A Piece of Cake

Tips to make your time at Toy Fair as easy as pie


It’s the buying season for the toy biz, and many of us are getting ready to travel to the Nuremberg and/or New York toy fairs and later, to Toy Fest West in Las Vegas and ASTRA in Denver.

Buying trips can be stressful, whether you’re an experienced show-goer or a novice. Any way you look at it, you’re away from home, away from your store, and the outcome needs to be good, because you’ve invested a lot of time and money to be there.

To make your show experience less pressure-cooker, more piece-of-cake, we’ve rounded up some expert
recommendations and great trade-show advice that’s heavy on preplanning but also includes post-show follow-up.

Know your numbers

Before you head off to a trade show, run reports to find out your top-selling five to seven categories in gross sales, “and, if you can, in terms of profitability,” recommends retail consultant Bob Phibbs, The Retail Doctor. “Then find your bottom five to 10.”

For those bottom categories, stop buying. They’re not contributing enough to your bottom line. “If you must replenish something, make sure it is a proven number-one seller,” says Phibbs.

You can afford to be more liberal in purchasing for your best-selling categories, he adds. “Go ahead, try new things, unproven things, things that you have a hunch on. You’re safe, because you’re ‘fishing where the fish are’ trying new bait. Even if you buy a stinker, you will be able to move it out quicker because there is more demand in the category.”

Map your route

Most trade shows display their floor plans online so you can plot your course in advance. This is important, especially in the case of the New York Toy Fair, a massive show on two levels. By pinpointing the booths you want to visit, you can come up with a route that will save you time and energy, and prevent needless walking. It should also reflect your priorities – which vendors do you want to see first? Efficiently plan your time by making appointments with them.

Toy Fair’s floor plan and exhibitor list are key components of its Show Planner, an online tool you can use to create your own custom map. Points on your map should include your current key vendors, new companies and first-time exhibitors, and companies with products you’ve heard about from your reps, customers and other retailers.

Look at other resources to identify potential vendors ahead of time. Try lists of award winners (ASTRA’s Best Toys for Kids 2015, the 2016 TOTY nominations) and ASTRA’s Share the Fair list from last year’s Toy Fair. Look for the vendors mentioned most often.


When the show opens you’ll want to hit the ground running. For Toy Fair in New York, you can register online ahead of time, and get there early on Saturday, February 13, to pick up your badge. Show your photo ID at one of the two registration areas: in the “Crystal Palace,” the center’s glass-enclosed entrance; or on the North Concourse, level 2.

Registration opens at 8 a.m.; the show opens at 9.

Pack like a hiker

At trade shows, you literally hike up and down aisles as you look at products, so your pack needs to be efficient and lightweight. What’s more, unlike campers’ backpacks, your bag (or rolling cart) will get heavier throughout the day as you collect product samples, catalogs, sell sheets and more.

Yes, collect catalogs. They may be heavy, but you can review them in your hotel room at night, and you’ll have them immediately on hand when you head back to work. “If we didn’t go to New York, it would be hard to know what the year would look like,” says retailer Casey Sartain from Tutoring Toy in Salt Lake City. Before he traveled to Toy Fair last year he told us, “Toy Fair is where I find new vendors and items, and collect catalogs from vendors that aren’t so good at sending them out.”

Start out light by putting as much information as you can on your cell phone or tablet, like

• your show map with favorite booths,

• your 2016 calendar,

• appointment schedule,

• vendor contacts including cell phone numbers and email addresses, and

• an electronic version of your store’s purchase order form and credit sheet.

“Use your own purchase order forms, not vendor forms, and clearly write a description of the item as well as quantity, price, in-store delivery date plus a cancel date,” advises James Dion,  founder and president of retail consulting firm Dionco. “Never give an order without a cancel date!” he adds. “If the order comes in after that date and you still would like it, call and tell the vendor that you’ll keep it if you get 40 percent off the invoice.”

Your electronic device should be an easy grab from your pack or pocket, likewise the information stored on it. Ditto business cards! Take more of them than you think you’ll need.

Hikelight, a company that makes Only the Lightest-brand camping gear, recommends choosing a lightweight, but sturdy, bag/rolling cart/briefcase. That way, the vessel itself won’t weigh you down. Another point – you don’t want too much capacity because you’ll feel you should fill it up.

Hikelight.com also recommends packing the night before. It’s human nature – when we pack hurriedly, we tend to throw things in we may not need. “When in doubt, leave it out.”

Hydrate and fuel up

Water is essential but heavy to carry. Know where the drinking fountains are so you can fill up your empty, reusable bottle as needed.

Trail mixes are a great energy providing snack. Experiment with the ones in your local supermarket to see which ones you like best – and which ones weigh less. Dried soup mixes in their own bowls are also a lightweight snack option. Hot water is available in the food court.

Footwear and first aid

Blisters. Sometimes you get them on your trade show hike, even when you wear the most sensible shoes. “A little wide athletic tape can be lighter than moleskin in preventing blisters,” say the folks at hikelight.com.

Assemble a lightweight portable first-aid kit by putting the following things into a plastic baggy: athletic tape and moleskin, alcohol pads, bandaids and antibiotic ointment (in addition to chapstick, Ibuprofin, antacid, and anti-diarrhea medicine). Don’t forget hand sanitizer!

 Remain organized

As you travel along collecting information and writing orders, use the tools that work best for you, electronic, manual or both. On your phone or tablet, store pictures of the products you like or have ordered – just make sure to ask the manufacturer before you start shooting, and include the company’s name with the photo. If you have permission, capture a shot of how the product is displayed and marketed in the booth so you can use the ideas in your own store.

Retailer Gaetana Schueckler from The Tree House in Buffalo organizes her important information in a binder. “I have one for every show,” she told us. “In it are lists of my goals, items I’ve heard about, vendor specials and credit sheets.”

Other office-product
necessities include pens and pencils, pocket-sized notebooks, a tape measure, a mini stapler and a battery pack phone charger.

Keep track of your orders

You’ll probably head home with a stack of carbon copies of the orders you wrote, but as virtual orders become the norm, more electronic receipts will be emailed your way. Retailer Russ John from Creatovity in Providence, Rhode Island, likes to have a hardcopy file of all orders, even the electronic ones. He routinely checks through his paper file to make sure items are delivered on schedule. It pays – each year it seems, several of his orders are misplaced by vendors.

Most retailers take notes to refer to when they’re back at the store. Russ does not. “No note-
taking system I could devise would remind me of everything I liked and didn’t like at a show.” He doesn’t collect catalogs, either. “I get the product in my store, and that’s my reminder that I liked it – when it shows up on my doorstep.”



ASTRA at Toy Fair

Visit booth #6031 to meet the ASTRA staff, and register for the Marketplace & Academy Trade Show in June at a special rate.

A Hospitality Lounge located in room 12 of Hall 1E on the bottom floor of Javits is available to ASTRA members. The lounge is a great place to hang your coat and grab a cup of coffee, soda or water, compliments of TIA.

ASTRA exclusive products will be unveiled on Saturday, February 13 at 5:30 p.m. in room 6 of Hall 1E.

ASTRA’s Night in New York, the association’s traditional Toy Fair get-together, will be held on Sunday, February 14, at Naples 45 restaurant, 200 Park Avenue at East 45th Street. Tickets for the adventure-themed party cost $75. Included in the price is an open premium bar, butler-passed hors d’oeuvres, and a four-course dinner buffet with dessert, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.

by Tina Manzer

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