An interview with Sue Warfield
“When Toy Fair made its date-change announcement, ASTRA sent out a survey to a list of people in the toy industry, asking them if they’d miss a February event,” explains ASTRA’s president Sue Warfield. We were discussing the association’s newest event, ASTRA Toy Boat, scheduled for February 20 through 24, 2023.
“The survey included other questions about how the void should be filled. Should ASTRA do it? Alone or with a partner? What were the most important takeaways from Toy Fair that they’d like to see in a new event?” recounted Sue.
Within two days, ASTRA had received 250 responses, overwhelmingly in favor of a new ASTRA event. They indicated that in February, the most important goals were seeing new products and connecting with others in the industry.
“Based on those criteria, we started planning. Our goal was to design a toy trade event unlike anything else – we didn’t want to replace Toy Fair, we obviously didn’t want to replace our own show in June, and we didn’t want to replace ToyFest,” Sue continued. “When we brainstormed, the best idea was a cruise.”
In this Q and A, Sue discusses the plans that have been made so far.
Does a cruise make the logistics of a trade event more difficult?
No, because it’s not a tradeshow. There are no booths. Based on the survey responses, manufacturers want to present new products and be able to write orders. They don’t need a big setup for that. They can bring their products in a suitcase, and set them up on tabletops. They range in price from $200 to $500. They can also bring their catalogs and write orders. Retailers will need to fill the empty shelves they have after the holidays.
What kind of feedback have you received since your Toy Boat announcement?
It’s been everything from “Yes, sign me up!” to “I don’t see how this will work.” There are lots of questions. A big one is, for instance, “Is it tax deductible?” We just heard from our accountant that it is. It’s a work trip and the invoice will come from ASTRA.
We will continue to provide more information to clear up other questions, but right now we are concentrating on getting people to come to ASTRA Marketplace & Academy this June.
We’ve also heard members’ thoughts on both the benefits and the drawbacks of this idea. One of the drawbacks is that it’s one more thing people will have to evaluate and decide whether or not to go. Another is that ToyFest next year is scheduled shortly after Toy Boat. It may be an issue for people who plan to attend both.
Among the benefits is the Toy Boat’s lower cost for just about everyone, compared to going to Toy Fair in New York. Our tabletops are not expensive, there are no other charges except for the price of the cruise, and it’s a group rate.
What does the cruise include?
We purchased a WiFi package and a beverage package for everyone. The price we’ll display when registration opens in late May will be all inclusive.
We’ve booked 615 cabins; each one is double occupancy. They range from suites to interior cabins, which are the least expensive at about $900. Since three room blocks allow for a third or fourth person, we can accommodate 1,300 people total.
How many “exhibitors” do you expect?
It’s really too early to tell. We would like to have 100 vendors – 100 tables – but we can accommodate more than that. I think we’ll get them, and then our task will be to get buyers onboard. We will be watching the ratio of vendors to buyers very carefully.
What do you want specialty toy professionals to know about this event?
That it’s an opportunity to network with other ASTRA members without many distractions. It’s the perfect chance, for instance, for manufacturers to work on programs with some of the retailers. It’s a big ship and a fun environment in which to accomplish work.
I see in the schedule that Thursday is “Tabletop Day.”
Yes, it’s the only day we will not be at sea. Tabletops will be available in the morning. In the afternoon, people can take excursions into Nassau.
We are also planning two game-and-kit demo nights, one of which will be open to everyone on the cruise – even those who are not there for our event.
The schedule each day will not be very structured. We want the attendees to let loose, wind down, and have a little fun as they do their buying and selling. Programs are being planned for the ASTRA kids onboard, so there will be fun options for them while their parents are working. ASTRA has a conference center and other meeting rooms onboard for buyers who want private appointments with vendors.
Watch for more information on ASTRA’s website, astratoy.org/events; and in ASTRA’s Toy Times Digital Monthly in your email inbox.
Liberty of the Seas from Royal Caribbean
(as of May 1; subject to change)
• Monday, February 20 – Leave Fort Lauderdale
• Tuesday, February 21 – a “free day” on a private
island – CocoCay, Bahamas
• Wednesday, February 22 – Day at Sea
• Thursday, February 23 – Tabletops, then Nassau
• Friday, February 24 – Back at Fort Lauderdale, 6 a.m.
End of May