Toy Fair NY

Toying with change

Toy Fair New York is making a major move from February to fall next year, and we're exploring the business impact with consumer products execs.
June 6, 2022

As its membership navigates a new manufacturing and retail landscape, The Toy Association is changing the date of Toy Fair New York for the first time in the show’s 118-year history.

Following back-to-back cancellations in 2021 and 2022, Toy Fair has been moved to the fall, with the next event scheduled to run from September 30 to October 3, 2023 at the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan. This year, The Toy Association will run a Preview & Holiday Market in Dallas, Texas from September 20 to 22, 2022.

Calls for a date change had been mounting for years, says Steve Pasierb, president and CEO of The Toy Association. But the repeated global shutdowns caused by the pandemic proved both a catalyst and an opportunity to pause and reassess the business.

The association undertook an exhaustive “reimagining” process with San Diego-based mdg, an agency that specializes in strategy for trade shows. Following research, focus groups, interviews and member surveys, the organization finally reached broad consensus in favor of a new fall date.

From retailers’ purchasing cycles to production and supply chain sourcing, Pasierb says the change aligns with the industry’s new longer lead-times. “Late September through mid-October is the most viable window between summer vacation season and the vital year-end holiday selling season for companies.”

The timing of the show should help boost media coverage of holiday trends and toy stories, while also allowing entertainment companies to promote content ahead of the final quarter of the year, he adds.

Toyco executives have only had a month or two to process the news and assess the impact for their business. For Funko SVP of sales Jaime Beckley, the date change came as a surprise. “We expected the show to continue to fall in February as it aligned well with final presentations for holiday programs,” he says.

Bill Graham, chief marketing officer at LA-based toyco PhatMojo, says he is largely optimistic about the new date. He describes the shift to September as “a great move,” adding that he found February to be “less impactful to key buying seasons and on the tail end of a very busy season of other international shows.”

Carol Spieckerman, president of Arkansas-based consultancy firm Spieckerman Retail, says Toy Fair’s new date will be a plus for major retailers.

“Ongoing supply chain snags call for longer lead times and the new timing integrates more seamlessly with the overall toy event calendar to include Nuremberg and London,” she says, noting that November and December are prime selling months.

Sarah Jordan, CEO of Canadian retail chain Mastermind Toys, says she sensed a general desire in the industry to hold Toy Fair in September. She sees the date change as a much-needed measure to adapt to modern retail needs and timelines, adding that consumers are aware of the trends driving the industry.

“Our Canadian customers are becoming savvy to supply chain challenges across all industries,” she explains. “They are consistently shopping earlier for the holidays, so this shift in date also addresses the challenges that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, like longer lead times and changes in our purchasing cycles, as we plan for our seasons earlier out.”

The return of Toy Fair is more than a year away, but Toy Association members will need that time to adjust their strategies and assess what challenges the new date will bring. Manufacturers could face the greatest risks. “Revealing new innovations early can be seen as increasing the potential for knock-offs,” says Spieckerman.

Beckley echoes that concern, adding the fall show “could limit some of the product we’re able to present to the full retailer landscape,” as February was a better fit for these big reveals.

“It will be a shame to see the Dallas show go away,” says Graham. “But many companies migrated to their LA showrooms for preview meetings over the years, and the sales season has become somewhat decentralized.” While everyone being in the same place at the same time could create a stronger “live show” element, it could also make timing tight, he adds. “Creating quality time with retail buyers might be a challenge. So toy companies will need to be creative with sales presentations.”

Spieckerman says the shift is largely retail-friendly, but adds that opinions are mixed on the lower end of the retail hierarchy. “Major retailers drive the ship and their decisions have a cascading effect on everyone else,” she says. “The timing is more controversial among small retailers who are used to buying closer to need.”

While viewpoints may run the gamut—from those who embrace Toy Fair’s reimagining, to others who are uneasy about the change, and many who will take a wait-and-see approach—Pasierb sees a silver lining for the play industry.

“None of us has a crystal ball, but what we have learned about timing is that what used to be is no longer true. The need to evolve and grow is here, and while it may be scary, the best innovations come from massive shifts in the status quo.”

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