I am here in Baltimore, MD helping ASTRA (American Specialty Toy Retail Association) celebrate its 20th birthday. Like any 20 year old, ASTRA is feeling robust, looking great and ready to take on the world.
I love coming to this show. There is this wonderful feeling of peace that comes over you when you walk onto the show floor. And it’s not just peaceful it’s fun. I have to tell you, having an ice cream social break out in the middle of the trade floor (I love watching adults eating ice cream on a stick) or watching hundreds of people drink eat and laugh while playing board games with each other is a complete hoot. Its fun, it’s collegial and it’s good business.
This is my third ASTRA event and I have felt it every time. And it’s not just me; others talk about it without my bringing it up.
Back in 2010 I wrote a piece entitled “Astra 2010; a pleasure to attend.” Here is what I said at that time:
Most major trade shows are transactional…A transactional show is essential to an industry and to the life of its constituent members. It may not, however, be as conducive to the health of the entire industry. It is in enhancing that health that I think ASTRA really excels. So, at least to me, it really isn’t so much trade show as one big teaching opportunity combined with a love fest
This year, the mellow was still in the air but ASTRA is feeling its oats…and it should. The trade show floor was big and for many booths, busy. Attendance is reported to be up and it looked it. Numerous people came up to me and told me that they felt that there was an optimistic feeling in the
air. One retailer told me that he wrote more business on the first day of the show this year than the total at last year’s show.
Not everyone, however, was so excited. I also heard that there was more looking and that fewer orders were being written. Yes, people are feeling optimistic but playing it safe. So, even at ASTRA you can’t escape the realities of the macro economy.
Never-the-less, here is what I think may be significant. Some here are talking about skipping Toy Fair next year and only doing ASTRA. Why, because they feel that there are enough manufacturers present for them to find a good selection; costs to exhibit and attend are lower and they feel that here they are important.
So, ASTRA may be on the cusp of playing an ever more important role in the toy industry. So, happy birthday ASTRA; you’re all grown up. Drive carefully.