Does FMMTE Mean More Competition From Mass?July/August 2003
by Kari Anderson
Have you heard? The Toy Industry Association is introducing a new show this year called the Fall Mass Market Toy Expo (FMMTE). The show is designed to serve mass merchants who need a longer lead time for buying and delivery than they can get at Toy Fair. With an appointment-only format, the show, scheduled for October 21-23, will feature manufacturers who currently sell to mass market customers.
“So what?” you might say. “I sell specialty toys.” While it’s true that specialty toy store owners may not need to add FMMTE to their calendars, it’s a fact that what happens in one part of our industry invariably affects other areas as well. In this case, the addition of the fall show means that instead of Toy Fair being a buying frenzy for mass and independent alike, it will now have more of a specialty focus. Mass marketers will be using their time in February to revisit existing vendors and seek out new products from smaller toy companies.
Concerns of independent retailers
At edplay, we’ve been talking to people throughout the specialty toy industry to gauge reactions to this change in TIA’s shows, and while some independent retailers are barely aware of FMMTE, others are and they aren’t happy about it. A recent edplay reader survey showed that nearly 50 percent disagreed with TIA’s decision to divide the industry’s toy buying event into two shows.
Specialty retailers who are unenthusiastic about the change cite a number of potential problems. Competing with mass marketers for time with vendors at Toy Fair is one concern. Another is that mass retailers will be getting the first viewing of many new products at FMMTE. Some fear that products that aren’t picked up by mass will end up not being produced at all, eclipsing an opportunity for specialty retailers to order them. Other independents view the change as an example of preferential treatment to mass merchants while specialty retailers are “locked out” of the show.
The sky isn’t falling
Lest you think that FMMTE will mean the end of specialty as we know it, there are people who are looking at the silver lining. “I don’t think Toy Fair is going to be very different,” said former ASTRA president Jonny Girson. “It’s naïve to think that mass market buyers weren’t shopping Javits before.”
Jonny hopes that the increased emphasis on mass will boost interest in the ASTRA Convention. “The new TIA show is focused on mass market retailers. I believe this will end up giving the ASTRA Convention more energy, as people seeking specialty will know that ASTRA is the place to go.”
Courting both mass and specialty
It’s old news that the lines between specialty and mass are bending when it comes to product. As the number of specialty toy stores drops, manufacturers are forced to seek out other avenues to sell their products. Call it an evolutionary cycle. As toy manufacturers get bigger, they begin to sell to larger chains. However, this does not mean that the specialty vendors will disappear. Rather, the pool of innovative products will continue to be replenished as new companies emerge.
Many toy companies continue to straddle the fence between mass and specialty. Whether they are mass manufacturers who offer exclusive product to independent retailers, or specialty vendors testing the waters in big box stores, the crossover is undeniable. This means that some traditional specialty suppliers will be showing up at both FMMTE and Toy Fair.
Terry Myers, an ASTRA board member and owner of Kaleidoscope Toys in Round Rock, Texas, realizes that given the economy, vendors have had to expand their customer base. While she expects some of her vendors to be at FMMTE, she doubts that specialty toys across the board will work in big box stores. “I have seen specialty products put into the mass market and not make it simply because those types of stores don’t ‘get it.’ They view products as just toys, whereas independent store owners know that there’s more to it. It’s not just the products we carry; it’s the people we hire, the services we offer, and the way we learn about our toys so that we can best help our customers. We know how a toy will help a child’s development and which product will serve a child with special needs.”
A manufacturer’s perspective
Mike Bennis, director of communication of ALEX-Panline admits that while his company does sell a few items to mass stores, the specialty market remains their bread and butter. “I love our specialty accounts. We have over 600 products now, and less than 10 of those are in mass market stores,” he says. “I don’t think that all of the manufacturers that specialty store owners dearly love and count on for cool products will be going into the mass market because of one new show. In my opinion, this isn’t something for specialty retailers to worry about. ALEX, for one, will not be there.”