I always dread the Javits Center: home of “the world’s hardest floors,” so with all of the Fall Toy Preview pre-show negativity, I started out expecting the worst–but that’s not the way it turned out. When I arrived on Friday, everyone seemed to be having a good time. I don’t know if it was good for business or not, but the open forum led to a clubby old home week feel with a lot of backslapping and storytelling including more than a few amusing but outrageous lies. It was sort of like a cocktail party without the drinks; which surely came later. That was Friday and it was a lot of fun, but by Sunday…and Monday…the whole thing was wearing a bit thin.
About half of the companies I spoke with said that the show was an incredible waste of time and money. The other half thought that the show was great. I’m not sure what the “differentiator” was, but maybe it was that some companies came in with the proper expectations and knew how to work that kind of show. Those companies with open booths did get significant walk-up trade (I asked) while those who had completely closed booths did not. I saw more than one buyer circling those ugly white walls trying to find an entrance. Hopefully, they didn’t just give up. With knockoff anxieties running high in this age of cell phone cameras, a hybrid booth seemed to work out the best. A good example was Radica which had a small open section with their well known and well liked Sr. VP of Sales standing out front attracting buyers, industry notables and others (like me) thereby generating a small crowd and a bit of a buzz and then funneling the buyers “inside” to meet with his sales troops. Before the show, all I heard was that none of the major retailers were coming, but I saw some pretty good looking dance cards. Walmart, Target, Toys ‘R’ Us, Meijers, Borders, Walgreen, etc. Hey, that’s not bad business.
Toy companies who located away from the Javits Center fared less well. The toy building was a dark, dismal, dusty, empty and echoey affair and the seven or eight companies showing there should thank Playalong for drawing buyers to the building. From companies located in hotel rooms and other locations, I mostly heard tales of late appointments, missed appointments and a lot of time spent standing around bored. Each company can decide for themselves if it makes sense to attend the show, but the moral of the story is “if you’re going to be there…be there!”
It was a great show for me with the open atmosphere and a lot of senior toy executives standing around without a whole helluva lot to do much of the time. I figured that all of the curtains and doors were meant to keep me away from their Brand Managers. Fortunately for me, that didn’t really work all that well. So while I had a great show, I somehow suspect that the industry as a whole shouldn’t base its decisions on making me happy.
Mostly what I heard is that although this show worked out much better than expected, the Javits Center is difficult to deal with, expensive to deal with and at the end of the day if you exhibit at two shows, no cheaper than maintaining a showroom year round. The consensus was that the TIA should commit to keeping both tradeshows in New York and should commit to the Javits Center for three or four years thereby giving the industry time to find a sound and properly priced building or group of spaces in adjacent buildings. In Manhattan, space does become available and it makes a lot of sense to wait, watch, evaluate and then pounce on a sound, viable option rather than trying to force a bad decision down everyone’s throats due to artificially created time constraints.
The ability of the toy industry to get together and “pounce” is sure to give rise to more than a few derisive chuckles and worse (please include me as a chucklehead). What the industry needs is leadership, and not from Mattel or Hasbro. It is not in Mattel or Hasbro’s best interest to be part of a toy center. Buyers are going to come and see them wherever they are and Mattel and Hasbro want to dominate those buyers’ attention and time. Leadership needs to come from the second tier companies: Jakks, Spinmaster, Megabloks, etc. If they can come to a decision and commit, then all the small and medium sized companies can feel comfortable about making what would be a very productive decision to follow.
The Toy Industry…pouncing…yeah it’s pretty funny stuff.
All the best,