After enduring arctic conditions during last year’s New York Toy Fair, the unseasonably mild winter which the city had been experiencing boded well for this year’s event. Unfortunately, just as our trip approached, temperatures plummeted to sub-zero levels and for the second year in a row, it was face-meltingly freezing. However, Biblical rain on one day aside, the elements were otherwise relatively kind, with minimal snow to disrupt proceedings before or during the event.
As far as the show itself goes, it continues to build good momentum. It remains predominantly a domestic-facing event, but international participation appears to be growing each year – partly through international companies wanting to crack the American market, and partly through companies seeking American products to distribute or retail across the globe. The larger American toy companies have also returned to the event: Mattel, Hasbro, Lego, Jakks Pacific and MGA all had a presence on the show floor, although one suspects this has as much to do with the desire to showcase new ranges to the media and financial communities as to meet retail buyers. But as the media and financial communities play such a pivotal role in the fortunes of the major players in the US toy market, they have clearly deemed it worthwhile investing in a presence at the show.
Furthermore, it is the very fact that New York is the home of the media and financial communities which means the show will remain in the City, rather than heading off to warmer climes such as Florida or Las Vegas (although I for one wouldn’t mind more temperate surroundings – given that at -5 degrees, the Ice Bar at our hotel was actually warmer than it was outside!).
Visiting journalists were told that this was the largest New York Toy Fair ever, although that obviously doesn’t take into account the heyday of the two toy buildings on 5th Avenue and Broadway, which housed hundreds of toy companies. Nevertheless every inch of space available at the Javits Centre was taken up by the 1500 exhibitors, a figure which includes 300 brand new companies. You have to admire the passion and enthusiasm of these start-ups, and one hopes a few will go on to establish themselves in the toy market over the coming years.
The good news for exhibitors is that a massive construction project will see 1 million square feet of space being added to the Javits Centre over the coming years. The project is due to start next year, with an estimated completion date of 2020.
Quite how the TIA chooses to utilise this additional space will be interesting to keep an eye on. This year saw the debut of Play Fair, a separate event aimed at consumers, which ran concurrently with the Toy Fair. Judging by the huge queues (I am English and thus refuse to refer to them as ‘lines’) attendance was very strong and, based on this initial ‘test run’, it seems that there is an appetite for such an event. Indeed, the TIA has openly stated that it wants to be more consumer-oriented going forward, with initiatives such as the Genius of Play (based on the BTHA’s Time to Play campaign) another focus for the association. There is talk of a further Play Fair event to be held at Javits in the run-up to Christmas, while taking the event to other cities on the West Coast and in the South is also being discussed.
The big story of the week on this side of the Atlantic has been the ongoing tribulations at Hornby. If you believe some media observers, the company is ‘heading for the buffers’ (yes, they inevitably trotted all the old clichés out), but I’m going to push back on this assumption, which I believe is only the tip of the story. Yes, there is some major work to be done, but the removal of the previous CEO and the immediate bounce-back of the share price could arguably be construed as far more than coincidental. To put it in perspective, it wasn’t that many years ago that Character Options’ share price dropped to 32p and look at it – and the company’s fortunes – now. Personally I thought the Hornby range looked strong at Toy Fair, and I think it would be hugely premature to write them off yet, regardless of the tricky short-term financial situation they find themselves in.
Finally, I’m in the market for a new company car, and found three potential options in New York. Anyone care to vote for which one I should get?