CityPress - - Business - MATTHEW HATTINGH busi­ness@city­press.co.za

We’ve all been vic­tims of it or wit­nesses to it – a child pulling at their par­ent’s sleeve or cre­at­ing a scene in the su­per­mar­ket, de­mand­ing a Dora the Ex­plorer colour­ing book, Paw Pa­trol lunch­box or Frozen fig­urine.

Mer­chan­dise linked to block­buster an­i­mated films or tele­vi­sion se­ries ex­er­cises a pow­er­ful magic on kid­dies – a force par­ents bat­tle to beat.

Just ask Brook and Thabisile Mthethwa, who learnt this les­son some years ago when they bought their daugh­ter a black doll, only to dis­cover it left her un­der­whelmed.

Sure, Kh­wezi, then aged four, could iden­tify with the doll’s skin tone and fea­tures, but some­thing was miss­ing.

The doll had no story, no part in an an­i­mated book or TV se­ries; lit­tle to spark a child’s imag­i­na­tion.

The ex­pe­ri­ence gave the Mtheth­was food for thought.

“We started do­ing re­search and thought, there’s a gap,” re­calls Brook (45). “It turned out that no one was do­ing two char­ac­ters – a boy and a girl – so we could cre­ate a brand.”

And so the cou­ple from Dur­ban com­mis­sioned de­sign­ers and came up with Dudu & Sipho, an an­i­mated sis­ter and brother duo ev­ery­one will love.

The two are but­ton-cute, but recog­nis­ably real. They also have that all-im­por­tant back story.

Dudu, a stu­dious, re­spon­si­ble girl, and Sipho, her mis­chievous brother, face ad­ven­tures and so­cial re­al­i­ties in dis­tinctly South African set­tings en­com­pass­ing sub­ur­ban, township and ru­ral life, ex­plains Thabisile (41).

Although Afro­cen­tric, the for­mula for the sto­ries and mer­chan­dise is de­lib­er­ately cal­cu­lated to have uni­ver­sal ap­peal that the Mtheth­was be­lieve will win them a slice of the R4.5 bil­lion South African toy mar­ket and even­tu­ally make a mark in­ter­na­tion­ally. So far, things look promis­ing.

Book one, Dudu & Sipho – The First of Many Ad­ven­tures, in which the kids take a taxi to the Val­ley of a Thou­sand Hills to visit Gogo, is out in English and is do­ing well.

Ver­sions in isiZulu and isiXhosa are due this month, while French and Swahili edi­tions are in the pipe­line.

Back­packs, bags, pen­cil cases, caps and T-shirts bear­ing the dis­tinc­tive Dudu & Sipho brand­ing are avail­able on­line through MyAfricanBuy.com.

The en­ter­pris­ing Mtheth­was have been us­ing a com­bi­na­tion of so­cial me­dia, word of mouth and be­low the line mar­ket­ing to build their brand.

They are work­ing on launch­ing their own on­line store and have also been busy drum­ming up face-to­face busi­ness.

Last month, they won an SMME Ex­cel­lence Award at the Dur­ban Essence Fes­ti­val.

They have manned stalls at other fairs, done ac­ti­va­tions at shop­ping cen­tres, and have spent much time ap­proach­ing prepri­mary and pri­mary schools, of­fer­ing Dudu & Sipho prod­ucts that in­clude the school’s name.

In­ter­est has been en­cour­ag­ing, but the Mtheth­was say the key thing is get­ting an an­i­mated se­ries on TV, and Dudu & Sipho dolls onto the shelves at ma­jor re­tail­ers.

Un­til now, Brook, an elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer, and Thabisile, who has a back­ground in sales and mar­ket­ing, have bankrolled the busi­ness, but the next steps will need a big­ger in­vest­ment.

“To cre­ate and pro­duce the an­i­ma­tion is costly – an es­ti­mated R19 mil­lion, ex­clud­ing mar­ket­ing, to pro­duce a 13-part se­ries,” says Brook.

Thabisile says scripts for the se­ries had been de­vel­oped and they have ap­plied to the KwaZu­luNatal Film Com­mis­sion and the Na­tional Film and Video Foun­da­tion for sup­port.

Talks to bring fun­ders on board are pro­gress­ing, but the Mtheth­was are re­luc­tant to name names un­til things have been con­cluded.

On the toys, Brook says an ini­tial run of dolls is be­ing man­u­fac­tured abroad, with part of the con­sign­ment ex­pected in time for Christ­mas.

He says they have spo­ken to three ma­jor re­tail­ers “who are wait­ing for the stock”.

Manufacturing and dis­tri­bu­tion for the run is be­ing self-fi­nanced and re­quires a fur­ther cap­i­tal in­jec­tion into the busi­ness to ex­pand the toy range, says Brook.

No of­fi­cial in­dus­try fig­ures are avail­able for the South African toy mar­ket, but John Jor­daan, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of the coun­try’s lead­ing dis­trib­u­tor and im­porter, Prima Toys, es­ti­mates it’s worth about R4.5 bil­lion a year.

This amounts to one-tenth of 1% (0.1%) of the world mar­ket, says Jor­daan, with the US tak­ing the lion’s share (20% to 30%), fol­lowed by Asia and Europe.

Branded toys ac­count for 99% of busi­ness for Prima Toys, a wholly owned sub­sidiary of listed in­vest­ment com­pany Deneb.

“Fifty years ago [when Prima was es­tab­lished], we didn’t have a sin­gle brand,” Jor­daan says.

He says that any new­comer will be “up against the world”, with so­cial me­dia from abroad driv­ing lo­cal de­mand, tight mar­gins and sup­pli­ers bear­ing the risk for un­sold goods.

Good luck to the an­i­mated duo!


AN­I­MATED DUOS Thabisile (left) and Brook Mthethwa are the cre­ators of lo­cal kids’ he­roes, Dudu & Sipho, who, with their gogo, hear a strange noise in Dudu & Sipho – The First of Many Ad­ven­tures

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