Before venturing to the February Toy Fair, many of the industry executives that I spoke with told me that this was the last February event that they were going to show at. In fact, some companies didn’t even show this year. The thinking was that this was primarily a specialty show and many of the mass market buyers were not going to attend…and besides, “we just saw them in Hong Kong anyway.”
The big surprise turned out to be that the February show was the most successful one in recent memory. Most of the buyers did indeed come. By the end of the show, most of the execs who said this would be their last one were singing a different tune. There are always buyers threatening not to come to this show or that show, but at the end of the day, most of them do attend. I did hear complaints from some of the toy companies that scattered themselves at various showroom locations and hotel rooms around Manhattan. Buyers were late, buyers were no shows. One toy company was even trying to shuttle buyers to New Jersey – what were they thinking?! The moral of the story is that if there is a toy show, most of the buyers will come and if you’re a toy company, you should be there, but if you’re going to be at the show – BE AT THE SHOW; not at some random location somewhat near the show.
That said, most mass market toy execs that I spoke with would much prefer a showroom to the Javits Center. Maintaining a showroom year round is less expensive than doing two shows at Javits and you get a New York office to do occasional business in to boot. The people that I spoke with don’t like rushing to set up, rushing to tear down and rushing to pay a Teamster a couple of hundred bucks to plug an electrical cord into a socket sometime, hopefully today. For most mass market companies a showroom in very close geographical proximity to a lot of other toy company showrooms seems to be the preferred way of doing business. Let’s also remember that until the whole 200 5th Ave. fiasco (originally sparked by the TIA in the David Miller era), everybody spent most of the week in the Toy Building and would head over to the Javits Center and try to blow through there in a day. Things worked pretty well for a very long time and it seems to me that a combination of showrooms in one building or two buildings that are very close to each other along with the Javits Center could work very well again. Some companies prefer the Javits and some prefer showrooms, it seems reasonable to be able to offer both.
Jay Foreman’s concept of a toy district sounds a little scattered but my guess is that if you asked him (and I haven’t) that what he’s suggesting is two or three buildings in very close proximity which house clusters of toy showrooms. That could very easily work, but I would suggest a “coat test.” If the buildings are close enough to just skip a few doors down in February without putting on a coat, fine. If buyers (and everybody else) have to repeatedly put on and take off and possibly check and uncheck coats all day and all week, then things will likely begin to break down.
Unfortunately, the possibility of a toy building or district has been torpedoed by the TIA’s decision to move the October Toy Show. With only one trade show in New York the economics of a permanent showroom no longer makes sense. First, let’s remember that the October Toy Show was first started by the Toy Building and was only hijacked by the TIA (another revenue raising opportunity!) after the building was sold. After much rancor and debate, the entire TIA Board initially voted to keep the October show in New York. There were apparently some complaints about scattered show sites by buyers, and I don’t doubt that there were, but just how many or how loud those complaints were has not been revealed. One TIA board member told me that the criticism was not as forceful as people have been led to believe. I would add that the retailers can solve this problem very easily by telling toy companies that they will be going to A and going to B (and perhaps C) and if you want a chance to meet with us you will have to be in one of those locations. “We ain’t going to some half baked hotel room in Jersey City.” Basically, if you are going to be at the show – BE AT THE SHOW! Toy companies would fall into line pretty quickly. After all, it’s in their own best interests.
Unfortunately, in an incredible display of hubris the five members of the TIA Executive Board took it upon themselves to make this decision for the entire industry. The decision was very much out of the blue. In fact, a quick poll taken by Playthings.com indicated that 44% of the industry was “angry.” That’s not unhappy or disappointed or surprised, but “angry” about the decision. It also seems strange that after the earlier vote by the entire TIA Board to keep the show in New York, that the five member TIA Executive Board hijacked this vote and unanimously elected to move the show to Dallas. Hmmm. There is much speculation about the motives of TIA Board Chairman Danny Grossman, a Californian and his Californian predecessor Arnie Rubin, but since this seems to be based mostly on gossip and rumor I am not going to comment here. We do know that Mr. Grossman was quoted in Playthings as saying “The 10 largest companies don’t want showrooms in New York.” We also know that statement is inaccurate because Jakks Pacific, through its spokesman Jay Foreman, has made it very clear that they do want a showroom in New York.
As for Mattel and Hasbro, they represent only their own interests. For years they have not had show rooms in the Toy Building nor have they supported Toy Industry trade shows. They know they are going to get their face time with the buyers and would prefer not to have that face time at a trade show where buyers will be distracted by their competitors.
Danish company Lego has never really integrated with the American Toy Industry. They do things their own way, and in fact, thinking back to my 26 years in the toy business, I don’t think they have ever hired anyone from another toy company. All of that is fine, but is that one of the five votes you want representing the industry as a whole? As for Robert Pasin of Radio Flyer, I just don’t know enough to comment.
One thing that does seem clear is that most of the mass market Toy Industry prefers to work out of showrooms in close proximity to each other – preferably in New York. Leadership in the Toy Industry will not come from Mattel or Hasbro or need I mention MGA (egads!) – they have very different interests from the industry as a whole. Leadership needs to come from the second tier companies who are big enough to have some clout but young enough to remember what it was like to be a little guy. Spinmaster, Jakks Pacific, Mega Brands, RC2 – it’s time to stand up and take charge!
All the best,