Toy Blog

306, 2015

The First Quarter Contraction Was No Surprise Here

June 3rd, 2015|Categories: ToyJobs Blog|Tags: , |

US GDP contracted at a 0.7% rate during the first quarter. That was certainly no surprise here. As I reported last time, even though there was a flood of search starts early in the year, companies didn’t seem to be pulling the trigger even once they found the candidates that they wanted to hire.

First Quarter 2015

During the current recovery, the US economy has established a pattern of weak first quarters. This time, economists are chalking it up to a triple threat of awful winter weather, a strong dollar, and the labor dispute at West Coast ports. Hopefully things have starting turning around. Here at Toyjobs, we have noticed that companies started actually hiring people beginning in late April. Search starts have been strong all year and we

expect that to continue, albeit with a slowdown during the summer doldrums of July. In August and September, I expect both search starts and hiring to reaccelerate as firms begin preparing for the 2016 selling season.

Lastly, Toyjobs would like to join the entire toy industry in honoring Carter Keithley. From the time he came in, Carter

took a barely functioning and (let’s just say) “controversial” organization and turned the TIA into a top flight industry association which everyone respects. Carter always lent an ear to everyone and, as many of us know, Carter was fun. Heh, I find myself chuckling about the “was” because I’ve heard Carter say on several occasions: “I’m not dying!” True,

Carter Keithley

 but he’ll be around a lot less and I, for one, will miss him.

Sincerely, Tom Keoughan

206, 2015

Thank You All For Your Support During the OHiO Situation

June 2nd, 2015|Categories: ToyJobs Blog|Tags: , |

I would like to thank everyone for their outpouring of support during the Obvious Huckster in Ohio (OHiO) ruckus. I don’t like being put into that sort of situation, but sometimes you have to take a stand or things will just continue or get even worse. We haven’t heard a peep out of OHiO since, so it seems that the possibility of further exposure has given him some degree of restraint. Hopefully, his behavior has been permanently altered and we can all just get back to work. Thanks again for your support.

Sincerely,
Tom Keoughan

1504, 2015

Toy Hiring Mimics the Poor March Jobs Report – But We’re Optimistic

April 15th, 2015|Categories: ToyJobs Blog|Tags: , , , , |

By now I’m sure that most of you have heard about the sharp deceleration in March hiring after a long string of strong jobs reports. Non-farm payrolls slowed in March to a seasonally adjusted 126,000, the weakest hiring in 15 months. Hiring estimates for both January and February were also revised downward.

My gut feeling is that things are not as bad as that report indicates, despite the press running around crying that “the sky is falling.” After all, bad news sells. The US has had a number of soft first quarters in recent years. I haven’t been able to come up with an explanation for that phenomenon that I’m satisfied with yet. Lots of correlation but unconvincing causation. Here at Toyjobs, we don’t just make stuff up but it’s still important that we recognize the pattern.

There have been lots of layoffs recently in the oil and oil service businesses and certainly that is a factor. And, for the last two years, first quarter winter weather has been horrible. Last month, job growth in construction and leisure and hospitality, two of the most weather-sensitive industries, slowed by about 90,000 jobs. Days when the office is closed due to weather also takes a greater toll than it is generally given credit for. There are the snow days themselves and then there are the next few days of playing catch up. Yes, I know everyone claims that they can get all the work done or are even more productive from home but we all know that’s not entirely true, don’t we? This means multiple days taken away from interviewing and decision making all of which pushes actual hiring down the road.

In the toy industry it is not unusual for hiring to be slow in January and February as everybody hits the road for the global trade show circuit. There is no time to interview and make decisions. A lot of companies also decide on whether to create jobs based on trade show and early year sales results. Hiring can slow even as search starts increase.

That’s what we’re seeing this year. Here at Toyjobs, after an extremely strong fourth quarter, first quarter placements have been slow as search starts have been soaring. If both unemployment figures and search starts had gone into reversal, I would be concerned that the US economy was faltering. That has not been the case. Search starts have been quite robust and those searches are now beginning to come to completion. Many will be completed in April and May – a few weeks later than usual. This leaves me optimistic that poor first quarter jobs numbers represent a delay rather than a long term slowdown and that we are thankfully about to experience a rebound.

Optimistically,
Tom Keoughan

1504, 2015

Misleading People is NOT a Sound Business Strategy

April 15th, 2015|Categories: ToyJobs Blog|Tags: , |

It has been brought to our attention that a recruiter whom we generally refer to as the Obvious Huckster in Ohio (OHiO) has been spewing scurrilous nonsense about us. He has done this before and we have no doubt that he will do it again.

OHiO is simply demonstrating what he has made into a career: trying to mislead people by just making stuff up. You don’t have to believe me. Those of you who are familiar with his job board know that more than half of those jobs have been up there for more than five years. I can only suppose that he’s trying to cover for the fact that he hasn’t been all that busy since then. Actually, his entire website is full of fabrications that he apparently just plucked from the sky. One wonders if he’ll respond by publishing an honest and accurate job board now?

Here at Toyjobs, we take your future seriously. We pledge to always treat you openly, honestly, and in a forthright manner (even though you may occasionally not like it). We pledge to respond to your queries in a timely fashion. We pledge to never “just make things up.” And we pledge never to waste your time or insult your intelligence by writing and stuffing your inbox with articles on the relative merits of the color Han Purple. 🙂

As for OHiO, we can only advise: Deception doesn’t win, execution does…maybe it’s finally time that you change your focus. Should OHiO decide to print defamatory statements about us again, we will begin to publish a series, for the entire toy industry to read, of his Top 10 Sleaziest Hits. We will only publish the ones that we have complete documentation on, because here at Toyjobs, we never “just make it up.” Should OHiO cease this practice, then you will know that I am speaking the truth. If he continues, you will be able to follow his slime trail for yourselves, because we will furnish names, dates, and documents. Extreme professional jealousy can grow into a pretty serious sickness. Hopefully, this will serve as OHiO’s wake up call. Who knows? Maybe he will even put his big boy pants on and issue a retraction. I’m not gonna hold my breath. Your move, OHiO.

Sincerely,
Tom Keoughan
President, Toyjobs

403, 2015

New York Toy Fair – Cold! Cold! Cold!

March 4th, 2015|Categories: ToyJobs Blog|Tags: , , , , , , |

Several years ago, Disney, well known for its characters, movies, theme parks, and events, was able to Disney-fy Times Square. This year they achieved an even bigger coup by turning the entire Northeast into a celebration of the movie Frozen. Although not the snowiest, this was certainly the coldest New York Toy Fair ever.

As I crossed the Hudson for this year’s TOTY Awards, tugboats were breaking up ice so the ferries could get through. Carter Keithley, Marian Bossard, Robyn Gibbs and their gang put on a first-class event, as always. In fact, the whole trade show was extremely well run, although I do wish that Carter would quit lollygagging and get around to fixing the rock hard Javits floors, the electrician’s union, and the weather.

While last year’s TOTY Awards were largely won by smaller companies like Choon’s Designs and Just Play, this year was dominated by the big boys like Lego, Spin Master, and Crayola. A couple of smaller companies did slip through, like Moose Toys for Shopkins, which was named the Girls Toy of the Year, and Thinkfun’s Gravity Maze for Specialty Toy of the Year. Spin Master’s Zoomer Dino garnered both Boys Toy and Toy of the Year Honors and at the end of the evening, when it came time to announce Property of the Year, I’m sure that not a single person in the room was surprised when it went to Disney’s Frozen.

The Women in Toys Dinner was a charming event, as always. It almost has to be since there are so many women. Genna Rosenberg, Lourdes Arocho, and Shannon Gray did a fantastic job. Everything came off without a hitch so you know they had to do a lot of work. I think the best compliment I can give is – They made it look easy. The evening celebrated a Lifetime Achievement Award for Anne Kearns, who has spent her entire forty plus year career (since before she was born, I guess) at Sesame Workshop. We’ll be giving her this award again in another twenty years or so when she reaches retirement age. Congratulations to all Wonder Women Award winners and nominees.

Toy Fair itself was upbeat, if not quite as giddy as a year ago. I think last year was a little extra exuberant as the economy had just started to pick up after six long years of slogging through the swamp. Personally, I thought Saturday’s traffic was pretty good, although every single person I spoke with said otherwise. Eh, I have been wrong once or twice in the past. Sunday and Monday traffic seemed quite strong. My sources in the TIA tell me that throughout the show, traffic in The Basement of Gloom – uh, sorry! – Level 1 was very strong. As always, I saw a few toy company Presidents attending the show but not exhibiting in a booth. I tend to think that you get out of trade shows what you put into them. If you don’t put up a booth and have a presence because “this show isn’t that important” then that is going to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. After all, the major retailers like Wal-Mart, Target, Toy ‘R’ Us, Costco, Amazon, CVS, etc. are there in one place for four days. Every exhibiting toy company that I spoke with was happy to be there and had a full dance card.

Toyjobs had a very strong show. It’s always good to see everyone, slap a few backs, and tell a few stories. I came away feeling very positive about toy industry hiring moving forward. We’ll be starting a lot of new searches in the coming weeks so stay tuned. I’m also getting the feeling that the long awaited restart of hiring in marketing and product development jobs is about to begin. I don’t want to jinx it by calling it yet, but I think the tide is building.

It was great seeing everyone. May everyone have a fun and prosperous 2015.

All the best,
Tom Keoughan

2601, 2015

News Groups Fudge Retail Numbers to Sell Advertising

January 26th, 2015|Categories: ToyJobs Blog|Tags: , , , |

So what is with all the wild headline swings on retail sales numbers? On December 26th, Reuters put out “US Holiday Season Beats Expectations On a Late Shopping Surge” but then on January 14th they said “US Retail Sales Drop Biggest in 11 Months.” Oh! We had all been feeling rather good but were we wrong? Did we miss something? “Gee, I thought I had read that ShopperTrak had reported that holiday sales had risen 4.6% and Third Quarter GDP rose 5% and we all know that gasoline prices are lower. What’s going on?” Yes indeed, the Commerce Department put out a report on January 14th that retail sales for December had dropped a seasonally adjusted 0.9%. One had to dig a little deeper to learn that plunging gasoline prices had caused gas station receipts to plummet by 6.5%. When you take service stations and restaurants out of the mix, the National Retail Federation reported a 4.0% holiday sales increase from the year before. How confusing! How misleading! Why would “news” organizations report headlines in such an irresponsible way? The only thing that makes sense is that they wanted to gather more eyeballs so they can sell more advertising and at a higher price. You get a sense of this when you check the weather on the TV News. Ever since Superstorm Sandy, any little sprinkle is treated like a major dramatic event.

There was more than a little sprinkle at Toys ‘R’ Us, which reported that sales at its US stores were down 5%. TRU execs did point out that gross margins did improve 2% but one doubts that was enough to grow overall profits. There is an overall sense of chaos in most departments at Toys ‘R’ US headquarters. Last September they announced their “New Strategy” which started more than a few eyes rolling. The new tack could be summed up as “we’re going to do the same things…but better.” Uh huh…

North of the border, Target is closing its 133 Canadian stores and will stiff its vendors. Suppliers will be asked to “Look, just eat it” if they want to continue selling to Target’s US stores. Fortunately, most of the senior toy executives from small and mid-sized firms that I’ve talked to haven’t been too badly burned. I suspect that may be different for the Mattel’s, Hasbro’s, and Lego’s of the world.

Ordinarily, I would think that two years is not a long enough period to give a startup to gain traction. That said, it appears that the rollout of Target Canada was botched from the start. Their locations were mainly former Zellers stores in rundown and out of the way shopping centers. They took on too much at the same time by opening their stores and trying to build out their supply chain simultaneously, which led to rows and rows of empty shelves. Many business enterprises, including Toyjobs, live by the basic business rule, “Never try to sell anything before you can deliver it.” Lastly, their pricing wasn’t competitive. Like New Coke, Target Canada will likely be a text book case for those seeking MBA’s of what not to do for decades to come.

Fortunately for the rest of us, the Toys ‘R’ Us and Target Canada debacles are merely outliers. Holiday retail sales were up the most in many years. The economy and the employment picture are both improving. Here at Toyjobs, we had a very solid year. Both search starts and placements were back to pre-2008 levels. I hesitate to say that things are back to normal because our client’s searches were overwhelmingly focused on sales executives. Marketing and product development jobs are just starting to percolate. Typically toy companies are looking for that type of talent starting in late February (when the trade show season ends) through July. It’s a little too early to know if those types of searches will ramp up again this spring but my discussions with Toy Execs lead me to believe that they will. The economic recovery has been hampered by misguided government policies. It’s like we’ve been trying to get rolling with the emergency brake still on. The environment is now improving at a much quicker pace. Things are getting better faster. It feels like the train has left the station and is finally picking up speed. We should all be able to breathe a little easier.

I look forward to seeing you all at The New York Toy Fair. Will there be snow?

Tom Keoughan