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No Physical Trade Shows – Impact On The Toy Business In 2021?

No Physical Trade Shows – Impact On The Toy Business In 2021?

In normal times, at the start of February, we would have just finished Spielwarenmesse-Nuremberg toyfair, and would be gearing up for New York. Some of us would have put on a few pounds already from all the entertaining and wining/dining. We would also have met hundreds of people, from old friends and colleagues, customers and suppliers. Clearly that is not to be this time round, but with vaccines rolling out around the world, here’s hoping that 2022 can see the return of something resembling ‘normal’.

The question though is what impact will the lack of toyfairs have on the overall toy & games business? How will 2021 pan out when we have not been able to meet our retailers and distributors face to face? Aside from many in the toy business needing to visit the opticians due to excessive screen time and potentially developing an aversion to Zoom, Teams and whatever other platforms people are using out there, what actually happens to the business in a year where we can’t meet face to face? Because in 2020, the pandemic hit after we had completed the major toy trade shows around the world, and as a result the sales process was not that badly impacted. This year things are very different, and here’s a few potential implications of this:

  1. Lack of physical trade shows & preview showrooms likely to benefit bigger companies more than smaller companies – smaller, less established companies have to fight harder to get retail buyers to visit their booth at trade shows. The reason for this is not that retail buyers are mean spirited (!), the issue is that they need to preview tens of thousands of products to make their selections, so they obviously prioritise the bigger companies with the biggest selection of ‘must list’ products. Sometimes a quick 2-minute visit to the booth of a smaller company in passing may deliver $millions in revenues. This becomes more challenging when the buyer is not in the same physical vicinity as the smaller company. Instead, smaller suppliers become one of the hundreds of companies trying to chase the buyer who is running a normal workday sat at their computer. Effectively smaller companies are fighting for attention in a much more difficult situation versus a quick chat at a trade show. Therefore, we predict that the pandemic, and the resulting lack of physical trade shows while favour long established and bigger toy companies, leading to less listings and slower/harder growth for smaller companies. This could lead to narrower product selection and supplier base in mass market retail for 2021.


  1. Harder for newcomers to make an impact via traditional distribution –it may be harder for new market entrants to secure traditional distribution without the opportunity to influence and convince buyers on a face-to-face basis. This could push more new companies towards direct-to-consumer distribution models and other disruptive paths to market. In some ways this might be a good thing, because with potentially less opportunity in traditional retail, hard working creative start up companies will out of necessity create new paths to market.


  1. The remote preview situation favours products with classic TV advertisable features over great play or tactile experience – buyers can’t touch as many products sat at home as they can at toy trade shows. Even if some samples get sent to them, they cannot receive 10,000 samples or more, they can only watch video, so products which come across better in video/sizzler format will be favoured. Products which are about an engaging play pattern or more about the tactile experience than a mechanical or electronic feature are at an inherent disadvantage in the current situation.


  1. Bunkered down buyers may favour products which apply to lockdown households versus the (hopefully!) more open societies we may see in the 2nd half of 2021 – as vaccines rollout and reduce the severity of the pandemic heading into critical Q4 peak selling season, the types of products which were prominent may change, and listings decisions may thus under or over represent some types of products.


  1. Realisation & recognition of the value of toy trade shows – while many of us complain about the cost, work, travel and general disruption caused by spending most of the first 2 months of the year on the road, there is no doubt that it is an effective process overall, and that virtual presentations are a poor second to physical ‘in the flesh’ presentations. We’re greatly looking forward to returning to trade shows at the earliest opportunity!



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Our company helps toy & game businesses to grow sales, develop winning products and to save money on manufacturing. For more information on how we help toy & game companies grow their distribution around the world: www.KidsBrandInsight.com/services