Inside the 2019 American International Toy Fair
On any given day, there are no fewer than one million places to go, things to do, or events to attend in New York City. There was one event, which happened between February 16 and 19 this year, that Bear Buggy® had the pleasure of attending: the annual American International Toy Fair.
It would be an understatement—perhaps even deceitful—to call the Toy Fair anything less than a spectacle. It’s the largest toy go-to-market event in the Western Hemisphere, and it showed! Over 150,000 toys and games shown by 1,000 exhibitors, seen by 10,000 buyers hailing from over a hundred countries, and covered by over a thousand journalists from around the world.
It looked and felt as big as it sounds. After all, Jacob Javits Convention Center in Midtown Manhattan, complete with glass ceilings a hundred feet high, is home to many cons: New York Comic Con, RuPaul’s DragCon, Beauty Con, among others.
As we entered the convention center, our first impression was one of awe verging on overwhelming. To combat this, we decided it would make most sense to start in one corner of Javits and systematically work our way through the entire convention center—both floors! That way, we could be sure to see everything.
As we began walking, it became apparent how varied today’s children’s entertainment industry is. We saw literally any and every type of toy and game. From classic toys like yo-yos, action figures, and board games (Hasbro's Candy Land and Monopoly, anyone?) to controversial toys like weapons to educational games and an array of plush—our favorite type of toy, of course!—we saw it all.
Because the Toy Fair is a trade show in its most classic sense, many of those in attendance were there to see something new, something to inspire a twinkle in a lucky child’s eye. Others went to see what was trending. We were fortunate enough to attend as guests of one of our vendors, so we were not at all burdened with the very adult duty of selling. Rather, we got to spend those few days almost as kids, experiencing things as children do, taking in the tactility and pure sensory experience of decades past.
In our wanderings, we noticed over a dozen trends: from magnetic sand and slime variations to licensing characters and trademarks, to the classic tug–of–war between mom–and–pop shops and multibillion–dollar corporations (Ty, Mattel, and The Lego Group to name a few in attendance). Another trend we enjoyed wholly: the giveaway of sweets. On the first day we attended, as we turned the corner of our sixth or seventh aisle we ran into a peg wall. With doughnuts. The peg wall had dozens of actual edible strawberry sprinkle doughnuts hanging from it, which we could never have passed up.
It took around four hours to just see everything one time. Towards the end of the day, we met with our vendor who so graciously let us use their guest passes. A mainstay of our discussion was the landscape of the plush toy industry in particular. Sloths—indigenous to the tropical rainforests of Central and South America—are really big right now. Owls are growing in popularity. Sequins are enjoying a moment, but “only good for two more years,” our colleagues declared. In this meeting, we got to try firsthand some new plush textiles—alternatives to the traditional velboa fur and cotton stuffing. Oddly enough, one of the samples we got to play with—and take home!—felt more like a stress ball (albeit a super soft stress ball) and less like the plush Orca that it was.
Our meeting over, we continued journeying into the recesses of Javits. Our feet began to give away just how large the trade show was, not only in the industry, but spatially. In total, we walked over 8 miles our first day.
The second day was a continuation of our first, with only one key difference: we each wore more comfortable shoes.