Features | From Pivot Magazine

LEGO makes a play for those who never grew out of the toy

A niche segment of the market is seeing serious growth, driven by “kidults” with time to spare and money to spend

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A man plays with a Star Wars LEGO setToys like this LEGO Stars Wars model have found a captive market with adults (Courtesy of LEGO)

Browse through LEGO Canada’s list of top bestsellers and the most popular toy sets may surprise you.

There’s the 2,048-piece “The Friends Apartments” set inspired by the television sitcom that ran from 1994 to 2004; a 11,695-piece “World Map”; and the Mos Eisley Cantina from Star Wars, all of which cost hundreds of dollars and are labelled for builders “18+”.

In short, LEGO is targeting grown-ups with money to spend and a sense of nostalgia, looking for a creative outlet. And, so far, it’s working.

LEGO—and the toy industry at large—have had an extraordinary two years, helped in no small part by adults stuck at home, buying toys for their own enjoyment and collection. The Danish company reported revenue growth of 46 per cent and operating profit growth of 104 per cent in the first half of 2021.

“LEGO, which always had an adult fan base, embraced it by creating more and more sophisticated sets,” says Richard Gottlieb, the CEO of Global Toy Experts, a toy industry consultancy. “There really is no line now that I can see between kids and adults who play with LEGO.”

“A lot of the things we like to do for fun as kids—we never really grow [out of],” says Sara Feldstein, a CPA who, during the pandemic, transitioned from working as a partner at an accounting firm to something completely different: toymaking.

“Adults still love building forts and all of that. We just lose opportunities to do it,” says Feldstein, who was inspired to fill a void in the market and create “open-ended toys” that lasted, could be shared among siblings and also considered the parents in their design. The first product on the market from her company, Barumba Play, is a set of life-sized foam building blocks that can also be used as a guest bed or playroom sofa.

The concept of childrens’ toys that appeal to adults or toys geared towards adults isn’t new.

Whether LEGO, adult colouring books, model cars, action figures, board games and puzzles, adults have been purchasing toys and games for themselves for decades. But industry experts say it has become an increasingly important and growing market segment.

“When the baby boomers rebelled against their parents’ generation, one of the things they started doing was embracing play,” Gottlieb notes.

Toys purchased for use by adults account for about 13 per cent of the dollar share annually and 20 per cent of all toys sold, according to industry analysts.

“It’s a huge market,” says Juli Lennett, toy industry adviser with market research firm The NPD Group. “If we look at ages 12-plus, it’s a US$7.6 billion market. Who wouldn’t go after that?”

Since COVID-19, overall toy sales in Canada climbed six per cent year-to-date by December 2021. That’s on top of the 17 per cent year-to-date rise the previous year. Normally, Lennett notes, sales figures do not deviate from a rise or fall of more than three per cent year to year.

One factor Feldstein believes is at play is the screen-time overload families have experienced over the last two years, from endless Zoom meetings to all-day virtual classes.

“[It] provides both children and adults opportunities to do things that are off the phone or the computer, like puzzles or classic board games like Monopoly,” she says. “You can be a kid or an adult and you still love them.”

For legacy toy brands, nostalgia is a significant part of their appeal. Numerous studies have shown that in difficult times, nostalgia can be a powerful antidote in battling feelings of loneliness and instability, and can bring more happiness.

Companies like LEGO are happy to provide that nostalgic boost and have identified a market segment willing to spend $949.99 for a 6,785 piece-version of the Star Wars “AT-AT” set. Lennett says one of the top-selling toys—in any category—during the holiday season was LEGO’s “The Mandalorian & The Child” building set, as parents and grandparents introduce the fictional intergalactic world that transfixed them in their youth to the next generation.

“I’m not surprised to see in the toy industry that a lot of these brands that are 30, 40, 50 years old … growing at the rates that they're growing,” she says. “It's really helping people to get out of this pandemic funk that we've been in.”


Read about the Quebec-based puzzle company that boomed during the pandemic. Plus, find out why collecting sports trading cards has become big business again.