19 March 2015
New York Fair Proves Favoured Global Launch Pad for New Toy Ranges
The joint showplace for Canadian and US toys for the first time, the New York Toy Fair played host to a number of global launches held back from earlier expos, as well as hosting the announcement of the 2015 Toy of the Year Award Winners.
In the heady days of the '90s and Noughties, the US ruled the toy world – with the majority of the key technological developments, movies and brands that drove the global toy market all emerging from its shores. In recent years, Europe and the UK, Asia and even Australia have all made major inroads, challenging the US's dominance. Despite this, a significant percentage of the world's largest toy companies are based in the US, as are a number of the more exciting start-ups – such as Anki Drive – companies that are taking cutting edge, Silicon Valley technology and integrating it into toy products. As such, the North American International Toy Fair – widely known as the New York Toy Fair – remains as much of a must-visit expo as it ever was.
This year's event – the 112th in the show's history – saw 1,064 exhibitors showcasing their latest product lines to more than 9,000 American mass and specialty retail buyers. This included delegations from the country's top toy sellers, such as Amazon, American Girl, Build-A-Bear Workshop, Costco, CVS, Disney Store, eBay, Five Below, Target, Toys'R'Us and Walmart. In addition to the core domestic attendance, the show also attracted a significant number of visitors from across the world, with the top five territories represented at this year's event proving to be Canada, the UK, Mexico, Japan and, of course, Hong Kong.
Due to a new cross-border affiliation agreement between the US Toy Industry Association (TIA) and the Canadian Toy Association (CTA), for the first time, the show was co-hosted with the CTA. It thus served as a single North American marketplace event, providing American, Canadian and global attendees with more targetted business development opportunities, greater efficiency, and added cost-savings.
The show, itself, has evolved significantly over the years. Most notably, there has been the closure of the permanent Toy Buildings at 200 5th Avenue and 1107 Broadway, which previously housed the private showrooms operated by many of the established toy companies. This has seen the focus shift to the Jacob Javits Convention Centre, where the equivalent of seven American football fields are now annually filled with a host of brand new toys, games, models and youth entertainment products.
One of the things that never fails to impress about the show is the sheer volume and quality of new products being unveiled. Creativity is clearly alive and well in the US, and the New York Toy Fair showcases this in all its glory (and, occasionally, madness).
Overall, the big American toy companies still have a tendency to hold back headline-grabbing new launches for the show. There was, for instance, no sign of Hasbro's headline-grabbing mash-up of Furby and Star Wars, Furbacca, in either the London or Nuremberg Toy Shows, while Mattel kept its groundbreaking collaboration with Google on a brand new incarnation of Viewmaster well under wraps until the eve of the New York show.
There are a number of reasons why the companies concerned took this approach but, perhaps surprisingly, creating a buzz with retailers is lower down the list than might be imagined. In fact, the unveiling of hot new lines in New York seems to be aimed predominantly at two main groups of people – the media and financial companies and analysts, both of whom exert a huge influence on the fortunes of American toy companies.
New York is the financial hub of the US, and also home to much of its national television community, which seems to guarantee that the show will stay in New York regardless of how bad the weather is during the event (and with temperatures dropping to minus 16 degrees during the Fair, this year's climate conditions were particularly challenging).
In addition to the major corporate toy companies, large sections of the show are typically populated by small inventor-driven companies – the ones who literally try to grab you as you walk past, passionate to share their ideas with anyone and everyone who will listen. How about a pen that cuts paper as it draws? A radio-controlled car guided by a glove rather than a joystick? A gun that fires marshmallows? A slap-wrist band that creates the sound of drums, guitar, fighting swords and many other role-play staples? Building blocks that turn into a video game via an app? All this and more, including just about every kind of robot you can imagine, were on show.
You can't help but admire the enthusiasm and tenacity of such creators. More than that, though, there were lines on show that could genuinely turn out to be real winners, with toy suppliers from across the globe diligently combing the halls in the hope of finding just such a nugget.
The show also played host to the 15th annual Toy of the Year (TOTY) awards, which were held at the Grand Hyatt on the Friday evening, the night before the show opened. Spin Master's innovative Zoomer Dino took home the coveted Toy of the Year award, while Crayola's Paint Maker won the People's Choice award after accruing the most online votes from consumers.
Other winners on the night included Lego, which picked up three separate awards for its Fusion, Technic and Juniors ranges; Hasbro for Simon Swipe and Nerf Rebelle; Moose for Shopkins; WowWee for its MiP robot; Thinkfun for Gravity Maze; and VTech for the Go Go Smart Animals Zoo Explorers Playset. Frozen was inevitably given the award for Licensed Property of the Year.
The TIA also revealed its tips for the top trends of 2015 at a packed seminar, attended by buyers and media representatives from around the world. Among this year's predictions were Maker Toys, toys that allow kids to build and create items that are unique to them; Open-Ended Playtime, toys and games that help promote creativity, resourcefulness and problem-solving skills by allowing kids the freedom to explore exactly how they want to play; Smart Play, focussing on Science, Tech, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) products; Under the Sea, an aquatic-based theme; Tech Products; and Dinosaurs. Overall, these selections represented an eclectic mixture of cutting edge technology and traditional play themes, all which perfectly illustrates the diversity of the 21st century toy market, and indeed the make-up of the North American International Toy Fair.
112th North American International Toy Fair took place from 14-17 February, 2015 at New York's Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.
John Baulch, Special Correspondent, New York