TIA

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

Looking at Holiday Sales with Blurry Vision

Rosy forecasts but weak real world numbers make for uncertainty

Retail Projections

Early forecasts for Holiday Spending 2015 have been quite optimistic. Households have been enjoying fatter wallets, thanks to lower gasoline prices and cheaper imports, thanks to a stronger dollar. Retail sales reflected this by growing from January to July. NPD has reported that toy sales were up 6.5% in the first half and is projecting 6.2% growth for the year as a whole. The National Retail Federation is forecasting a holiday sales increase of 3.7%. That sounds good but less so when you consider last year’s 4.1% gain.

Retail Reality

Forecasts are fun and they can be helpful, but let’s not ignore what’s going on in the real world. A retail sales slowdown began in August and the Commerce Department recently revised the growth rate down to 0.0% for the month. September retail sales numbers were not perceptibly better with only a 0.1% growth rate. While low gas prices have been increasing disposable income and the strong dollar has led to some price deflation, consumers have been channeling additional spending toward services such as vacations and restaurant meals. Before we get pessimistic, let’s keep in mind that for economic data, some months counts less than others. August is rarely a good indicator – it’s summer! And September can often be a transitional month, especially when Labor Day arrives late, as it did this year.

Weak Jobs Reports

http://www.convexcm.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/nonfarm-payrolls.gifConcurrent to the slow-down in the retail sales is what we’re seeing in the job market. While job creation was strong in the first six months of the year, in September there were only 142,000 net new jobs. The numbers for July and August were also revised downward so that the third quarter monthly average for net new jobs was 167,000. That’s down from a monthly average of 198,000 for all of 2015 so far, which is down from 260,000 a month in 2014. While we should be concerned, again let’s not get overly pessimistic quite yet. Third quarter job gains have a historical tendency to run below average for the year and the deceleration often turns out to be temporary, rebounding in the October to December quarter. Again – it’s summer! …I’m going to wait for the October numbers before I really try to figure out what’s going on.

Wallowing Wal-Mart

The big news last week was Wal-Mart. The retail behemoth said that, while sales would be flat, earnings could fall as much as 12% next year. The lower margins will be the result of  “investments” in staffing at US stores and actual investments in ecommerce. When Wal-Mart experiences margin pressure – “Let the vendor beware!” – that can only mean bad news for its suppliers. Already they are asking all suppliers to pay fees to keep inventory in Wal-Mart warehouses and in some cases, they are strong arming vendors into accepting extended payment terms. One can only imagine that there will be more of this type of thing to come.

Strategically, changes needed to be made. Wal-Mart was falling behind in the retail wars. It’s difficult to compete with a company like Amazon, which is apparently comfortable not making any money for more than twenty years. From a timing standpoint, this makes perfect sense. New CEO Doug McMillon is a lifer who enjoys broad support. He is relatively young and will probably be in the CEO chair for another 10-15 years. He will be able to chart the new lows as his starting point as he goes about setting new strategy and rebuilding the retail juggernaut. He certainly has the time and resources to turn things around, but he has to get the strategy right. Not that he’ll notice, but we at Toyjobs wish him the best of luck.

Putting together a strategy to right the Wal-Mart ship is way above my pay grade, but I do have just one little question – we hear a lot about a “seamless customer strategy” and “click and collect” where a consumer can buy online and then stop by a store to pick up their purchases. My question is – why would I want to do that?? When I can simply purchase online and have my items delivered to my door. Just sayin’.

Dallas Fall Toy Preview

I found most people at the Dallas Fall Toy Preview to be very optimistic. The Frozen phenomenon seems to be fading fast butShopkins has been and Star Wars soon will be taking the world by storm. Wicked Cool had a very strong looking product line and over at the Auldey RC booth, people were busting through the doors.

Certainly there were the usual complaints – “Why are we here?” and “This place is empty.” But, when I asked manufacturers if their dance cards were full, they almost unanimously answered “yes.” In fact, in a completely new trend, instead of ambling in late, buyers were arriving for appointments early – even a day early. It seems that everyone wanted to get out of town as quickly as possible. I’m guessing that Thursday was completely dead, but can’t really tell you because I had already left for Austin to enjoy a much deserved long weekend of good food and good music.

October continues to be a crazy time in the toy industry with buyers and manufacturers pinballing between Dallas, LA, and Hong Kong at an accelerating rate and with even more disjointed schedules than ever. I know more than a few execs that will be in all three locations (simultaneously?) this month. The TIA still needs to figure this out. Things are getting messier, not better.

Navigating Conflicting Signals

What do we make of all of this conflicting noise? Should we try to make sense of things or just bury our heads in the sand? I feelhttp://www.canaltcm.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Larry-David.jpglike I’m crossing a deep river barefoot and just feeling around for smooth stones with my feet. Not that anyone listens to me but I am going to acknowledge, but not put much faith in, all of the conflictinghttp://spencersterlingfinancial.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/alan_greenspan_02_2010.jpgsignals until I see the October numbers. Historically, October is a solid bellwether month. I’m optimistic but am going to be conservative in planning and spending until things actually happen. I think that there’s going to be an absolute ton of Star Wars merchandise sold but I also think there will be an awful lot of it left on the shelves. What then? “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and don’t become “Irrationally Exuberant.” It’s likely to be a strong holiday shopping season, but at this point that is far from certain. Be prepared for the aftermath. I am filled with both optimism and uncertainty and I’d prefer to be surprised on the upside.

May the force be with us,
Tom Keoughan

By | October 21st, 2015|ToyJobs Blog|Comments Off on Looking at Holiday Sales with Blurry Vision

The First Quarter Contraction Was No Surprise Here

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

By | June 3rd, 2015|ToyJobs Blog|Comments Off on The First Quarter Contraction Was No Surprise Here

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!

Toy Fair Has Upbeat Vibe – Toyjobs Has 3rd Best Month Ever

Toy Fair Has Upbeat Vibe – Toyjobs Has 3rd Best Month Ever

After the requisite snowstorm, New York Toy Fair opened up Saturday night with the annual TOTY Awards dinner. Shirley Price and her team did a fantastic job and this event was even more fun than usual. It was especially gratifying to see that six of the twelve category awards were won by companies that have been in existence for less than three years such as Goldieblox, Choons Design and blog1Just Play. Choons Design’s Rainbow Loom won three category awards as it cruised its way to the Toy of the Year. So much for the carpers and back benchers who say that only the big boys win awards.

There were several inductees into the Toy Hall of Fame including Jill Barad, who gave a rousing speech which graciously gave shout outs to numerous mentors. Jack Friedinan of LJN, THQ and Jakks Pacific; Horst Brandstatler, founder of Playmobil and Wham-O founders Richard Knerr and “Spud” Melin were honored as well.

Next on the event calendar was the annual Women in Toys Dinner. Somehow Genna Rosenberg, Ashley Mady and their team continue to make this event better every year. How do they do that? …and how will they keep it up? Amongst the Wonder Women Award winners were Rita Raiffe of Gund garnering a well deserved Lifetime Achievement Award and Debra Sterling of the runaway start up Goldieblox. I think the award for funniest acceptance speech of the evening probably goes to Michelle Litzky who pretty much cracked everybody up.blog2

The always elegant Joan Luks will be stepping down as President of Women in Toys. Joan is someone who always put way more in to the organization than she took out. I’ll not be surprised if she continues to do that in her post-presidential role. New President Ashley Mady will have a heavy torch to carry but she certainly has the talent and energy to do so.

Toy Fair itself was very positive and upbeat which was a surprise considering that October’s Dallas Toy Preview was a bit gloomy and toy sales didn’t exactly rocket to the moon this past holiday season. Despite the travel-snarling snow, foot traffic was up 14% on Sunday and 9% on Monday. Tuesday was up 3% and Wednesday? …I can’t really tell you because, as is always blog3the case, like a lot of people I went home. All the major toy retailers had buyers there and that includes Wal-Mart, Target, Toys ‘R’ Us, Amazon, and Costco.

What I heard from senior toy executives who were actually showing at the Toy Fair was very different than usual. What they repeatedly said went something like this: “While retailers have already decided on the core of their planograms, there has been a lot of indecision on the part of buyers. We were able to fill a few nooks and crannies simply because we were here.” Interestingly, I heard that from every single company with a booth that I spoke with – no exceptions. I only heard otherwise from several senior toy executives who weren’t showing but instead just walking the show, poking around, and taking a few meetings. From them I heard the usual: This show is so expensive and we’re “really all done anyway.” It seems to me that it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you’re not out there pitching at a place where you can meet twenty of your top customers in a period of four days – you may indeed be “really all done anyway.” I would encourage those people to talk to their friends who had full booths at the show and see what they have to say.blog4

Kudos, as always, goes to Carter Keithley, Stacy Leistner and the whole TIA crew for hosting an outstanding Toy Fair. They pretty much had their hands into most of the outside events as well. To paraphrase fast Eddie Felson – Toy Fair is Back!

 

Mirroring the regained enthusiasm at New York Toy Fair, Toyjobs has continued to knock it out of the park. After having out best month in thirty-two years in December, we quickly followed with our third best ever month in February. Toy companies are looking at new talent and they’re pulling the trigger. Best of all, companies are hiring senior people which means they’re not just doing patchwork. Toy companies are looking to do new things and they need senior people who can find and execute on new opportunities.

The increase in hiring is reflected in the economy at large as well, Non-farm payrolls grew by an encouraging 175,

blog5

000 (seasonally adjusted) in February despite severe weather challenges in much of the country. Even though Toys ‘R’ Us started rolling layoffs last Tuesday culminating in a “Pink Friday,” the economic picture is brightening. The point of inflection appears to have been at the beginning of last October. Let’s hope that the economy continues to improve and that hiring keeps on keepin’ on. It has every indication of doing so. Spring may at long last be at hand.

All the best,
Tom Keoughan

By | March 12th, 2014|ToyJobs Blog|Comments Off on Toy Fair Has Upbeat Vibe – Toyjobs Has 3rd Best Month Ever

August-September Toy Hiring Surge – Delayed

It seems to be an annual event: as children’s products ship to retailers in late August, companies start feeling more comfortable about meeting their sales goals. Timing coincides with the winding down of summer vacations and the realization that the next year’s annual sales season will begin in a few short weeks in Dallas at the Fall Toy Preview and in Los Angeles at various private toy company events. Almost every year this leads to a big surge in search starts and hiring in late August and September. A surge that this year did not come.

Up until late August, we at Toyjobs saw toy industry hiring as quite strong. In 2012, things turned the corner and 2013 was looking like a return to “not quite normalcy.” Toy industry hiring in early summer was even better than the average during good times, but when late August arrived, not only was there no surge, but activity fell off the table. During late August and September – it was dead.

First off, spring and summer toy sales were extremely sluggish. Also, retailers were very cautious about inventory – ordering smaller numbers and bringing goods in later than ever before. This, in turn, made toy manufacturers nervous.

Coming into the Fall Toy Preview, I was, unfortunately, pretty well-rested and the paper piles in my office were beginning to look small. The good news was that, as I was arriving in Dallas, children’s products were beginning to arrive in bulk to the U.S. Toy companies have now begun to feel better about themselves and search starts have rocketed. Toyjobs is currently in talks with a wide array of companies about to begin new talent searches. Those searches haven’t hit our job board (Current Toy Jobs) yet but stay tuned, they’ll be posted in the coming weeks.

As for the show itself, it seemed noticeably less busy than last year. As always, Carter Keithley and his TIA team put on a superb event, but it just looked like there was quite a bit less traffic. I don’t have the official numbers, but my unscientific survey had three components. First, the Starbucks line was much shorter than last year. Second, the great opening party thrown by the TIA seemed less well-attended. Lastly, it is important to remember that foot traffic at this show can be much higher than it appears because so many people spend much of their day tucked away in little cubby holes. My favorite “metric” is to simply look over the railing down to the lobby floor at lunchtime. This, too, proved to be disappointing. Even when I went down to lunch myself, although the cafeteria was full, I never had any trouble finding a table.

I’m NOT privy to ANY official discussions, but in my gut – I give the show three years…and my guess is that in year four, the Fall Toy Preview constituted as it is now in Dallas will be no more. I certainly hope that is not the case. We all know the reasons that this show is faltering: large toy companies holding private events in LA during the following weeks, buyers making oddly timed trips to Hong Kong, high trade show costs, etc. I’m sure that the TIA and the TIA Board have talked about this until they’re blue in the face, but I would suggest giving a member of either of those groups your input – whatever that input may be. One thing that is glaringly obvious is that there is a disconnect when the TIA Board is largely made up of representatives of companies who do not support TIA events intended to strengthen the toy industry as a whole. With broad input, hopefully a solution can be found that works for everyone.

Just my two cents,
Tom Keoughan

By | October 14th, 2013|ToyJobs Blog|Comments Off on August-September Toy Hiring Surge – Delayed

Toy Fair: Return of the Snows

After two snow-free years, the weather hit back with a vengeance at the 110th American International Toy Fair. While New York City itself only received eight inches or so the rest of the Northeast was hit hard by the Snowpocalypse.

Things kicked off Saturday night with the TOTY awards. As always, Carter Keithley and his Toy Industry Association (TIA) team led by Stacy Leistner organized a terrific affair. The food was superb and everyone seemed to be having a good time.

The evening awards program, organized by Jamie Gallagher of Faber Castel and Shirley Price of Funrise was fun and kept everyone engaged. The night belonged to Lego and Leapfrog who each garnered several awards. That said, it was good to see awards won by several small companies such as: Just Play, Plasmart, and Cloud B. The boys category was dominated by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from Nickelodeon/Playmates.

Traffic seemed a bit off on Sunday, most likely due to weather-related travel disruptions. Countless war stories were shared by sleep deprived refugees from New England and Toronto. At the end of the day, action shifted to the Women in Toys (WIT) dinner. Genna Rosenberg and Ashley Maidy again did a great job organizing the annual event at The Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers. The evening was presided over by the always glamorous WIT president Joan Luks and it was good to see an award given to “The Queen of Toy Fair” Gail Jarvis. Particularly fun was the presentation of capes to the award winners.

Confidential sources tell me that someone looking very much like a cape wearing Nancy Zwiers was spotted over the next several days dancing around the Javits Center 🙂 Congratulations to all Wonder Woman winners and nominees.

Toy Fair traffic picked up substantially on Monday and Tuesday. Between bouts of “Javits feet”, Toyjobs was able to pick up on several young, under-exposed companies with exciting product lines. Some of these will undoubtedly be amongst our “sudden surprise” toy manufacturers of the future.

On Wednesday, we headed down to New Orleans for a few 65 degree days of good food, good music, and an evening glass of wine or three. We at Toyjobs will never drink anything out of a large Dayglo plastic toy – nor should you.

On the economic front the toy industry continues to have its challenges. Leftover retail inventory will likely mean that the first half of 2013 will be even slower than usual as little restocking needs to be done. Also, due to the management shuffle at the top, one has to believe that Toys ’R’ Us will be stuck like deer in the headlights for a considerable period of time. In addition, we continue to have a condition of torpor in Washington D.C. – nothing seems to move except their mouths. That said, total retail trade sales continue to trend cyclically upward. Warren Buffet, in last weekend’s shareholder letter said “ignore short term uncertainties, the immediate future is uncertain; America has feared uncertainty since 1776…American business will do fine over time”.

That’s the spirit that we’re seeing from our vantage point. As is usually the case, we were given a large number of search assignments in late December and January but those searches generally don’t close until the toy industry finishes cycling through trade shows in Hong Kong, London, Nuremburg and New York. Here at Toyjobs, we’re expecting to have an excellent
March as companies start to pull the trigger. In addition, search starts have been accelerating since the close of New York Toy Fair. Should this trend continue it bodes well for the industry as a whole. After the usual summer slowdown, I foresee hiring to come back even stronger in the fall as the headwinds of retail inventory and Washington gridlock abate and the economy continues to strengthen. Let us all hope it is so.
More light at the end of the tunnel,
Tom

By | March 5th, 2013|ToyJobs Blog|Comments Off on Toy Fair: Return of the Snows

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

PlayCon a Big Success – Toy Industry Adds Jobs!

In mid-May I attended my first PlayCon in Washington, DC, and I confess that I really didn’t know what to expect.  I must say that I was beyond pleasantly surprised.  The event was held at the Gaylord National Convention Center, a beautiful facility situated right on the Potomac.  It was self-contained, easy to navigate, and within easy walking distance of several outposts of well know Manhattan restaurants.

After we were jolted awake by a combination of caffeine and an opening bagpipe ceremony, we settled in for a very meaty schedule of speakers.  I’m not going to reveal here what they had to say (for that you would have to actually go) but I will give you a brief rundown of topics.

 

The first two speakers, Anita Frazier of NPD and Sean McGowan (who everyone already knows) provided hard data about trends in both the toy industry and some adjacent businesses.  It was valuable to be able to confirm some things that you mostly knew in your gut, but more importantly some of the data was counterintuitive; especially on the hot topic of apps (it’s not just about product without inventory).

Well known children’s product consultant Tom McGrath then spoke at length about both the art and the science of license selection.  Licensing can be very hit and/or miss, and Tom was very forthcoming about many of his wins and losses, why they occurred, and what he learned from them in hindsight.

Next up were Lego and Mattel.  Everyone was thankful to them for opening the kimono on the why’s and how’s of their consumer research programs and I think we were equally grateful to Messrs. Wann and Barbour for refraining from revealing exactly what was under their kilts!

After lunch, Brian Torney of Kunoichi led an interesting panel about how to think about marketing in the digital world which also featured Hasbro’s Chief Visionary Steve Drucker.  Steve peered into his crystal ball to prognosticate where technology might lead the children’s product business ten years in the future and beyond.

After breaking into workshop subgroups, everyone returned to see Bob Wann do a Q&A with senior Amazon executives Jon Witham and John Alteio.  They discussed how to best do business with the online retail giant and also drilled down into the detail of how to optimize your product pages in order to sell more goods.

Lastly on day one, Bob Wann interviewed Neil Friedman who brings a unique perspective from spending a lifetime in the toy business including senior positions with both Mattel and Toys R Us.  They talked about how manufacturers and retailers can work together more proactively and effectively.  It is all about managing expectations; doing what you say you are going to do and most of all communication.

Day two kicked off with LeapFrog President (and former TRU senior executive) John Barbour speaking with TRU SVP Merchandising Richard Barry. After that we dove back again into the world of consumer research.  First, with George Carey of brand strategy agency The Family Room who brought his unique perspective (backed by data, of course) on how families actually make decisions.  It made perfect sense but was not at all what I thought it would be going in.

Renee Weber, VP Consumer Research for The Marketing Store, then spoke on the really big picture about some of her groups’ findings and how they have translated into the design of McDonald’s Happy Meal toys.  Lastly, a lively panel on consumer research led by the very entertaining Paul Kurnit, toy advertising consultant at Kurnit Communications. (You can sign up for his RSS feed at psinsights.com)

Kudos go to Bob Wann and Shirley Price and the conference planning committee: Lourdes Arocho, Joel Berger, Mary Couzin, Richard Gill, Richard Gottlieb, Sharon Hartley, and Manuel Torres for putting together a program that was jam-packed with information.  I would also like to commend all of the speakers for the spirit of sharing which prevailed throughout the entire conference.  The content delivered at PlayCon was broad, deep, and thought-provoking.  While everyone may know parts of this stuff, I think I can safely say that everybody in attendance was able to bring home some immediately implementable takeaways.  If you weren’t there then you are just that much behind your competitors.

One thing I have learned over the last few years is that any event with Carter Kethley’s thumbprint on it is going to feature great food!  At PlayCon, he did not disappoint and as always was the perfect host.  Everything ran so smoothly that I realized that while the Toy Industry Association’s (TIA) Event Staff all appeared to be as serene as swans, they must have been paddling like hell underneath!  Shout outs go to:  Marian Bossard, Kimberly Carcone, Jackson Wong, Robyn Gibbs, and Kimberly Catucci.

PlayCon was a great place to network and meet new industry colleagues but more importantly for me a great place to solidify existing relationships away from the frenetic pace of trade shows where everyone is focused on selling – as they should be.

In other news (great segue, huh?) the U.S. had a pretty weak May jobs report.  Employers added a seasonally adjusted 69,000 jobs last month and the estimates for the two previous months were adjusted downward.  The unemployment rate moved up from 8.1% to 8.2%.  To be completely accurate there has been some discussion that the Labor Department’s seasonal adjustment equation has been thrown out of whack.  Read more here.

Factors contributing to the weak jobs report include the warm winter leading companies to hire seasonal workers earlier which boosted winter job growth while stealing from spring hiring.  Additionally, renewed concerns about Europe with Greece, Spain and Italy all having trouble borrowing to finance their government spending has been unsettling.  This could potentially lead to a domino effect amongst financial institutions.  More importantly, the European recession will be a drag on global economic growth especially now that Asia (which has Europe as its largest customer) is now starting to slow.  Lastly, there is the domestic political situation including the pending fiscal cliff which could drive the US into recession and may be causing businesses to hold off on hiring.

Anecdotally, here at Toyjobs we have seen toy companies continue to add to their staffs at a rapid clip.  Toy search starts have also continued to be strong.  That said, we are just about to enter the summer doldrums where for thirty years Toyjobs has seen certain regular patterns in both good economies and bad.  I expect search starts to slow in the next week or two as the annual summer slowdown begins. Jobs will continue to be filled through the first three weeks of July as searches that began in May and June are completed.  At that point things will be very slow until the last week or two of August when search starts begin to ramp up in response to the upcoming fall sales season. (Fall Toy Preview will be right around the corner.)

My concern is that due to either an implosion in Europe or continued brinksmanship and bipartisan idiocy in Washington, DC, employers may sit on their hands come late August and that the annual search start bounce will be muted.  Most pragmatic people realize that the current tax and spending regime should be extended through 2013.  We’re going to have an election in November to determine which ideological (idiot-logical?) path the country is going to take, but in the meantime let’s hope the politicians do not drive the bus off of a fiscal cliff.  Since an extension is likely to be what happens anyway, let’s root for it to happen now so that businesses can plan which will hopefully lead to hiring and business investment.  In the current political environment, however, I am not going to hold my breath.

Moving forward, we do have a few reasons to be optimistic.  The biggest job loser in May was construction, which shed 28,000 positions.  The industry lost hundreds of thousands of jobs as the residential housing market collapsed.  In May, heavy construction jobs also began to be cut as the money for “stimulus/roadwork everywhere” has begun to come to an end.  However, few other sectors actually cut jobs.  Most simply did not hire much.  One exception was the transportation and warehousing category, which added 35,000 jobs, mostly in railroads and trucking.  Transportation is generally considered to be a leading indicator of economic growth.  Secondly, Wal-Mart is growing again.  First quarter earnings rose 10% as the retailing behemoth saw US customer traffic and average purchases rise.

So, the US economy is still growing albeit not quickly enough and faces headwinds in European and Asian economic slowdowns and a few potential landmines from Europe and Washington DC. I’m moving forward but cautiously with the feeling that if we can just avoid the landmines everything will be alright although not as good as I would like it to be.

Overdue Updates

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been running so hard on the hamster wheel that a few things have popped up that I didn’t really have time to digest so I’ll share them with you here:

  • Toyjobs received a Constant Contact 2011 All Star Award for our newsletter which you are reading now.  I would like to thank all of our readers for taking the time out of their busy schedules to look us over every month or so.  I would also like to thank all of you who send in positive feedback after each publication.
  • Secondly, I have been elected to the Board of The Pinnacle Society as Treasurer.  The Pinnacle Society is a group limited to 75 of the top executive recruiters in North America and I would like to thank their membership for being in excellent long-term educational asset as well as for putting their faith and trust in me.

So that’s it.  Enjoy the summer slowdown.  I hope you all have a chance to step off of the daily hamster wheel and spend some time relaxing and recharging your batteries for the next go round.
Moving Ahead Cautiously,

Tom Keoughan

By | June 19th, 2012|ToyJobs Blog|Comments Off on PlayCon a Big Success – Toy Industry Adds Jobs!

Toy Fair: Without Snow II – The Return

For the second straight year we had Toy Fair – without snow. As a New Yorker, I think I might grow to like this whole global warming thing. What a Toy Fair it was, with busier aisles and a newfound upbeat attitude. Specialty companies were writing record numbers of orders and even the sometimes grumbly mass marketers seemed to be pleased. I haven’t yet figured why everyone was in such a good mood. In 2011, total retail sales were up approximately 5% while toy sales were down 2%. The general consensus seems to be that every family in America got an iPad for Christmas. Maybe everyone was in high spirits because they all were recipients of said iPads. Perhaps, more likely, is that people have realized that the world doesn’t end very often and since it just ended in 2009; it is unlikely to end again soon.

Things kicked off Saturday night with the TOTY awards. Once again Carter Keithley and his Toy Industry Association (TIA) team put together a terrific affair. The food was great and everyone seemed to be having a good time. The TOTY awards have received some criticism which I think is unfair. Some have claimed that TOTY’s are only won by the largest toy companies. However, if you look at the ballot you will see that over 50 companies had products represented. That includes such smaller companies as: WOWWEE, Fashion Angels, Cepia, Thinkway, Plasmart, Thinkfun, The Bridge Direct, Alex, Thames + Kosmos and the list goes on and on. Blip Toys and Innovation First both won TOTY awards in 2011 with Innovation First winning again in 2012. Most products are initially self-nominated by their companies but are then culled by committees that include retail buyers, toy industry, journalists, academics and inventor/designers. The winners are then voted on by a broad electorate of consumers, retail buyers, journalists and TIA members. While suggestions for tweaking should certainly always be welcome, I don’t think anyone can really say that this process is overly biased.

After a day of pounding the floors at the Javits Center, Sunday night brought the Women in Toys (WIT) dinner. While always a lovely affair, this year it was extra special. Genna Rosenberg and her team should be commended on their attention to ever detail. The venue – The Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers – was stupendous. I must confess that I did miss the dark paneling and overstuffed leather chairs of The Penn Club, but this was much more appropriate. Perhaps we’ll return to the Penn Club for the first annual Men in Toys Single Malt Scotch Tasting and Cigar Smoke-off. Meanwhile, back at the WIT Dinner, drinks were served and everyone was in a grand and chatty mood. Dinner was unveiled in a beautiful room and the food was “deelish.” Congratulations to all Wonder Women Award winners for their careers, their awards and their modest and succinct acceptance speeches.

New York Toy Fair continued with large crowds and good cheer (not to mention the usual bouts of “Javits feet”). Early Wednesday morning I snuck out of town and hopped a flight to New Orleans for a few days of good food, good music and a few glasses of wine in the evening (No! I do not drink Alabama Slammers – nor should you). Unfortunately my 8AM flight didn’t arrive until 9 at night. Note to self: US Airways – Never Again!

On the toy industry jobs front, the news has been good. Starting two weeks before Toy Fair, Toyjobs phone started ringing off the hook with job opportunities. Since then, Toyjobs search starts have exploded and though it hasn’t quite happened yet, companies seem eager to pull the trigger and actually hire talent once they find it. For various competitive reasons, we tend not to post our search assignments on our job board until we’ve finished most of our initial work on them so stay tuned – we’ll be updating it every Tuesday.

Now that the world probably won’t end again for awhile and the companies that were going to fail have done so; the rest seem to have decided that it’s time to get back to business. Many companies have cut staff so much in the last few years that they can barely get their work done. Companies have been running so lean for so long that there is a lot of pent-up demand.

Unemployment numbers continue to strengthen but we still have a long way to go. The economy continues to grow slowly but is vulnerable to outside shocks. The European Debt Crisis, for the moment, seems to be temporarily resolved. That said, markets are already betting that Greece will default again. Grey market pricing for the new, yet-to-be-issued “haircut bonds” is already selling at distressed levels and nobody expects Athens to lower its overall debt level to 120% of GDP by 2020.

Oil prices (and raw material costs for toys) could spike due to (election year?) sabre rattling in the Middle East. In an election year, politicians of all stripes will likely be promising increasingly “stupider” things. All of these present challenges. There is also a chance that the increase in job openings represents a temporary new year budget bump and will subside by June. But from my vantage point, barring any of these external shocks being realized (is that enough hedging for you?); we are beginning to see a return to normalcy albeit one moving much more slowly than any of us would like. The light at the end of the tunnel is growing slowly larger.

Muddling Thru,
Tom Keoughan

By | March 12th, 2012|ToyJobs Blog|Comments Off on Toy Fair: Without Snow II – The Return