Summer in the City

ASTRA Marketplace & Academy, June 25-28, Philadelphia

The American Specialty Toy Retailing Association is bringing everybody downtown to the Pennsylvania Convention Center. It’s one of the country’s few big meeting venues with a center-of-everything location. Yes, we’ve met at convention centers in Denver, Charlotte, Phoenix, Nashville, Baltimore and other cities, but none of them offer better access to the urban vibe than this one. The Reading Terminal, one of Philadelphia’s great public spaces, is within spitting distance. Within walking distance are hundreds of restaurants, shops, historical attractions and cultural institutions.

Not that you’ll be looking for something non-ASTRA to do. Marketplace & Academy includes 35 hours-worth of educational sessions and the biggest exhibit hall in the association’s history. With more than 500 exhibitors – 140 of them first-timers – the show floor presents a lot of product-filled ground to cover; so much so that an extra day was added to the schedule.

“We always ask our exhibitors and our retailers what we can do better, and they came through loud and clear that they need more time on the exhibit floor,” said Kimberly Mosley, ASTRA president. “About 70 percent of members surveyed asked ASTRA to expand the time they have available for exploring products and writing orders. This reflects the critical role that ASTRA’s Marketplace plays in helping specialty toy retailers get their fourth-quarter strategies and product mix planned.”

Marketplace & Academy is just one of the ways ASTRA has contributed to the success of the specialty toy market during the last quarter-century. This year, more than 1,000 retailers are expected to attend and take advantage of Marketplace-only discounts on great products for holiday shoppers. And, thanks to the Academy’s education sessions, they can explore new ideas and find innovative tools to help their business thrive.

Tactical trends and timely topics

The tradeshow includes a vast menu of educational sessions scheduled for Sunday, June 25 and Tuesday, June 27 in five topic categories: Business Operations, Children & Play, Industry Trends & Relations, Financial Management and Sales & Marketing.

In addition, for the first time, 90-minute in-depth workshops will be held on Sunday with takeaways that attendees can implement immediately. Among them are “Posting, Tweeting & Snapping, Oh My!” presented by Maria Bonnacourse, former social media & community manager for Procter & Gamble. She’ll help attendees work on building a basic content strategy that transforms their company’s storytelling into results.

Another workshop, “Can I Give You a Lyft?” will be presented by Thom Singer, host of the popular “Cool Things Entrepreneurs Do” podcast. Thom became a ride-share driver to see if he could spot patterns in the ways successful people grow their companies. At ASTRA, he’ll share what he learned from Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, VRBO, and others.

Among Sunday’s sessions is “Trend Forecasting: Insights, Ideas & the Next Big Thing,” presented by Steve Starobinsky from Diverse Insights. To uncover opportunities you can use to grow your business, he’ll discuss licenses, product super-categories and what’s going on in the mass market.

On Tuesday, the panel discussion “How to Leverage Being a Woman in Business,” will be held in partnership with Women In Toys. Sharing tips about succeeding in the workplace will be manufacturers Marcia Haut from SmartNoggin Toys and Laurie Peterson of Build & Imagine; and retailers Hilary Key from The Toy Chest and Anita Demtropoulos from Island Treasure Toys.

During the session “Breaking Down Gender Stereotypes,” Alice Brooks and Laurel Wider from PlayMonster will discuss how to let go of traditional stereotypes to give families what they need to grow and develop in a well-rounded way.

Hitting the high notes

On Wednesday morning, June 28, keynote speaker Jamie Clarke, renowned adventurer, retail entrepreneur and bestselling author will present, “Above All Else: The Power of Passion.” Lively and funny, Jamie channels wild places to illustrate the challenges organizations and people face daily.

As the CEO and cofounder of the Out There Adventure Center in downtown Calgary, Jamie understands the issues faced by specialty retailers each day, like hiring, sourcing products, and attracting customers. In addition to the high-end outdoor gear and apparel store, Jamie also owns, an e-commerce and adventure-inspiration site. It has been named one of Canada’s 50 fastest-growing companies, and was nominated for Canada Post’s E-Commerce Innovation Award.

After growing up in the Canadian Rockies, Jamie became a mountain climber and conquered the Seven Summits; Everest twice, in four attempts. He explains that in elite mountaineering, where lives are at stake, climbers have maps, high-tech weather predictions and experienced guides to help them on their journey. In business, however, the data that leads to success is far less clear.

His presentation takes from 8:30 to 10 a.m., followed by the third day on the exhibit floor. In all, there are more than 30 educational sessions planned during Marketplace & Academy.

To see the full ASTRA Marketplace & Academy schedule, visit

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