Just What You’re Looking For

Tina Manzer


Marketplace & Academy, the annual trade show of the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association, will be held Sunday, June 5 through Wednesday, June 8 in Denver. Now in its 24th year, the event continues to grow and evolve, offering attendees more and more opportunities to establish relationships, bring new products into their stores, and learn about best practices that shape success. “These three factors are our focus: shop, learn and network,” notes Amanda Zawad, ASTRA’s director of meetings and strategic partnerships. One look at the schedule confirms that.

Saturday, June 4

From 6 to 8 p.m. there is an informal meet-and-greet at the spacious and sophisticated Strata Bar in the lobby of the Denver
Hyatt Regency. An annual tradition, this get-together is a come-as-you-are opportunity to make new friends and/or meet up with old ones. It sets the stage for the days to follow.

Sunday is conference day

At 8:30, the kickoff keynote, “Stress Less: YOU Management versus Time Management” will be presented by motivational speaker Colette Carlson. When ASTRA’s Toy Times Magazine asked her why folks should attend her session, Collette said, “Stress kills and work-life
balance is dead. To create the focus, energy and mindset to keep playing this beautiful game called life, you need to learn the necessary strategies and skills. Plus we’re going to have fun!”

The 20 or so educational sessions that follow start at 10:15 a.m. and continue throughout the day. They’re divided into five “tracks” – Business & Operations, Children & Play, Financial Management, Industry Trends & Relations, and Sales & Marketing. What’s more, each one is identified as “foundational,” “intermediate” or “advanced” so that retailers, manufacturers and reps can choose the learning opportunity that’s just right for their business.

“The tracks address topics that perpetually offer opportunities – and challenges – to ASTRA members,” notes Amanda. “Each year, our hardworking planning committee fine-tunes them based on trends and needs within the industry. This year, for instance, we’ve
separated ‘Business’ and ‘Finance’ into their own tracks to offer more sessions covering everything from staff training to financial manangement.”

Among the presenters are professional speakers like Marie A. Bonaccorse, “The Sassy Tweetress,” who will discuss social media strategies (see page 28); and Tom Shay from Profits Plus Solutions covering “The Cost of Holding Dead Inventory” and “You Can Hire a Manager But You Can’t Hire an Owner.”

The speaker lineup also includes ASTRA members themselves who will share their expertise on topics like Open-to-Buy, Educating Your Customers, In-store Events, and Google+. Panel discussions provide insight into big and timely issues that include “To Sell or Not to Sell on Amazon,” “What Makes a Good Sales Rep?” and more.

“Last year, attendance for our sessions was up, and we expect the same to happen this year,” Amanda explains. “The feedback we received was very positive. ‘This one alone was worth the cost to attend ASTRA,’ said a retailer about last year’s discussion
on showrooming.’ About another on Facebook marketing, an attendee noted: ‘It was excellent! I could have used an extra two hours on the topic.’ As a result, we brought the speaker back this year for a longer session!”

On Monday and Tuesday, the focus is on buying

Combined, June 5 and 6 provide 17-and-a-half hours of trade-show time. A record-breaking 401 exhibitors will be showcased; 98 of them new to Marketplace. For retailers, it’s a great place to take advantage of vendor specials and choose items for fourth-quarter.

Everyone leaves with so much to think about

On Wednesday, the last day, it’s all about learning. Five concurrent sessions begin at 9 a.m. on topics that range from customer service and visual merchandising to succession planning and the needs of modern moms. The final keynote, “Being Brilliant on the Basics” will be presented by Bob Phibbs, The Retail Doctor (see page 24). The takeaways include:

  • Creative ways to reinvent the in-store experience,
  • Increasing your value through people, not price,
  • Attracting and training better employees and
  • Best practices for identifying and removing those who are unenthusiastic.

Everyday extras

ASTRA members are big believers in getting together to learn and have fun. That’s why Marketplace & Academy has time built into its crowded schedule to do just that.


Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday feature hour-long continental breakfasts where folks can relax with a cup of coffee and a muffin while sharing ideas and plans with their colleagues. Breakfast on Monday is a buffet affair beginning at 7:30 a.m., followed by ASTRA’s annual meeting.


On Monday and Tuesday, lunch is provided in the exhibit hall to maximize time and keep everyone together to network.

Kits and games

Manufacturers open the boxes of their latest releases and let retailers play. The two-hour Kit Session starts at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, and the three-hour Game Night begins at 6:30 p.m. on Monday.

“The Party”

The association always provides Marketplace attendees with a shindig that’s uniquely local and on trend. True to form, Sunday evening’s Connection Reception will be held at Denver’s hottest event venue, Punch Bowl Social. A self-described “dining and entertainment mecca that takes a three-prong approach to the cultural movement in social outings,” it features games (private karaoke rooms, ping pong, darts, and bowling), food (the menu is “gastro-diner,” the latest portmanteau to hit the foodie scene), and beverages that include local spirits and craft beers.

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