TRU

Apocalypse Postponed

Open image 1By now, the Dallas Fall Toy Preview follows a familiar script. We arrive and everybody grumbles, “There’s nobody here” and “This place is empty,” but by the time that the Opening Night cocktail party gets underway, everybody realizes that things are actually going pretty well.

This year there was strong retailer presence with very few new no shows aside from Big Lots (shrug). That said, I did notice that a few additional substantial manufacturers were not exhibiting and that the 8th floor had all but disappeared.

There were the usual questions and concerns about having three trade shows in three locations over the same two or three week period. “How will the Toy Association fix this?” Personally, I’m resigned to the view that they won’t. Mainly because most of the toy manufacturers involved are reasonably happy doing what they’re doing. Companies showing in Los Angeles are happy showing in Los Angeles and are equally happy that half of the industry isn’t there diverting attention away from their product lines. Companies showing in Dallas like showing in Dallas as long as the buyers show up. It would, however, be helpful if Kohl’s and Meijer would attend so we can avoid treks to Grand Rapids, Michigan or Menomonie, Wisconsin. From what I’ve been told there was much less of an early October presence in Hong Kong. It’s probably too early to call that a trend, especially since it’s difficult to tease out the deterrent effect of the ongoing Hong Kong street protests. We should be able to get a better read on that next year.

By Thursday afternoon, most toy manufacturers in Dallas were telling me that they had very productive meetings with retailers. They also said they were able to create additional interest by laying out their entire product range. Additionally, I heard about a lot of positive surprises coming from walk-ins. The Dallas Toy Preview remains an exercise in quality over quantity. Continued success of the show will depend on The Toy Association maintaining and preferably increasing the breadth of retailer participation.

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Source: justplayproducts.com

Recently, consolidation has been in the forefront of toy industry news. Jazwares has bought Wicked Cool Toys and Just Play is closing in on a purchase of Jakks Pacific. It’s interesting to note that most of the major players involved are former Jakks employees. Michael Rinzler and Jeremy Padawer were long-time Jakks employees who quickly built Wicked Cool into an exciting and innovative company. Both Geoffrey Greenberg and Charlie Emby previously sold toy companies to Jakks and then worked for them for a spell. They founded and built Just Play into a toy industry powerhouse. All this makes one wonder what Jakks might have become if it wasn’t saddled with such inept senior management.

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Source: wickedcooltoys.com

Toys ‘R’ Us continues to create headlines but I suspect little else. Last time out, we discussed their 6 store “Flea Market” model where they will rent space and then in turn rent it out to toy manufacturers to try to sell their wares. With that they will also provide “powerful analytics” but since those will be based on such a small sample they aren’t of much real value.

They have now partnered with Candytopia on a two store “experience” model. Reported entry ticket prices look like they will be deal breakers for consumers. Reportedly it will cost $20 per child and $28 per adult to enter “the experience.” That means it will cost a family of four $96 before even thinking about purchasing a “shut up” toy on the way out. This is the opposite of the old Italian Restaurant model where everyone leaves happy after a free shot of Sambuca. Instead, it sounds like a lot of unhappy kids walking out the door with a roll of Smarties. Paying $96 to end up with a car full of crying kids doesn’t sound like an exciting prospect. Maybe families will go once…maybe.

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Source: linkedin.com/company/trukidsbrands1/

Lastly, TRU has announced that it has essentially outsourced its startup e-commerce business to Target.  That sounds to me like the actual owners of TRU Kids Brands won’t give management the money necessary to build or buy their own e-commerce platform. If the owners of the company don’t have any confidence in the holdover management from the Toys ‘R’ Us’ collapse, why should we? TRU should have had a first mover advantage in kids e-commerce twenty years ago and have flubbed it numerous times since. Unless they can come up with some spectacular content that isn’t available anywhere else (put me down as skeptical), I don’t see them becoming the hot go-to location.

TRU Kids Brands “strategy” looks like a shotgun approach of schemes by a company that has no money, doesn’t want to spend any money, but wants to convince both toy manufacturers and consumers to give them money while they milk their brand for what they can, while they can. Even before this new reincarnation, the Toys ‘R’ Us brand had been badly damaged by shoddy stores, bad management, and undercapitalization. I don’t see anything different here except a fresh coat of paint.

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Source: insidethemagic.net

That said, it’s good to see Target really stepping up and looking to grow its toy business. The Toysrus.com deal should help them to jumpstart that, at least in the beginning. After a few years I expect that Target will have eaten whatever lunch TRU has left. Putting miniature Disney stores into its locations should be a much more powerful long-term growth driver. Unfortunately, with Target one must always bear in mind the words of Mark Tritton that will forever ring in infamy: “We will refuse to accept any new cost increases related to tariffs on goods imported from China.”

Which brings us to tariffs. Late Friday, the US and China reached a truce on trade war escalation. While an all-encompassing trade deal would be better than a partial deal, a partial deal is better than no trade deal at all. Since the details still haven’t really been worked out, it’s better to view this as a cease-fire rather than even a partial deal. But that’s still better than continued trade war escalation.

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Source: scmp.com

Next week’s planned increase in tariffs to 30% from 25% on $250 billion in Chinese imports has been put on hold. In return, China will greatly increase purchases of U.S. agricultural products. However, planned December 15th tariff increases on a wide array of consumer goods remain on the table at this time. Both parties are said to be discussing Chinese intellectual property rights, forced joint ventures, and technology transfers and increased U.S. access to Chinese markets. Those negotiations will be hard fought, and the devil is likely to be in the details. For a final deal to be struck, the Trump administration is going to have to give up its demands that China end its support for state-owned enterprises. The Chinese are not about to change the way their entire economy is organized – especially when for the last thirty years, it has been working very well for them. Also, the U.S. will have to cease demands that China dismantle its Made in China 2025 New Technology initiative. That demand is ludicrous. Its not hard to imagine what the U.S. would say if China demanded that of us.

I have no special knowledge or shining track record of predicting the future, but if I were to prognosticate – my guess is that there will be a series of “skinny deals” which will both allow a number of declarations of victory as well as eat up the calendar moving toward Election Day 2020. Only after the election will the U.S. reduce its China 2025 and state sponsored entity demands. In other words, I believe that the process is to a degree being staged managed. That doesn’t mean that the players have complete control over it and it doesn’t mean that things can’t still go wrong. It also doesn’t help companies making plans for business year 2020. Proceed with caution. Steady as she goes.

All the best,
Tom Keoughan

By | October 15th, 2019|About Toy Jobs|0 Comments

Toy Industry Hiring Trending Higher

There’s not that much new to report. Toy industry hiring is slowly continuing to trend higher. This despite the fact that the largest toy companies continue to lay people off. Mattel, Hasbro, Lego, etc. used to pump so many goods through Toys ‘R’ Us that they will never make up that volume. They will still be the largest toy companies, but they will be smaller than they were for the foreseeable future.

toys-r-us empty lot

The exception is MGA. For all of Isaac Larian’s… let’s call them idiosyncrasies, he has been able to show that product is still King. It should also be noted that while MGA is a large company by sales volume, it’s not staffed like a large company.

Many small and medium-sized companies are much nimbler. They can develop product from start to finish at a much quicker pace. Unlike the big boys, they are not bogged down by meetings, meetings, meetings. It’s easier to turn a speedboat than an aircraft carrier – and you need far less people to man it.

Small and medium companies are also adapting by putting out a greater number of product lines but “skinnying” them up in the realization that except for a “toy warehouse” no other retailer is going to stock all those iterations and add-ons. They also have a far easier time replacing lost TRU volume by gaining a couple of extra feet at a Best Buy or a Cracker Barrel or a Kohl’s. Mattel can try to do that but it’s not even going to move the needle.

Since the Hong Kong Toy Show, many small and medium toy companies have been looking to add senior executives who can affect their businesses in a meaningful way. These companies have come to realize that good things aren’t going to just happen. They have to MAKE them happen. They are adding top people who can be game changers and drive new initiatives. While companies are adding senior people, they are not yet adding a lot of people overall. This senior executive hiring isn’t happening at all companies. I would put it at about 30%. That said, it is slowly but steadily broadening out.

The toy industry has been fortunate in that if we had to lose a Toy’s ‘R’ Us it was best to do it against the backdrop of a strong economy. A few short months ago, economists were predicting a recession in 2019. No one is saying that anymore. Over the last five years, GDP numbers have been weak in the first quarter and picked up later in the year. The first quarter of 2019 saw a robust GDP of 3.2%. Will that number hold up in coming quarters? Who knows?… But the point is that the economy should continue to be strong.

WSJ unemployent rate graphs_stats 050619_001

The current leading candidate in the U.S.-China trade talks. The recent back chatter had been that both sides are backing down for some of their demands and looking to settle on face-saving half measures. Then Reuters reported that last Friday the Chinese sent over a copy of the trade agreement that they had marked up in a way that walked back months of negotiations. This provoked the Tweeter-in-Chief to start issuing a barrage of tariff escalation threats. We can only hope that this is mostly posturing. Both Xi and Trump are playing a dangerous game of chicken which threatens the global economy. The risk/reward ratio of this behavior is not favorable to anyone. Hopefully, everyone will just calm down and settle on a partial deal. That won’t solve things in the long run, but it’s better to dodge a bullet today as long as we’re moving in the right direction. We can only hope that cooler heads prevail.

Against this strong economic background, the toy industry will continue to have its challenges. More and more, small and medium-sized toy companies are meeting those head-on. I envision that toy industry hiring will continue to grow slowly but steadily. After a brief period of July summer doldrums, I expect that hiring will begin to gather steam as companies start to prepare for the 2020 toy sales cycle. Should a strong economy lead to a strong 2019 holiday sales season, I envision that early next year we will be approaching normalization. Let’s hope I’m not wrong.

All the Best,

Tom Keoughan

By | May 7th, 2019|ToyJobs Blog|0 Comments

New York Toy Fair Review and Projections

The annual toy industry migration from Hong Kong to London to Germany finally reached its inevitable end at The New York International Toy Fair. All reports were that the outlook for the industry in 2019 gathered optimism and enthusiasm as the trade show season moved along.

The New York International Toy Fair opened with the TOTY Awards. A terrific event, as always, which was this year again held at the venerable Ziegfeld Ballroom. There was a big, buzzy crowd in attendance as companies vied for various Toy of the Year Awards.

TJ – Isaac LarianOne highlight was the Doll of the Year Award which went, unsurprisingly, to L.O.L. Surprise! The award was accepted by Isaac Larian of MGA who approached the podium and said – the least he ever has. It was a comically gracious moment…only to be later ruined when he climbed the stage out of turn and out of line to display his usual boorish behavior. That said, let’s give credit where credit is due – both under the byzantine TOTY process and by popular acclaim L.O.L. Surprise! garnered three TOTY’s and was the overall Toy of the Year. Mattel and Lego also had good nights as they each came home with three TOTYs.

TJ – Joe Burke

I always enjoy seeing smaller and up and coming companies win these awards so it was good to see wins by Zing and Tastemakers. The Rookie of the Year Award went to Victury Sports. This startup makes the OllyBall which can be played with indoors without breaking lamps, mirrors, and cherished family heirlooms. Just think about how much trouble we wouldn’t have gotten into as kids! Do Play Ball in the House!

Amongst the three new members inducted into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame was Joe Mendelsohn, former president of Kenner Products. In the 1970’s and 80’s, Kenner Products was The company. They had a fun Ideation and Product Development Group, professional Marketers, the toy industry’s best Engineering team and a rogue’s gallery of affable Sales talent. They came up with new and exciting product year after year after year. When the crowd gave Joe Mendelsohn a long standing ovation I took it to be a standing ovation for the entire Kenner Products team.

TJ – Crystal Palace Crowd

On Saturday, we moved on to the Toy Fair proper and the much dreaded Javits Center floors (hardest floors on the planet). In contrast to last year, day one was high energy and crowded. Strong attendance as well as optimism and excitement continued through the show’s end. Kudos to Steve Pasierb and his team and to the TIA Board for putting on a strong and productive show as well as the top notch TOTY event.

TJ – Show Floor 1

On Sunday night, anybody and everybody could be found at the Wonder Women in Toys Awards. I don’t know the official numbers but is it possible that this event was even more well attended than the TOTYs? Genna Rosenberg and her team did their usual exquisite job planning and pulling this thing off. The entire group of ladies making this show work do it while seeming so serene although I suspect they must be paddling like crazy underneath.

TJ – Marian BossardA shout out to Marian Bossard of the Toy Industry Association for winning the Wonder Women of Sales Award. Marian is one of the key people making all of the toy industry’s tradeshows and events go as smoothly as possible for the rest of us. Congratulations to all of the Wonder Women. As an employment expert, I suggest regularly wearing your pink capes to the office around salary review time!

One of the few negative undercurrents of the show was the question of “what’s going on with Toys ‘R’ Us?” As best as I can tell, they are going to continue on as an asset light IP company. In other parts of the world, they have licensed out their name to retail operators who will open and manage stores. They are looking to initiate the same type of arrangement in the U.S. They will also have an online retail entity which they will presumably either run themselves or partner on with their bricks and mortar licensee. TRU is also of the opinion that they have valuable product IP which they can sell to other retailers. Personally, I don’t think that the world is exactly clamoring for FastLane or Animal Alley. I suppose that they will sell in (saddle with) that merchandise to their retail partner.

After being so badly burned, will manufacturers actually do business with TRU? After all, Toys ‘R’ Us has the same ownership and largely the same management. Many have told me that it has been beyond difficult to see Richard Barry swanning around at Toy Industry events. Will they be able to just clean the slate of retail leases and then like a gang of deadbeats stiff their suppliers? To make matters worse, they then went out and sold their suppliers unpaid for merchandise at a discount, hindering said suppliers from selling their own goods elsewhere. Trust has been completely broken. It will not be repaired easily – perhaps ever.

I’ve heard many in the toy industry say that they won’t do business with Toys ‘R’ Us. That said, while I don’t know how many stores will be opened, I can’t see many toy companies not wanting to sell in to 50, 100, 200 doors. Perhaps one toy industry exec put it best when he told me: “I’ll be happy to do business with them depending on who their retail partners are and whether they have deep enough pockets to pay their bills.” Even so, I expect that they’ll be kept on a tight leash with short payable terms and little acceptance for chargebacks and the games they used to play in the warehouse.

What does this all mean for upcoming toy industry hiring? I am broadly optimistic. 2018 holiday sales numbers were not as bad as they could have been and the government statistics on retail sales seem to be a bit wonky. The negative government data, which was partly gathered during the partial government shutdown, looks to be at odds with strong retail sales numbers reported by Mastercard and by many individual retailers. It was also in complete disagreement with sales numbers reported by Amazon.

TJ – Crowd Pic

Much of the toy industry has made adjustments and is finding their way through a rapidly changing retail environment. After all, kids still want toys, we just have to find different ways (plural) to get those toys in front of them. The largest toy companies (Mattel, Hasbro, Lego) will not be able to readily replace the sales lost at Toys ‘R’ Us. They will now be big companies growing off a smaller base. Small fry beware! The big fish are stodgy and slow moving. It will take a couple of years but when they figure it out (and they will), they will be tenacious.

Meanwhile, this is a great year for kids movies like Frozen, Toy Story 4, Lego 2, etc. which will drive product demand. Fortnite is really only just getting started. The toy industry has pent up hiring demand. Over the last two years there have been so many lay offs that many companies are now having difficulty just getting the work done. Lastly, it looks like we have dodged the tariff bullet – at least for now. We are still waiting to see if happy talk turns into treaties, but we should be cautiously optimistic that we are going to evade a trade war.

In early January, all of these factors led me to cautiously predict that about two to three weeks after the New York Toy Fair, when companies finished crunching their numbers, that my phone would be ringing off the hook, with toy companies looking to increase staffing. That would be right about now.

What actually happened is that immediately after returning from Hong Kong, toy companies started calling. They were not only looking to fill jobs but Big Jobs. Last year, companies were occasionally looking for Project Managers/pairs of hands on the lower end of the salary continuum. This year they are looking for senior executives. This tells me that toy companies have left their defensive crouch and are now looking for opportunities to make things happen. I am broadly optimistic on toy industry prospects for 2019 – with the caveat – that we must dodge the Trump tariff bullet – which at the current time it looks like we will but…

All the best,

Tom Keoughan

By | March 5th, 2019|About Toy Jobs|0 Comments

Conditionally Predicting Increased Toy Industry Hiring

For 2018 the big story in the toy industry hiring was the closing of Toys ‘R’ Us. Almost every toy and juvenile product manufacturer lost its second or third biggest customer. That meant that most of these companies cut their budgets while they went out in search of new channels of distribution. Reduced budgets usually means reduced headcount and nearly always means a slowdown in new hiring.

Are toy industry hiring trends poised to turn the corner? 2018 holiday sales overall were strong, rising 5.1%, excluding autos, according to Mastercard SpendingPulse. Online sales grew even more quickly at a whopping 19.1%. Of course, there were retail winners and losers. Macy’s, Kohl’s, and J.C. Penney performed poorly while Wal-Mart, Target, and Costco hit it out of the park. Wal-Mart and Target could have performed even better but they were running out of inventory during the last two weeks of the holiday shopping season, which coincided with a surge in foot traffic.

These numbers represent retail sales of ALL goods but what of the toy industry? I’ve heard all sorts of whisper numbers that US toy sales were down 7% or even 15%, but the most recent numbers that I’ve heard were that US toy sales declined 2-3%. At the same time, nearly all of the senior executives at small and medium-sized companies that I have spoken with have said that their sales either grew or that they were happy with their 2018 results. That leads me to believe that the bulk of the lost sales were suffered by the big toy companies like Mattel, Hasbro, and Lego, etc. After all, if a small toy company can add a couple of extra feet of shelf space at a Best Buy or a Cracker Barrel, that can be pretty meaningful. For a Mattel, it doesn’t even move the needle.

I see 2018 as a transition year and look for the toy industry to gain traction and move forward in 2019. We have several things going in our favor. First, the economy, although it might grow at a slower pace than last year, is still forecast to be strong. Only a few months ago, predictions were that the Fed would raise interest rates four times this year. Currently, interest rates are projected to only be raised a time or two. Employment continues to be super strong. Both factors support an economy that continues to grow.

Cautious ordering in 2018 means that retailers have little inventory carrying over going into this year. This bodes well for sales early in the year and also minimizes manufacturers being held up for mark-down money and diminishes retailers’ need to have blow out sales. In addition, we have a plethora of strong licensable kid’s movies coming out this year led by new Frozen and Toy Story films. That should mean strong sales for licensors and also translate to better sales for all as blockbuster properties drive increased shopping for kid’s products.

That said, there are two potential problems which could disrupt growing toy sales. First, we are still early in the 2019 toy trade show season. Reports that I’m getting are that the mood in Hong Kong was buoyant although not quite jubilant. We shall see how retailers react to toy manufacturers wares at Nuremburg and in New York.

Secondly, there is still the specter of Trump tariffs on Chinese-made goods looming on the horizon. Recently most of the chatter about resolution has been trending toward positive, with the exception of the Huawei imbroglio. I would imagine that we’ll end up with face-saving half measures where all sides are able to declare victory OR further postponements which unfortunately means further uncertainty. As the big orangey fella often says, “We’ll have to wait and see.”

If we’re able to dodge a trade war then I see a strengthening toy industry investing in new talent to help drive growth. A lot of pent-up demand has developed over the last two years as toy companies have tightened their belts to the point of them becoming tourniquets. As companies come out of their defensive posture, somebody has to have the ideas and somebody has to do the work. My outlook is – as it usually is – one of cautious optimism.

I look forward to seeing you all in New York!

Tom Keoughan

By | January 28th, 2019|About Toy Jobs|0 Comments

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

Toy Hiring Approaching Normal But a Little Too Early To Call

Toy Industry hiring continues to be strong and the job environment seems to be close to back to normal. I don’t want to “call it” until we see what search start volumes are coming out of the summer doldrums. The usual mid-August ramp up was delayed last year until early October. I’m a big believer that hiring in the toy industry is event-driven. One event trigger is when the product ships. When that happens, companies relax a little bit and feel better about themselves and then start hiring. Last year, retailers delayed having goods shipped until late September/early October. I’m guessing that will be a structural shift and goods will continue  to be brought in later as retailers continue in their never ending quest to shift as much risk as possible onto “their partners” in the seasonal fashion goods business.

It would also be nice to see an uptick in Marketing and Product Development jobs. Prior to the financial crisis, those positions were Toyjobs’ bread and butter. During the crisis whatever hiring there was focused on safety, sourcing, and sales. That only makes sense: there was a big product safety brouhaha in 2007 and safety issues were put under a magnifying glass. Regulations (some ridiculous) were constantly changing. Sourcing is simple code for “beat down the prices at the factories.” Sales, well we all want more sales and many business owners and senior managers subconsciously (I’m being kind) blamed poor sales on their Sales guys rather than the economic collapse. In any case, Marketing and Product Development jobs seem to be just starting to pick up. That is a sign that toy companies are moving from a defensive position and are looking to do new things. For me to declare the hiring environment “back to normal” it is important for that trend to fully develop.

Many people have been able to change jobs over the past year and that looks set to continue. Unfortunately, there are far too many people who have been unemployed for a long time. For people who have been out of work for three or four years, things are extremely tough. If you have been consulting, it is important to list what projects you worked on and what companies you did them for on your resume. Also highlight them in your interviews. For the long term unemployed who haven’t really been doing any consulting it may be time to reinvent yourself and perhaps even reset expectations. I know that is very difficult but it may be even harder to find your way back to your old career.

It’s not so much that companies are discriminating against the long term unemployed as much as there is strong competition for every job and that competition includes a lot of people who were doing that job just yesterday. For about five years, even employed people who wanted to change jobs had nowhere to go. Now that jobs are opening up, currently employed people with an up to the minute skill set and current connections are going to naturally be in the front of the line.

If you have legitimately been consulting, you can work your way back inside. If you haven’t, it may be time to reinvent yourself and move onto the next phase of your career. I know that’s very difficult to hear, but not as hard as continuing to pound on doors that aren’t opening.

For the rest of us, we should feel especially grateful for having come through this thing mostly intact and should reach out to help others who need it when we can.

The best to all,
Tom Keoughan

By | May 6th, 2014|ToyJobs Blog|Comments Off on Toy Hiring Approaching Normal But a Little Too Early To Call

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,

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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

Toyjobs Logs Best Month Ever

In December 2013, Toyjobs recorded the best month ever in its thirty-two year history. Not only was hiring strong in general, but many toy companies were hiring people at senior levels. This is a strong indication that the industry as a whole has left behind its primarily defensive posture of the economic downturn (teenage ninja heads in shells) and is now aggressively looking for opportunities (mutant turtle heads popping out of shells).

Typically, toy recruiting slows in January and February as the industry is focused on running from one trade show to the next. However, this year activity has not let up and search starts have continued to be strong. It can be difficult to actually close searches during this time period with so many people on the road but I think that the high level of search starts bodes well for toy industry hiring in February, March, April, and beyond.

Holiday toy sales were down slightly and no brick and mortar retailer stood out as having a great year. Several retailers came into January with particularly grim results. Toys ‘R’ Us and Kmart staggered out the holiday season punch drunk and wobbly. Costco’s toy department bombed. Even Dollar stores and the value channel were hurting. Our award for the worst behavior for a retailer this season goes to Target. Not only did Target have a massive breach of consumer data, but they are now compounding it by trying to strong arm suppliers into paying for their credit card problems.

Many retailers overpromised consumers on their ability to deliver late purchased goods. Some were advertising that orders placed as later as December 22nd would arrive before Christmas. This will only serve to increase already growing consumer cynicism over retail practices.

Retailers also cut into their own margins with “discounts” which were early, constant and deep. Even though many of these “discounts” were built into the purchase price, a lot of potential earnings for both retailers and their suppliers were still left on the table.

On the positive side, online retailers like Amazon, Zulilly and others absolutely knocked it out of the park. Offering both price and convenience is an unbeatable combination and physical retailers have a difficult task ahead in figuring out and presenting their value proposition to the consumer. Personally, I can’t think ofgeared up a single reason why I would want to be caught dead in a large retail store or mall during the holiday shopping season.

Total retail sales also improved. I can’t help but think that without any red hot toy smashes in 2013 that there were a lot of Xboxes, iPads and Microsoft Surfaces under the tree. Total retail sales are an indicator of the economy as a whole. As it improves, toy sales should come along for the ride…as long as we have engaging product.

Most economic data continues to improve, including the unemployment rate with the headline number (U-3) dropping in December to 6.7%. That said, the headline unemployment number is greatly understated on two fronts. First, a more accurate gauge of financial pain is U-6. U-6 represents unemployed people, plus people who are employed as a consultant or on a part-time basis but would prefer full-time work. It also adds people who have quit looking for work but would take a job if they could find one. U-6 currently stands at 13.1%. Another area of understatement is that U-3 does not consider people who have left the workforce or have stopped looking for work. You may think – “Well, how do they do that? How do they just decide to leave the workforce?” The answer is that most of America is populated by two income families and when one of the earners is either unemployed or underemployed, then the entire household is financially pinched. Rather than thinking about a 6.7% unemployment rate, a more accurate way of looking at the employment picture is that 20% of two income families are living worse off than they used to. As depressing as that may be, statistics are just a snapshot of a moment in time. The best way to view them is by looking at the trend history. Both U-3 and U-6 have been consistently improving. Unfortunately, the trend in people leaving the workforce is not. However, that should turn around as the first two continue to improve.

Looking forward, most economic data is improving. Employment data is improving, it’s overstated, but the trend is consistently growing better. Retailers had a difficult year but it wasn’t terrible –except for a few of them. Because retailers played it very cautiously in 2013 – ordering fewer goods and ordering them later – inventory levels are okay and there is not a lot of carryover. I expect retailers to play it the same way this year even if once again it means losing out on some sales due to empty shelves late in the holiday season. Most importantly for toy industry hiring is that manufacturers are hungry again and are actively looking for opportunities. This means they will need key people to recognize and seize those opportunities and more people to execute on them.

I look forward to seeing y’all at The New York Toy Fair!

All the best,
Tom Keoughan

By | January 28th, 2014|ToyJobs Blog|Comments Off on Toyjobs Logs Best Month Ever

Another Black Friday Disgrace – While Toy Hiring Soars!

Another year – another national disgrace as the human herds were once again rampaging through the nation’s retail outlets in what is little more than legalized wilding. While spreading out the bait over several days made the peak frenzy a little less intense, it also means that we now have four consecutive days of mayhem.

As usual, we had human (?) stampedes, knockdown merch, brawls, aggressively unnecessary pepper-sprayings, shotgun battles over parking spots, a guy stabbed while carrying home his new big screen TV, police officers being dragged by cars through parking lots, and a new low: kids having a stun gun fight in a Philadelphia mall.

Thank you Wal-Mart, Thank you Target, Thank you Best Buy, Thank you Kohl’s for inciting this dehumanizing behavior. If I or a member my family was foolish enough to venture out into these deal hunting scrums and became injured; you can be sure that I’d be having a phalanx of the most rabid attorneys around suing you for intentional reckless endangerment. I’m sure we could find a slew of other legal misdeeds as well (BLACK FRIDAY DEATH COUNT)http://s.wsj.net/public/resources/images/P1-BO270A_Econo_NS_20131206180603.jpg

More people were out participating in the melee than ever before, but on average, people spent less than last year ($407 vs. $423). Maybe retailers’ promotional activity pulled forward some holiday purchases earlier into November. Maybe, with smart phones at the ready, consumers are better able to make price comparisons and sniff out the best Black Friday deals. What does appear clear is that retailers have cut costs so much that it will negatively affect their margins and those of its suppliers (Wait? That’s us!).

In the meantime, toy industry hiring has soared. As reported here last time out, search starts rocketed in early October as children’s products started hitting the retailers’ shelves. Toy companies have been filling those jobs at a feverish clip which continues to this day. The pace will likely be maintained through year end. On January 2nd, the toy industry, as a whole, will board the planes for their annual pilgrimage to Hong Kong. This time out, a whole lot of business cards will be wearing fresh, wet ink.

The surge in hiring appears to be mirrored in the economy at large. Payrolls increased by a seasonally adjusted 203,000 in November. Earlier months have been revised upward and the job increases have now averaged 193,000 for the past three months.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/rf/image_296w/2010-2019/WashingtonPost/2013/12/06/National-Economy/Graphics/296GDP1206.jpgThat is nearly enough to impact the unemployment rate in a meaningful way. The jobs recovery has had false starts before, but this time it seems much more solid and sustainable.

Other economic data seem to support an improving outlook. Third quarter economic growth has been revised sharply higher to 3.6%. US consumer spending is up 2.1% from a year ago. Wages are up a modest 0.2% Consumer Confidence is on the rise and The Federal Reserve reported that credit card debt has risen to the highest amount in three years. All of those are hopeful signs that shoppers will be out buying more toys, Xboxes, and iPhones in the coming weeks.

I would like to see a few more months of improving economic data before declaring that the train has left the station, but it does appear that we are finally, finally gathering momentum. Remember folks, you heard it here first – all the way back in October…now if Washington can just stay out of the way.

It is my fervent holiday wish for the coming year that the economy continues to gather strength in a sustainable way and that there are more and more jobs for people who don’t have them and want them, especially the long term unemployed. God bless us, everyone!

All the best,
Tom Keoughan

By | December 11th, 2013|ToyJobs Blog|Comments Off on Another Black Friday Disgrace – While Toy Hiring Soars!

Economy and Employment Continue Gradual Improvement

U.S. consumers continued to increase spending in July as the economy continued to grind out a slow but steady expansion. The Commerce Department last week announced that retail sales for July climbed a seasonally adjusted 0.2%. They also adjusted the June growth rate upward from 0.4% to 0.6%.

People are seeing the value of their homes and retirement accounts rise, which has begun to create a “wealth effect.” Also, Americans have spent the last few years struggling to shed debt. Total consumer debt is now 12% lower that at its peak in the fall (just before “the fall”) of 2008. Lending and spending are on the rise, especially for the big ticket items like homes, cars, furniture, and my favorite – barbecue grills.

bbqConsumer confidence is increasing and is at its highest level in years, which economists attribute to the gradually improving employment picture. Toyjobs concurs that, at least in the children’s product business, hiring has increased dramatically. On the jobs front, things seemed to turn the corner in 2012 after three dismal years. In 2013, hiring has been much more robust. Even the annual summer doldrums period has seen more hiring than in any of the last five years. [See Toyjobs Success Stories)

That said, there is a puzzling disconnect behind the rise in overall consumer spending and the weak recent showing of many retailers. Wal-Mart, Kohl’s, Nordstrom’s, and Macy’s last week, posted poor second quarter results and cut their profit forecasts for the year. Aeropostale, American Eagle Outfitters, and Abercrombie & Fitch also lowered their sales and profit outlook.

Part of the problem may be that spending for cars, houses, and home improvement may have eaten up dollars that would have been spent on clothing, accessories, and general merchandise. The hope is that once this pent-up demand is sated that spending will trickle down to retail more broadly. After all, one can only buy so many cars and washing machines before you have all you can use.

Spending Habits

Holiday spending, in the aggregate, can be looked at as one big ticket item which bodes well for toy manufacturers. However, consumers will likely chase sales and hunt for value, thereby causing margin pressure on retailers. The question is will retailers eat those margin hits or will they beat it out of their suppliers in small Bentonville rooms.

On the “good news” side of the ledger, Toys’R’Us, which has been reeling as of late, has announced that it plans to add 100 stores internationally by the end of the year. There will be 19 new or reconfigured stores in the US and a total of 51 stores in China by year end. This is good news for two reasons. First, there will be more shelf space to fill which should translate into more goods sold in to the retailer. Also, it appears that ownership of the private entity is investing for growth rather than backing off after recent poor results. We wish them all the best as a strong Toys’R’Us makes the toy industry stronger.

All told, the economy is slowly gaining ground and increasing momentum like a train leaving the station. That said, we should not forget that we currently live in a bifurcated society. Most people have jobs and, for them, things are slowly getting better. However, U6 (the number of people either unemployed or having to accept only part time jobs) is still at 14%. So while 86% of us are doing alright, at least 14% are still struggling.

Fortunately, increased consumer spending on big ticket items should start to trickle down to improve retail sales as a whole. As this couples with increased consumer and business confidence, it should lead to a much better employment picture. This is already beginning to happen. We should all hope that as the train chugs out of the station and begins to pick up speed that the long term unemployed and the under employed will be able to climb aboard. As employers, we should try to haul them aboard when we can.

See ya’ll in Dallas,
Tom Keoughan

 

PS – Dallas Alert! Dallas Alert! If you want to upgrade your sales team for the 2014 sales season, you better get cracking. You should have started two weeks ago!

By | August 20th, 2013|ToyJobs Blog|Comments Off on Economy and Employment Continue Gradual Improvement