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WHAT’S GOING ON WITH TOYFAIR IN NEW YORK? (REVIEW OF TOYFAIR 2023 & DISCUSSION OF FUTURE SHOWS)

WHAT’S GOING ON WITH TOYFAIR IN NEW YORK? (REVIEW OF TOYFAIR 2023 & DISCUSSION OF FUTURE SHOWS)

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The topic of Toy fairs in various countries has been very much up for grabs since the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the usual schedule. The North American International Toy fair has been much under scrutiny. So this edition of the newsletter will review the show we just had & look at the future of the show following the announcement that the show will repeat once more in New York before moving to New Orleans, for at least a few years.

NORTH AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL TOYFAIR 2023 REVIEW

The 2023 show has just finished this week. I’ll leave the stats about how many competitors were on show and how many visitors came to the show to the official channels. But we can comment on some of the talk around the show – in general, the feeling I got from speaking to other people was that the overall traffic seemed a little on the quiet side, perhaps somewhat down versus the last time the show took place in 2020. I’m a little dubious about this train of thought however, as most of us can’t remember what we had for dinner a few days ago, let alone retain a memory of visitor numbers at a trade show 3 and a half years ago!


The other point we have to accept is that this is not some sort of consumer show, where the crowd numbers have a strong meaning. The reality is that trade show success should be measured by interactions with buyers and the eventual end results of those interactions i.e. purchase orders at the end of the process. I don’t have an overview of which Buyers were at the show, although I was told several times that both Walmart and Target were at the show by people who met with them. Frankly if Walmart & Target are in attendance you already have a large percentage of the North American market, and therefore the world covered.


Next, I want to address the gargantuan elephant in the room – clearly some exhibitors and attendees were fresh from previews in Los Angeles. Numerous companies had already just spent 4 or 5 weeks in showrooms in the City of Angels.


For example I met one Toy company executive who said they weren’t exhibiting in New York because there was no point – they had just spent 3 days with the team from one Mass retailer, and as such exhibiting straight after in New York would have been unnecessary & a waste of money from their perspective. And this is where I am going to make one of my main potentially contentious counter arguments here – Toy fair has not really been about the major Toy companies for many years (shock horror felt across the world of corporate Toy companies!). The mid-February timing of Toy fair has been far too late for Mass market retailers for a long time, and big companies primarily focus on Mass market retailers as they deliver the most volume, that after all was what the Dallas preview was for.


Here's a reality we need to understand about the Toy business – the vast majority of revenues come from outside the Top 10 Toy companies. This is unusual versus other industries - the smartphone market for example is dominated by just a couple of global behemoth companies.


Some of the Top 10 Toy companies are not publicly traded, which means they don’t have to share their revenues with anyone, which makes sizing the Top 10 a little tricky. But, by my estimate, the Top 10 companies account for somewhere between 35 to 38% of the overall Toy business global revenues. So the vast majority of sales don’t actually come from those major companies who can demand the attention and time of major buyers the most.

This leads me to my passionate belief about the North American International Toy fair (the one we’ve had in New York for so long): it’s about small and medium sized companies coming together en masse in order to justify the time and attendance of retail buyers so that the buyers can most efficiently review the myriad of suppliers who make up the majority of the market and the majority of their spending.


Which leads me to my second contentious statement of opinion herein: Toy fair 2023 (in New York) was more effective because bigger companies had already previewed and because some of them chose not to exhibit again in NYC. In short, the absence of some big-name suppliers gave more Buyer time to smaller and more up and coming companies. This is surely a great thing for the overall health of the industry.


I can remember meeting founders of companies like Zuru & Spin Master when they were just a few years into their journey and still up and coming. They both clearly had more than a little hustle about them, and both had an energy and visible determination. Maybe these now mighty companies were always destined for huge success, but maybe, just maybe, shows like the New York show gave them a leg up and delivered them some Buyer time at the point in their history when they most needed it. Could some of the exhibitors who just rocked up in The Big Apple be the next major Toy company early on in their journeys? And will some of them springboard onwards and upwards from the Buyer interactions they had at the show in New York...?


That is (in my opinion) the whole point of this show. And as such, from that perspective, I would measure the 2023 show as a massive success. I spoke to half a dozen or so clients at the show who are all smaller companies (so far), but are clearly on the way up. They had spoken to Buyers they didn’t anticipate being able to reach, and had very successful shows in terms of both quality & quantity of Buyer contacts and expected to reap the rewards going forward. That's the whole point of this show surely?


I expect the L.A. previews to grow over time, but that kind of show only offers opportunity to those companies with existing relationships & vendor accounts. Many of the companies in attendance at Javits this last week would get no value from setting up in L.A. I spoke to the owners of one long established but not huge company who told me they would just get no Buyer visits if they set up in L.A. as they realistically assessed that they were not enough of a draw to merit a Buyer setting aside just for them. The same company met plenty of their customers in New York.


And so the bottom line here is this – as per the previous set up with the Dallas show early in the sales cycle & the New York show at the end of the cycle (or arguably just after the end) – is that there is a place for both these events. Nobody makes you exhibit at both, but you can if you want to, and if you don’t want to, perhaps you shouldn’t presume that every other company has the same needs and timelines as yours.


On a personal note, I was greatly excited to be back in New York after all that time away. The show was great for me, although as an industry analyst and Consultant to Toy companies I appreciate that the show is not designed for my needs, but regardless of that there is no better way for industry hangers on like myself to meet, greet and influence the great and the good of the Toy business in the world’s biggest Toy market.

Having ‘enjoyed’ a very turbulent descent from up high through the massive rain storm which smashed New York on the day before the show started, and having had just 3 hours sleep due to jetlag, I was the first speaker at the Toy fair University organised by the Toy Association – my presentation on Sourcing Trends seemed to go down well, although I was so discombobulated from jetlag that I may not have noticed if the audience threw rotten fruit at me.


One other observation on the city of New York itself, it was kind of bemusing to see so many Cannabis shops around the town and the constant smell of the product was unavoidable, I have not experienced this anywhere else in the world. At the same time, the stores in Manhattan seemed to be experiencing a shoplifting epidemic, in one Duane Reade I literally needed a personal shopper to get access to anything they sold, the shop assistant told me that this was due to a plague of flagrant thefts from the store.

THE NEXT SHOW IN NYC

On then to the topic of the next North American International Toy fair, which will be held in New York from March 1st to March 4th. This is clearly too late for the Mass market retail buying cycles but is closer to the original mid-February slot. My argument here would be that this is very late, but still worth attending for the hundreds of smaller and up and coming companies for whom Specialty business represents a significant opportunity. For the more established companies, I suspect it will be more of a PR and marketing driven event with some Buyer interactions.


THE MOVE TO NEW ORLEANS

On to the most surprising part of the recent announcements about the (New York!?) Toy fair was that from 2026, the show will be held, at least for a few years, in New Orleans. That was a fairly left field change. Nobody anticipated that! I have never been to 'The Big Easy', so I can’t tell you what it is like as an Events venue. But I can tell you it sounds like an interesting place to visit, and that I trust the Toy fair decision-making team to select a great venue for the show. It doesn’t seem fair to have shows just in LA & New York, there is after all a lot of America in between those two mighty metropoles. Reportedly the change of venue is due to other bookings at the Jacob Javits venue, it isn’t easy to find large Events venues and so I suspect trade offs were made to bring the show forward to try to deal with the constant sniping criticism that the show is too late in the cycle.


Which brings me to my one bone of contention in the whole conversation around the North American International Toy fair – that is the fact that the new planned timing for New Orleans in mid-January is awful for International, or at least European visitors. Some European countries have a national show in January i.e. my own home country the UK has one in the 3rd week of January. The mighty Spielwarenmesse show in Nuremberg, Germany is the world’s biggest and is held normally at the end of January/start of Feb. Nuremberg is the primary must attend show for so many of us in Europe. For the major open access show in the U.S. to be moved into the middle of this veritable furore of Toy shows is not ideal.

But to be fair, I would say that while the new show timing in New Orleans may question some of the 'International' element of the North American International Toy Fair, it very definitely offers to make the best of the North American opportunity, which after all is the main focus of this show. Those International visitors not able to attend can still meet people in L.A.

IN CONCLUSION: THE FUTURE OF THE NORTH AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL TOYFAIR

As part of my conclusion, I just wanted to recognise the hard work done by the Toy Association team in organising Toy fair. My wife is an Events Manager, and so I live on a daily basis with the stress, volume of highly detailed work and frankly unrealistic client expectations that Event organisation brings. A show of the scale of the one we just had takes a huge amount of work, and that should be recognised and applauded.


The other point about the Toy Association is this – like other national associations it is a Membership driven organisation. Toy company people sit on the board and committees of this organisation. As such, it is largely speaking the Toy industry itself who makes the decisions on what shows to hold, where and when. If you don’t like the decisions they make, can I ask if you are actually a Member of the organisation? If not, feel free to sign up & you’ll get the same vote as anyone else to influence how things are done!


Furthermore, if you don’t want to go to any Events organised in the Toy business that is your prerogative, but perhaps we should also consider the reasons for such shows and consider the other companies, especially those less established than yours who need the show you don’t want to go to!


Finally, a general point about the nature of discussion and disagreement (of which there has been much on this topic):

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Evelyn Beatrice Hall


Please feel free to disagree with me in the comments, and to attend the shows you want. I’ll be happy to meet you at any of the shows I attend and understand you have to always make the right decisions for your business :)

N.B. All trademarks featured herein are the property of their respective owners.

So often in the world of Toys we look for the big changes, we go trend spotting to find new things to jump on. The reality though is that far more doesn’t change than does. That’s what this latest article I wrote, published by Spielwarenmesse.de looks at. Just click the link below to read:

PLAYING AT BUSINESS PODCAST

EP 101 - How To Run A Successful Tech Toy Start Up With HoloToyz

In this latest episode host Steve Reece talks to Kate Scott & Declan Fahy, the Founders of HoloToyz. Their company aims to inspire creativity and imagination via augmented reality technology.

Kate stated "At our core, we believe that children should be able to experiment, play and learn through emerging technologies in a kid-safe environment away from the open web, whilst not losing touch with the physical world."

We discuss this proposition, and the path from starting the business, through raising funding to achieving distribution for HoloToyz products.

This episode is a must listen for anyone interested in or actively pursuing a start up in the Toy business, as well as international distributors looking for new products and new stories to latch onto.

EP 100 – How To Recruit Good People And Find New Job Roles In The Toy Business

Join host Steve Reece in a deep dive into the toy industry's recruitment nuances. Having helped many people to find new roles in the Toy business and having advised many Toy companies on who & how to recruit, Steve unveils key strategies for companies to recruit effectively and tips for candidates to land their ideal roles. Whether you're hiring or job-hunting, discover invaluable insights to assist your recruitment/job search process.

EP 99 – Gift & Hobby Distribution Channels (The Original Kidult Toy Business?!)

Guess what – people have been buying Toys for adults for a very long time. Even though the ‘Kidult’ thing is the big noise nowadays, hobbyists and people buying Toyetic gifts for adults have been around for a long while.

Listen in to Episode 99 as we look at these adjacent areas in more detail:

AND FINALLY…

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