built up the workforce by 10%
01

The strength of the Janod and Kaloo brands

Gilles continues: “The reputation of Juratoys was based on its two strong brands, Janod and Kaloo, its advantageous positioning, its international presence and sales, and especially its expertise in the design and creation of high-quality, educational products.”

For Juratoys, working with Argos Wityu came naturally. “Argos’s team distinguished themselves from the other funds we met. Their vision was oriented around the brand, the company’s values and its strategic objectives rather than on immediate results”, says Ludovic Martin, CEO of Juratoys, who underscores the team’s “support and professionalism”.

It was a lucky moment for Juratoys, which from 2015 to 2018 was held by Alex Brands, “a US multinational toy company that was in difficulty”, says Ludovic.

On July 25, 2018, Argos Wityu officially took 85% of the capital and became the majority shareholder of Juratoys. The remaining 15% was shared among three members of the management team.

At this point, management began to take action. “The transaction was unusual in the way it was structured, yet typical of what we like to do at Argos”, says Gilles, who characterizes the transaction as “a carve-out and a reduction in debt rather than as a leveraged transaction”.

02

The strategy is built around six pillars

A business plan was drawn up and the strategy reorganized around six pillars: innovation, internationalization, digital technology, ESG, financial management and growth.

The management team focused on stepping up interationalization, innovation, new products and digital marketing. The US sales organization was revamped and two new subsidiaries were opened, in Spain and Italy. The company has also taken on another wide-ranging project: reducing the company’s carbon footprint. Ludovic has already designated 2020 as a showcase year for ESG.

03

Transforming the company through digital technology and an omnichannel strategy

The company then set to work on the digital technology plan, the project’s keystone. Gilles points out that the objective was to “be able to communicate directly with families who remain faithful to the Janod and Kaloo brands, while continuing to develop our in-store and on-line omnichannel strategy.”

“You have to view digital technology as an opportunity, not as a risk. We are not looking to do away with our brick-and-mortar network but rather to use the internet to support our brands and our ties with our customers,” says Ludovic. This omnichannel aspect is central to the Juratoys strategy. The company intends to deploy its brands through an innovative distribution network, establishing a presence in stores that offer consumer products linked to culture and leisure, such as Cultura or Fnac in France or in travel retail. It’s a way for the company to take better advantage of consumer trends.

Philippe Gueydon, CEO of King Jouet, which sells Juratoys’ products, confirms that toy companies have had to adapt to constantly-evolving consumer trends. “Consumers now want to make intelligent purchases that respect the environment and have an educational value for their children. This is the special characteristic of our business: it’s children who use our products, but it’s parent who buy them.”

04

Acquisitions and partnerships

Juratoys recently formed a partnership with Hachette, which “offers numerous high-quality leisure products. Hachette was looking for a partner with sectoral expertise and marketing savvy, recognized both in France and abroad for its professionalism and positioning at the high quality end of the spectrum,” Ludovic explains. “We wanted a partner with a image of high quality that could carry 50 new products in 2019,” confirms Sarah Koegler-Jacquet, Managing Director of Gautier-Languereau / Deux Coqs d’Or / Hachette enfants at Hachette Livre. “We provide Janod with our expertise in publishing children’s books, which is different from their core business,” she adds.

Juratoys and Argos Wityu are now looking to the future. “Argos’s clairvoyance combined with its financial capacity will enable Juratoys to carry out acquisitions,” Ludovic predicts. “We are looking for companies that have complementary products and share the same values of quality and education,” Gilles confirms.

05

Aiming high in 2020

The Group’s goal for 2020 is to “continue to innovate on the product side and enrich the product line with another 100 articles,” says Ludovic. Combined with acquisitions, this strategy should enable the company to “ultimately exceed €100 million in sales”, Gilles concludes.

06

In their own words!

CEO OF JURATOYS

Ludovic Martin

“Argos’s team distinguished themselves from the other funds we met. Their vision was oriented around the brand, the company’s values and its strategic objectives rather than on immediate results.”

“The Argos team is remarkable, in both human and professional terms. We are very lucky to have them beside us.”

CEO OF KING JOUET

Philippe Gueydon

“We think that Juratoys and Argos are offering what consumers now want: more local presence and a company with a human scale that is building something over time. They have performed very successfully, and we have taken the right road with them.”

07

The offbeat interview of Ludovic Martin, CEO of Juratoys

08

Interview with Philippe Gueydon, CEO of King Jouet

Philippe Gueydon: “Toy companies are now trying to detach themselves from the mass market and offer customers unique products they will not see anywhere else.”

King Jouet’s CEO, the principal distributor for Juratoys, a company supported by Argos Wityu, takes a look at the challenges now facing toy manufacturers and retailers.

What are the principal changes taking place in the toy industry today?
The principal change we are now seeing – visible in other consumer products segments too – is that consumers want to make intelligent purchases, in particular without harming the environment. They want toys for their children that have educational value. This has led to two competing trends: on the one hand, parents want toys to reflect those intelligent choices, while kids are lured above all by licenses and major brand marketing.

What is the impact of those competing trends on retailers?
Toy manufacturers and retailers are now trying to detach themselves from the mass market and offer customers unique products that have a somewhat narrower distribution network and that can’t be found elsewhere. The objective is to offer real differentiation.

What are the characteristics of the French market today?
The most prominent characteristic compared with the rest of Europe is our higher birth rate. The number of consumers is therefore higher. The second charactreristic that distinguishes France is the large number of retailers: specialized stores, e-commerce sites, pure players, etc.

How do toy manufacturers and retailers work together?
The process is always the same: in the first phase we get to know the product range, then we start negotiating. Finally, we create the marketing campaign to accompany the brands. We work very closely with French suppliers. We anticipate innovations, news surrounding the brands, how inventories are selling, etc. And we try to put forward French companies as much as possible, because that is what the French consumer now wants.

What is your relationship with those consumers?
It’s a relationship that we maintain and develop on a daily basis, through our loyalty program and by creating workgroups with the brand’s loyal customers. We ask them to think about how the stores could be improved, at the checkout counter for example, which is often the most bothersome part of the customer’s experience! Our people are in constant contact with our customers, particularly in the realm of after-sales service.

What kind of product experience do you offer?
For us, testing the product is experiencing the product. For this reason, we have tried to make as many products as possible available to customers in our stores. We also invite toy designers to a “guest table”, where they can present new products and speak directly with consumers.

You have recently developed concept stores in city centers. What is the strategy behind this new choice of location?
Consumer trends are changing, particularly in city centers. Toys and games are among the products that had deserted downtown areas, whereas consumers now want to shop right outside their front door without having to get in their car. So we thought it was important to respond to that demand. In the meantime, we differentiated our positioning. To get away from the ubiquitous loud colors, we chose a simpler, more neutral design. On the product side, we decided to put priority on toys manufactured in France and less visible in other distribution networks, with an emphasis on educational toys. Finally, we upped the level of service offered to customers, providing checkrooms, home delivery, etc. We now have four points of sale in central Paris, Strasbourg and Lyon, and we intend to open more.

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