I’m spending the week in New Orleans at the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA) Marketplace and Academy, and in between enjoying the really great food, terrific jazz spilling out of every doorway, and the myriad of historical side streets to explore in the Queen City, I’m buying toys and games for the rest of the year for my store. I thought I’d offer you a beignet and a sip of my chicory coffee this week, while I share a few of the themes and highlights from the Land of Play. Here are some of the trends we’re talking about on the trade show floor.
The Game’s the Thing
Board games are back in a big way for all ages, and strategy games are having a moment out of the basement. “Gateway” strategy games like SETTLERS OF CATAAN and TICKET TO RIDE are creating a generation of gamers who want more than a controller and a screen, and are interested in both additional versions of these titles and other, more involved board game experiences. Older classics like CLUE and RISK are being refreshed with licenses from Harry Potter and Game of Thrones, combining the familiarity of parents favorites with the trivia knowledge from their kids — a magical combination. Games that offer multiple ways to play, providing options for parent/child, grandparent/child, or friendly family competition are particularly popular this year. Continued crossover of themes from books, film and online characters have supported companies while they develop and publish new titles, and massive gaming conventions like Gen Con create relationships between the game developers and fans, leading to retail demand that stores must scurry to fulfill. As a bookseller, this resurgence of the game category is encouraging to me in several ways: it speaks to a longer attention span by the consumer, more family interaction and less electronic isolation, and the opportunity to host events and foster customer relationships through recommendations. All of these sound like positive indicators for bookselling to me — and I’ll roll the dice and expand my game section again this year.
Dedication to Design
There is a resurgence of focus on high design in toys created for all age groups. Some of this attention to aesthetics may be driven by the increasing numbers of children cared for (part time or full time) by grandparents, who can be consumers with more discretionary dollars to spend and an increased awareness and commitment to their personal taste and style. But from babies through teens, we saw toys that were remarkable in color, shape, use of material and clever construction. More sophisticated use of color, greater gender neutrality in baby and preschool toys, more use of natural materials and recycled materials all echoed this emphasis on smarter, sleeker, more timeless toy design. We’ll see more open shelving and less toy boxes in the next few years, as toys are beautiful again.
It’s Still Sticky
The age of slime slips slowly on, but there is no shortage of ooze, putty and goo on the market this year, and kits abound for kids to make their own potions and potential carpet disasters. Special effects, scents, and transforming compounds seem to be the current market leaders, while what’s remarkable about this category is not just its sticking power, but its appeal to both genders and broad age ranges.
The tactile trend in toys is strong, and many companies have added smaller lines of putty and modeling compound, even including it in games and other play experiences.
Sloths vs. Unicorns
Our furry friends from the south continue their slow creep to the top of every toy category from plush to games to baby teethers, with little regard for their more highly advertised unicorn competitors. Other top themes were much the same as my previous report, Postcard from Toy Fair, with mermaids, fairies, llamas, flamingoes, dogs and cats, and poop, which we can’t seem to flush out of the toy aisles this year. Sequins and glitter abound, as do items covered in fur, reflective material and other “please touch” surfaces.
The Magnetic Attraction
The magnetic toy category remains strong at multiple ages and levels of play, incorporating smarter and safer design and more open-ended building options. Price points in this category are among the most wide-ranging, so savvy retailers need to combine “specialty only” distribution policies and a sharp eye on online price competitors. Improvements in product safety (such as fully encased magnets, larger play pieces for small hands, and the use of more durable materials) make these types of building toys more accessible to both younger audiences and also give retailers options for differently-abled children to use and enjoy.
We ♥ Art, Yes We Do
While the arts and crafts category has declined in overall sales in the last five years, it remains strong in the specialty market, and new products in this area were strongly represented at the ASTRA Marketplace. Those craft kits that tied in other popular themes and trendy animals (llamas are cool again, joining the hip fraternity of mermaids, unicorns, sloths and narwhals) were featured front and center.
Whether toys are a small sideline category in your store, a full section to complement children’s books, or a seasonal addition to entice vacationers, there is huge opportunity for independent retailers in play this year. The closing of Toys R Us, a mainstay of holiday shopping in many communities, will leave parents and grandparents seeking new places to buy for their children. Our local bookstores, with our carefully chosen selections, open-to-browse atmosphere, and family-friendly spaces and staff, may be just the right retailers to help.