In recent years, the Dallas Fall Toy Preview has been characterized by more and more toy manufacturers pulling out of the exhibition. This is the result of a split show which sends both manufacturers and retailers scurrying to Los Angeles, then Dallas, then back to Los Angeles, and finally to Hong Kong. Something had to give and it appears that now something has.
This year the dates of the Dallas show were moved forward so as not to conflict with the Jewish holidays, but that caused a direct conflict with Toy Show activities in Los Angeles. As a result, the entire Retail Midwest didn’t show up. There was zero representation from: Kohl’s, Meijer, Walgreens, Kmart, Costco, or Shopko. It was great to have large contingents from Wal-Mart, Target, and Toys ‘R’ Us. It’s always good to get as much face time with them as you can. But the reality is that they really conduct business in their headquarters. Most toy manufacturers will see them there and prefer to see them there.
I’ve always felt that at a trade show, it’s best to focus on mid-tier retailers. If they are all in one place and willing to give you some quality time, that’s where you can justify the cost of the show. Manufacturers can also save the time and expense of trucking to Menomonee Falls or Walker, Michigan.
Don’t get me wrong – I love the Dallas Show. There are open showrooms and toy executives have a fair amount of down time. If I can spend two days and meet thirty toy company Presidents, I’m gladly going to do it. In fact, most toy industry types I talked to like the show itself. It’s relatively inexpensive. It’s compact and people get to see friends and acquaintances from across the industry because everyone is pretty much in the same place day and night. That said, the show can’t go on if it doesn’t make financial sense
After 2016’s lack of retail support, I’m predicting a thirty percent decline in exhibitors in fall of 2017, followed by a 2018 Zombie Walk. Clearly a better solution must be found. The composition of the TIA Executive Committee and Board of Directors seems to be less dominated by Mattel, Hasbro, and Lego than they have been in quite some time. That may provide an opening for less table tipping in trade show planning. It’s time that the show moves to Los Angeles. I often hear that there isn’t a good venue, but that’s hard to believe. There’s the LA Forum and the Los Angeles Convention Center has lots of different size halls available. Truth be told, we only take about two full floors of the Dallas Market Center. I can imagine that two adjacent hotels with exhibitors taking out suites and conference rooms might work. If you think about it, that’s really not so different than the old New York Toy Building.
The real problem has always been timing. The larger companies: Mattel, Spin Master, Jakks Pacific, MGA, etc don’t want to show at a time when buyers may be distracted by their smaller, nimbler (and more creative?) competitors. One answer would be to have a seven to ten-day show with one part dedicated to large companies at their headquarters or El Segundo showrooms and another part focused on small and medium sized companies located at some centralized venue. Manufacturers could be able to choose which group they wanted to join but might find it difficult to command buyer attention if they picked a group that was inappropriate for them. In any case, that’s my two cents. I am now going to duck and cover in a probably vain attempt to avoid incoming poison arrows.
As for the toy industry itself – things continue to be strong. Toy sales have grown 6-7% for the last year and a half, despite somewhat sluggish retail sales. That is making toy companies happy. Happy companies hire. Here at Toyjobs, we are on track to have the third best year in our thirty-five-year existence. In fact, I’m ready to proclaim that toy industry hiring is “Back to Normal.” 2016 has brought a resurgence in toy company hiring of Marketing and Product Development people. From 2009-2015, toy hiring was all about: Sales, Sourcing, and Safety. Sell more – make it cheaper – get us through the regulations. I believe that the strong increase in Marketing and Product Development jobs indicates that toy companies are being less defensive and are now aggressively pursuing new products and new initiatives. That can only be good for the toy business as a whole.
Looking ahead to the holidays sales season, I see no reason why strong toy sales should not continue. Unemployment rates continue to come down. Median household incomes have surged over the last year. Consumer confidence is climbing. This should translate into continued strong toy sales. Robust sales should mean that happy companies continue to hire through this year and into next. May it be so.
All the best,
P.S. My “Back to Normal” comments apply only to toy industry hiring. One need only look at the current election cycle to see that the world at large is certainly not “Back to Normal.”