Next Stop, Toy Fair

February 13-16, New York City

 

It’s been a century since a group called the Toy Manufacturers of America formed in New York to present their products to retail buyers. Over the years, their private meetings in the showrooms of 200 Fifth Avenue evolved and grew into the biggest toy trade show in the Western Hemisphere. Today, the Toy Industry Association and Toy Fair continue to meet the expanding needs of the people it serves by adding innovative improvements like the upcoming Play Fair. Recently, Marian Bossard, TIA’s senior vice president in charge of global market events, talked to us about the ways time and change are positively impacting Toy Fair, and what we will experience at this year’s milestone event.

 

The far-west-side story

Manhattan’s west side along the Hudson River has become Toy Fair’s home. Until recently, the neighborhood bordering Hell’s Kitchen and Chelsea was a desolate industrial area. Today, “Hudson Yards,” an area roughly west of 8th Avenue between 30th and 42nd Streets, is becoming a symbol of New York City’s real-estate revival. The Javits Center is one of its main attractions.

“There was a time, not so very long ago, that heading to the west side of Manhattan, and specifically to the Javits Center, meant you were leaving the best of the city behind and entering a dark and unwelcoming neighborhood,” notes Bossard. “Today it features residential living, nightlife, fantastic restaurants, The High Line and, most recently, the extension of the 7 train to Toy Fair’s doorstep. We’ve been here watching it all unfold, and we could not be more excited.”

A lot of the credit for the area’s rebirth goes to the nearby High Line, an aerial greenway inspired by the Promenade plantée in Paris. It was traversed by nearly 5 million pedestrians in 2014 alone. “The High Line serves up the Big Apple on a platter 30 feet high,” raves The Washington Post.

The completion of the park in 2014 coincided with a $460 million renovation and expansion of the Javits Center that transformed the structure into a much larger facility. It’s state-of the art; as beautiful as it is efficient.

This summer, the new 4-acre Hudson Park and Boulevard opened, part of the $20 billion project designed to encourage real estate development along the Hudson River. It is the largest private redevelopment project in U.S. history. Plans include six skyscrapers, 14 acres of public space and 17 million square feet of commercial and residential space.

Best of all, especially for the folks who fight to catch a cab or race to catch a TIA shuttle, a train now runs to Hudson Yards. The 7 Subway Extension at 34th Street and 11th Avenue opened in September, and links that part of Manhattan to the rest of the city.

“There is no question that if you are staying close to the subway entrances in Midtown, you will make better time via the 7 train than the Toy Fair Shuttle,” says TIA’s Bossard. “If you are a taxi-versus-shuttle person, you will save both time and money.”

TIA, which runs a parade of shuttles throughout the city, will be measuring this year “for, hopefully, significant subway ridership,” she says, “and while we don’t have a specific campaign, the connection to the local community will be made as we introduce more hotels on the west side.”

 

Kids will play

“Evolving yet again, we are excited to introduce a companion show – Play Fair – to fuel the passion of toy consumers themselves,” says the event’s exhibitor prospectus. The inaugural fair – Saturday and Sunday, February 13 and 14 – will be hosted by TIA and LeftField Media, a new events company from the founder of New York Comic Con.

Sponsored by LEGO, Nickelodeon and other toy brands including Mattel, Hasbro and Toys “R” Us, Play Fair is an experiential event for kids, families and fans of toy and youth entertainment brands. They can take part in a variety of activities including photo ops with characters like SpongeBob SquarePants and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, building with LEGOs and DUPLOs, and learning to create comics from professionals.

“It is a fee-based and ticketed event not connected through registration to Toy Fair,” explains Bossard. “Taking a broader view, however, we want our retail partners to celebrate with us this additional link in TIA’s chain of engagement opportunities. Toy Fair has brought together buyers and sellers, and now we’re providing an opportunity for both to meet their customers. Midtown Comics, Toy Tokyo, Kinukuniya and Aw Yeah Comics are its retail promotional partners. Everybody gets it … engagement with your customers in every form possible is essential!”

Attendees will be able to purchase products they see there, including Play Fair exclusives and limited edition items.

Tickets are $30 each; $145 for a VIP Weekend Experience Pass. In addition to admission, a Play Fair badge unlocks rewards and discounts at participating retailers, museums, restaurants and cultural institutions throughout New York City. “Manhattan will turn into a fun treasure map waiting to be discovered,” says a TIA press release.

While Toy Fair goes on on Levels 1 and 3, Play Fair will take place in the new 110,000-square-foot Javits Center North. Then, on Monday and Tuesday, February 15 and 16, the Digital Kids Conference (DKC) co-locates with Toy Fair. The event is designed for game and app developers, brand owners, entertainment executives and other professionals who seek to engage children online and on digital devices.

 

Independent toy retailers can learn

Among sessions on toy safety, intellectual property and exporting are two free seminars specifically geared toward specialty stores. Both will be held in room 1E21 on level 1, Hall 1R.

“AMP UP! Your Advertising, Marketing and Promotion Plans” will be presented by small-business management expert Tom Shay on Saturday, February 13, from 2 to 3 p.m. Shay’s advice on marketing, business strategy, staffing, and financial management has helped small business owners increase their profits and build their business for the future.

“How to Get Press When You’re Small and Scrappy” will be presented by Shannon Eis on Sunday, February 14, 11 a.m. to noon. A public relations specialist, Eis is vice president of corporate communications at Yelp! as well as the guest toy expert on the former “Late Show with David Letterman.”


by Jenn Bergin and Tina Manzer

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