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Manufacturers have high expectations for the first Fall Mass Market Toy Expo and provide glimpses of holiday 2004 product offerings.

The mood at this month's International Toy Center is cautiously optimistic as manufacturers and retailers gather for the Fall Mass Market Toy Expo in New York City, October 21 to 23.

The first-ever October show was created by the Toy Industry Association "to service the extended business planning cycle of mass merchants who buy in volume." All manufacturers who participate in the by-appointment-only show currently must sell to mass-market accounts. Further, products must be for fourth quarter 2004 only.

Expectations are high as manufacturers welcome the opportunity to gain early key retailer commitment to and feedback on new products and programs. It also enables companies to be more prepared for the Hong Kong toy show in January and the New York show in February.

"We always began reviewing our lines with our buyer in October, and now at January Toy Fair in Hong Kong we will have had a chance to further improve on items for the buyers to make final decisions," says Lisa Lent, director of licensing at Tara Toy.

Pushing up product development deadlines is one of the challenges faced by manufacturers as product concepts are a no-no at this expo. "We've already shifted our development to adapt to the cycle," says Harold Chizick, director of marketing communications at Spin Master Toys. "What's vital is that both manufacturers and retailers buy into it."

Jennifer Richmond, senior vice president of licensing and media at Jakks Pacific agrees. "We're excited that the mass-market retailers will be there, so we can get earlier feedback albeit with less sophisticated models."

The issue of knockoffs is another concern, so all showrooms will be closed to the media and controls will be maintained on marketing materials and key new products.

While many companies were tight-lipped about new licenses and new products, some gave a glimpse into what would be offered for holiday 2004. Basic Fun, Inc., added new licenses and new categories such as flashlight key chains and Squirtz key chains for Fairly OddParents, My Little Pony, The Wiggles, The Lion King, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Transformers, and Power Rangers.

For Tara Toy, the October show is a perfect venue to showcase licenses such as Barbie, My Scene, Polly Pocket, and Hot Wheels on an array of activity kits, stampers, cases, stationery, and party favors.

In the midst of restructuring, HIT Entertainment views the new timing as an opportunity to streamline its efforts to improve long-term planning, confides Debbie Reis, vice president of sales, HIT. To that end, accounts will be able to see HIT's spring and fall 2004 lineup for Rubbadubbers and The Wiggles, plus new Barney plush.

Gund will present its most extensive Heads & Tales line to reflect its major commitment to the mass market, a relatively new channel for the company, according to Doug Branch, vice president, national accounts and special market sales, for Gund.

Equity Marketing has an extensive line planned for the spring 2004 Scooby-Doo movie. The company also will show Samurai Jack for the first time, expand its Crayola bath line, and open up Kim Possible to all accounts as Wal-Mart's exclusive expires by year-end.

Play Along's original Coleco-style Cabbage Patch doll is due fall 2004. The company will formally launch its new Teletubbies product line with plush, figures, and playsets.

Bandai will focus on its line of brands for girls such as the new Strawberry Shortcake dolls, playsets, and accessories, and its "Arts & Style" activity line of B*Stylin' products.

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