Sandy Lepire is Chief Executive Office and Principal for Sunshine Sales, Inc. and President of Western Toy and Hobby Representatives Association, the promoters for Toy Fest. As such, we wanted to hear from her about the big changes at Toy Fest and what we can expect to see February 27 through March 3, 2023 when the show takes place.
As CEO of Sunshine Sales, Sandy is responsible for overseeing the dynamic West Coast team for a leading children’s toys and specialty products brokerage company. Lepire served on the board of Directors of the Western Toy and Hobby Representative Association from 2018 to 2021. In 2022, Lepire was named the President of Western Toy and Hobby Representatives Association, a non-profit organization that is most recognized for producing and promoting the annual Toy Fest Show in Las Vegas. Lepire received her B.A. from San Diego State University.
There is no argument that the Covid pandemic not only shifted lives, jobs, and industries in 2020 and 2021 but that those sizeable and sometimes unexpected shifts continue to be felt in 2022. For the Toy Industry that has played out in numerous ways – Specialty Stores across the country were closed for varying periods of time. Supply chain issues continue to play a part in manufacturers’ inventory and are expected to through at least the end of this year. And trade shows have shifted.
The mecca of the American Toy Industry – NY Toy Fair, was canceled two years in a row. The cause is the first year was rising Covid numbers. The second-year (2022) cancellation was because chain buyers were still under corporate travel bans. Without their attendance, manufacturers started pulling out.
The Toy Association reexamined its show model and concluded that it was time to change. Accordingly, they surprisingly announced that Toy Fair would no longer occur in the blizzard threatening month of February but would move to September, replacing Dallas Preview in October. This move made Toy Fair a show where retailers could book products a year in advance, and manufacturers could plan their supply needs with greater accuracy.
But what does it mean for the Mom & Pop toy store on Main Street, USA?
Sixty + years ago, a group of California-based toy sales representatives met to discuss how to create a show for those who couldn’t or didn’t want to have the expense of flying across the country and staying in New York.
The solution? A West Coast show that followed on the heels of Toy Fair, allowing buyers to see new products firsthand in the same quarter as those who would be in New York, allowing them to test products at the beginning of the year and plan for the 4th quarter. The show’s organizers were the sales reps who serviced them. From the very beginning, Toy Fest was different. Store buyers could make appointments with the representatives who came into their stores throughout the rest of the year – who knew their individual needs and who shared with them new products that would work specifically for them.
Over the past 60 years, the show has changed locations several times, eventually landing in Las Vegas. The Las Vegas location is extremely easy to access from the western half of the country, and the numerous hotel options keep prices affordable for most independent store budgets.
This past year, the show shifted yet again. Due to several issues, ToyFest would move to the Las Vegas Expo Center, where many rep agencies have showrooms already set up and where the mart has space for other manufacturers and groups set up on the show floor.
The result? One of the best-attended ToyFest shows in the past 60 years. ToyFest has always exuded old-school Toy Industry tradition with a gala night that is free to buyers and celebrates independent toy store owners, iconic manufacturers, and top-notch sales reps by inducting them into the fall of fame. This event is always packed with old friends reconnecting with industry pals that haven’t seen since the last gathering.
Other favorite events include the legendary game night (it always ends up with a waitlist for both game manufacturers and game-playing buyers) and the more recently added Morning Masterpieces, which offers buyers hands-on arts and crafts opportunities over breakfast.
Word is spreading about what a great show this organization is putting on. With the permanent calendar change for Toy Fair and the renewed interest in personal connection, ToyFest is expected to continue to have increased national attendance. In 2023 ToyFest will be THE Toy Show to attend.