WIT

Toy Fair – The Revenant Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May the force be with us,
Tom Keoughan

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

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

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

New York Toy Fair – Cold! Cold! Cold!

Several years ago, Disney, well known for its characters, movies, theme parks, and events, was able to Disney-fy Times Square. This year they achieved an even bigger coup by turning the entire Northeast into a celebration of the movie Frozen. Although not the snowiest, this was certainly the coldest New York Toy Fair ever.

As I crossed the Hudson for this year’s TOTY Awards, tugboats were breaking up ice so the ferries could get through. Carter Keithley, Marian Bossard, Robyn Gibbs and their gang put on a first-class event, as always. In fact, the whole trade show was extremely well run, although I do wish that Carter would quit lollygagging and get around to fixing the rock hard Javits floors, the electrician’s union, and the weather.

While last year’s TOTY Awards were largely won by smaller companies like Choon’s Designs and Just Play, this year was dominated by the big boys like Lego, Spin Master, and Crayola. A couple of smaller companies did slip through, like Moose Toys for Shopkins, which was named the Girls Toy of the Year, and Thinkfun’s Gravity Maze for Specialty Toy of the Year. Spin Master’s Zoomer Dino garnered both Boys Toy and Toy of the Year Honors and at the end of the evening, when it came time to announce Property of the Year, I’m sure that not a single person in the room was surprised when it went to Disney’s Frozen.

The Women in Toys Dinner was a charming event, as always. It almost has to be since there are so many women. Genna Rosenberg, Lourdes Arocho, and Shannon Gray did a fantastic job. Everything came off without a hitch so you know they had to do a lot of work. I think the best compliment I can give is – They made it look easy. The evening celebrated a Lifetime Achievement Award for Anne Kearns, who has spent her entire forty plus year career (since before she was born, I guess) at Sesame Workshop. We’ll be giving her this award again in another twenty years or so when she reaches retirement age. Congratulations to all Wonder Women Award winners and nominees.

Toy Fair itself was upbeat, if not quite as giddy as a year ago. I think last year was a little extra exuberant as the economy had just started to pick up after six long years of slogging through the swamp. Personally, I thought Saturday’s traffic was pretty good, although every single person I spoke with said otherwise. Eh, I have been wrong once or twice in the past. Sunday and Monday traffic seemed quite strong. My sources in the TIA tell me that throughout the show, traffic in The Basement of Gloom – uh, sorry! – Level 1 was very strong. As always, I saw a few toy company Presidents attending the show but not exhibiting in a booth. I tend to think that you get out of trade shows what you put into them. If you don’t put up a booth and have a presence because “this show isn’t that important” then that is going to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. After all, the major retailers like Wal-Mart, Target, Toy ‘R’ Us, Costco, Amazon, CVS, etc. are there in one place for four days. Every exhibiting toy company that I spoke with was happy to be there and had a full dance card.

Toyjobs had a very strong show. It’s always good to see everyone, slap a few backs, and tell a few stories. I came away feeling very positive about toy industry hiring moving forward. We’ll be starting a lot of new searches in the coming weeks so stay tuned. I’m also getting the feeling that the long awaited restart of hiring in marketing and product development jobs is about to begin. I don’t want to jinx it by calling it yet, but I think the tide is building.

It was great seeing everyone. May everyone have a fun and prosperous 2015.

All the best,
Tom Keoughan

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

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

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

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