A warehouse of colossal and colorful parade-float decorations captivated attendees of ASTRA’s reception at Mardi Gras World.
by Tina Manzer

With The Big Easy as a backdrop, 500 exhibitors dazzled buyers at ASTRA’s annual Marketplace & Academy June 10 through 13. For three full days, 1,301 buyers viewed products and placed orders for the upcoming holiday season. Buyers represented 537 stores, including “traditional” specialty toy stores, museum stores, gift stores, children’s clothing stores, the craft chain Joanne Stores and even a store specializing in children’s haircuts.

There was a lot of incentive to place orders – nearly 400 exhibitors offered special deals (discounts, free freight, dating, and more), and with each order written, the buyer earned a raffle ticket to win valuable industry prizes.

Given the trade show’s midyear timing, many of the products on display had been presented earlier in 2018 at other trade venues. Even so, ASTRA’s New Product Nook featured nearly 70 products, some of which were making their debut. These never-before-seen products support the show’s mission to help independent retailers find merchandise that differentiates their stores and makes their brands unique.

For more information about the products exhibited at ASTRA, turn to “Retailers Recommend” on page 18, “Editor’s Picks” on page 20, and visit edplay.com.


Marketplace & Academy brings together nearly 3,000 toy people each year to play and talk and listen and look. Through that process, challenges are identified, issues are addressed, solutions are found. The intended outcome is that individual attendees will head home to their businesses equipped with more of what they need to succeed than they left with. That includes good ideas, new products, and new customers.

With the Toys “R” Us final closing just a few weeks away, and the first “retail apocalypse” headlines just a few months behind them, attendees seemed to need some kind of reassurance. Do their independent businesses have what it takes to succeed? And if they don’t, how can they change?

I think these questions weighed heaviest on the owners of older stores; the folks who have steered a course through past disruptions (Zany Brainy, a recession, the advent of Target’s toy aisles) only to be flummoxed by Amazon and social media. Luckily, the most and best advice to be had at ASTRA was for retailers. Here are just a few of the recommendations I heard from the show’s expert speakers.

Commit to being your community’s epicenter for play. As a play evangelist, turn up the volume and turn your store into the best place to find good play tools, sound play advice and plenty of fun. Crank up your credibility by becoming a Certified Play Expert. Take ASTRA’s course either online or in person at the two-day workshop at Marketplace & Academy each year. In New Orleans, 11 people received their credentials to bring the total of ASTRA-certified Play Experts to 91.

Use your brick-and-mortar space for more than just selling toys. Make it an interactive base of discovery; a venue that offers people something new and exciting every time they come in – and it doesn’t have to be product. Treat shoppers like visitors, and make sure your space appeals to all five senses. Welcome shoppers as if they are visitors. Treat them like valued friends and cultivate relationships.

Be active and visible in your support of your neighborhood, town or city. It can set a good example for your youngest customers, be the cement that binds all-important relationships, and help you stand out from your competitors. In New Orleans, ASTRA was the role model by organizing the first “Mighty Together I Volunteer Program.” Before the show, Marketplace attendees traveled to a local school to paint, organize classrooms and the library, and help with grounds maintenance. In the exhibit hall, everyone was invited to the ASTRA booth where 1,000 empty backpacks sat waiting to be filled with school supplies donated by Alex Brands, Crayola, Faber-Castell, Gund, Learning Resources and OOLY.

Take advantage of You Tube, Facebook and Instagram by posting amazing content and compelling videos. It will help you “earn” people’s interest.

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