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2019 North American Toy Fair Review – 6 Key Conclusions

Here’s our review of this year’s New York toy fair:

USA Toy Market Outlook: After a really challenging 2018 the toy industry looks set to bounceback in 2019. We’re predicting that after finishing 2% down for 2018 vs 2017, that we’ll see in the vicinity of 3-5% growth in the US toy market in 2019. The mood at toy fair was overwhelmingly positive and upbeat, while there are many challenges in the marketplace our analysis suggests more reasons to be cheery than to be gloomy about 2019!

Movies – after a regressive period its easy to conclude that licensed toys based on blockbuster toyetic movies are on a downward spiral. We as humans can get carried away with a particular direction ‘things’ are going, and we sometimes calamatise e.g. begin to presume a downward trend on a long term roller coaster is the death knell. But movies have been a long term driver of toy sales and even today in this world of screen glued kids and prolific YouTube streaming content, movies still represent a major event in which tens of millions of kids or even hundreds of millions of kids worldwide are immersed in a story or adventure. While there has been some general softening of the licensed toy market in recent years, the hugely strong 2019 movie slate is likely to see licensed toy sales increase in 2019 in North America, regardless of media consumption trends.

A Great Show – This was yet another fantastically well organised show delivered by the toy association. This show remains the most efficient way to get a snapshot of the biggest toy market in the world, and to meet folks from across the U.S. and Canadian toy trade. Hats off to the hard working folks at the toy association – we’re already looking forward to next year’s show! We got a really positive vibe from across the show.

Tru Kids (Don’t call it a comeback?) – perhaps the most controversial exhibitor at this year’s show was ‘Tru Kids’. While we weren’t really concerned for the safety of the person inside the Jeffrey costume walking round, we did wonder if the Tru Kids team would need more security at their booth than is usually required. Following our last blog post featuring the news that this entity (spawned out of the ashes of TRU) will open physical stores again, we received an emotional backlash from some readers of this blog based (we hope!) as much on the still raw emotions as any genuine objection to how we tried to objectively assess their prospects and their potential impact on the toy trade in general. Overall, the mood seems to be an air of inevitability about their resurgence, but with a serious need for humility and a bridge building approach from the (not particularly!) ‘new’ management team.

Broad product mix & good innovation – we saw many really cool & compelling new concepts at New York toyfair 2019. Our favourites were Fart Ninjas from Funrise, Carpool Karaoke from Singing Machine and My Buddy Wheels from Yvolution. One of the grumbles you often hear from these trade shows is jaded cynical old souls berating the lack of innovation – countless times we hear this line, often though it says more about the number of shows that individual has attended, the reality is that every year we are still looking at ‘just another’ mix of toys made out of plastic, card and wood etc. Old hands also know all the proven formulae e.g. Yo=Yo’s, ponies, monsters, zombies etc., all of which make a comeback on an ongoing basis. There is clearly though from any objective measure far more variety of toy products/concepts coming to market now due to the fact that originators can find ways to go straight to the consumer to prove demand. As such there has never been a broader selection of product on offer, and never before have we seen so many risque products that previously would have been filtered out by overly conservative buyers or toy company execs. Finally, as per previous articles on this blog, the ongoing trend towards toy companies themselves selling direct to consumer allows for a bigger range of products than would otherwise be on offer.

Kids at toy fair – children have generally been discouraged from attending toy fair historically. The thinking was that the last thing a bunch of over tired, generally hungover toy professionals need while trying to sell their wares is a load of kids running around getting in the way. With the clear and real marketing power of many kid YouTubers/reviewers, there was a refreshing air of youthful exuberance in effect at all the 2019 toy shows, but especially in New York, as the biggest YouTube stars for toys are normally based somewhere in the U.S. As the vast majority of toy companies fail to do anywhere near enough research testing with kids, we like to see toy companies in a position where they actually have to interact with the youthful exuberant creatures whose playful enthusiasm pays all our wages!

So, as the sun sets on another round of annual toy trade shows, the 2019 North American International Toy Fair was a resounding success!

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