….And I’m a believer!
Like the song says, “I saw her face….and I’m a believer,” the lady is LA and what it means for Basic Fun and the companies that can make the L.A. previews work for them. This past week was the conclusion of what I’ve been calling the “L.A. Marathon,” the five-week odyssey that started in late July. Going from a handful of meetings with one account the first week to less than a dozen with a few accounts during the second leg of the marathon and then working over 90 sessions this final week. It was quite the journey and an effective way to gradually tighten the line along the way now leading up to the N.Y. Toy Fair. That’s not to mention racking up frequent flyer miles and hotel room points!
L.A. still needs to be 200 5th Avenue, the iconic former home of the toy industry for over 100 years. It’s also not Mody Road in Hong Kong or even the Market Center in Dallas. It’s pretty hard to replicate the convenience of any of those locations with their ability outside of a traditional convention center like Javits to bring so many companies together in such proximity where buyers can see more companies each day, thus maximizing their efficiency. However, as has been the case here for years, if you have the scale, a standout product, and or are in the correct categories, you can get the key retailers attending L.A. previews to carve some precious time off their schedules in between trips to the most prominent players to see your line. Basic Fun was privileged to be in this group of what I would estimate is between 40 to 60 companies.
The mood this past week was as good as the weather, which was great. Sunny and warm but not too hot. That echoes the sentiments of almost all in town. Buyers were warm and ready to shop yet cautiously optimistic about the “hard eight” last weeks of the season for toys this year. Walking around the El Segundo “market district” did feel a little reminiscent of Hong Kong, with folks walking between Mattel’s office, the Continental and Grand complex, and the 1960 Building.
Undoubtedly, more buyers are looking closer, giving pointed comments, and are ready to commit earlier than ever. More customers than ever are prepared to hand out paper and lock in listings over the next few weeks and before the year ends. For all of us in L.A., February is not an option for shot-calling the 24’ program.
Beware, though, L.A. is less of a slam dunk than LeBron James driving to the basket in the Staples Center. Between spending full and half days at the big guys, buyers have only so much time to see everyone else. There will certainly be companies that invest to be in L.A. and will be disappointed with the outcome. There are only so many hours in the day.
Everyone really had their eyes on the future, and I could feel everyone channeling the “good vibrations” of the L.A. coast in hopes of a “normal” year in 2024. I don’t think that’s too much to ask of the Toy Gods, given what we’ve all been through the last few years! The word is that retailers have worked down inventory to manageable levels. However, the fear from manufacturers is that there are still pockets of inventory sitting in warehouses around the world, slowly trickling out in the market and, in some cases, from bobbleheads to Halloween costumes finding their way into landfills or incinerators. There is still a way to flush all the products out of the system, but it’s dwindling.
One of the dynamics about the final week shift of the L.A. preview marathon is the amount of international distributors shopping and a growing preponderance of European retailers, which started with those from the U.K. but have now drawn many significant French retailers into town this past week. Typically, These folks would be working the States and heading to preview in Hong Kong. I didn’t come across anyone who was heading to Hong Kong after L.A. or will be going after NYTF. I’ve spoken to many vendors that have given up their showrooms in Hong Kong. At Basic Fun, we’ve cut our showroom in Hong Kong by 50% but remain open for business there.
The other dynamic in L.A. is international toy companies that show in L.A. either to international distributors, foreign retailers, or North American retailers. The tone from this trade segment was particularly positive, and I expect the L.A. previews to grow in importance with this group. Indeed, when you check the airfares to Asia, it will be a long time before traditional market weeks in Hong Kong will be a thing again! A handful of accounts indicated they were going, and it seems most vendors, if they are going to be in town, will be there showing between the 5th and 12th of January.
As you can imagine, much talk was about the upcoming “new” New York Toy Fair. The odds makers in Vegas will say attendance won’t be as big or high quality as usual. On the other hand, it would be a reasonable long-shot bet that NYTF next week will surprise and upset the naysayers. My experience has always been that we all second-guess and doubt why we are doing these shows and spending time and money leading up to the show. However, on the last day during pack up or on the flight home, most confess “it was well worth it .”I’m betting most will say that again this year. Remember, it’s been since February 2020, over three years since we’ve gathered, so let’s embrace it.
The big question that still looms over the industry is…. what and where is the future of Toy Fair? Despite being the chairman of the Toy Association Trade Show Committee, I’m as in the dark as you all are! It’s an association board and management issue, and I’m told an announcement will be made at the show as to whether the show stays in Fall, moves back to winter, and stays in N.Y. Smart money says the show remains in N.Y., but what time of year is up in the air. This decision will go down as one of the most consequential the association has faced, along with canceling toy fair in 2021 and 22’ and the move to Fall in 23’ in over 20 years since the Toy Center closed down. I’ll undoubtedly have much to say about this over the next few weeks, so watch this space!
For now, as the sun has set in the West and a long but successful L.A. swing, we look to the East for the next chapter of our Toy Story. We should all be excited about and ready to make the best of it, as any time we can get in front of our customers is a good thing! Imagine being in N.Y. for a toy fair with no cold, miserable weather. What a pleasure!
P.S. Tip for NY: A new subway line links the Time Square area with Javits and Hudson Yards called the number (7) line. It’s easy and cheap and a very N.Y. thing to do. You can now use a credit card to tap and enter the turnstiles to get on the train. You might even do an even more iconic N.Y. thing, which is walk over, but of course, if you are walking or standing at the show all day, you would be forgiven for taking an Uber or the train! So, find a “good” slice of N.Y. pizza, see a Broadway play, and have a great show in N.Y.!