Primed for Play: Toy Fair 2019

Primed for Play: Toy Fair 2019

Primed for Play: Toy Fair 2019 1440 428 Chute Gerdeman

Last week welcomed the 116th action-packed North American International Toy Fair where 26,000 professionals from 98 countries descended upon New York in the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. An energized group of retailers, wholesalers, entertainment executives, importers, and buyers attended to explore the 1,038 exhibiting companies, and entertain more than 30 educational sessions, presentations, and workshops. Not just a time to browse the latest and greatest in toys, but also an opportunity to learn what’s going on in the toy industry.

Toy Fair Entrance

It goes without saying the $98 billion global toy industry is a crowded and highly competitive market and projected to be even more with forecasts for revenues to reach more than $120 billion by 2023. In a lot of ways, the Toy Fair represents the toy industry as a whole—all of the toy brands competing for attention in a crowded space, each having to constantly innovate and elevate their presence to get noticed. With a handful of major players like LEGO, Hasbro, Mattel, MGA Entertainment, and Funko, a number of smaller players like Melissa & Doug and Wicked Cool Toys are fighting to be the next break-out toy company.

The expo presented a clear sense of opposing energy of hustle and fatigue. Aside from brands working to get their products out there, staying relevant is a major challenge for toy makers. Last year’s hottest toy has no guarantee of being this year’s hottest buy, and with that has resulted a cycle of aggressive product innovation. Some brands are even counting on it for survival.

FAO Schwarz

While industry leaders can often change on a dime, they’re not immune to this necessity to stay ahead of the pace. Between last year and next year, there are a number of noteworthy anniversaries: Hot Wheels’ 50th, Barbie’s 60th, Mattel’s 75th, and Little Tikes celebrating 50 years. It showcases the longevity of this vibrant industry juxtaposed with the newness that has changed the landscape. All is fair in a game of play.

Many companies are still struggling with a strategy to offset the lost distribution channel of Toys R Us after its collapse. The biggest distribution channel, aside from ecommerce, seemed to be specialty retail stores, along with growing interest in the grocery category. It’s also worth noting that there were a number of online-only companies that were prominent and comfortable in their direct-to-consumer position (for now).

Folkmanis Puppets
Great Pretenders

While a strong emphasis and urgency surrounded retail distribution, there seemed to be a lack conversation about what the physical brand presence would be once there. For many brands, it’s up to the retailer, but we’re at a pivotal point and maybe a place of opportunity for brands to take lead and coming in with display solutions and innovations. It could be just what gets them in the door.

This year’s expo delivered some of the most innovative and creative products to potentially hit store shelves in years. Forecasting what we can except for the year ahead, the Toy Association highlighted six product trends to watch, and we’re curious what those opportunities could mean for the retail experience.

Unboxing 2.0

Unboxing continues to be a craze where opening the toy is as exciting as the product itself. Kids are thrilled by the surprise and delight of what they find whether it’s a collectible or limited edition. What does this mean for retail? A little bit of secrecy might pique interest. We’re so used to what you see on the shelf is what you get, but what if it wasn’t that obvious. Create a moment in-store to let kids uncover the fun. Maybe it’s a mystery bin or boxes where clues help hint what’s inside.

Compound Craziness

This trend is all about creative reusable compounds like slime, kinetic sand, dough, putty, and more. What does this mean for retail? Kids are craving the chance to get their hands dirty. While it may not be happening outdoors, it’s contained messy play, something parents can all get behind. Provide a place within the retail space where kids can literally dig in for a little ooey-gooey fun.

Orb Slime Cafe

Food Fun

From farm-to-toy, food items have migrated into popular playthings in the toy aisle. Driven by Millennial parents focused on healthy eating and booming eclectic food culture, kids today are enjoying food as entertainment and exploration. What does this mean for retail? The convergence of food and retail has been successful for years, but rarely when you think of toy retail outside of a few notable flagship names. Creating a place of either culinary education or partnering to offer a creative food menu could have little appetites asking for more.

Food Fun
Fao Schwarz

Inspirational Play 

There’s a growing trend for toys, games, and activities that prepare kids for their future and inspire them to freely explore their natural curiosities. Parents are supporting opportunities that provide real-life skills and competencies in a fun setting. What does this mean for retail? It’s time for a shift from just selling products to being advocate for educating our little consumers and empowering them with the necessary tools. Whether that means instructional classes or crafting a curriculum around learning resources, the retail space can serve as a place for kids to reach their dreams outside of the classroom.

Learning Resources

Explosive Entertainment 

It’s a busy year on the big screen. Combine that with the fact that licensed toys represent 30% of US toy sales. From plush toys to play sets and technology, you could say characters are definitely still cool. What does this mean for retail? Kids want to continue the live action fun off-screen. Make an in-store product premier exciting with beacons of explosive entertainment. Let them explore the licensed characters’ lifestyles in real life.

Throwback Toys

Everything old is new again and igniting a wave of Millennial parents who want their kids to enjoy aspects of their own youth through the element of play. What does this mean for retail? There’s an inherent need for brands and retailers to focus on what’s next but sometimes looking back is a great place to start. What won the hearts of today’s parental generation still holds merit. From interactive games to low-tech activities, craft a place where those nostalgic moments are revived and create a place of unified play.

Want to learn more about our perspectives on play? Read our latest report to learn how retail can evolve to keep pace with the changing interests of kids and their parents.


A collection of insights research and observations across retail, restaurant, c-store and grocery. Helping brands provide a better experience for their customers. Enjoy.

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