Targeting the big "boys"—Munich startup "Spyra" takes aims at the competition with water guns.
It's a multi-billion-dollar market. Munich-based "Spyra" is looking to capitalize on toys marketed at big boys.
“Kids” with some spending power: That's the target group of Munich-based startup Spyra. Since its launch in 2018, they’ve sold high-tech water guns that can hit targets at a distance of up to 10 meters. When the water hits its target (intended or not), you’ll know it—no, it won’t inflict pain or harm assures Spyra founder Sebastian Walter. Part of the fun factor in a water fight, however, is the sting. And Walter hopes his water guns pack enough of a punch to revolutionize water guns for adults. Standing in his way? Chinese tech giant Xiaomi.
In 2015, Sebastian Walter paddled across the Isar River in Munch with friends in raft and dreamed of a water gun that was both fun and had some “oomph,” says the 38-year-old in an interview with OMR. For a toy with those specs, he’s willing to reach a bit deeper into his pockets. After studying product design, he was active as an independent contractor in the automotive industry and, by his own account, made bank. Willing to shell out more than your typical water-gun purchaser, Walter is disappointed by the products on the market. So he and some colleagues decided to “build it ourselves and pull zero punches."
10 million gross revenue in 2022
Along with his buddy Markus, Walter founds "Spyra GmbH" and starts building the first prototype in his living room. Initially they fund the endeavor via crowdfunding, then raise EUR 450,000 via Kickstarter and some additional capital acquired. "In total, it cost about EUR 1 million to get the product ready for manufacturing," Walter recalls. By the time 2018 rolls around and the first water gun is launched, his circle of friends, aka the test group, has had their fair share of water fights.
Today, Spyra employs 22 and has sold tens of thousands of Waterblasters, according to Walter. Orders are not limited to the Fatherland, either, but from all around Europe and beyond. The website offers several versions, Germany, the EU, US, UK Australia and New Zealand. Gross sales yielded EUR 10m in 2022. Since the shareholders have not yet signed off on the annual financial statements, he declines to provide any figures on net income, "we’re in the black at any rate." For 2023, the forecast looks similar.
The latest product is the "SpyraThree," a fully automatic water gun, available in blue or red, that will set you back about EUR 169. A hefty price, to be sure, but Spyra is targeting a group with pending power: "kidults." As the neologism implies, refers to adults with kid-like tendencies, including buying toys for themselves. And they are an untapped revenue goldmine in the eyes of the toy industry.
Billions spent on toys by big boys
Spyra is one of many examples of companies producing kidult products. No surprise as the segment is responsible for the industry’s highest growth. The toy market for adults is booming—in contrast to children's toys.
By comparison, sales in Europe in the children's toy segment declined by EUR 200m from 2019 to 2022. In the kidult sector, on the other hand, it’s increased by EUR 1b. While kidults still accounted for 23.4 percent of sales in 2019, that figure jumped to 28% by 2022, according to a recent report by the American market research institute Npdgroup. In total, the kidult sector had a market volume of EUR 4.6b in the EU5 in 2022, i.e. in Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom.
It is therefore worthwhile for toy manufacturers to take aim at this target group. Just to be clear, kidults are considered anyone over the age of 12. What makes them tick is the joy of playing. They bring this with them from childhood and retain it in adulthood, e.g. as a counterbalance to the daily grind of work or school.
In addition to gaming as a way to immerse themselves in other worlds, emotional attachment and nostalgia also play a major role. Kidults still remain loyal to their childhood heroes. If they grew up in the '80s and '90s, for example, Star Wars, Lego, Harry Potter, Barbie, et al, still have their allure and those consumers spend more on products as their salaries rise. A current example of a marketing coup in the kidult sector is of course Mattel and Warner Bros. with the Barbie movie, which has triggered a massive spike in the demand for Barbie products.
According to the aforementioned Npdgroup, the pandemic in particular has led to adults spending more money on toys again. This is also supported by the most popular products among adult consumers, which, across all genders, were games and puzzles from 2019 to 2022. The female target group is particularly interested in products from the arts and crafts sector and soft toys.
The German Association of the Toy Industry (DVSI) also notes that adults have (re)discovered gaming during the pandemic, "and surprisingly, this trend is continuing," says Gerda Schwab, Head of Marketing and Communications. DVSI distinguishes between three types of kidults:
- Hobbyists who devote themselves to a long-forgotten passion, e.g. model railways
- Collectors of dolls, figures or model cars
- Gamers, e.g. in video or board games
In Spyra's case, the clientele is predominantly male, has a certain love for high-tech and gaming. It's also adventurous and has a penchant for nostalgia. "The late 80s and 90s is where they feel most at home," they say. "We often assume that: When we grow up, we get serious. But we also want to play as adults, that's very firmly rooted in us," says Sebastian Walter.
Spyra relies on email marketing and social media
The startup reaches this target group almost exclusively online through email marketing and social media (27k followers on Instagram and 30k on Tiktok). The social media team posts outdoor action content of water fights in the garden or objects shot with the Spyra gun. The content strategy is to highlight the fun factor and get people to naturally engage in word-of-mouth marketing.
Cooperation with influencers and creators is also important. After all, the chances are even higher that they will bring Spyra potential new customers who didn't even know about the product yet. Youtube creator Aaron Esser, for example, specializes in "Toy Blasters" (especially "Nerf guns) and shows off Spyra blasters in several videos. One of them (which also features other models) has accumulated around 122 million views in just under three years.
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Fit for a festival and Tiktok-approved
On TikTok, there is the "Absolut Boys" account (in German) that links the Spyra store in his profile. Several of his videos depicting Spyra products have gone viral, notching 60 million, 43 million, 32 million and 26 million views respectively.
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Seeing is fine, feeling is better: That's why the startup is also focusing on in-person marketing where people can give the guns a go themselves. If you happened to be at any of the many European Festival this past summer, chances are you saw one of the many elaborate water battle arenas, e.g. at the Open Beatz Festival in Nuremberg or the summer festival at Olympia Park in Munich.
Spyra seeks legal action against Xiaomi
It’s not all rosy for Spyra, however, as they are currently quite concerned about the competition from China. Chinese manufacturer Xiaomi also offers a Waterblaster that looks very similar to the German model. Walter noticed the product about five months ago, and it cannot currently be ordered in Germany. It is an obvious copycat, Walter says. "It's shocking that it was really copied verbatim, partly even with mistakes that we also made."
The startup plans to take legal action. "Sure, we are much, much smaller, but in our opinion there is a very obvious violation of rights. That's why we're confident we'll get justice."
The technology that goes into his water guns is well protected, Walter is sure. "We have a whole family of patents. We invented the technology and then protected it. We put our cumulative engineering knowledge into the development: fluid mechanics were involved, aerospace mechanics, engineers." He said the company now wants to examine the facts, preserve evidence and then file a lawsuit "to make a statement."
In addition to the pending lawsuit, the startup is focused on further development. And as far as that is concerned, Walter is confident: "We have quite a few ideas for cool further products in the outdoor toy sector. The toy market for kidults is gigantic."