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Reports on shows, trends, and more

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CHA Winter Show Report

The product trends and good design

by Cindy Groom-Harry, Craft Marketing Connections (February 25, 2008)

The sense on the show floor was upbeat, though some commented on there being less traffic. We're hearing that manufacturers are hesitant to develop new products now, due to the general economy, yet in talking with independent craft store owners, their business is relatively consistent.

From our company's perspective, we know that it might be tempting for manufacturers to hide under a rock until this recession is over. But we think that it's more important than ever to continue the business and creative process.

There's a story my Dad used to tell that best illustrates the point. Because of the sugar rationing during WWII, the Coca Cola company wasn't able to produce any product nothing for several years! Yet they continued to do national advertising every month during that entire time period. No income. Significant expense. They were gambling that when the American GI's returned home, they'd remember Coca Cola and they did. Post war sales soared!

Here are some of the observations made by our design team, noting that there are companies who are not letting concern for the economy paralyze them.

1. Die cutting machines of all types are hot. Company booths were hopping. Interesting, considering the relatively higher retail prices on this equipment.

2. Similarly, there were a lot of die cut shapes, chipboard, felt, embellishments, etc.

3. Board books are hot with the entire book being chipboard in all shapes and sizes.

4. Stamping continues to be strong. While it seemed to dip in popularity a few years ago, the clear, acrylic stamps seem to have brought it back. (Retailers say they love that the clear stamps take up so much less shelf space!)

5. Techniques: magazines all want to focus on new and unusual techniques for the readers, and the smart companies are responding with lots of mixed media. (Logical, since the basic scrapbookers, cardmakers, and crafters are ready to grow beyond their basic crafts.)

6. "Green" is showing up in a lot of places. Not all manufacturers know what to do with that trend, but others are jumping on it with enthusiasm.

7. Education continues to be important. The attendees were upbeat about the make-it/take-its and workshops.

8. Design. Good Design. Walking the show, seeing the booths with products on display without any projects, speaks to the disconnect that continues to exist for many manufacturers. Many still don't understand that it's the project the design of that project that sells the product. Consumers do not know what to do without seeing projects that they want to make or that spark their creativity to develop their own ideas. But they still need to see the projects in order to come up with ideas.

Thanks to CHA's focus on the importance of design through the development of the License and Design Section, the Designer Showcase, The Fashion Display and The Fashion Show, we are seeing more companies making the connection between their products and the need for good design.

The designers have been emailing their appreciation for CHA for all the contacts they made at this show. Now if the deals can be negotiated and the real value of designers appreciated through commensurate fees, manufacturers will see an upsurge in consumer interest which WILL result in sales.

(Note: Cindy is head of Craft Marketing Connections, a leading industry firm that works with companies on product development, marketing, public relations/editorial and yes, good design! To contact Cindy, write to Cindy Groom-Harry, Craft Marketing Connections, Inc., 2363 - 460th St., Ireton, IA 51027. Call 712-278-2340; fax: 712-278-2308; email cmc@acsnet.com; or visit www.craftmarketingconnections.com. To read more about designer compensation fees, read Designing Perspectives.)

International Toy Fair 2008 Review

by Mary Ann Blackburn

The 105th International Toy Fair, held Feb. 17-20, 2008 at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City, boasted record attendance with more than 30% more buyers and triple the media reported on the show's opening day. An estimated total of 35,000 members of the toy industry and media were expected to attend this year's show, indicating a strong confidence in the toy industry, as per show officials. The Toy Fair Times (daily newspaper distributed free at show and also online) proudly noted that all the major retailers were attending the show, plus companies such as Hewlett Packard, QVC, Foot Locker, Harrods, Amazon, Radio Shack, and Bed, Bath & Beyond.

Here are some general observations of the show, which was described as being "exuberant" and had a more optimistic feel on the show floor than last year. This could be due to what was noted as "more attendees, more qualified buyers, and more business being done," any of which would make for a good show. Here's what I saw:

1. Larger toy manufacturers (i.e., Mattel, Lego, Gund, Leap Frog) had enclosed booths with little product visible to the average show walker. Entrance to these booths required registration at a reception desk and only qualified buyers were admitted. These same manufacturers also hosted buyers at their NYC showrooms. Interesting note: Mega-manufacturer Hasbro chose only to exhibit at their showroom and not on the trade show floor.

2. My overall impression after walking both floors of the show was that there was a breadth of product for "creative learning" everywhere. Many toys, games, activity sets proclaimed the learning element for children, not just the play factor. Phrases such as "Think, Play, Explore," "Learning for the Fun of It," "Edu-tainment," and "Imagine, Build, Learn, Play, Discover" bombarded attendees on the show floor.

3. I was also impressed by the amount of enthusiasm and entrepreneurial spirit that abounded at the Toy Fair. Since I could not see the new products of the big players, the booths of the small and medium sized manufacturers were the main focus of my review. Many booths were manned by the owners/inventors of the game/toy/activity, and they would proudly proclaim their product features to anyone who walked by their booth. Demonstrations were going on all over, and there were so many very good new ideas available to retailers that the choice had to be difficult.

4. The effect of the recent recalls of Chinese-made toys was clearly visible at this year's Toy Fair. Booth signs were front and center announcing "Made in USA" and "Products Safety Tested for Lead." Companies displayed signs stating "ITCI Care Process." (ITCI is the International Council of Toy Industries and its members are committed to promoting toy safety standards and addressing social responsibility, environmental concerns, fair and lawful employment, and workplace safety in the toy manufacturing process.) Numerous safety-testing companies exhibited at the show. Toy Fair hosted a performance (three times per day) entitled "The Story of Toy Safety," discussing the history of toy safety in the past and where it is headed in the future. Plus, there was a well attended seminar hosted by a rep of the Consumer Product Safety Commission on the topic of "What is Being Done to Improve Toy Safety?"

5. There was definitely a "green" presence at this show, with booths publicizing that they manufacture using organic materials, recyclable packaging and sales materials, eco-friendly components, and manufacturing processes. There were also many companies whose product lines were composed of activities to promote ecologically friendly activities. There were even 100% bio-degradable building blocks!

6. Technology continues to have its influence on the toy industry, with further expansion of the interactive connection of physical toys with online sites related to those toys. As quoted from the Toy Fair Times, "Many manufacturers are investing in and developing brands that have both reality-based play and the new online, web-based components." The term "cyber-playground" was growing in usage at the show. There is also the connection of hand-held games to physical activity, attempting to engage kids in more exercise while fulfilling their desire for electronic games.

Show Sections.

The show floor, although dominated by the General Toy category, was segmented into other specialty areas, allowing buyers to focus on certain areas of interest. The largest of these subdivisions were the Game Zone (board games, puzzles, card games, brainteasers, etc.); Hobby Tech (model trains, remote controlled vehicles, models to build); Electronic Play (hand held games, DVD's, video games, etc.); Reading, Writing & Rhythm (books and music); and Specialty Source (high-end, premium quality learning toys specifically for independent toy stores). The Arts & Crafts area consisted of 23 exhibitors with these familiar faces from the craft industry and recent CHA Show:

Creative Fun Ltd. (craft kits);

DMC (Stitchopoly board game, floss party packs);

Ideaon (product development firm);

Pepperell Braiding (bead kits, general craft supplies);

Rainbowbrush (kids' activity kits);

Royal Brush (paint-by-number supplies, various painting/drawing products);

Sandastik Products (sand kits, molding kits, science kits).

Other CHA members who chose to exhibit in Toy Fair's larger General Toy area were:

Activa Products (molding, sculpting, casting supplies);

Amos Marketing (craft decorating kits);

Center Enterprises (rubber stamping, arts & crafts kits);

Colorbok (arts & crafts kits; make-it/bake-it line, jewelry kits);

Crayola (children's art materials);

Darice (Foamie products, Sparkle Art, kids' crafts);

Dimensions/Perler Beads (Dimensions kits and Perler Bead products; also advertised in Toy Fair Times stating in ad, "Proudly made in the USA of non-toxic materials"; plus feature article in Toy Fair Times);

Dover Publications (design-your-own-kits, craft & activity books);

Elmer's Products (science kits, arts & crafts kits, very large booth);

Faber Castell/Creativity for Kids (creative craft kits under Creativity for Kids brand; plus feature article in Toy Fair Times);

Janlynn (licensed painting kits for pillowcases and other activities, floss packs);

Magnetic Poetry (magnetic words & craft kits; plus feature article in Toy Fair Times);

Mak-it Products (licensed Make-a-Plate kits featuring Disney, Marvel, Barney and more);

Masterpieces Puzzle Co. (puzzles/games, including license for Bella Sara and Leap Frog);

Milestones Products (DIY stone & handprint craft kits);

Mrs. Grossman's Paper Co. (stickers, kids' activity kits, paper/party supplies);

Roylco Inc. (arts & craft kits that reinforce language, math, science skills; plus feature article in Toy Fair Times);

Sandylion Stickers (stickers, scrapbooking, & stationery supplies, wall/window dcor; plus feature article in Toy Fair Times);

Scratch Art (Scratch Magic activity kits, stickers, stationery & school supplies; plus feature article in Toy Fair Times);

Shure Products Inc. (wooden puzzles/toys, magnetic play sets);

Skullduggery (cast & paint kits; plus feature article in Toy Fair Times);

Trends International (color activity kits).

In Toy Fair's Reading, Writing & Rhythm section was:

Walter Foster Publications (Learn-to-Draw kits with licensed Disney, Nickelodeon, Nascar and Dreamworks themes).

In Toy Fair's Electronic Play section was:

Madcap Logic (Creativity Express software for kids).

What were some of my favorites at the show? Definitely the mechanized Marshmallow Blaster from Marshmallow Fun Company. For anyone who has had a Cub Scout, you know about these and have gotten whacked with a few marshmallows in your time. The employees at this booth were having a lot of fun!

Another favorite booth was Idbids, an eco-friendly company whose storybooks with corresponding stuffed character toys help to teach children "the part they can play in keeping the Earth happy, healthy and green - one iddy biddy step at a time". Their staff was so passionate about their mission and so thrilled to be exhibiting at Toy Fair for the first time that it was great to visit with them.

Another interesting product was Bookchase, from U.K. based Art Meets Matter Co., which is a board game designed around best selling kids' books. This company's rep was an avid reader and seemed focused on passing on his zeal for reading to kids through the fun of a board game. He even gave me several good titles for my pre-teen son to read.

Marie Osmond got in on the toy market, just like she did in Crafts. There were dolls dressed up like her from her recent performance on Dancing with the Stars!

All in all, a very full day of walking and talking at the International Toy Fair, and getting inspired with so many exciting, educational and fun products hitting the market. For more details on the show and to read all five issues of the Toy Fair Times, please visit www.toyassociation.org.

(Note: Mary Ann is an industry veteran with more than 25 years in sales, marketing, and product development
in the craft industry. To read previous Scene & Heard columns, click on the titles in the right-hand column.)



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