“It’s the largest we’ve seen in over 10 years,” says Marian Bossard, vice president of meetings and events for the Toy Industry Association. “We were a little bit behind in the number of companies participating but the ones who were there took more space—that’s very exciting for us.”
About 27,000 industry professionals from more than 100 countries came out to Toy Fair in February. In all, there was a 3 percent increase in buyers, a 5 percent increase in international participants and a 14 percent jump in the number of licensors. Total attendance increased 2 percent, and the number of entertainment executives attending increased by 23 percent.
Last year, about 25,000 came out to Toy Fair, which was hosted on 360,000 net square feet of exhibit space. In 2011 there were 10,305 buyers, which increased by 287 in 2012. There were 9 more nations represented at the 2012 event than there were in 2011. Last year the number of licensors increased by 8 percent, entertainment executives by 31 percent and international trade guests by 26 percent.
“We measure part of our success on how many new companies we are able to provide a good market opportunity for,” she says. “That remains the same. We’ve had 250 new companies every single year come to Toy Fair, and we are very pleased that even they came in and took a good amount of space to bring their product to market. The size of the investment people made in their booth space was good, and we jumped up to having a square footage of 366,489, which is huge. We also had a waiting list for the first time in years, and we were really careful about the decision to clear the wait list, which tended to be newer companies. We had to go into an expansion area where we had not previously had exhibits.”
Bossard says the association decided to clear its waiting list and expand the exhibition area for first-time companies under the condition that Toy Fair could support these entities in multiple capacities, including with marketing support to nurture their first experience. In all, the last 6,000 square feet of the show was devoted to new companies.
“It was both terrifying and exhilarating at the same time,” she says. “We knew we were going to set a new high mark for the last 10 years, but we knew we needed to go all-in and make sure they had a good show. Many have called and said they were very glad they did it because they did make a lot of good contacts and some made sales.”
In addition to seeing gains for new companies, the country category also got a boom. International buyers was up 6 percent, with Colombia seeing a 33 percent increase, Japan 17 percent, Australia 13 percent, Mexico 11 percent and Canada 10 percent. Panamanian attendance saw the largest increase, of more than 200 percent.
“The thrust of our membership right now is still in the manufacturer sector,” says Bossard. “The need to get distribution outside the United States is increasing, and much of the growth over the last several years has been outside the United States. Whether you are making toys to sell or selling toys, you know you need to have expanded growth opportunities. International distributors or retailers of toys need to have a more varied product mix available to their consumers. Rather than just looking at local or European made products, they need to see all of the products out there on a global basis. It is a global economy, and as we encourage our members to participate globally, we see the same interest on the retail side.”
It seems the strategy is working—24 of the United States’ top 25 toy sellers were represented at buyers at the show. In 2011, 21 of the top 25 U.S. companies were in attendance for the event. When it comes to keeping up with this momentum, Bossard is confident the trend will continue.
“Toy Fair is a trade show, but we don’t see our mission as to run a trade show,” she says. “We see it as developing business opportunities for every single stakeholder in the industry. We want to make sure we are satisfying the needs of the bricks of the foundation of this industry—we need to pay attention to the inventors and designers and to those that aren’t just mass-market retailers, but independent retailers across the country. We do that by remaining engaged with them and actively using our social media. On site, we have great business building tools for no additional fee that companies can use. By supporting the entire industry, we can continue the current of positive energy at the show because everyone needs new product, and independent retailers need support and education about how to compete...I think we’re doing a good job of not going for the quick sell.”