Emphasizing communication and flexibility, Toy Fair (Feb. 10-13) made it through the mid-February blizzard that crippled much of the Northeast with up to 40 inches of snow.
Just six of 1,066 registered exhibitors cancelled, while attendance in several categories of international attendees rose on the record-setting 375,000 square foot floor of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City. Sloppy road conditions cut back significantly on drive-in traffic however, as total attendance fell 9 percent year-over-year to 24,145.
Though cancelling or postponing the event was never really on the table, says Marian Bossard, vice president of meetings and events for the Toy Industry Association, it was a serious concern for exhibitors. Calls flooded the association’s offices leading up to the show’s Sunday opening.
“The calls started coming in—the ‘what ifs’—all hypothetical,” she says. “We really couldn’t answer in the hypothetical. We needed to find out what people’s plans were. The main statement that started to change [exhibitor’s] minds as to how they approached it, was that on Sunday morning at 10 a.m., Toy Fair was going to open. There was a clear difference in people’s responses when they realized that Toy Fair was going to happen with or without [them].”
Toy Fair and general services contractor Freeman also released a joint statement to exhibitors explaining the situation. As long as they were committed to coming, Bossard’s team was willing to work with them. Carpets were laid out with spaces left open; aisles were established despite being only partially filled. The official move-in deadline was 5 p.m. on Sunday, but even those arriving as late as Monday morning were accommodated.
The weather didn’t have much of an effect on international attendance however, Bossard says. Most of that crowd had already arrived by the time the blizzard started affecting travel. Foreign press attendance was up 18 percent, while international manufacturers and attendees rose 6 percent and 4 percent, respectively.
International attendance—accounting for 15 percent of overall attendance at the show, or roughly 3,600 people—had been a point of emphasis for the show throughout the last year. The TIA had maintained a presence in 16 to 18 foreign markets, according to Bossard.
With road closures and dangerous conditions throughout the region, local attendance didn’t fare as well.
“That Northeast traffic is critical to us and we did lose on that front for the most part,” she admits. “We’re hoping to find out ways over the next couple of weeks how we can help those retailers who couldn’t make it in. How do we keep them in touch with the manufacturers that they missed out on?”
Since most major retailers managed to have at least some representation at the show, the primary concern is keeping the smaller, independent sellers in the loop. Toy Fair does not have a virtual or online component, so Bossard’s efforts are focused on getting business contacts out at this point. She expects to roll out a plan by the middle of this week.