“2024 is going to be a huge year for TUBBZ”: Rubber Road’s Liam Taylor on the rise and rise of its cosplaying ducks collectables

Liam Taylor, Rubber Road, Tubbz

Liam, happy new year! It’s great to tie-in. To kick us off, what were some stand-out launches in 2023?
The much-anticipated launch of Space Invaders and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in our Quarter Arcades range – they’d been in the works for some time and came in for Christmas. It was good timing as Space Invaders celebrated its 45th anniversary and the much-anticipated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie landed to some great reviews earlier in the year.

Liam Taylor, TUBBZ, Rubber Road, Film & TV, Toys & Games

TUBBZ in general has also been exciting as we built the brand by introducing more XL TUBBZ – such as Jaws and Stay Puft – Mini TUBBZ and a new category in TUBBZ Plushies. Another TUBBZ stand-out is the unique ‘pixelated’ style Classic Lara Croft; we worked closely with Crystal Dynamics to release it around their Tomb Raider anniversary activation.

Liam Taylor, TUBBZ, Rubber Road, Film & TV, Toys & Games

You’ve welcomed a raft of new signings recently across a suite of your brands. What are some of the key ‘north stars’ that guides what brands work best for you?
Well, firstly, watch this space as well as we’ve been busy and have some fantastic more sign ups coming imminently!

Brands that work well are those with a fan base that’s excitable; ones with fans that like to brag about being one. It’s not just the size of the audience, it’s if they are passionate about being in it. That means being relevant is key, so can we capitalise on that? Is there an anniversary, or similar kinds of event, as this always ignites further interest and ensures relevance. An example of that is our new licenses with Minecraft – the most popular video game of all time which celebrates its 15th anniversary this year – and Toho for Godzilla, celebrating its 70th anniversary.

We have enjoyed huge successes with some Eighties franchises like Back to the Future, Jaws and Ghostbusters, but we want to build on this by securing licenses for more current brands with broad appeal. Our latest signings for Minecraft and Five Nights at Freddy’s put a big tick in the box for reaching younger audiences. These legendary games are a fantastic addition to our portfolio and sit well along with other licenses we hold for brands such as Fortnite, Minions, Spongebob Squarepants, Avatar and one of the best-selling games of 2023, Hogwarts Legacy.

2023 also saw you guys enjoy impressive growth in the US. What’s been the key to cracking America?
This year’s New York Toy Fair introduced us to some real big hitters in terms of retailers and potential new partners. Our products stand-out visually online which helped us to secure new online business to add to our existing partners over there. The introduction of lower priced Mini TUBBZ and Boxed Editions TUBBZ have got us into leading US retailers, taking TUBBZ to the masses.

Liam Taylor, TUBBZ, Rubber Road, Film & TV, Toys & Games

In terms of our current portfolio, we’ve been fortunate enough to secure licenses with leading, global entertainment brands which has taken us into the US and further afield. Universal has been one of our long-standing partners and we have licenses for their most iconic movie franchises, including Jurassic Park, Minions, Back to the Future, and Jaws.

When the new UNIVRS store opened in City Walk, Hollywood, we were privileged to be one of a handful of partners selected to sell official merch there. This gets TUBBZ in front of a huge audience. A fact that is guaranteed to not come up in any pub quizzes is that the biggest ever TUBBZ of Bruce from Jaws is in their window!

Liam Taylor, TUBBZ, Rubber Road, Film & TV, Toys & Games

There he is! And does this US success change any aspects of the sorts of brands and products you’re looking to make?
Yes it does. We absolutely look at franchises and products that are popular in the US and have large followings. Anime is huge there, so we were very keen to work in that area – more news on that soon!

And, drum roll please, we are extending our Music TUBBZ range by signing Swedish rock band Ghost, who are massive in the US. This is a great addition to our licenses, with include Iron Maiden, Motorhead and Ozzy Osbourne – all of which all sold out super quickly.

Liam Taylor, TUBBZ, Rubber Road, Film & TV, Toys & Games

The US also has a strong retro gaming community and our Quarter Arcades have gone down so well there. This year we have several new cabinets coming that will definitely keep these hard-core gamers happy.

Some recent TUBBZ launches have embraced some fun new elements. The Trolls TUBBZ have hair, for example. How far can you push this range when it comes to design features?
The design team have a lot of fun coming up with quirky new features and it’s something that they continue to consider on a case-by-case basis when characters have something quirky about them. Trolls is a great example.

Liam Taylor, TUBBZ, Rubber Road, Film & TV, Toys & Games

Elsewhere, our limited-edition XL Tubbz stand out on size alone and our Slimer glows in the dark. We’ve also looked at scent. And while some scents have definitely been rejected, those who have passed the sniff test include Lemmy with a whisky scent, Stay Puft with a marshmallow scent and the Easter Bunny that smells of chocolate! I’m sure there will be plenty of other unique features on future TUBBZ.

Liam Taylor, TUBBZ, Rubber Road, Film & TV, Toys & Games

You also now have TUBBZ Plushies. Why bring the brand into this area?
Our goal is for TUBBZ to be a global leading collectable brand and plush versions complement what we’ve done already. Plus, the plushie category is huge so we’re diving in.

Did converting these characters into plush throw up any interesting design challenges?
Vinyl TUBBZ are designed on a computer and a 3D printed model is produced for tooling. Whereas plush designs definitely go back and forth a bit more to get things right. We’ve also used a solid base inside some of the characters to give them stability to remain upright – nobody wants wonky ducks!

Liam Taylor, TUBBZ, Rubber Road, Film & TV, Toys & Games

This year is going to be a huge year for TUBBZ. We have hundreds of new designs on the way and having successfully tested the water with a new plushie form, this will definitely be part of future plans.

TUBBZ was also part of the Jurassic Park activation at the Natural History Museum last year – and your TUBBZ T-Rex went down a storm. Why was that an exciting event to be a part of?
The National History Museum was the UK’s most visited indoor attraction last year, so it was a wonderful opportunity to collaborate with Universal on their takeover of the museum shop as part of the Jurassic Park 30th anniversary campaign. And I think the TUBBZ T-Rex resonated because when you think Jurassic Park, you think T-Rex – and when you think T-Rex, you think masses of dinosaur fans!

There are always new and younger dino fans coming into the franchise enjoying the movies for the first time, so Jurassic Park is far from extinction in the world of pop culture. It’s one of our most successful brands. We have 12 characters in the Jurassic Park collection – including XL T-Rex, Velociraptor and Dilophosaurus, so the exclusive standard sized T-Rex TUBBZ in a ‘cage’ style box was the perfect anniversary tribute – and what better place to sell it!

Liam Taylor, TUBBZ, Rubber Road, Film & TV, Toys & Games

Last question! What does the rest of this year have in store? What should we keep our eyes peeled for?
There’s plenty more deals that are nearly over the line for 2024 – plus new products being added to existing licenses such as Bethesda and Warner Bros. There is going to be renewed interested with DC Comics’ new slate starting to be hyped up and with a Lord of the Rings movie landing later in the year. Our most recent signings will see some fantastic merch coming for Minecraft, Five Nights At Freddy’s and Godzilla.

Finally, hot on the heels of our Space Invaders and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Quarter Arcades, retro gamers are in for a treat as we’ll be revealing several new legendary arcade games in our ¼ sized table-top format. As for the rest, you’ll just have to wait and see.

Great stuff. Thanks again Liam; let’s tie-in again soon!

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