Monday, February 23, 2009

The following is the piece on the Toy Fair that I wrote for the newspapers I edit, so it's more business-oriented. Going on the last day of the show had its advantages – there were few people there so company reps were at ease to speak with a lowly reporter – I wasn't buying anything – but I missed the chance of going through the Hasbro showroom, which is separate from the Toy Fair. I didn't know they closed a day early.

NEW YORK, N.Y. – While the aisles at the Jacob Javits Center weren’t clogged
with people on the final day of Toy Fair 2009 – the international trade show
for the toy industry – area companies were generally upbeat with the
reception they had from buyers from around the world.

Cathie Dyjak, national sales manager of Janlynn Corp., the
Chicopee-based craft company, told Reminder Publications, “It’s been a great
three days.”

Acknowledging that the number of vendors at the trade show may have been
down, Dyjak said her company had seen “very good orders” from buyers and
attributed this in part, ironically, to the economic troubles.

Rather than going out to recreational events, she believes that people
are looking for affordable activities at home, such as the company’s craft

According to the statistics compiled by the Toy Industry Association
trade group, from October 2007 to September 2008 there was an overall
decrease of three percent in toy sales. Action figures, building sets, plush
toys and games and puzzles all saw increases over the previous 12 months,
while dolls, youth electronics and vehicles took the biggest drops.

Janlynn came to the Toy Fair with a number of licensed new craft kits
featured “Camp Rock” and “High School Musical.” Dyjak said the “Hannah
Montana” products the company carried are still strong sellers. Many of
these kits feature a screen-printed product such as a purse, apron or tote
bag that can be colored with the enclosed crayons and then heat-set with an
iron, she said.

The company also introduced a kit to make friendship bracelets and
revamped the packaging on some of its best-selling items, she added.

Joel Nulman of Fantazia Marketing of Chicopee noted that traffic at the
fair was decreased, but added, “We’re holding our own.”

Nulman’s company makes oversized plastic representations of items such
as a nine-inch tall plastic popcorn box or a 32” tall triple scoop ice cream
cone. He said buyers at the show were interested in his line of floor lamps
that double as banks. The shafts of the tall lamps are made from a clear
plastic rod and provide a place for a child to literally see his or her
savings grow.

Ira Leeman of Omniglow LLC, now in Indian Orchard, said, “[This year]
Toy Fair is quiet.” It was difficult for him to tell if the reason for a
slowdown was just the economy or because the show took place during the
school vacation week.

“The economy is definitely part of it,” he said.

The company sells novelty items with its trademarked chemical
luminescence as well as a line of party goods. Leeman said the party goods
line, which the company acquired three years ago, is “growing nicely,” while
the glow products are “stable.”

New to the Toy Fair this year was a glow straw, which Leeman
demonstrated. He took a standard plastic drinking straw that has a small,
enclosed container of the glowing chemicals. Slightly crushing the chemical
container the straw has a glowing sphere in it that would rise up and down
as someone drank through it.

Leeman believes the straws will be a hit with not only consumers, but
with bars and restaurants as well.

LEGO, with its American headquarters just over the border in Enfield,
Conn., has had phenomenal growth in 2008 with a sales increase of 38
percent, according to Karen Lynch, a senior account executive for Flashpoint
Public Relations. Lynch showed me through the LEGO display area.

LEGO, which had at one time invested heavily into licensed properties
such as Batman, Spiderman and Harry Potter, has made an effort over the past
four years to go back to “the basic brand,” Lynch said.

Understanding that LEGO sets need to be priced appropriately in a shaky
economy, Lynch noted, “LEGO is sensitive to price point. Everyone is talking
about value this year.”

With that in mind, many of the LEGO sets are priced as low as $9.99 and
feature more than one building plan to increase play value. The company’s
new “Builders of Tomorrow” set, aimed at ages four and up, features a
collection of 650 LEGO bricks. Buyers can then log onto to get step-by-step building instructions for
different models all year round. The set comes with a price tag of $29.99.

Lynch said “Power Miners” is a new line for the company this year. The
building sets feature a storyline involving miners and rock creatures and
naturally some fantastic machinery to build.

More play value is also the rule applied to the company’s “racers” toy
car line. Lynch said there are models with pullback motors for better play
as well as remote control models.

“Star Wars” kits have been a big success for the company and Lynch said
the success of the “Clone Wars” animated series has helped keep sales up.
The company is celebrating holding the “Star Wars” license for 10 years.

Also successful for the company has been “SpongeBob SquarePants,” which
has two new models this year and “Indiana Jones,” which has seven new
models, all based on chase sequences from the films series.

LEGO will be re-entering the home video field with a new “Bionicle”
direct-to-DVD movie later this year, Lynch said.

Movies are looming large in the plans for Hasbro. “G.I. Joe: The Rise of
Cobra,” a live-action film based on the classic toy line, will be released
in August, while the sequel to the highly successful “Transformers” movie,
“Revenge of the Fallen,” opens in June.

“Hasbro enters 2009 with an incredible array of entertainment and
products for consumers of all ages. In challenging economic times, people
often turn to brands and experiences that they know and trust. We are
confident that many of our new and re-imagined brand offerings this year
will resonate well with consumers around the world as we continue to inject
creativity and innovation into some of the world’s most classic and popular
brands,” John Frascotti, Hasbro’s Chief Marketing Officer, said in a press

The company will have a tie-in toy to the upcoming “Wolverine” movie
starring Hugh Jackman as well as a new “Star Wars” toy based on the cartoon
series “Star Wars: Clone Wars.”

The games division of the company, located in East Longmeadow, will be
producing new versions of “Clue” featuring spies and a 60th anniversary
edition of “Candy Land.”

There will also be a new version of “Monopoly”: “Say goodbye to green
houses and choose from over 80 3D structures, including industrial blocks,
stadiums, skyscrapers and even parks built in the middle of the board to
create a unique game experience. The introduction of ‘Monopoly City’
represents one of the most radical game developments in ‘Monopoly’ history.
Set the length of game play and start buying and building right away. Rents
can be boosted through investment, but beware of other players sabotaging
the game by building hazards such as polluting power plants to send
opponents’ rents plummeting.”

Although licensed toys were still in evidence, manufacturers seemed to
be exercising caution about making an investment in a movie or television
property. For instance, even a hit film such as “Wall E” had few toys at the

The licensing hit was a property in which no manufacturer had to invest
a dollar: President Barack Obama. There were action figures, banks and even
a blow up punching bag with a confident looking Obama printed on it. One
company used a quote from the president to help sell its line of educational
toys for kindergarten students.

One of the most unusual toys at the show was a small cube aquarium that
was home to a complete ecosystem – two African dwarf frogs, a plant, a snail
and specially treated gravel. Peter Gasca of Wild Creations said the
aquariums and frogs need little maintenance. He noted a complete package
starts as low as $30.

The Toy Fair is a gamble for many smaller manufacturers who must make a
significant investment to exhibit their products. Fabio Elias said that he
thought the gamble was one worth taking. He traveled from Brazil with Voxal,
which is part art project and part puzzle. He said he has made some good
contacts and hoped these would results in orders.

A long-time Toy fair attendee, Joy Leavitt, the co-owner of Kiddly Winks
in Longmeadow, spent four days at the fair.

“When you’re a buyer, you have to look at every single booth,” she said.

She was pleased with the quality of new products from manufacturer such
as Alex Toys, International Playthings and Blue Orange.

She said this year’s edition was “a good show.”

Despite the economic downturn, as a toy retailer she is “very excited
about the new year.”

©2009 G. Michael Dobbs

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