Although there was some back hall grumbling that “everyone under one roof” translates to “everyone pays the TIA” it seems that even those who were prepared (hoping) to hate the Fall Toy Preview felt that it was a huge success.
Yes, there were a few glitches such as a crazy numbering system which made it a little confusing to find your way around. Also, cell phone reception was so poor that the only way to avoid dropping calls was to drop off the railing. Such minor annoyances are to be expected at an inaugural show and should be easily fixable.
The TIA went all out and it was especially good to see them proactively seeking feedback from exhibitors and attendees. I’m always a little suspicious of the raw numbers publicized by any trade show organizer. Just as every exhibitor will tell you that business “is fantastic” and fudge his sales numbers up by twenty five percent; so too buyer attendance numbers are never to be trusted. Did you see 775 buyers milling about? I didn’t see 775 buyers milling about. That said the show seemed to be extremely well attended by major (and not so major, but important, retailers). Target seemed especially well represented. It was a little strange that several of Walmart buyers didn’t make the trip considering that they’re just down the street. The big manufacturers (Mattel, Hasbro and Lego) as usual did not really support the trade show even though they are permitted to dominate the TIA board.
For all the talk of the Dallas show’s success, several toy executives did point out that while the show itself was cheaper, if you add in the costs of the February show, then the cost of having a permanent showroom in New York that could have accommodated both shows plus other meetings throughout the year, would have been cheaper. In an interesting twist, several senior executives were seen wandering the halls in the company of Dallas Market Center staff apparently looking at permanent showroom space. Although I don’t think it will happen this year; it will be interesting to see if the TIA’s strategy backfires and the February Javits show eventually collapses. Then again, that may have been part of their strategy all along.
In other toy news, lead paint recalls just keep coming. Last Friday Mattel issued yet another major recall. Was that their fourth major recall or their fifth? It’s getting difficult to keep count. Other smaller players have continued to issue recalls as well. As we move into the holiday shopping season, it seems difficult to believe that continuing recalls at this late date won’t be on consumers’ minds.
The other thing on consumers’ minds might turn out to be all the empty shelves. With new testing regulations the safety labs are backed up and toy companies are having a difficult time getting their goods on the water. The new testing policy, while a good thing, has been difficult to implement in year one. The policy exempts orders placed before August 10 so that the majority of product made it just under the wire. That said a lot of orders are finalized at the end of July and beginning of August and for those that missed the cutoff there will be trouble. There will also be problems for any and all reorders.
The toy industry, the TIA (unfortunately it’s still necessary to separate those), the ANSI (American National Standards Institute) and the Chinese government are working to enact more stringent testing procedures and that is very positive….as far as it goes. Anyone in the toy industry knows that what’s really strangling the business is retailers’ strict adherences to artificially low price points during an inflationary time. While I hear a lot of people saying “Walmart will have to let us increase prices”, that remains to be seen. In the midst of the toy recall crisis and with temperatures in much of the country still north of 80 degrees; Walmart slashed toy prices 10 to 50 percent on October 1. As the price leader and the largest retailer Walmart’s actions drive pricing decisions throughout the retail landscape. It seems clear that Walmart, which takes in about 25 cents of every dollar that consumers spend on toys, has no intention of altering its policy of using toys as (artificially) low priced loss leaders to drive foot traffic. In a sign that he doesn’t quite get it TIA president, Carter Keithley was quoted “That expense could be passed along to consumers, but we hope not. Hopefully the burden will spread around between all the parties involved.” No! No! No! Pass it on to consumers! That’s what a rational business does during a time of rising costs.
It could be quite beneficial for the toy industry if the TIA were to commission a study to see if consumers would be willing to spend a dollar or two more in exchange for safer, higher quality and yes, longer lasting toys. I think we all know what their answer would be. If done by the TIA for the industry as a whole and publicized to the hilt then major retailers would not be able to single out individual companies for retaliation. The time to do this is when the toy business is in the glare of the media spotlight. The time to do it is now.