08th Feb2012

The Toy Fair Post

by Will

This is part of a post that I teased all the way back at the tail end of 2011, and here we are, almost 2 months later. Before we jump into things, I should probably tell you that you won’t get the whole story this go-round, but it’ll lead into wonderful new things. That’s worth it, right? Anyway, I thought this would be a great time for the post, as many of my e-friends are gearing up to head to NYC for Toy Fair, and what you’ll see here ties into that. What’s Toy Fair? Well, I’m glad you asked!

The American International Toy Fair is held every February at both The Javits Center and the Toy Building in NYC. It’s a trade show for the industry, where buyers come to see the toys that are expected to be the hot items during the next holiday season. As it’s a trade show, it’s not open to the public. So, this has caused the show to be surrounded by a certain mystique, as toy fans have wondered what occurred within those halls. To a toy fan, going to Toy Fair is like going to Mecca. In recent years, however, it has been easier to gain access, as blogs have been able to gain press access. What used to be relegated to a ten-minute segment on 48 Hours is now the bread and butter of the toy blog set. Toy Fair news, especially the exclusive kind, is guaranteed site hits.

As we’ve already covered on the site, I love learning about the toy industry. Sure, the product is nice, but there tends to be a more interesting story behind the product. It recently occurred to me that I never wrote about my own Toy Fair experience. I, like other toy fans, have had dreams of entering the halls of Toy Fair. Remember that 48 Hours special I mentioned in the last paragraph? Well, that’s how it all started. I remember it clearly: 1988 – I was eating one of those giant chocolate chip cookies that you get from delis. And since I had a loose tooth, chewing said cookie knocked out my tooth. Anyway, while eating this cookie, I was watching 48 Hours (I was a weird kid), and they were showing the Galoob Star Trek: The Next Generation toys. This was also the dawn of my Trekkiedom, so seeing toys and Star Trek at the same time sent my little heart a-flutter. I noticed that the toys were being presented by spokesmodels wearing Starfleet uniforms. As I continued watching, I learned that this show happened EVERY year! Unfortunately, it was also only open to people in the toy industry. I didn’t know how, but I was going to find some way into that show. That was the plan.

Fast forward 20 years later. Yes, it really took 20 years. I was working at Diamond Comic Distributors, and I’d pretty much exploited that job for every opportunity it presented. I got sent to New York Comic-Con, San Diego Comic-Con, and worked with the dude who wrote most of the episodes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Hell, my biggest account handled Transformers, G.I. Joe and Ghostbusters! I’d made all my dreams come true – except one. It was time to go for the brass ring. You see, Diamond also has a toy department. Well, they actually kind have two: there’s Diamond Select Toys, which is basically Art Asylum in sheep’s clothing and there’s the Diamond Toy Department, which buys up mass market things, like Marvel Legends from Hasbro, and then distributes them to comic shops. Due to its role in the toy industry, Diamond also has a presence at Toy Fair. I don’t know how I pulled this. I honestly never expected this to go through, but I mentioned to my awesome, awesome boss that I’d always wanted to go to Toy Fair. A few days later, he tells me that he can get me a pass. Sure, I’d have to get up there on my own, find my own lodging, etc, but I could get into the show. To this day, I wonder how he pulled that off, as they really loved to say “no” around there. So, one Vamoose Bus ticket purchased, and I was in NYC.

So, Toy Fair. It was everything I ever wanted yet nothing I expected, all at the same time. First off, while the news outlets focus on the hot popular stuff, like Star Wars, Cabbage Patch (well, in the 80s), and G.I. Joe, I was amazed by how much of the show actually catered to toys you’d never really think much about. See, as a Toy Fair novice, I didn’t realize that the GOOD stuff is at the Toy Building. Most of the major companies, like Hasbro, Mattel, etc, have year round showrooms at the Toy Building, and they hold most of their presentations there. The Javits Center is where they might set up a booth, but it’s not where they’re showing the best stuff. Instead, the Javits Center is comprised of smaller vendors. To make a comic analogy, Marvel and DC are in the Toy Building, while Javits is the small press.

Walking around, it was interesting to see 10 different Chinese vendors trying to sell the same little pedal car. I guess they all use the same factory, and then it becomes a bidding war to see who can give retailers the best price. Oh, right. I forgot that part. The purpose of Toy Fair (in theory) is so that retail buyers can get a sneak peak at the holiday season’s projected hits, so that they can place their orders for the season. I said “in theory” because it’s a not-so-well known fact that there’s actually an earlier November Toy Fair that’s just for the big guys like Toys “R” Us, Target, and Walmart. So, while the February Toy Fair might feature “new” stuff for some buyers, it’s more of a refresher for the bigger guys. Anyway, you end up seeing more stuff that would end up in a mom and pop toy store than you would in a major market retailer. For example, this was during the Mentos/Coke craze, so there was actually a science kit with elaborate tubes and stuff, allowing you to really get some mileage out of that explosion.

Since I didn’t know about the Toy Building showrooms at the time, I missed out on all the cool stuff. Still, I made my dream come true, and I got into Toy Fair. There was a lot of other stuff that happened during that trip, worst of all was me losing my cell phone in a cab. It was like a scene from a movie – I realized I’d left it in there just as it pulled off. I ran after it, but it turned a corner. As I ran around the corner, there was a SEA of yellow cabs. Which one was it?!! So yeah, lost my cell phone in a cab, in New York City, on a government holiday ( I think it was Presidents Day).

So why did I post this now? Well, one of the best parts about Toy Fair is the exclusives. Some of these are rare toys, while some are just industry-specific brochures. I’m sad to say that I didn’t leave with much during my adventure. I still have the program, and I think I have a picture frame, but that’s about it. However, over Christmas, I went to Denver and found a few Toy Fair items that I simply couldn’t leave behind. I think any child of the 80s would love to see these, and that’s exactly what’s going to happen…tomorrow.

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