In what appears to be an unprecedented move, an industry trade association is stepping in to help restart a retail community hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week, The Toy Association, which produces the mega-sized New York Toy Fair, announced plans for “Toy Fair Everywhere.” It will be a series of virtual market weeks to help businesses connect with customers at a time when in-person events are impossible to hold.
“These three virtual market weeks can help answer member and toy community needs. They were not created to replace our existing face-to-face marketplaces (Toy Fair New York and Toy Fair Dallas) but to supplement them and help bridge the gap in industry engagement,” said Marian Bossard, executive vice president of global market events at The Toy Association. “The Toy Association has the reach, the resources, and the responsibility to play this role for the toy and play community.”
The first market week will be July 13 through 19. Two additional weeks are planned for Aug. 17 to 23 and Sept. 14 to 20, all aimed at salvaging fourth-quarter buying decisions among retailers. Attendees will receive a calendar of daily events, browse exhibitors by category and book appointments for virtual demos and chats. It will also present educational sessions both live and pre-recorded.
The events will leverage the association’s technology connectivity platform as well as virtual event company Balluun. It is not known whether the events will use Balluun’s new online “pop-up exhibition” called FlashEX. FlashEX enables event organizers to create a time-limited site with branding in less than a week. The FlashEX platform offers an exhibitor directory, digital showroom/booth, live business network, exhibitor-attendee interaction features, and analytics for event organizers.
“Our aim is that Toy Fair Everywhere provides the industry with the much-needed opportunity to connect and engage from afar while continuing to make essential headway for their businesses to forge ahead in the current climate,” said Bossard. “We all know Christmas, birthdays, and gift-giving holidays are still coming, and the toy industry’s steadfast optimism and resilience must be met with the ability to prepare.”
The toy market has changed during the coronavirus pandemic. “Consumers have prepared for their family’s survival over an extended period by stocking up on the basic necessities, but as schools and workplaces closed, phase two of the big scramble began. U.S. parents loaded up on things to keep their kids occupied at home, help them navigate their new homeschooling situation, and to also be a source of entertainment for the whole family as we spend more time at home,” said Juli Lennett, NPD’s toys industry advisor.
Total toy sales in the U.S. grew by 26 percent in the week ending March 21, according to NPD. The fastest-growing categories were games/puzzles (+228 percent), driven by family board/action, card, and children’s games; building sets (+76 percent); and arts and crafts (+70 percent). Warmer weather increased sales of outdoor and sports toys by 20 percent. And with Easter’s arrival as the coronavirus crisis continued, “Parents are likely seeking stability for their kids by maintaining Easter traditions and also buying ahead, as shopping visits become few and far between,” added Lennett.
Books are also on the rise. This was driven by subject categories focused on education and activities, including general activity books (+128 percent), study aids (+235 percent), school and education (+143 percent), and language arts/handwriting (+265 percent).