New York Toy Fair

Toy Fair – The Revenant Edition

Despite frigid temperatures, New York Toy Fair opened on Friday night, February 12 with the TOTY Awards. The Toy Industry cognoscenti staggered in under the weight of multiple bearskins to this always special event. This year, it was held at the American Museum of Natural History under the belly of a Great Blue Whale. After an Alan Hassenfeld speech, which was perhaps a wee bit too long, Disney’s Robert Iger was honored by being inducted into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame.

“And the Toy of the Year is… Doc McStuffins Pet Vet Checkup Center from Just Play!” The combination of kids and animals is hard to beat. I was happy that I didn’t hear the usual grumbling that “only the big companies win.” This year’s winners included smaller companies like Moose Toys, KidKraft, Learning Resources, Hexbug, and Razor. Even Just Play was only founded eight years ago. Their growth is a tribute to the leadership of Geoff Greenberg and Charlie Emby.

On Sunday night, Women in Toys celebrated its 25th anniversary with the Wonder Women Awards Dinner. Genna Rosenberg and her team organized a terrific evening and, as usual, made it look easy – although I’m sure there were plenty of fast paddling feet below pond level. Women in Toys has come a long way, baby – since it was founded by Anne Pitrone and Susan Matsumoto in the back of an Irish pub. One suggestion, though – don’t put a bar at the entrance or you will bar the entrance. Put what people want in the back. This is basic retail merchandising a la Walgreens and CVS. Congratulations to all the Wonder Women winners and nominees. May you wear your capes with pride.

Saturday was bitterly cold but the Javits Center had the heat cranked as Toy Fair proper began. People were in a jovial mood after a year where US toy sales grew by 6.7 %. The aisles were crowded and everyone was upbeat. It was even bustling down in the basement of gloom, which in 2016 turned out to be not so gloomy after all. My completely unscientific gut poll says that Monday was the busiest day but I’m not sure if that is truly correct. From the TOTY Awards through end of day Monday, new TIA President Steve Pasierb and TIA SVP Global Events Marian Bossard and their team ran a terrific event. Kudos for doing such a great job! I’m sure it’s a lot more work than anyone imagines. The only suggestion for improvement I can think of is (and we’ll put Marian on this) – softer floors.

“Wait a minute, Keoughan – you said TOTY’s through Monday – what happened to Tuesday?” On Tuesday, I was enjoying lunch at Galatoire’s. I had made my annual post Toy Fair escape to N’awlins where the temperature was 70 degrees and the oysters wereplentiful. I encourage everyone to do it. There’s plenty of room for y’all.

Looking forward, I’m expecting 2016 to be a banner year for the toy industry hiring. Last year’s strong sales numbers, led by Shopkins and Star Wars merchandise, have led to happy companies. Happy companies hire people. This year, I’m expecting big things from Auldey. I also expect that little known Propel RC to stop “flying below the radar.” And – lest we forget – we have another Star Wars movie.

It has been exciting to see the resurgence in toy companies hiring of Marketing and Product Development people. During the financial crisis, what hiring there was, was all about Sales and Sourcing (buy cheaper – sell more). I take the recent resurgence in Marketing and Product Development hiring to mean that companies have stopped just playing defense. The toy industry is looking to take risks and do new and exciting things again. That bodes well for us all.

May the force be with us,
Tom Keoughan

P.S. Tragedy struck at Toy Fair with the passing of Elise Lachowyn. I remember helping Elise land her first toy job at Buddy L Corp. back in 1994. She grew into the consummate professional. Always upbeat, always ready for the next challenge. Our thoughts and prayers are with Elise’s husband, Drew, and daughter, Skyler. Tech 4 Kids has set up a GoFundMe Campaign to help fund Skyler’s education: https://www.gofundme.com/eliselachowyn

Elise Lachowyn, R.I.P.: Boulder Exec Killed by Dump Truck in Trip to NYC Toy Fair

By | March 2nd, 2016|ToyJobs Blog|Comments Off on Toy Fair – The Revenant Edition

New York Toy Fair – Cold! Cold! Cold!

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

By | March 4th, 2015|ToyJobs Blog|Comments Off on New York Toy Fair – Cold! Cold! Cold!

News Groups Fudge Retail Numbers to Sell Advertising

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

By | January 26th, 2015|ToyJobs Blog|Comments Off on News Groups Fudge Retail Numbers to Sell Advertising

Fall Toy Preview Stalls – Toy Jobs Soar

The Fall Toy Preview seemed a little…”off” this year. The mood seemed neither good nor bad, but somewhat flat. Traffic seemed to be down. I do understand that people were hidden away in showrooms and cubby holes and that there was what appeared to be a daily population surge around lunchtime. That said, the numbers did seem to be down a little. Some retailers, especially the larger ones, only sent partial teams and some buyers left early to head for Los Angeles.

Los Angeles was the source of many complaints. Most of the large, and now many second tier, toy manufacturers don’t support the Fall Toy Preview. Many, including Mattel, MGA, Jakks, Spin Master, Tomy and Funrise have their own October “show” in LA which means less retail buyers in Dallas as well as buyers leaving early. I understand the big boys wanting to monopolize buyers time without having them distracted by their smaller and often more innovative competitors. Unfortunately, the current situation hurts the toy industry as a whole.

In the last year or two the Toy Industry Association (TIA) has been able to twist the arms of the large companies into supporting New York Toy Fair in February. Now, it’s time to figure out a solution for the Fall Toy Preview. I am not going to be so presumptuous as to claim that I know what that solution is or where the show should be held if, indeed, it should be held at all. However, I think it’s a conflict of interest to sit on the TIA Board while at the same time passive aggressively undermining TIA initiatives which are meant to serve the toy industry as a whole. If a company is not going to support TIA/toy industry events let them be TIA members but not pretend to play a leadership role for the entire toy business.

September jobs data (nice segue, huh?) showed marginal improvement and the unemployment rate is now back to the same 7.8% that it was at when Obama took office. The details of the Bureau of Labor Statistics report were a little wonky showing that the US economy only created an anemic 114,000 jobs in September and that many of those were for part time workers.

I’m not going to go all Jack Welch on you here, but September jobs data is often a little funny. Every September, schools re-open and schools employ a large number of part time employees such as cafeteria workers, night cleaning crews, etc. So it should come as no surprise to see a spike in new part time hires for the month. Unfortunately these are not the types of jobs that are going to get our economy rolling again.

Anecdotally, the news is much better. Since mid august, Toyjobs has been providing our clients with top talent and our clients have been hiring them hand over fist (Toyjobs Success Stories). Also, the type of jobs that companies are looking for has started to shift from Sales, Sourcing and Safety (revenues, cost reduction, and regulation) toward the toy industry’s traditional focus on Marketing and Product Development (creativity and innovation). It seems as if companies have stopped just playing defense and are on the offensive once again.

We still face potential major problems in the European Economic crisis and the approaching fiscal cliff but if we can manage to avoid those, the US economy seems to finally be starting to pull out of its five year slump. While we can’t do much about Europe; it would be tremendously helpful if our politicians could get it together enough for a one year extension of the current taxation, spending and regulatory regime. This would give both business and consumers the confidence they need to start planning and spending and planning to spend. Maybe if our politicians can get their act together, European leadership will be able to pull it together over there, too…

Um, no I’m not holding my breath for either of these things to happen.

All the best,
Tom Keoughan

By | October 22nd, 2012|ToyJobs Blog|Comments Off on Fall Toy Preview Stalls – Toy Jobs Soar

Toy Industry Hiring Accelerates Despite “Jobless Recovery”

Another toy fair, come and gone.  While at the toy building the mood was one of very cautious optimism over at the Javits Center things were much more upbeat.  The consensus among specialty toy manufacturers seemed to be that the smaller specialty stores and toy boutiques that were able to survive the onslaught of closeout sales from FAO, KB, etc. would be able to look forward to increased foot traffic and would also need to restock shelves after some decidedly lean and cautious years.  In contrast, the mass market manufacturers seemed to feel that this year would be “les bad” than the last two or three and that was about as bright and cheery as the majority of them seemed to get.

Toy industry hiring has kicked into high gear, we’ve had a very strong January and February and a slew of new post trade show searches being started.  This contrasts with all the talk of  “the jobless recovery” in the press and by televised talking heads.  The best explanation, as usual, comes from Alan Greenspan.  There seems to be two things going on.  Cyclical hiring is accelerating.  On a micro level we see this in our business and on a macro level it can be seen in the growth of the number of want ads.  However, this is being offset by structural changes in our economy.  The flow of high paying factory jobs which started moving overseas in the mid eighties has increased due to both NAFTA and better and cheaper communications technology.  This outflow of jobs now includes software engineers, computer operations and call centers.

While Wall Street types and economists (smug up until the day they have to start operating a spatula) will tell you that this means decreased prices for American consumers, this is only half right.  Much of the cost savings goes to increased profit margins and drops to the bottom line.  Also, things had better cost less so that underemployed and unemployed consumers can afford to buy them at all.  This is not politics but basic common sense economics.

The toy industry has experienced some of these same trends.  Except for large blow molding plants and some game and puzzle facilities, toy factories have long since gone overseas.  Since the early nineties, probably two thirds of the engineering jobs have moved to Asia.  There has been some movement of product design jobs moving offshore but not at an alarming rate.  Also, some graphics jobs have moved, but mainly in the area of production.  Job loss in the design area has been more affected by productivity gains due to computerized design technology.  We don’t have to draw everything by hand anymore.

While less retailers, to a degree, means less sales jobs; this has been partially offset by the fact that the remaining retailers demand more and more personal attention.  We no longer have “the Target sales guy” but the “Target team.”  Marketing and Brand Management jobs have actually increased, as somebody has to keep all these balls in the air and moving in the right direction.  Sales and Marketing jobs look pretty solid over the middle to long term.

So, if you’ve got a kid in college, point him towards marketing or if he’s got a winning personality, make sure that he’s more than a little familiar with the geography of Arkansas.

All the best,

Tom Keoughan

By | March 30th, 2004|ToyJobs Blog|Comments Off on Toy Industry Hiring Accelerates Despite “Jobless Recovery”