Jay Foreman is an American businessman who lives and works in Boca Raton, Florida. He is president and CEO of Basic Fun!,which began as The Bridge Direct in 2009. Basic Fun! and its related companies, Good Stuff, K’nex, Uncle Milton, and PlayHut, design, develop and market toys for children and adult collectors.
Well, as the song goes, “one the road again,” nothing could be better than “making toys with my friends”! But before I got to L.A., I had to leave the mess, which is Miami International Airport, an actual third-world airport in a first-world city! I took off for the five-hour flight after a one- hour delay because of a flat tire. I guess we’ve got potholes here in Miami too!
Once we took off, the flight was great, and I was able to watch the amazing Boca Raton-based Florida Atlantic University Owls men’s basketball team win a place in the NCAA final four. Boca and south Florida are punching above our weight with three strong toy players and two awesome college hoops teams as the University of Miami Hurricanes also punched their ticket to the final four.
Landing in the City of Angles is always exhilarating and promises to be an exciting adventure from business to negotiating the highways. I can just imagine all the stories playing out below as I look out the window and see the city unfolding from the east to the ocean. Intimidating yet still thrilling.
Little did I know the adventure quickly began when I got off the plane at a distant gate and realized I went from one third-world airport on the east coast to one on the west coast! Wow, what a wreck the domestic terminals are, at least at American Airlines. The crooked path to make it out of the terminal only to start the search for your baggage carousel if you had to check a bag, then for a shuttle to take you to a rental car or Uber/Taxi station! No more taxi or Uber pick up at the terminal, so look for the bus.
The good news is that once you get to the off-site taxi/Uber stand, things move fairly smoothly. If you rent a car, your frustration will start again, according to my colleague. He had to rent a car to get samples and set up gear, move around, and wait in line for 1.5 hrs to get it. At least El Segundo, where our new showroom is located, is close to the airport, only a 15-minute drive. Don’t expect a wide variety of good hotels in the area, like in NY, Dallas, or H.K. The pickings are slim in this city. For a giant glitzy city, the hotel selection is weak.
So, here I am….one of the last L.A. holdouts in the industry. I finally broke down and got a permanent showroom here in L.A. for Basic Fun. Of course, it took the death of the Dallas show to force the move, but you can’t fight the crowd and progress. With toy fair moving to fall, there is no need for Dallas anymore… R.I.P. If you are going to play with the big kids, you gotta head west for previews. Of course, unlike Dallas, where in a typical year, over 220 companies presented product lines to the majors and others over a three-day period, this show spans a mind and budget-bending five-week period.
I got to my showroom, and despite over 3O years of doing these types of shows, I’m still setting up product. But you know what? I love it! It doesn’t matter how long or far I’ve traveled in this business or how high I’ve climbed; there is nothing like sitting with the product and setting up the items, placing them around the room, and admiring the hard work of the team. I can never be too busy or think I’m too much of a big shot to do it. It’s what it’s all about being a product person, which is what I am down to my bones; I still get a buzz from it.
Now the pattern of L.A. previews does take some getting used to, as this is a marathon, not a sprint. For those of us not based full-time in L.A., it can be a cross-country or cross-the-world trip. The previews led by Mattel span over five weeks. Typically the first week is “Walmart” week, given the scale of that powerhouse retailer, so only that store’s buyers are in town that week. The following week is an empty week with no appointments, followed by the third week, which is usually Target, Costco, and Amazon week—the massive and hugely important retailers. So more than double the number of appointments of week one in the second big preview week.
Here’s a tip to international distributors and others not needing to see Mattel. Come to town the first week of the previews instead of the last! You will have more time to visit with vendors, and in the fall, it will give you five weeks between week one of L.A. fall previews and N.Y. Toy Fair (by the way. the N.Y. show is 95% sold out for fall 24!).
This is followed by another empty week concluding in week five of the run and the third full week with buyers. This week is for all other domestic retailers, a contingent of U.K. retailers, toy companies, and distributors from around the world, to round things out. All in town to shop lines and sell their lines. This last week is a more typical action-packed week which to many will feel like the old Hong Kong January market weeks. As I said, it’s a marathon. At least it’s a way to build up frequent flyer miles!
I’ve been out here for the first week with folks from our team taking turns the other two show weeks, so no one from our team will be out here all month. Many non-L.A.-based mid-tier toy companies have grown significantly over the years, like Spinmaster, Moose, Zuru, Jazwares, and Play, have opened L.A. offices with full-time staff so they have a dedicated presence. However, the senior leaders from the home offices of these companies tend to have to make the trip back and forth several times over the five weeks, especially the fall preview weeks.
Luckily for me, a good friend has a house on the Strand in Hermosa Beach where I can watch the sunset with a few beers after the show and crash out at night, listening to the waves roll in. So, find ways to make the best of it if you can.
I had a full week with the first appointment starting at 8 am Monday and the last one concluding at 4 pm on Thursday but hardly full days this first week. I have to hand it to the buyers because while we are hunkered down in our showrooms waiting for them to roll in, they are starting at the crack of dawn, alternating between marathon meetings with major players to quick 30 to 60-minute appointments with others. In some cases, you find yourself stuck in traffic on the 405 or side streets, and in others moving from Mattel’s H.Q. to the surrounding buildings and small hotels. Not an easy week for them at all. Thank you, ladies!
Doing this market week for the first time myself, it’s clear that L.A. still poses a problem for the greater toy industry. There is no way buyers can do as many meetings here as in a location like Hong Kong, Dallas, or N.Y.C. So many companies will still have to make the trip to visit retailers directly or fall back on Zoom for the spring as well as fall. Many will be able to depend upon the new Fall NY Toy Fair. The reality is that retailers only have a limited time to be in town and much ground to cover. Week one down and two more over the next four weeks. Big thanks to my awesome team at Basic Fun.
My next blog will be from China, where I’m heading in two weeks for the first time in over three years! The supply chain, country, and factories are all open, and it’s time to show some face. Good luck to all with previews and for the year!
Jay, I really enjoyed this blog! Best wishes for safe travel and successful meetings in China!