The 2017 edition of New York International Toy Fair, which runs from February 18–21, had a good start, especially on Sunday when many of the publishers with booths at the show reported brisk traffic, new customers, and respectable amounts of orders written.
Unlike at book shows, where well-known authors and quality storytelling and illustrations sell, the independent toy stores and chains that make up the bulk of Toy Fair shoppers often have specific themes in mind. “This is the most organized group of buyers,” says Colleen Murphy, executive director, mass market/specialty retail channels, trade publishing, at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. “They’re smart merchandisers and they know what they need. They’ll ask about ballet books if they just bought a tutu in another aisle.”
“They’re not as interested in who the author is or whether it’s a great book, although they appreciate quality,” said Elizabeth Otte, national accounts manager, gift sales, at first-time Toy Fair exhibitor Sourcebooks. “They’re definitely buying by theme, for tables or endcaps.” She noted a trend for baby shower gift displays, with store owners purchasing rattles, blankets, and other gift items, then looking to supplement those with books.
“Toy store owners really know what their customers want,” said Rachel Geerlings, senior marketing manager at Printers Row Publishing Group, who added that some retailers operate in a very small thematic niche. She cited one attendee with an entirely dinosaur-focused shop who was interested in dinosaur-related nonfiction book-plus products sold under Printers Row’s Silver Dolphin imprint. Printers Row was highlighting its Silver Dolphin and Thunder Bay Press imprints at the show, as well as its newly acquired Studio Fun list.
Murphy noted that buyers at Toy Fair are not necessarily looking specifically for books, but will notice topics or formats that fill their needs as they pass by. She believes HMH’s booth location, far away from Toy Fair’s book aisles (where most publishers are grouped), helps spur those sorts of impulse sales. “We’re most successful when we can be an add-on to the toys,” she explained.
On the other hand, Heidi Weiland, Sourcebooks’ director of trade sales, reported that toy store owners were coming into the book area with the stated goal of finding more books to carry in their shops. “Many of them mentioned how well books are selling for them,” she said.
One topic with a spike in interest this year: books with themes of diversity and acceptance, including portrayals of multicultural characters, families with same-sex parents, autistic children, and kids in wheelchairs. Titles that fit this trend ranged from Studio Fun’s Celebrate You! Celebrate Me!, a Sesame Street title, to InnovativeKids’ All Families Are Different. Child’s Play, which created a flyer highlighting its diversity- and inclusion-themed titles, attracted some first-time customers who were drawn in by a prominently displayed title with multicultural characters on the cover, according to sales manager Julie Gaudette.
Publishers also noted attendee enthusiasm for books about kindness. Klutz, for example, reported a warm response from buyers for its fall 2017 Planner and Gratitude Journal, which includes stickers and 130 sticky notes. “It’s speaking to what’s happening now with gratitude and kindness, both how to find them in yourself and how to share them,” said Stacy Lellos, senior v-p and general manager.
The high attendance levels and positive outlook that characterized this year’s Toy Fair reflected a robust year for the toy industry in 2016, with U.S. retail sales increasing 5% to $20.4 billion, according to the NPD Group. It was the second straight year of strong growth for toys, following a 7% increase in retail sales in 2015.