Sunday, February 24, 2008
The toy Steve Bissette wishes he had when he was five. It's only $300!
For the past five or six years now, I've been going to NYC to cover the Toy Fair as the industry is well represented here in Western Massachusetts. From a reporter's viewpoint it is always a fun but hard day – fun because the subject is interesting and hard as it's necessary to cram a whole lot of walking into one day to see enough of the show to write about it.
The Other Mark M. went with me as the company for which he works was exhibiting at the show. His impressions are over at his blog . It's always great to have some company.
Covering the fair can be overwhelming for a newbie if you don't have the structure of a beat. With thousands of toys the question of focus is always an issue.
Luckily I do have a beat – the local companies – and then another animation and off-beat stuff. This post is at a Bissette-like length, but stay with it. Hopefully you'll find it interesting.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – Despite reports the country might be heading into a recession, representatives of local companies exhibiting at the 105th Annual American International Toy Fair at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center all
had about the same thing to say: attendance was good and buyers were placing orders.
The annual event draws over 1,200 exhibitors who show their products and services to over 21,000 toy industry professionals from 94 countries. The show was presented Feb. 17 -20 by the Toy Industry Association, Inc (TIA).
According to a release from the TIA, domestic retail sales of toys generated $22.1 billion in 2007 compared to $22.6 billion in 2006, a decline of only two percent, despite what release described as “difficult economic conditions that plagued the industry in 2007.”
What also was seen as the TIA as a negative factor was the publicity from the recalls of toys manufactured in China.
According to the TIA report prepared by The NPD Group there was an increase in sales of connected Web play toys, such as Webkinz.
“Connected Web play toys, which marry a physical toy with ongoing digital play opportunities via the Internet, is a relatively new phenomenon that we've seen emerge within the toy industry,” said Anita Frazier, industry analyst, The NPD Group. “Thanks in large part to the popular Webkinz brand, this type of play is expanding into new categories and across many
The local companies exhibiting at the show were Hasbro from East Longmeadow, Janlynn Corporation of Chicopee, Omniglow LLC of Indian Orchard and LEGO Systems, Inc. of Enfield, Conn.
According to the TIA license products accounted for about 27 percent of total toy sales last year. If there was a queen of this year’s Toy Fair it was the Disney television “Hanna Montana.” One could barely walk down the aisles of the Javits Center without encountering Hanna Montana products at every turn.
It was clear that even though some properties might be quite popular as books, comic books, movies or television series, toy manufacturers are still cautious about adding the cost of a license to the production expenses of a toy. The only Harry Potter item this reporter saw was Hasbro’s new Harry Potter version of Clue, set in the Hogwart’s School and using characters from the book.
While the new Batman movie and Speed Racer film was represented in some toys, there was a surprising absence of products from the new Pixar film “Wall E,” while there some interest in the new animated film “Kung Fu Panda.” The new Hulk movie, as well as the up-coming adaptation of the Iron Man comic book, was also the inspiration for several toy lines. If Hanna Montana was the queen of the show, then Indiana Jones was the king. With the release of the new film later this year there were toys lines for the former films as well as the new film.
Another trend at the show was going green. In the pressroom there was more and more information offered on CDs rather than paper, and both the TIA and Hasbro offered its information on reusable zip drives.
“Green” was all over the show. PlanToys, Inc, a firm that makes wooden toys from Thailand, use aging rubberwood trees that otherwise would have been burnt as charcoal. The wood is harvested, kiln-dried and then made into toys
using non-toxic glues and paint.
ImagiPLAY, is a Colorado-based company that is also doing the same as PlanToys – using aged rubberwood trees as the source for wooden toys.
Kapla Toys have a line of wooden construction sets that are made from renewable marine pine trees from the Bourdeaux region of France. The glueless, snapless sets take the place of traditional blocks.
Aurora World, Inc. introduced that was described as the world’s first green plush toy at the show. The fabric used for the furry exterior is made from soybeans while the stuffing is from seedpods of the kapok tree, a
sustainable rainforest tree.
Interestingly there was only one toy manufacturer that this reporter found capitalizing on the recalls of toys made in China with hazardous materials. Channel Craft of Chareroi, Penn. makes a variety of games, games and puzzles
all in the United States and was marketing them as American made.
The world’s largest toy manufacturer, Hasbro, was promoting the anniversaries and new versions of a number of its products. In the busy and colourful showroom near the Javits Center, Hasbro Associate Manager of Public Relations Helen Van Tassel guided this reporter through a maze of Nerf, My Little Pony and G.I. Joes.
The first toy seen in the showroom was the one that made perhaps the largest impression: a computer animated triceratops called Kota big enough for a toddler to sit on him.
Van Tassel noted there are a number of anniversaries being celebrated by the company. The Playskool line is turning 80 this year, Trivia Pursuit and My Little Pony is 25 years old, and Scrabble is now 60 years old.
The Scrabble anniversary edition features a game board with storage for the game pieces as well as curved tile holders to discourage cheating. The entire unit folds up in a convenient carrying case.
Other changes in their established game line include a hush-hush revamping of Clue and a new world edition of Monopoly in which fans are asked to vote the cities that will be included on the fame board. There are details on the voting process at www.monopoly.com and the on-line voting ends Feb. 28. Voters are allowed to nominate a city of their own and in the luxuriously appointed Monopoly bus that was a rolling polling site, this reporter nominated Springfield, the home of Milton Bradley.
A new game called Pictureka! is designed for play by the whole family. It has a deceptively simple premise of finding illustrations on the game board.
Hasbro has a full new line of Star Wars toys including an incredibly detailed light sabre. With the release of the new Indiana Jones movies Hasbro has a new line of toys from that movie that include a Mr. Potato Head in Jonesian gear and a soft whip children can play with to emulate the adventurer’s own bullwhip.
The new Hulk movies as well as the up-coming Iron man film also inspired new toys from the company. The relatively unseen monster from the hit film “Cloverfield” will be seen in gruesome detail in an action figure
that will be available only at the on-line Hasbro store .
I gasped when I saw this Indiana Jones toy: a soft whip with a handle that makes the whipping noise. This doesn't seem, well, appropriate on several levels.
LEGO is also celebrating anniversaries this year. The LEGO brick is now 50 years old and the LEGO mini-figure is now 30 years old. Publicist Marssie Versola said company was continuing its efforts to return to its construction toy roots.
She added that increasing the play value of the LEGO products was also important. The LEGO Agents sets not only have a vehicle to build, but also there is a hero versus villain storyline outlined in a comic strip
for “instant role play action and fun.”
The LEGO Creator line also carries this them of additional play value as each lit can be used to build three different models, she
LEGO has a limited number of licensed kits this year. It no longer has a Harry Potter license, but has a several Indiana Jones kits for the first time, a Speed Racer line to tie into the live-action adaptation of the popular Japanese cartoon, a SpongeBob Squarepants line and Batman kits that is not based on the new film as its story-line was “too dark,” Versola said.
Versola said the company is continuing with its Star Wars line that was LEGO’s “first and strongest” licensed line. Sales of Star War kits increased last year although there wasn’t a current movie to boost sales.
Licensed items a have proven to be profitable for Chicopee’s Janlynn Corporation, according to the company’s National Sales Manager Catherine Dyjak. The company is well known in the crafting industry for its cross stitch and other adult craft kits and has made a significant mark in the crafts area for children with its lien of Disney-inspired products. Products based the Pixar film “Cars” has proven to be popular, but the kits with images from “Hanna Montana” have sold very well, she said.
One kit has proven to be quite popular is a “Hanna Montana” pillow case kit in which children color a line drawing with special crayons. An adult then can set the colors with an iron. The pillowcases come in party packs designed for parties and sleepovers and Dyjak said the advantage is there is no paint to spill.
“The Disney licenses have worked well for us,” she said.
Overall, the company is seeing an increase in sales of their craft kits for children.
“It’s skyrocketed,” Dyjak said, and noted the children want to participate in crafts the same as their mothers.
Ira Leeman, the president and CEO of Omniglow LLC, the Indian Orchard-based company specializing in chemiluminescent consumer products, said business has been very good.
The company makes a wide variety of novelty items from necklaces and earrings to Halloween items to light sticks to beverage cups.
Except for some Asian companies, Leeman said Omniglow is the sole manufacturer of this kind of item. Leeman’s company also makes glow technology products for the medical field.
The company expanded several years ago by buying a party supply company and Omniparty is also doing well Leeman said thanks to the company’s relationship with Amscan, Inc. a firm that owns party stores across the nation.
Speaking on the possibility of a recession, Leeman said his company hasn’t felt it and the nation’s economic problems are more of a banking issue.
He said his company specializes in products for children and children “don’t feel a recession.”
One license that always interests me is the books and characters of Springfield-born Dr. Seuss. There seemed to be little interest in the up-coming animated “Horton Hears a Who,” but McFarlane Toys will be issuing a set of action figures and scenes based on the Chuck Jones animated version of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
One new game company, I Can Do That! From Seattle, Wash. has had much success with a series of games based on Seuss books. Kimberly Pierce, the communications director of the company, explained each game is modeled carefully on a Seuss book. Order Up, Sam is based on “Green Eggs and Ham,” while You to the Rescue is based on “Horton Hears a Who!” The company’s work was been nominated for a Toy of the Year Award.
One of the best aspects of the Toy fair is discovering new products from smaller manufacturers. Big Eye Dummies, a line of goofy-looking, but appealing plush animals, looked as if they had been designed for animation. David Lipson, their creator, said they might wind up one day as animated characters as he is an animator. Among his many credits, the New York-based Lipson was the producer on “The Venture Brothers” and the animation producer on “Saturday Night Live’s TV Funhouse.”
Each of the “dummies” comes with two mouth and eye combinations that attach with magnets to the body of the toy.
A Boston native who grew up going to Newbury Comics, a New England music and pop culture store, Lipson said he always loved toys. When he came up with the concepts, he went out to a local K-Mart and bought a sewing machine. After completing one doll, he showed it around to prospective stores and then had an initial batch of dolls manufactured.
While he isn’t giving up his day job in animation, he said the interest shown by Buyers at the Toy Fair and at a recent gift show was good.
Hands down, though, the oddest thing this reporter saw at the Toy Fair was Tofu the Vegan Zombie. The character, according to the press release, is the star of the film made last year and now being seen in film festivals. The next screening will be at the Florida Film Festival on April 2.
The film features the voice talents of Billy West, who is, according to press materials, is a vegan himself.
Applehead Factory, which is know for their creepy teddy bear line, Teddy Scares, is now producing a seven-inch articulated toy based on the character.
The concept is “Tofu is a friendly zombie, created from a botched experiment in Professor Vost’s laboratory. Lab Money #5, one of Vost’s lab animals, stuffed a block of tofu into the zombie boy’s open skull after accidentally losing the brain. As a result, Tofu only eats vegetables and grains and has no taste for human meat. However if Tofu ever loses his tofu brain, he turns into a dangerous, flash-craving zombie creatures.”
According to the company’s Web site, the animated short, “Zombie Dearest,” has already been seen over 50,000 times.
Check it out yourself at www.tofutheveganzombie.com
© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs