The Toy Fair Survey and What It Says About the State of the Toy Industry

On Wednesday, April 6, we released the results of The Toy Fair Survey (for your convenience, we have pasted the responses at the end of this article). We ran the survey because we wanted to take the toy industry’s temperature. How do we feel about our the decision to move Toy Fair to the Fall? And on the practical side, how has the change in Toy Fair dates impacted decision making.

It has been a rough two years for The Toy Association and Toy Fair. Two years of Toy Fair cancellations (an unprecedented event) and this year’s decision to move Toy Fair to the Fall (a historic first) have impacted the relationship between toy industry members, The Toy Association, and Toy Fair.

Ideally, the toy industry functions best when its members and its institutions are in alignment. The Toy Association and its marquee event, Toy Fair, have been the glue that has held the toy industry together for decades. Like pilgrims heading to Mecca, Jerusalem, or Rome, toy industry members have flocked to New York every winter for 118 years. February Toy Fair has been the cornerstone of the toy industry calendar.

The change in dates was, therefore, no small matter. To better understand the responses to the survey, it is essential to first look at why The Toy Association made its decision.

The late 20th and early 21st centuries have been a challenge for The Toy Association and the toy industry. The Toy Association saw its membership shift from a multitude of mid-sized companies to one in which twenty toy companies now control 85% of the industry’s revenues.

At the same time, the toy industry’s retail base shrank from a mixture of many regional and national companies to a handful of retailers who control the majority of the industry’s retail sales. Due to their immense buying power, these retailers have an outsized influence on how and when business is done. One of their decisions was to move the buying calendar up in the year. A buying season that used to begin in January moved to October and, in some cases, September.

To do business with these influential retailers, toy companies had to comply. Design and development began earlier, as did the first presentations. Buying decisions were, in some cases, wrapping up before the end of the year. As a result, these retailers’ buying calendars became progressively out of sync with Toy Fair and its February date.

The buying calendar that evolved was not a good fit for smaller retailers and companies. Their buying calendar had not shifted. They wanted Toy Fair to remain in February.

The Toy Association was in a challenging position. It was faced with the dilemma of having to make a decision that would please all stakeholders. Unfortunately, that was not possible.

The Toy Association decided that for Toy Fair to remain relevant, it had to adjust its calendar to meet the needs of those toy companies and retailers, which drive the bulk of the industry’s business.

The decision was polarizing. It is a sensible decision …..if you are a large company. If you are not and are still in sync with the old calendar, you have been thrown off balance by the change. It is primarily these smaller members who feel disaffected.

The discordance is apparent in the survey’s first question: “How do you feel about The Toy Association’s decision to move Toy Fair from February to September?” The answers reveal that the industry is essentially split. Half are happy, and the other half are either unhappy (22%), unsure (18%), or ambivalent (10%).

It is one thing for individuals to be unhappy; it is another thing to have that unhappiness impact decision-making. It appears, for exhibitors, that it has. Question 2 asked exhibitors to indicate the new Fall date would impact how they would address a Fall Toy Fair. 40% of responding exhibitors indicated that they would either not attend (26%) or decrease their exhibition space (14%). 40% is a significant dissenting number which does not bode well for exhibition revenues, an essential source of income for The Toy Association.

Question number 3 held some excellent news for Toy Fair and The Toy Association. It asked attendees (in many cases buyers) how the new date would impact them? Their response was far more favorable. 78% of attendee respondents stated they would attend. This is a crucial indicator because the exhibitors will need to be there if the buyers are there. Those planning not to exhibit may well change their minds when we begin to see precisely which retailers will be attending.

Time is on The Toy Association’s side. It is a long time between now and September 2023, and passions will cool. The Toy Association will do well, however, to engage the disaffected. An empathic outreach that looks for solutions would bring the industry together under The Toy Association and Toy Fair banners.

The Toy Association needs to do this, not just for collegiality, because it has an unexpected and unprecedented challenger The regional toy event, Toy Fest West, has decided to change its name , its date and go national. Toy Fest West will now be Toy Fest, and it will take place in late February. Toy Fest is now billing itself as the year’s first toy event.

Should The Toy Association be concerned? I think yes. Here are my reasons:

The responses to the survey question: Will moving Toy Fair to September cause you to exhibit or attend another show?” are compelling. Almost half of the respondents (49%) indicated that they would seek out another show. By positioning itself in the historic toy industry month of February, Toy Fest appeals to those who want to stay with tradition for either business or nostalgic reasons.

Toy Fest has a long history. It is not a start-up. It has been around since 1961 (61 years) and has an established constituency, primarily from the western states. Moving their show to February can only help them as they may attract toy industry members from other parts of the country.

Toy Fest is in the right place, at least as far as respondents are concerned – Las Vegas. When asked what city they favored other than New York, 36% selected one of Las Vegas’ three locations.

The Toy Association found itself in a lose-lose position. Either decision was going to provoke unhappiness. Ultimately, it chose the pragmatic rather than the sentimental path. A failure to align itself with the 21st-century calendar would mean (potentially) a slow journey to irrelevance for Toy Fair.

The Toy Association is a strong organization with history on its side. It can continue to be the toy industry’s tent pole organization and maintain its show as a must-attend event.

The toy industry’s many tribes will gather in New York City in September of 2023. The Marketing Tribe, the Sales Tribe, the Inventor Tribe, the Designer Tribe, the Retail Tribe, and the other communities that make up our wonderful industry will be there. I hope to see you there as well.

1. How do you feel about The Toy Association’s decision to move Toy Fair from February to September?

I am happy — 48%

I am unhappy — 22%

I am unsure — 18%

I am ambivalent — 10%

I am confused — 2%

2. Exhibitor Question: The Toy Association has decided to move Toy Fair from February to September. How does it affect you?

I will exhibit and maintain the same size exhibition space — 54%

I will not exhibit — 26%

I will exhibit and decrease my exhibition space — 14%

I will exhibit and increase my exhibition space — 6%

3. Attendee Question: The Toy Association has decided to move Toy Fair from February to September. How does it affect you?

I will attend and stay the whole time — 62%

I will attend and stay fewer days — 16%

I will not attend — 16%

Other — 6%

4. Has the move to September affected your staffing plans?

I will bring the same amount of personnel — 63%

I will not send any personnel — 19%

I will bring fewer personnel — 18%

5. Will moving Toy Fair to September cause you to exhibit or attend another show?

I will not add a new show to my itinerary — 51%

I wish to add a new show to my itinerary, but have not yet decided — 29%

I am adding a new show to my itinerary that I have never exhibited at or attended before — 20%

6. Some think Toy Fair should move to another city other than New York. If Toy Fair were to move out of New York, what is the best place to hold it? Below is a list of the ten largest convention centers in the United States in order of size. Give us your top choice.

Las Vegas Convention Center – Las Vegas, NV — 23%

Orange County Convention Center – Orlando, FL — 20%

McCormick Place – Chicago, IL — 18%

Anaheim Convention Center – Anaheim, CA — 15%

Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino – Las Vegas, NV  —  9%

Georgia World Congress Center – Atlanta, GA — 5%

Sands Expo & Convention Center / The Venetian, Las Vegas, NV — 4%

New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center – New Orleans, LA — 3%

Kentucky Exposition Center – Louisville, KY — 2%

NRG Park – Houston, TX — 1%

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