The Toy Industry Association (TIA) says its Fall Toy Preview offers all retailers a chance to check out what’s new for the upcoming year, and to get ahead on next year’s fourth quarter planning. Once strictly for mass and long-lead retailers, this year the show is open to specialty buyers, too.
“Scoping out products early leads to success and happy customers, and specialty retailers understand that,” says Marian Bossard, senior vice president of global events at TIA. “Fall Toy Preview is a way for them to get a jump-start on their plans.”
Fall Toy Preview takes place October 6 through October 8 at the Dallas Market Center in Texas.
New and improved
When it was a mass market-only experience, Fall Toy Preview was “by appointment only.” Show restrictions required attendees to be in a relationship with the mass market, schedule meetings and build a four-wall, private showroom space. “It was the ‘anti’-show because that’s what the industry needed back then,” Marian says.
Well, times have changed. In addition to welcoming specialty retailers, the show now has a new open-booth format and vendors have started putting up signs that say “Walk-ins Welcome” to encourage visitors.
“Buyers had complained they couldn’t see new product with so many walls up,” Marian explains. “People want to walk around between appointments and discover things. They want value and they’re seizing every opportunity for old or new business.
“So now we say, don’t build a fortress around your product! Build a meeting room, but show people what you’ve got.”
Since it’s a preview show, some proprietary products may be kept under wraps, but for the most part everyone is taking down their walls.
Tradeshows demand time and money, Marian acknowledges, and attendees want some bang for their buck. Fall Toy Preview will showcase more than just next year’s hottest holiday and fourth-quarter finds. “We appreciate that incorporating business-oriented ancillary activities adds value to the experience,” Marian says.
This year, Women in Toys will host an Empowerment Day at the marketplace that includes a keynote speech by businessman and Shark Tank investor Mark Cuban. In addition to its opening night networking gala, TIA will offer a complimentary seminar from a social media strategist.
“We’re removing hard, uninviting restrictions and welcoming everyone in the industry to decide whether this show is right for them,” Marian says. “We’ve created a hybrid space, and we want mix of attendees to match that.”
How it started
The first official Fall Toy Preview was held in 2005, but the concept has been around for decades; long before TIA – which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year – was even formed.
“Toy previews have been happening forever,” Marian explains. “They were happening organically at the International Toy Center in New York. Every September, mass-market buyers met there with all the brands to see new lines and gear up for the next year’s holiday season.”
When the iconic Toy Center building was sold in 2007, it was traumatic for the hundreds of companies that relied on the preview activity that happened there. “They needed a place to go,” Marian says. “We got involved to organize the activity of all these buyers. Many are TIA members, and we wanted to address their needs.”
Although the show was originally focused solely on the long-lead needs of the mass market, it quickly became evident that specialty retailers could benefit from the chance to check out products early and plan ahead. Last year, the show opened its doors to specialty retailers for the first time. This year’s show welcomes dozens of specialty retailers and buyers, including the New York Hospital Gift Shop, Little Village Toy & Book Shop, the San Antonio Children’s Museum and more, in addition to more than 200 mass market vendors and buyers.
Destination … Dallas.
Initially, TIA tried to keep the preview concept in New York. The first show was held at the Javits Center, Toy Fair’s home, but “the space simply wasn’t conducive to the type of environment we wanted to create,” Marian explains. In 2007, the show moved to Dallas, and a recent 10-year review of Fall Toy Preview indicated a consensus to keep it there through 2018.
“Dallas moves at a slower pace, which works better for the kind of activity we’re encouraging,” Marian explains. “The location offers a vertical shopping atmosphere that’s reminiscent of the Toy Center building. And the cost of doing business is significantly less than in other major cities, which allows us to pass along those savings to attendees.”
TIA can afford to do things differently in Dallas, she says. The look of the show is polished and –unlike traditional trade events – no draping or piping is used. “It’s a beautiful show,” Marian says.
The date may seem less attractive, however. In October, specialty retailers are getting their stores ready for the fourth quarter – and many don’t even take a day off, let alone have time to travel to a show. There’s been increased interest in moving the show into September, which would make it a more feasible option for everyone in the industry.
“Fall Toy Preview has been a good solution for hundreds of companies,” Marian says. “It’s highly efficient, effective, and economical.
“This is a way to bring the industry together for an additional touch point,” she adds. “We’re creating the environment in which that’s a possibility.”
The World Trade Center, centerpiece of the Dallas Market Center, is one of four buildings on the campus at 2100 Stemmons Freeway. In total, they house nearly 2,500 permanent showrooms that offer more than 35,000 product lines from manufacturers around the world. In addition to toy showrooms, the 15-story trade center building also features showrooms for gifts, home accessories, lighting, floral, holiday, jewelry, rugs, gourmet foods, furniture, bed, bath and linens. It was originally constructed with only seven floors in 1974, and was later expanded. Today, its signature feature is a soaring 12-story atrium topped by huge skylights.
The Toy Industry Association Celebrates 100 Years
Since 1916, the Toy Industry Association has represented businesses that bring the magic of play to generations of children. The nonprofit trade association organizes Toy Fair and Fall Toy Preview, and over the past century has advocated for toy manufacturing and advertising ethics, toy safety and the developmental benefits of play. TIA will celebrate its 100th anniversary with a year full of festivities and, of course, lots of fun.
The 2016 centenary-year celebrations kick-off on September 17, 2015 at a ceremony for the new Toy Halls of Fame Exhibit at The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York. The Exhibit will include five themed areas – imagine, create, build, move and compete – with displays like a 20-foot bubble tower, a digital Jack-in-the-Box, an oversized Etch a Sketch and a Crayon Piano.
The party will continue through 2016 with the TIA’s Genius of Play initiative, a movement to provide families with information and inspiration, to help encourage toys and play that build valuable skills like confidence and critical thinking in children.
The Toy Guy, Chris Byrne, will debut a book chronicling the TIA’s history, accomplishments and member milestones in February at the TOTY Awards. At Toy Fair, a visual timeline will showcase a century of the association’s significant moments.
Join the party! Visit toyassociation.org and thegeniusofplay.org.
Back East, Where it All Began
“It was truly a magical place,” Marian says, recalling the International Toy Building in New York and its impact on TIA’s trade shows. Built in 1909 on the site of the old Fifth Avenue Hotel, The Fifth Avenue Building became the epicenter of the American toy industry during World War I, when toy imports from Europe were restricted. Everyone who was anyone in the toy industry had a showroom inside, and few outsiders were privy to what happened behind the fortress walls.
The 16-story building offered 700,000 square feet of showroom and office space, and by 1925, more than 700 toy exhibitors had gathered there and in hotels along Broadway from 29th to 34th Streets. Toy Fair then was eight weeks long and included exhibitions in Chicago.
By the 1960s, leases at the Toy Building were signed exclusively to toy companies, and a second 16-story building was acquired. The two buildings were connected on the ninth floor with an enclosed walkway, and became the International Toy Center. The complex occupied a full block along Madison Square Park, and by 1981, its 600 tenants accounted for 95 percent of the $4 billion in U.S. toy transactions that year.
To handle the increasing demand for entry into the building, its by-appointment showrooms were extended as booths
into the Javits Convention Center, builtin 1986.
In 2007, 200 Fifth Avenue was sold for $500 million and the last toy tenants moved out. The building was renovated, and today is occupied by powerhouse ad agency Grey Global, Mario Batali’s food and wine marketplace Eataly, and the corporate headquarters for Tiffany & Co. Only memories of the iconic Toy Center remain, but the hustle and bustle is brought to life each year at Toy Fair in New York, and the Fall Toy Preview in Texas.
by Jenn Bergin