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Hungry for business
- report from the American International Toy Fair, New York

  Pushing sales: Silverlit's JoJo brand.
  Pushing sales: Silverlit's JoJo brand.
Innovation, affordability and a high profile focus on safety headlined the American International Toy Fair (AITF) at New York’s Javits Center.

"All the vendors are hungry. They're pushing for business," said Connie Jacob, owner of US-based Learning Express, which has two company-owned stores and franchises out 148 others.

Still, said William To, President of VTech, while the US market was flat last year, single-digit growth is expected for 2010.

For VTech, said To: "we're planning for bigger than single-digit growth. We can see the consumer is starting to spend more. If there is no more bad news we’re cautiously optimistic for this year."

Musical Bubbles Octopus from VTech.
Musical Bubbles Octopus from VTech.  
Show operator the Toy Industry Association (TIA) reported that 32,000 attendees included over 21,000 retailers, wholesalers, buying groups, importers and trade guests from almost 100 countries.

Some 100,000 products from over 1,100 exhibitors, including 284 at the show for the first time from 14 to 17 February, were on display over 345,500 sq ft. TIA estimated that 7,000 products debuted at the show.

Market research firm NPD Group reported that 2009 Holiday quarter sales were up 4%. Total 2009 sales dropped less than 1% over 2008. Manufacturers and retailers were cautiously upbeat about prospects for the US$21.4 billion US toy sector, which accounts for almost a third of the global US$75 billion industry.

Budgets to stay tight

  Elaborate microscope pack from Eastcolight.
  Elaborate microscope pack from Eastcolight.
Consumers were still reportedly budget-conscious. There was broad agreement on the need to keep prices down. The US$100 to US$200 retail items like Hasbro's Butterscotch Pony, Mattel's Rapunzel's Castle, Uncle Milton's Force Trainer and Hong Kong's Eastcolight (Hong Kong) Limited telescopes and microscopes were very much in the show, but the main focus was on items costing US$30 and under.

VTech's focus on electronic learning will be a major factor in the firm's sales, said To. The FLiP electronic reader (retailing at US$59.9) gave kids aged 3 to 7 their own e-reader with software designed to build reading skills.

Also for the 3 to 7 group, the MobiGo (retailing at US$59.9) had a pull-out keyboard and a colour touch screen with games that included Nascar, Dora and Disney Princess.

"We know that price will always be a factor in one's purchasing decision, and that consumers in 2009 were very focused on value for money," said Hasbro Global Chief Marketing Officer, John Frascotti.

"Delivering strong value across various price points, many of which were under US$30, was a successful strategy for us in 2009, and we don't see this changing dramatically in 2010," he added.

"Anything under US$29.9 is selling," said Cathy Shull, President of the US unit of Hong Kong-based Silverlit. Consumers like US$14, US$19 and US$24.9."

Children can play hide and seek with JoJo the Bunny (retailing from US$14.9 to US$49.9), one of several introductions signaling plans to build Silverlit into a prominent US brand.

"You'll be seeing some big changes from Silverlit," Shull said. Construction sets (retailing from US$19.9 to US$79.9) are another, and the company has added the Marvel license.

Shull: lower sales thresholds.   Adler: spending on the right toys.
Shull: lower sales thresholds.   Adler: spending on the right toys.

Noting the demand for lower prices, Uncle Milton President Frank Adler said: "there's a range of price points. Below US$30 is attractive, but if it's the right product, people will spend more money."

Uncle Milton has the science license for Star Wars, and featured several learning products, most in the US$12.9 to US$29.9 range at retail. "We're making learning exciting through the Star Wars brand," Adler said.

Licenses, packaging and creative play in the picture

Licenses and movie tie-ins help at all price levels. Learning toys, building kits, active play and toys that incorporate storage for easy clean up and travel populated the show floor. So did dragons in the fantasy sector, space ships in sci-fi, and dinosaurs in science kits.

Packaging was another focus. Toy Fair added an Earth-Friendly Product zone this year, focused on packaging as well as on the products themselves.

Creative play and traditional non-electronic toys and games were very much on view.

Arts and crafts kits (wholesaling from US$2.4 to US$9.9), puzzles (wholesaling from US$4.9 to US$9.9 for larger puzzles incorporating sound), and hobbies were all a central focus for Melissa & Doug.

Customer at Hong Kong's Smart Kid.  
Customer at Hong Kong's Smart Kid.  
Children can use the kits to make decorations and party favours. Lines included a wooden easel (US$34.9) and a variety of art supplies. Other play options focused on the Sunny Patch Outdoor Lifestyle line with tents (at US$24.9 wholesale) and everything else kids need to camp out in the backyard or at a camping ground.

The big news was in girls' lines. Sports and careers led the way in many girls' lines, but with pink often the dominant colour.

Mattel's Barbie added two new careers: computer engineer (with glasses and pink laptop) and TV news anchor. Barbie Racecar Driver (retailing at US$12.9) featured a quote from race star Danica Patrick on the packaging. Fashion was still in the game, as Mattel also added its Barbie Fashionistas (retailing at US$12.4) and other fashion Barbies.

Building on its 2007 Ty Girlz, Ty introduced its first injection-molded dolls. Targeted at young girls, they are fully articulated, and are packaged with hairbrush and a pet (retailing at US$4.9), keying into fashion appeal. Ty also added licenses for Hello Kitty and Peanuts.

Most introductions were slated to reach stores from August 2010 into the fourth quarter. Retail prices were estimated, MSRP, ARP, or suggested. Some were subject to change once they reached store shelves.

Toys and tech

  Hasbro items.
  Hasbro items.

AITF's co-location with Engage! Expo, formerly Virtual World Expo, pointed to a key direction. Major technology upgrades shared display space and brand names with retro and classic favourites, pointing to the convergence of old and new that’s now a highlight of toy evolution.

"Consumers now expect their favourite brands to be available to them in multiple formats, from motion pictures to television programmes to toys and games to video games," said Hasbro's Frascotti.

The board game Monopoly is an example. It's now available as the traditional board game, in digital and online versions, and for digital gaming consoles. This year's introductions are Monopoly U-Build (at US$19.9) and Revolution Edition (at US$34.9).

Hasbro also takes the U-Build idea into other toys, including kits which kids can use to customise battleships, mouse traps and more (at US$19.9).

Part of this trend involves bringing the latest in electronics to pre-school children. Fisher-Price's iXL (at US$79.9) has a touch screen and comes with educational applications. Additions will be available in the future by downloading from the web.

COG's Christine Tai with range of toys.  
COG's Christine Tai with range of toys.  
Science and technology were high profile in the HKTDC pavilion.

A new LCD HD digital microscope joined Eastcolight's total of over 400 science toys and kits. Overall retail prices ranged from US$9.9 to about US$300, for a large telescope.

Eastcolight's line of spy kits (wholesaling from US$15 to US$30) included such items as listening devices, motion detectors and other spy gear.

COG Ltd sells its science lines Ein-O Science, Dino Horizons, Mindz and Trixy & Troy under its own name at wholesale prices ranging from US$2 for Mindz and Ein-O Science to US$20 for the top of the Dino line. The company has distribution in the US and was at the show looking to further its Latin American presence.

Radio-controlled toys from Smart Kid International Ltd (the wholesaling at between US$5 and US$35) included racing cars with different features and colours, as well as helicopters and tanks.

Also in the HKTDC aisle, vinyl and plastic specialist Boldwin Industrial Company Limited's lines included its trademark The Quackin' Heads ducks and its new Dinki.

For pre-schoolers, MGA Entertainment's Zapf Creation premiered its Learn To Walk doll (US$40), which walks, falls down, and gets up again. Little Tikes highlighted active play with the 3-in-1 Smart Trike that can grow with the child from 9 months to 3 years (US$80).

Dinki stand.   Mattel's Barbie turns 50.
Dinki stand.   Mattel's Barbie turns 50.

Safety a major focus

Toy safety questions have been all over the news in the US, and they were a major topic at the Toy Fair. As of February this year, regulations under the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) come into play.

Most of the educational content at AITF focused on safety, and it was prominent in manufacturer literature and on websites.

Some 15 testing labs had booths. A brief check with them suggested that failure rates were in the 3% to 10% range, with lead and phthalates the main concern and cadmium apparently somewhat less so.

"Most are passing [lab tests]. Companies know they have to deal with it," said Sales and Marketing Executive Rex Kwok of Hong Kong-based China Dragon Inspection & Certification (H.K.) Ltd.

from special correspondent Lisa Harbatkin, New York

Company/Association/Contact Person Tel/Fax/Email/Web
Boldwin Industrial Company Limited Tel: (852) 2408-1133
Fax: (852) 2408-1119
Email: info@boldwinind.com
Web: http://www.boldwinind.com
China Dragon Inspection & Certification (HK) Ltd Tel: (852) 2486-6878
Fax: (852) 2675-9737
Email: enquiry@cdichk.com
Web: http://www.cdichk.com
COG Ltd Tel: (852) 3528-0138
Fax: (852) 3528-0108
Email: sales@cog.com.hk
Web: http://www.cog.com.hk
Eastcolight (Hong Kong) Limited Tel: (852) 2333-6688
Fax: (852) 2366-8438, (852) 2334-1060
Email: info@eastcolight.com
Web: http://www.eastcolight.com
Fisher-Price Tel: (1) 716-687-3000
Fax: (1) 716-687-3636
Web: http://www.fisher-price.com
Hasbro Web: http://www.hasbro.com
Learning Express Tel: (1) 978-889-1000
Fax: (1) 978-889-1010
Email: info@learningexpress.com
Web: http://www.learningexpress.com
Mattel Tel: (1) 310-252-2000
Web: http://www.mattel.com
Melissa & Doug
Tel: (1) 800-284-3948
Fax: (1) 888-685-0003
Email: shows@melissaanddoug.com
MGA Entertainment Tel: (1) 800-222-4685
Web: http://www.mgae.com
Cathy Shull, President
Tel: (1) 909-869-8697
Fax: (1) 909-869-0532
Email: cathy@silverlit.com, usasales@silverlit.com
Web: http://www.silverlit.com
Smart Kid International Ltd Tel: (852) 2367-6128
Fax: (852) 2760-4861
Email: appletoys@netvigator.com, info@appletoys.hk
Web: http://www.appletoys.com.hk
Toy Industry Association (TIA) Tel: (1) 212-675-1141
Email: info@toyassociation.org
Web: http://www.toyassociation.org
Maureen Schiesser, Contact Person
Tel: (1) 630-920-1515
Email: mschiesser@tymail.com
Web: http://www.ty.com
Uncle Milton Tel: (1) 818-707-0800
Fax: (1) 818-707-0878
Email: sales@unclemilton.com
Web: http://www.unclemilton.com
VTech Tel: (1) 800-521-2010
Fax: (1) 847-400-3601
Email: vtechkids@vtechkids.com
Web: http://www.vtechkids.com

Content provided by Hong Kong Trade Development Council
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