OUCH! What a year. Yes, the toy industry may have taken a beating but, but like Rocky Balboa, it is still standing tall. It’s just missing a few teeth.
When you review the below list, you may note that I do not list Coronavirus (Covid-19). This pandemic has impacted so many people in so many ways that it caused most of 2020’s major news stories. Therefore, I see it as a meta-event and therefore too big to make any one list.
One other note: I have bulleted rather than numbered the list because I did not mean the order to indicate a level of magnitude. The impact of any one event is highly personal to the individual or business that experiences it. Therefore, if you feel like it, take a moment and rank them in an order that speaks to you.
Without further ado, here is my list of the biggest toy industry stories of the year:
- The movie industry is in turmoil.
Due to Coronavirus, movie theaters closed, and movie studios ceased releasing new films. The toy industry, long dependent on these films for toy licensing deals, felt the full effect of darkened screens.
- Barbie’s Back
Barbie, a major toy industry star, had her biggest quarter in twenty years. Mattel, which has been working hard to recreate its business, re-found its sweet spot with the entire company (with the exception of Fisher-Price) experiencing strong retail sales.
- Logistics Are a Mess
The ports are backed up, and there’s a truck driver shortage. As a result, getting toys to market is a challenge, with containers scarce and expensive, ships waiting off American ports to unload, and trucking companies fighting to recruit each other’s drivers. Many a toy will be late for Christmas this year as the logistics industry works out the kinks.
- The Release of PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X
Video games may not be counted as toys, but the release of a new console has historically taken revenues from traditional toys. This year we have two releases, the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X. That on top of the continuing high demand for the Nintendo Switch will take a significant share of a family’s Christmas budget.
- Schools Out and So Are the Playground Influencers
The toy industry thrives on the playground, cool-kid influencer. He or she has the power to start a toy fad that moves from playground-to-playground, state-to-state, and country-to-country. However, school is out this year, and that cool kid and his toys are stuck at home.
- Independent Toy Retailers Struggle to Survive
In my part of town, a long-standing toy store recently shut down after many years of business. This is happening worldwide as small, independent retailers struggle to keep up in a world where bricks and mortar stores are closed, and e-commerce is king. However, a majority is figuring it all out and through store pick up, and an active internet presence are keeping the independent toy retailer community alive—more power to them.
- No Trade Shows
For one of the only times in history, there was no New York Toy Fair. There was no Hong Kong Toy & Games Fair and no Spielwarenmesse in Nuremberg. They will take place but later in the year. That means our annual industry winter migration is not taking place this year, and toy companies and retailers have to figure it all out via Zoom.
- Chess Gets Hot
We may not have had any major movie releases this year, but we did have a streaming series, “The Queen’s Gambit,” that made a star out of…Chess. Yes, Chess, one of the world’s oldest games, is a hit. It just shows you that like an aging movie star, Chess is once again on top.
- Puzzles, Games, Construction and Outdoor have a big year
Several toy categories took it on the chin this year, but four that benefited were Puzzles, Games, Construction toys, and outdoor play. Coronavirus kept kids and families inside, so what better way to pass the time then playing.
- Foreign Relations
Yes, politics weighed on the industry this year. The U.S. and China, two tent-poles of the international toy industry, were at odds. As of right now, however, the relationship is holding up, at least in the world of toys, with Chinese exports and U.S. imports of toys returning to normal levels. The U.K. and Europe, as of this writing, still do not have a Brexit deal in place. Whatever happens, U.K. toy companies and retailers are going to have their work cut out for them as they make their way through a sea of red tape and other headaches.