Doll deal spices up Character's share appeal

They are likely to be the toys children really, really want this Christmas. Spice Girls dolls will hit the shops in mid-December, sparking a buying frenzy. And Character Group, a small licensing company, has won the exclusive UK distribution rights. Nigel Cope reports on another merchandise spin-off which could rival `Teletubbies' as the UK's most sought-after toy this Christmas.

Parents across the country discovered yesterday how they will be spending the run-up to Christmas: standing outside toy shops and department stores at ungodly hours desperately hoping to lay their hands on Toytown's latest hot ticket: Spice Girls dolls. Standing just 11.5 inches tall and priced at pounds 17 to pounds 20, they will be like gold dust.

Character Group, the licensing company formerly known as Toy Options, announced yesterday that it had won the exclusive UK licence to distribute the dolls. It will ship 500,000 dolls by February but less than half that number will reach the high street in time for Christmas.

The shortage of supply seems guaranteed to make the five dolls this year's equivalent to Buzz Lightyear when huge demand forced desperate parents to pay huge sums to secure the toys from America.

Gerry Masters of the Association of British Toy Retailers said: "It's definitely going to be like Buzz Lightyear over again. There can't possibly be enough dolls to cope with demand. There are going to be a lot of disappointed fans."

He said toy shops were already experiencing outbreaks of "toy rage" as frustrated shoppers searched for popular items such as Teletubbies and Tamagochi virtual pets. "We are thinking of running a course on how to deal with it," he said.

Character Group secured the rights from Galoob Toys, the US company which makes the dolls. Character's shares soared 21.5p to 147.5p on the news.

Richard King, chairman of Character Group, said: "We expect demand to outstrip initial supply but we will do our best to keep up."

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