April/May 2020

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Volume 36, No. 2 — Published by Adventure Media and Events LLC

Group Publisher Jackie Breyer jackie@toybook.com


Editor’s Viewpoint

6 Toy Association Update 7

ASTRA’s Insights


Stat Shot


Sweet Suite @ Home

10 Industry Update 40 Talkin’ Toys: Nikko Toys 52 What’s New

53 Toy Association Perspectives 54 WIT Stories 56 Talkin’ Social Media 58 Industry Marketplace

Editor-in-Chief Maddie Michalik maddie@toybook.com Copy Chief Sierra McCleary-Harris sierra@toybook.com Senior Editors Jackie Cucco jc@toybook.com Marissa DiBartolo marissa@toybook.com Ali Mierzejewski ali@toybook.com

features 12 Facing the Unknown Toy companies aren’t playing when it comes to COVID-19.

24 Plush Showcase The Hottest Plush Hitting Store Shelves This Year

16 Go, Cory, Go! Preschool hits the road in VTech’s new, toy-inspired Netflix series.

32 R/C Goes Big Following years of sales declines, the R/C category is relying on innovation.

18 I Would Like to See the Baby The Child is the breakout star of the year.

36 R/C Showcase What’s New in R/C and Vehicles

20 Reduce, Reuse, Snuggle Plush toys get sustainable with biodegradable packaging and filling.

42 Here Come the Waterworks The water-reveal trend evolves to keep collectibles afloat.

46 Collectibles Showcase

James Zahn james@toybook.com Associate Editor Madeleine Buckley mbuckley@toybook.com Assistant Editor Miranda Siwak miranda@toybook.com Editorial Assistants Josephine Baran josephine@toybook.com Ben Goren ben@toybook.com Art Director Joe Ibraham joe@toybook.com Production Director Bill Reese bill@toybook.com

The Top Collectibles of 2020

Director of Sales & Marketing James Devin jd@toybook.com Sales Executive Branden Mendez branden@toybook.com

Oh My GIF! from Moose Toys

Controller/Office Manager Lori Rubin lrubin@adventurepub.com U.S. Corporate Headquarters President Laurie Schacht laurie@toybook.com

On the cover: Turbo Boost RC Sonic the Hedgehog and Turbo Boost RC Shadow the Hedgehog from NKOK

Adventure Media and Events LLC 307 7th Avenue, #501 New York, NY 10001 Phone: (212) 575-4510

The Toy Book Volume 36, No. 2 THE TOY BOOK (ISSN-0885-3991) is published bi-monthly by Adventure Media and Events LLC. Editorial and advertising offices are located at 307 Seventh Ave., Room 501, New York, NY 10001, Phone (212) 575-4510. Periodicals Postage paid at New York and additional mailing offices. Copyright © 2020 Adventure Media and Events LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form, or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. Printed in USA. Subscription rates: $48 one year, foreign $200. The Toy Book is a trademark of Adventure Media and Events LLC. Registered in the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. Postmaster: Send address changes to: Toy Book, c/o Adventure Media and Events LLC., 307 Seventh Ave., Room 501, New York, NY 10001 or e-mail bill@toybook.com. Opinions and comments expressed in this publication by editors, contributing writers, or solicited or unsolicited documents are not necessarily those of the management of The Toy Book.

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WE WILL GET THROUGH THIS TOGETHER by MADDIE MICHALIK, editor-in-chief THE WORLD LOOKS A LOT DIFFERENT from when we were all together at Toy Fair New York a few months ago. This is our first magazine since our Toy Fair issue, and it’s hard to believe that at the time, we reported that there were no COVID-19 cases in New York. And now, as I’m writing this column, there are 336,017 confirmed cases in New York and 1.3 million total cases in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Needless to say, it feels like the world changed overnight, not just in the way we do business, but also with the safety measures everyone across the U.S. is taking to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Family homes have turned into home offices and classrooms, we are planning our Q4 activities over Zoom meetings instead of in conference rooms, and face masks are the new must-have accessory. But also, industry events are getting canceled and some are going virtual (check out Sweet Suite @ Home on page 9); product launches are on hold; some of our favorite local retail stores are closed; and the list goes on. These obstacles are what drive innovation. Specialty retailers are finding new ways to reach their shoppers, from curbside pick-ups and conducting tours around their stores via video chat to dropping packages off to their customers’ homes. Toy manufacturers are also coming up with new methods to interact with consumers, such as amping up their digital media presence. And despite this incredibly difficult time, it is absolutely worth giving a shout out to all of the companies who are donating their time and efforts to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Some have stepped up in major ways to do good. There are so many positive happenings to keep track of, and we are constantly updating toybook.com with a full list of all the ways toy companies are giving back. It’s moments like these that make me proud to be in this industry. Stay up to date on the latest news on our website and on social

“It’s a remote huggy bear to help us through social distancing.” media, and turn to page 12 to read Senior Editor James Zahn’s overview on how this pandemic is affecting this industry. At the end of the day, play isn’t canceled. Despite retail closures, layoffs, furloughs, and the beginnings of a recession, the U.S. toy industry had a sales increase in the first quarter, according to The NPD Group. Retail sales of toys rose by $256 million to $3.6 billion, a 7.6% increase over the same period last year; and global toy sales also grew 4%. This growth is fueled by the games and puzzles category as more families are staying safe at home and finding ways to spend more time together. In the U.S., games and puzzles and outdoor and sports toys drove 77% of the first-quarter growth, and building sets and arts and craft items contributed to 23% of sales growth. While these numbers are not likely to carry over into the second quarter, it does give us some hope about industry performance for the rest of the year. And there are a lot of great toys to look forward to. In this issue, we take a deep dive into what’s new in plush (page 24), R/C and vehicles (page 32), and collectibles (page 42), including commentary and product showcases for each category. If you want to know what water, sustainability, and innovating thinking have

in common, flip through the pages to see what’s trending in these categories this year and the hottest toys that will hit store shelves. These times are unprecedented, and nothing is certain as we head into the end of this year, but this industry’s dedication to helping kids grow, learn, and have fun is nothing short of inspiring. We all still have work to do to make sure this holiday season is full of incredible toys that kids will love. At the Toy Book, we are more dedicated than ever to making sure you have the information you need to make the best decisions for your business, so that you can keep doing what you do best: bringing smiles to kids’ faces. Whether you’re reading this magazine at home, back in the office, or digitally, I sincerely hope you enjoy this issue of the Toy Book. I welcome any feedback and thoughts on our issue, so send over an email or tweet at us @ToyBook. We’d love to hear from you! » Maddie Michalik is the editor-inchief of the Toy Book and senior editor of the Toy Insider and the Pop Insider. She reports on new products and toy industry trends and has been featured on broadcast TV segments in the U.S. and Canada. Contact her at maddie@toybook.com.

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Learn How The Toy Association Remains Dedicated to Toy Authenticity by KRISTIN MORENCY GOLDMAN, senior communications specialist, The Toy Association THE FIGHT AGAINST KNOCKOFF toys sold through e-commerce platforms continues to be a priority for The Toy Association and its more than 1,000 member companies. The Toy Association plans to ramp up advocacy and education efforts throughout the year, meeting with legislators, enforcement agencies, and online marketplaces in the months ahead to work to iradicate the issue, which is putting so many American families and kids in harm’s way and undercutting legitimate, law-abiding brands. “The Toy Association has been working tirelessly to raise the alarm on the urgent issue of counterfeit toys — from testifying before Congress to participating in a roundtable talk with top White House officials — but our work won’t be done until fakes are eradicated,” says Rebecca Mond, vice president of federal government affairs at The Toy Association. “E-commerce platforms should not be exempt from the responsibility that all retailers have to ensure the toys and games they are selling are legitimate and abide by 100-plus stringent federal toy safety standards and tests designed to keep children safe at play.”

“E-commerce platforms should not be exempt from the responsibility that all retailers have to ensure the toys and games they are selling are legitimate.” In early March, Toy Association staff testified at a hearing by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection

and Commerce in order to brief the subcommittee on industry concerns related to IP-infringing toys. Representatives from Amazon, eBay, Apple, Consumer Reports, Public Citizen, and Specialized Bicycles also testified at the hearing. The Toy Association has voiced its strong support for the bipartisan Shop Safe Act introduced in March, which aims to eliminate the online sale of counterfeit goods by incentivizing e-commerce platforms to adopt best practices to eliminate sellers of potentially harmful counterfeit products. If introduced, the bill would implement many of The Toy Association’s recommendations in its intellectual property committee white paper, “The Real Threat of Fake Toys.” Among the requirements, the bill mandates that marketplaces implement seller vetting, penalties for repeat offenders, and consumer transparency, therefore reducing opportunities for counterfeits to be sold online. E-commerce marketplaces would be liable for counterfeit products sold on their sites if they do not implement these protections. Prior to the bill’s introduction, The Toy Association joined 17 trade associations and organizations in submitting a letter to House Judiciary Committee offices. The Association plans to continue to advocate for support of the bill alongside other organizations. Earlier this year, the Department of Homeland Security released a new report, “Combatting Trafficking in Counterfeit and Pirated Goods,” concluding current government enforcement efforts and private sector actions have thus far been insufficient to stem the flow of counterfeit products sold to U.S. consumers. The Toy Association issued a statement applauding the report, which echoes many of the

Association’s recommendations submitted to the Department of Commerce last August. The Toy Association has received a request from the office of Peter Navarro, assistant to the president and director of trade and manufacturing policy, to provide a wish list, based on the report, of the toy industry’s top two to three priorities for the government to focus on going forward. “As we continue to advocate for the complete elimination of these harmful, knock-off products and educate lawmakers and agencies on the growing prevalence of these items, which have the potential to do great harm, we are making significant strides and expect to see positive developments in the year ahead,” Mond says. “We look forward to further collaborating with all stakeholders, as well as our members, to ensure that illicit, unsafe toys and games become a thing of the past.” For more information, contact Rebecca Mond, vice president of federal government affairs (rmond@toyassociation.org). » As The Toy Association’s senior communications specialist, Kristin Morency Goldman leads the development of content for the Association’s print and online communications. Her articles on toy trends, toy safety, and industry news can be found in trade and consumer publications around the world. She holds a master’s degree in media, culture, and communications from NYU.

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by KIMBERLY MOSLEY, president, American Specialty Toy Retailing Association MORE AND MORE MEMBERS OF THE American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA) are completing online or in-person education modules and achieving passing scores on the rigorous exams to earn a professional credential from ASTRA, which aims to educate toy industry professionals about the business and the importance of play. “Overall, I loved the ASTRA Certified Master Retailer training,” says Kristen Joy Laidig of Toy Box Gifts & Wonder in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. “I think every retailer should take it, and every employee should watch the videos that talk about dealing with customers, sales, and merchandising.” VALUE OF CERTIFICATION PROGRAMS A recent survey of professionals who have completed one of the three ASTRA certifications currently available — Certified Master Retailer (CMR), Certified Master Sales Representative (CMSR), and Certified Play Expert (CPE) — indicates

that participants are enthusiastic about the valuable curriculum. All participants in the CMR and CMSR programs rated the education as “good” or “very good,” and nearly three out of four individuals taking the CPE course shared similar ratings. Overall, those earning the CMR credential reported that one of the program’s strengths is its in-depth detail and specific examples to illustrate each module that translate so readily to everyday business. “The lesson on inventory management helped me a lot with balancing, as did the marketing and merchandising lessons,” says Stacey Clower of Giggle Monkey Toys in the greater Atlanta. In the survey, several members area with CMSR certifications noted that there are important takeaways for learners in every module. Aspects of the program that other CMSR recipients called out as especially valuable are customer relations, child psychology, and time management. More than half of learners earning the CPE credential highlighted the importance of what they learned about the impact of play on stages of human development. “The program gave me a lot of specific knowledge to share with my customers,” says Heather Mohorn of Momo’s Treehouse in Philadelphia. Participants also rated the real-life examples as key to building confidence in their personal expertise on play to ready them for customer interaction. THE 70/20/10 MODEL Professional development experts have a way to put learning in perspective, pointing out that a variety of workplace experiences contribute to learning. Many trainers suggest that optimal workforce education is a three-pronged approach called the 70/20/10 model: • 70% on the job, solving problems or facing new challenges. We all

recognize this as old-fashioned, day-in and day-out, seat-of-the-pants learning; • 20% engaging with others from whom we seek advice or with whom we share experiences. Think about the helpful conversations you have at ASTRA’s Marketplace & Academy, the new ideas you pick up through participation in ASTRA Connect, or the networking you do with other small business owners in your community; and • 10% from formal educational activities, such as courses, webinars, videos, credentialing, and self-directed reading. Even though this category represents the smallest percentage of our ongoing education, it’s what comes to mind for most of us when we think of professional development. ASTRA Business Development Director Ahren Hoffman notes that these three types of learning are interconnected, and each supports learning in the other two areas. GIVE YOURSELF CREDIT AND LEARN If this is the year to recharge your professional energy and jumpstart your creativity, give yourself credit for all of the ways you are already learning on the job and through your network. Then, check out ASTRA Academy for high-quality, formal education activities to top off what you are already doing. Commit to doing at least one education activity at your convenience at academy.astratoy.org. »

Kimberly Mosley, president of the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association, is an experienced, award-winning, results-oriented association executive with a long track record of success managing association operations, developing innovative programs, and growing revenue.

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The BIGGEST Night of Play comes to living rooms across North America. FOR MORE THAN A DECADE, THE Toy Insider’s Sweet Suite has brought together toy manufacturers, press, content creators, and influencers for the Biggest Night of Play. Last year’s event at Pier Sixty in New York City was the largest yet, and this year the team is ready to do it again! As the toy industry and the world around us continue to evolve amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Sweet Suite is evolving as well — and this year, it’s going virtual! On July 22, Sweet Suite @ Home will bring all the fun and excitement of Sweet Suite into the living rooms of press and influencers all over North America, making this year’s event even bigger and better than ever. Sweet Suite @ Home will feature a full virtual party environment, giving attendees the full Sweet Suite experience, including the ability to explore the show floor, walk up to sponsors’ booths, and

get live face-to-face toy demos via video chat. Attendees can connect with more than 75 toy companies and get inspired for holiday gift guides, future toy reviews, editorial coverage, and more. Each year, the Toy Insider ships huge boxes of swag directly to attendees’ doorsteps. This allows influencers and the press the opportunity to get hands-on experience with sponsors’ products for consideration in holiday gift guides, product reviews, and more. Plus, they spark a surge of social posts and unboxing videos! Sponsors will receive a wrap-up report with contact info for follow up with attendees, and — for the first time ever — post-event attendee analytics. Members of the press from all over North America will attend Sweet Suite @ Home to scope out ideas for holiday gift guides, back-to-school, and so much more! Past attendees include BuzzFeed, Mashable, Inside Edition, People Maga-

zine, Entertainment Weekly, iHeartMedia, and SiriusXM, as well as producers from the TODAY Show and AP News. The Pop Insider will also #fuelyourfandom at the third annual Pop Insider Lounge! The Pop Insider Lounge is the place to be for fans of all things pop culture. Sponsors in this space will showcase products that will be coveted by adult collectors and fans of popular SVOD shows, feature films, comic books, and video games. Press visiting this space include digital influencers with pop culture-focused blogs and YouTube channels, huge Instagram followings, and millennial-focused media. If you’re interested in securing space at Sweet Suite @ Home, contact Jackie Breyer at jackie@toyinsider.com or James Devin at jd@toyinsider.com. For the Pop Insider Lounge, contact Branden Mendez at branden@popinsider.com. » toybook.com | APRIL/MAY 2020 | THE TOY BOOK   9

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MGA Entertainment launched the L.O.L. Surprise! x Frontline Hero doll, the first entry into a Frontline Hero Collection. It comes with an exclusive face mask accessory and a heart-shaped MGA Entertainment Cares sticker. The company will pledge $1 from each doll sold to Operation: Pac-Man, the nonprofit effort that has already donated more than 350,000 pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) to hospitals and other facilities to aid in the fight against COVID-19. »


The American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA) has canceled its annual Marketplace & Academy, originally scheduled from June 7-10 in Orlando, Florida. Informa Market’s Licensing Expo — originally scheduled for May and then postponed to August — is also officially canceled for this year. While not a direct replacement for Licensing Expo, Global Licensing Group and Licensing International will host a five-day program in June called Licensing Week Virtual. ASTRA is also offering a two-month introductory membership intended to give toy industry professionals access to its nationwide network for sharing COVID-19-related business strategies. Stay up to date on these and other industry events at toybook.com. »


Despite retail closures, layoffs, furloughs, and the beginnings of a recession, the U.S. toy industry saw a sales increase in the first quarter, according to The NPD Group. Retail sales of toys rose by $256 million to $3.6 billion, a 7.6% increase over the same period last year. NPD says that global toy sales also experienced growth in the first quarter. Retail sales in toys tracked from

January-March across 13 global markets that NPD calls the G13 grew 4%. The highest growth was seen in Australia (11%), followed by Germany (8%), the U.S. (7.6%), Russia (6%), the UK (2%), and Mexico (1%). NPD says that all other countries experienced declines due to the sudden closure of retailers that were deemed non-essential. Both in the U.S. and globally, the games and puzzles category had the strongest growth. »


Earnings season for the toy industry kicked off with mixed results for Hasbro, Mattel, Spin Master, and Funko. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has led to massive sales spikes across categories including games, puzzles, and outdoor play with sharp declines emerging almost everywhere else. Hasbro scored the biggest win with 20% growth in the U.S., followed by Spin Master inching out .7% growth in North America. Mattel’s sales fell 14% in the U.S., citing a smaller games portfolio than the competition. Meanwhile, Funko took an 18% hit in total sales. Both Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner and Funko CEO Brian Mariotti caution the biggest challenges lie ahead in the second quarter when financials will reflect the greatest number of global store closures and business disruptions. Additionally, all of the companies mentioned have withdrawn their

financial guidance for the rest of the year citing the unpredictability of the retail climate, supply chain issues, and changes in release schedules for licensed products. »


New York-based Rubie’s Costume Co. Inc. and some of its affiliated companies have filed voluntary petitions under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code in the Eastern District of New York in Central Islip. The familyowned company hopes to facilitate financial restructuring under Chapter 11. Rubie’s is the world’s largest designer, manufacturer, and distributor of costume and related party accessories servicing more than 2,000 retail accounts. Rubie’s had cut 75% of its workforce as its California and New York-based facilities were deemed non-essential as of March 26. The company shifted its manufacturing facilities to assist in the production of hand sanitizer and PPE to aid in the fight against COVID-19. The company says that it “plans to use cash collateral and is engaged in the process to place a new financing facility, along with the continued support of the Beige family, that will provide for


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the continuation of its operations, including payments to vendors, employees, customers, and creditors.” »


New Jersey-based Alex Brands, which was gearing up to celebrate the 75th anniversary of its Slinky brand this year, reportedly let its third-party public relations team go immediately following Toy Fair New York. By mid-March, most staffers had been sent home, and by early April, its website went offline, with lawsuits filed on behalf of manufacturing and logistics partners. A public auction took place on May 12 for the assets and intellectual property of Alex Toys LLC and Poof-Slinky LLC. The auction was held via phone at the offices of Ellenoff Grossman & Schole LLP in New York City. »


Mattel is kicking off a series of new initiatives as part of its “Play it Forward” platform in an effort to leverage its brands to give back. Fisher-Price #ThankYouHeroes is the first of several brand efforts geared toward honoring the workers who keep communities running nationwide. #ThankYouHeroes launched with a collection of 16 action figures representing doctors, nurses, EMTs, and delivery drivers, each packaged in a collectible display box. For younger kids, the FisherPrice Little People Community Champions set features five characters: a grocery store worker, a delivery driver, a doctor, a nurse, and an EMT. From each sale, $15 will benefit #FirstRespondersFirst, an initiative created to support first responder healthcare workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. »

#ThankYouHeroes figures

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Facing THE UNKNOWN The toy industry isn’t playing when it comes to COVID-19. by JAMES ZAHN, senior editor ANOTHER YEAR, ANOTHER NEW AND unexpected challenge. For the third straight year, the toy industry entered Toy Fair New York (TFNY) facing uncertainty caused by very fluid external factors. Following retail bankruptcies, store closures, and the onagain, off-again threat of tariffs on toys, the novel coronavirus disease known as COVID-19 became the latest test to the resilience of an industry that’s rooted in the business of play. First identified in Wuhan, Hubei, China on Dec. 1, 2019, COVID-19 is caused by a virus identified as SARS-CoV-2. Its fast-spreading nature and need for containment brought quick fears of a disruption in manufacturing operations and the supply chain related to the global toy industry due to the volume of production conducted in Mainland China. What few, if any, were predicting — or even considering — during TFNY was that the U.S. and the rest of the world would wind up facing a global pandemic. THE RIPPLE EFFECT BEGINS Ahead of TFNY, The Toy Association and the China Toy & Juvenile Product Association made the call to cancel the China Pavilion in New York. Attendees from China, unrelated to the Pavilion,

were subject to the U.S. travel ban enacted to slow the spread of the virus. The first hint of business disruption emerged just as TFNY was getting underway as several companies reported issues receiving product samples and prototypes from China. Meanwhile, a number of seasonal manufacturers expressed concern that new products may not hit U.S. shores by summer. Others reported disruption lasting only a few weeks, but some weren’t quite sure.

“The coronavirus has resulted in disruptions and damage to our business both in supply and demand.” By the close of the annual trade show, the consensus was that some new toys intended to launch this fall would be bumped to the following spring. While some companies declined to go on record due to the ever-changing nature of the crisis, they stated that they would attempt to mitigate impact internally without passing the cost onto consumers. “We would have typically been fin-

ishing our production right after Chinese New Year, but with COVID-19 impacting the return of workers to the factories, we have seen a 60% decrease in production capacity since our factories reopened in late February,” said Dave Balkaran, president and head of sales at Salus Brands in early March. Initially, it was suspected that smaller companies might be able to navigate supply chain challenges quicker because they are more nimble by nature. The major players quickly began bracing for big hits in the months ahead. “[The] coronavirus has resulted in disruptions and damage to our business, caused by both the negative impact to our ability to design, develop, manufacture, and ship product (the supply side impact) and the negative impact on consumer purchasing behavior (the demand side impact),” Hasbro wrote in a statement filed with the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission. The company added that “prolonged adverse public health conditions” could “substantially harm the business” in the long term. In a widely circulated LinkedIn post, MGA Entertainment Founder Isaac Larian said that the factory closures were “the worst supply chain disruption” that he’s seen in his entire career; and rival Mattel

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took a similar stance: “The full magnitude of the impact of the coronavirus on our full-year results will be primarily determined by the duration of the outbreak,” stated CFO Joseph J. Euteneuer. DAYS OF UNCERTAINTY For companies worldwide, much of the future outlook laid out during TFNY was thrown out in favor of a “wait-andsee” approach based on guesstimation and anticipation influenced by unknown variables. With the virus spreading beyond Asia and across Europe and the U.S., the toy industry was presented with a wild card situation of unpredictability and circumstances that change by the day due to unknown variables. Spin Master and Funko were among the first companies to completely withdraw their financial guidance for the year — a move that would be echoed throughout the industry. “It is a fast-evolving situation, and it is quite hard to anticipate the impact on the business — even more to preempt solutions,” notes Marie Bureau, creative director of Le Toy Van, a UK-based company known for its sustainable wooden toys. Le Toy Van dodged immediate disruption, as its products are manufactured in Indonesia using materials sourced from a company-owned forest.

inventory in ahead of the proposed tariff increases that were scheduled to impact us this past December,” says Salus Brands’ Balkaran. “We worked out that the financial impact of the additional storage cost was dramatically less than the proposed increase in tariffs for the inventory that we had projected we needed for Q1 and Q2 2020. As such, we are in a strong inventory position to support our customers for the next few months.” The Salus assortment includes the Original Super Cool line of slime and putty, CocoNut Floats, KeiKi Ukuleles, PopOhVers, and Stack-a-Roos. The Simplay3 Co. produces a full range of plastic toys, including wagons, ride-ons, climbers, desks, play kitchens, playhouses, and more, at its factory in Streetsboro, Ohio. Brian McDonald, vice president of sales and marketing, says that by early March an increasing number of retailers had begun inquiring about sourcing product from Simplay3 to replace Chinese products that will not make it to the shelf. “Our production capacity is available to fill orders, and we are planning for another great growth year; but, we build to forecast,” McDonald says. With that in mind, Simplay3 needs about a month of lead time to respond with inventory. Bryan Mundell, founder and owner of Adventerra Games, says that COVID-19 has had “zero effect thus far” on the company’s business. Adventerra, which maintains a corporate mission to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and clean up the planet, prints its environmentally focused titles, such as Watergame and Recycle Rally, at a facility in Poland. Other European toymakers, such as Playmobil, Bruder, LEGO, and Le Toy Van also shipped product to the U.S. prior to the global spread of COVID-19.

NEVER FEAR, TOYS AND GAMES ARE HERE In the short-term, much of the discussion leaned toward a shortage of new toys at retail this year. Several companies stepped up to fill the gap, many of which produce toys outside of China or here in the U.S., or had inventory on hand and ready to ship. Oddly enough, last year’s threat of tariffs from the Trump administration inadvertently helped some toymakers prepare for a crisis that no one was Basic Fun!’s Tonka Metal Movers predicting. “We took a calculated risk late in Q4 2019 and decided to move up our spring/ summer production in order to bring

THE IMPACT HITS Florida-based Basic Fun!, which sources nearly 90% of its product from China, also brought in higher-than-usual shipments last fall due to the Trump tariff threat. Ahead of TFNY, Basic Fun! CEO Jay Foreman said that the company had a buffer of excess inventory to keep retail moving. The additional stock paired with big initiatives, including the relaunch of the Tonka brand, led Basic Fun! to one of its best first quarters on record, but the supply chain hiccup paired with future outlook led the company to be one of the first to make staffing cuts. “As any reasonable business should be doing, we have to right-size our overhead in anticipation of what could be a slowdown in either supply from China or consumer demand globally,” Foreman says. “Several public companies had already announced job cuts in Q4. We held off as long as we could, but have cut 10% of our staff. We will adjust by everyone working harder and more efficiently.” By mid-March, the spread of COVID-19 began increasing across the U.S. — an unprecedented event triggering an unprecedented response. After being declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, the disease was deemed a National Emergency in the U.S. Shelter-in-place or stay-at-home orders had been issued in most cities and states with restrictions on public gatherings put in place as social distancing guidelines took shape. Schools were closed and most companies — including those in the toy industry — began shifting to a remote workforce. HITTING THE PAUSE BUTTON The closing of all retail and services, except for those deemed “essential,” was feared to have effectively put the brakes on toy sales. Even Amazon temporarily stopped accepting shipments of non-essential goods to its warehouses as it focused on consumables and other categories for several weeks. toybook.com | APRIL/MAY 2020 | THE TOY BOOK  13

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Spin Master transformed headbands from its popular Hedbanz game into PPE by using polyethylene terephthalate (PET) inserts to create a face shield for healthcare workers.

With factories in Asia approaching 100% of their pre-virus production output, the concern shifted from supply issues to demand issues as families began adjusting to working and learning together at home. Following an initial report of shipping declines that included a forecast for a May spike, the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates’ Global Port Tracker estimates double-digit declines in retail shipments through at least August. “Even as factories in China have begun to get back to work, we are seeing far fewer imports coming into the U.S. than previously expected,” says NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold.“ Many stores are closed, and consumer demand has been impacted with millions of Americans out of work.” Like dominoes, plans for major events have fallen as cancellations and postponements continue marking the calendar. Major industry events, including Licensing Expo, the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA) Marketplace & Academy, E3, and Comic-Con International: San Diego (SDCC) were completely canceled. EVOLVING MANUFACTURING TO DO GOOD Heading into April, toy and game makers jumped into the ring to join the battle against the virus. Crazy Aaron’s, creators of Thinking

Putty, shifted its production line over to FDA-approved, emergency hand sanitizer while Hasbro, Mattel, MGA Entertainment, Playmobil, Spin Master, and more began creating and/or sourcing personal protective equipment (PPE) or other supplies for healthcare workers. Numerous companies launched free resources for families in addition to donating time, funds, products, or technology to people and organizations working to keep the world running. THE ROAD AHEAD In just a few months, the toy industry has been hit with layoffs, furloughs, and overall uncertainty that mirrors the plight of nearly every business right now. In looking for a silver lining, the industry emerged from TFNY with a great deal of positivity around an abundance of new products in the pipeline, particularly for the holiday season. Kids being out of school and families spending time together has created new opportunities for sales. Local toy stores, which have been hit hard by a loss of foot traffic, have adjusted by offering personal services, such as contactless curbside pickup and delivery. Online sales are increasing across the board, and many big box stores — which have benefited from remaining open to sell groceries and other essentials — have been a resource for families to stock up on toys during weekly grocery runs. According to The NPD Group, retail

sales for toys in the first quarter increased 7.6% driven by sales of games and puzzles, arts and crafts, and outdoor toys. On the same day that NPD numbers were released, Hasbro kicked off earnings season with surprising results. Despite taking a hit in global revenue, sales for the U.S. and Canada spiked 20% thanks to classic games such as Connect 4, Operation, and The Game of Life; strong sales from Play-Doh; and licensed product from properties including DreamWorks Trolls World Tour and Star Wars: The Mandalorian. While both Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner and Funko CEO Brian Mariotti caution that the real challenges of this year will be faced in the second quarter due to retail closures being more widespread, the toy industry will evolve to adapt and overcome these just as it’s done with challenges of the past. It just might take a little more time, patience, and a bit of optimism to make it through. »

James Zahn, best-known as The Rock Father, is a senior editor of the Toy Book, the Toy Insider, and the Pop Insider. Frequently called upon for expert commentary on the toy industry, he has been featured in The New York Times, Forbes, MarketWatch, and The Washington Post, and has appeared on Yahoo! Finance, NBC, ABC, FOX, CNN, GCTN, WGN, and more. Connect with him on LinkedIn or follow him @therockfather on other social networks.

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Preschool hits the road in VTech’s new, toy-inspired Netflix series. by MADELEINE BUCKLEY, associate editor CARS DON’T TYPICALLY WORRY about starting school, being a good big brother, or having their first “oil spill,” but they certainly do in the world of Go! Go! Cory Carson. This new preschool show is a collaboration between VTech, Kuku Studios, and Netflix that follows the adventures of an adorable young car named Cory as he navigates the struggles of childhood while living in Bumperton Hills. Go! Go! Cory Carson disrupts the traditional, clear-cut path of kid’s TV licensing and toy development because the show is based on an existing toy line: VTech’s Go! Go! Smart Wheels vehicles. According to Jennifer Eiselein, vice president of marketing and product development at VTech, the company realized that its interactive vehicle line had a dedicated, loyal fan base. “[Kids would] build these whole worlds, and they had their own imaginative stories that they would create about the world, and we re-

ally saw the opportunity to turn that into an IP (intellectual property),” she says. VTech CEO Allan Wong is a family friend of Kuku Studios Founder and CEO Alex Woo, which is how the two companies formed a partnership. Woo went to look at the Go! Go! Smart Wheels toy line and was excited about the open-ended creative possibilities. The line included a variety of vehicle types — including fire trucks, race cars, and police cars — but none of the vehicles had names or personalities. “There were no preexisting characters or a preexisting story that I had to adhere to,” Woo says. “It was sort of like a blank canvas.” Using the diverse vehicle lineup as a base, Woo and Kuku Studios Co-Founder Stanley Moore started to brainstorm, looking at the landscape of kids’ shows and movies starring vehicles. They realized that properties such as Cars, Thomas the Tank Engine, and Tayo

VTech’s Go! Go! Cory Carson SmartPoint Cory and Chrissy

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VTech’s Go! Go! Cory Carson Freddie’s Firehouse

the Little Bus all featured adult vehicles dealing with adult problems. So, they decided to focus their series on a kid car dealing with kid problems. When it came to developing Go! Go! Cory Carson, Woo and Moore wanted the show to genuinely appeal not only to preschool kids, but also to adults. As a parent, Moore says he wanted to make a show that he would enjoy watching. The team did this by focusing the episodes on relatable issues and incorporating smart humor into the show. The duo had previously worked at Pixar, and they transferred some of that experience and philosophy to their work on Go! Go! Cory Carson. “In feature films, you’re not trying to make shows for children, you’re trying to make shows for everyone. And as someone who belongs in the group of everyone, we get to decide if we’re enjoying it and having a good time,” Moore says. “We always try to keep ourselves honest. If a joke wasn’t funny to us, then it wasn’t funny enough to be in the show.” Eiselein says many fans on social media specifically bring up one line from the first season that is a prime example of the show’s sense of humor. A young car who Cory meets tells him, “My dad says internships are a way big corporations take advantage of the desperate youth.” “A 2-year-old is not going to get that line, obviously, but their parents are,” Eiselein says. “They’re going to enjoy it while the kid’s laughing at the

face Cory is making. … While it flies over the kids and it doesn’t distract them from what they’re experiencing, parents can really appreciate and enjoy [it].” According to Eiselein, the partnership with Netflix also added valuable insights about formating the show to match the audience. This was especially prevalent in determining episode lengths and Cory Carson’s unique content release schedule. Each episode clocks in at 7 or 8 minutes, and the first two seasons have only seven episodes each. However, to compensate for the shorter seasons, new batches of episodes drop every few months instead of once per year. This choice is based on viewing patterns of kids in the show’s target age demographic: They have shorter attention spans and enjoy watching content multiple times. “So we give them those two months with a handful of episodes, and then we drop a whole new handful of episodes so they can dive into that,” Eiselein says. “We’ve just done our second drop (on March 1), and that seems to be working really well.” In addition to being based on a toy line, Go! Go! Cory Carson also inspired

a new range of toys featuring characters from the show. VTech debuted the line at Toy Fair New York, including interactive Go! Go! Cory Carson SmartPoint character cars and multiple playsets that started selling at Target last month. Both Eiselein and the Kuku Studios team note that the eventual toy possibilities did not influence the show’s creative development. However, Woo and Moore were both thrilled with the toy line that VTech produced. “We’ve been blown away by the love and the detail VTech put into every single toy,” Moore says. “I think the attention to detail, keeping the toys on-model and consistent with the show, and the creativity behind some of the playsets have been really exciting.” Woo says it is difficult to describe the experience of seeing characters who he helped create become toys. “It’s kind of like my 7-year-old dreams come true. Being able to see the things that I draw turn into physical toys, it’s pretty awesome,” he says. The Cory Carson brand can — and will — go beyond toys thanks to a licensing relationship with Netflix. To start, a selection of Cory Carson books from HarperCollins is available for preorder now on Amazon and will officially launch in June. As new episodes of Go! Go! Cory Carson continue to drop throughout this year and into its already green-lit second year, there’s no slowing down this fourwheeled preschooler or the rest of the Bumperton Hills gang. »

A still from Go! Go! Cory Carson on Netflix

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The Child, from the Disney+ series The Mandalorian, was the breakout star of the holiday season — and manufacturers are finally catching up to fans’ demand for product. Here’s a look at some of our favorite toys featuring the green little bugger that will hit shelves throughout the year. compiled by jacqueline cucco, senior editor


tion Star Wars the Bounty Collec The Force is strong with HASBRO’s Star Wars the Bounty Collection, featuring 2.2-inch collectible figures of The Child in different scenarios and poses. There are six The Child figures in total, including him sipping his bone broth, eating a frog snack, reaching for Mando, holding his toy, wrapped in a blanket, and using the Force.


An ­— THE CHIL POP! STAR WARS: THE MANDALORI FUNKO is launching a Pop! Star Wars: The Mandalorian — The Child vinyl bobble head figure as both a standard-size Pop! and a 10-inch super sized Pop!. The sculpt appears identical on the two figures, aside from different expressions on the mouth.

TOPPS is launching The Mandalorian: Journey of The Child, a set of 32 trading cards featuring images from the Disney+ series with added frames and captions, as well as illustrated inserts. The set includes 25 base cards, five illustrated cards, and two guaranteed parallels. The cards follow the story of The Child as fans learn more about this baby and his mysterious abilities.

RAZOR CREST BUILD KIT Kids can role play their favorite scenes from The Mandalorian with the Razor Crest Build Kit from LEGO. The 1,023-piece, armored transport shuttle features a cargo hold with opening sides that double as access ramps, a dual LEGO mini-figure cockpit, spring-loaded shooters, a detachable escape pod, and more. The set includes four LEGO mini-figures — The Child, Mando, Greef Karga, and Scout Trooper — as well as an IG-11 figure.

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Here’s what we’re gonna do: We’re gonna do a puzzle with the kid. And you’re gonna let it happen. BUFFALO GAMES launched a Star Wars The Mandalorian The Child 500-piece Jigsaw Puzzle, featuring artwork of Mando carrying The Child back to his ship after fighting off an ambush of rival bounty hunters. It includes a matching poster for help solving the puzzle.

STAR WARS THE CHILD 11-INCH PLUSH TOY MATTEL’s Star Wars The Child 11-Inch Plush Toy features a roto-vinyl head, sparkling glass eyes, and a soft body with a bean-filled base. The green bundle of joy arrives epically packaged in a hover crib modeled after the one in the series.

OPERATION: STAR WARS THE MANDALORIAN EDITION GAME Like any toddler, The Child is known for its mischievous ways. In HASBRO’s Operation: Star Wars The Mandalorian Edition Game, players must use tweezers to pick up objects the 50-year-old baby has taken — including a froggy, a cup of broth, and a mudhorn egg — without setting off the buzzer.

THE CHILD BITTY BOOMER The Child Bitty Boomer is tiny but mighty. This 2-inch, wireless, Bluetooth speaker can connect to any Bluetooth-enabled device for more than four hours of music play on a single charge. It includes a backpack clip/strap for portability, and kids can also use it as a selfie remote. Say cheese and chicken nuggies!

THE CHILD TODDLER COSTUME Kids can play dress-up with with The Child Toddler Costume from RUBIE’S COSTUME CO. The costume features a floor-length tan robe with cuffed sleeves and a cuffed neck, a green hood with The Child’s face and ears on it, and green hand coverings. Consider this your ticket into the Guild.

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Reduce, Reuse, Snuggle Plush toys get sustainable with biodegradable packaging and filling. by MIRANDA SIWAK, assistant editor PLUSH TOYS ARE KNOWN FOR THEIR soft, irresistible fabrics that kids can’t help but snuggle. “Soft” and “irresistible” aren’t adjectives you’d usually associate with plastic bottles, but it’s becoming the new norm to make plush toys out of recycled materials — bottles included. Similar to the rest of the toy industry, many plush manufacturers are embracing sustainable packaging and materials as a way to be more eco-friendly and teach kids about the health and the future of the planet. Taking it one step further than just using an eco-friendly hangtag, several companies have turned to repurposing plastic objects to make plush fabrics — in a way that doesn’t sacrifice the softness and cuddliness that kids expect. “With increased societal awareness about such things as waste, climate change, and caring for the environment, our customers are looking for more sustainable options in all areas of their lives,” says Headstart CEO Andrew Hendy. “Sustainability in toys is as important as in any other industry — we all need to be thinking about playing our part.” With more consumer interest, it’s up to manufacturers and retailers to manage demand. Plush manufacturer Wild Republic kicked off eco-friendly initiatives years ago by removing single-use plastics and phthalates from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) toys. Now, the company uses soy ink hangtags, biodegradable packaging, and a recyclable filling in its plush toys. The Wild Republic team isn’t the only one pivoting to using all eco-

friendly materials. Headstart’s ultra-soft Resoftables line, which launched this April, includes 14-inch plush characters that are each made of 11 reusable plastic bottles. The Petting Zoo also uses biodegradable materials for its stuffing and main textiles. “It’s sustainable, and it’s a no-brainer. It’s something we can do technically and in a way that’s pleasing to the consumer without incurring a very high cost, … and there’s just no downside,” says JoRoy Lizewski, vice president at The Petting Zoo. “Why wouldn’t we do something that is sustainable and creates less waste? It’s good for our society, our planet, and for the consumer. It’s good for everybody, so it’s the responsible thing to do.” BOTTLES TO BEARS Transforming used plastic bottles into plush is a detailed, complex process. At The Petting Zoo, the company washes and melts finely shredded bottles into a super-fine fiber that then goes into the plush’s stuffing or the main fabric body, Lizewski explains. In addition, the company has switched to using recyclable silicate pellets for the beans inside the plush, rather than plastic PVC pieces that are typically used. While recycled plastic bottles and recycled materials make up the toy’s DNA, it still ends up as a soft plush toy. “You don’t feel any compromise. It’s not that you pick it up and you’re like, ‘Oh, I get it, it’s recycled. I can tell,’’’ Lizewski says. “You can’t tell. That’s the beauty of it. It just took the right time and the

right technology to get it right. We’re not asking the consumer to compromise.” A BETTER PLANET IS WORTH THE COST Substituting for all eco-friendly materials isn’t the most financially friendly option when there are cheaper plastic materials out there, but for these plush companies, the reduced environmental impact is worth any extra cost. It can be a matter of absorbing the extra costs internally to make sure customers still have affordable access to eco-friendly toys. “The process to renovate a line to eco-friendly materials is costly,” Wild Republic Vice President of Sales and Operations Melissa Klubnik explains. “We do not pass these costs onto our customers or the consumers. Our profits win through the increase in sales a line [sees thanks to the] eco-movement driven by the customers.” These plush manufacturers also see the move to eco-friendly toys as an opportunity to teach kids

EcoKins Sloth, from Wild Republic

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how their choices make a difference. For Wild Republic, it’s also a chance to show kids how their decisions can impact the animals they adore and want to protect. “First and foremost, as a company, we live our promise to the planet, and our actions show employees, customers, and consumers our true mission of preserving habitats for the beautiful animals our line represents,” Klubnik says. “The Ecokins program is overperforming compared to past plush line launches, and Wild Republic as a company is over-indexing the category due to our partnerships with like-minded, eco-conscious partners.” Educated consumers are aware of the ethical weight of their purchases and the danger the planet is in, and they seek out products that don’t compromise those core ideals and values. “We’re able to do it, and the consumer wants it,” Lizewski says. “That’s the beautiful part: that they’re educated and they value it. It’s a perfect fit.”

Each Resoftables plush from Headstart repurposes 11 plastic bottles for its fabric.

appealing for retailers to keep products that fit that bill on store shelves. “We seem to stick with the companies that have a focus on sustainability, have a focus on safety, and have a focus on high-quality [toys], and let their price follow what it takes to achieve that,” says Brice Elvington, owner of Toy Shop Florence in Florence, South Carolina. Other retailers across the board have similarly seen a growth in the demand of sustainable plush. According to Wesley Dunlap, owner of Timeless Toys in Harrisonburg, Virginia, more customers are asking for eco-friendly products and materials at his local shop, something he attributes to their increasing awareness of the health of the planet.

DOING ONE’S PART With growing customer demand for sustainability, it becomes increasingly

“I think, as a society, the environment and the amount of waste is forefront in our minds,” Dunlap says. “... We cannot continue to use and toss products as [we did in] the past few decades. Taking small steps to make water bottles into plush animals is just one small way of helping the environment.” » Miranda Siwak is an assistant editor at Adventure Media & Events, where she contributes to the Toy Book, the Toy Insider, and the Pop Insider. You can find her covering the latest toy and entertainment industry news for both online and print.

JUST PLAY will launch Blue’s Clues & You! Dance-Along Blue Plush this fall for kids ages 3 and up. Kids operate the dancing plush dog using a controller shaped like Josh’s Handy Dandy Guitar to play the show’s theme song. The remote controls the speed of Blue’s dancing. Small Chameleon

FOLKMANIS is expanding its line of hand puppets with new characters: Axolotl and Small Chameleon. The colorful puppets are designed for kids ages 3 and up to wear on their hands and operate. The Mini Roly Poly finger puppet is made to fit on kids’ fingers. The isopod puppet has big eyes and exoskeleton plates that move as kids curl their fingers.

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AURORA WORLD introduces Shoulderkins for kids ages 3 and up. The plush character is magnetic and sits on kids’ shoulders as they move. A magnet on the bottom of the plush animal connects to the fabriccovered, metal base. Palm Pals can fit in the palm of kids’ hands. The lightly stuffed plush pal can be held and squished easily. There are 15 characters in the range.

Palm Pals

GUND has introduced the Tinkle Crinkle Collection for babies. The plush assortment includes lovies, activity toys, rattles, plush animals, and balls with bright fabrics and embroidered details. The collection features a variety of characters, including bears, hedgehogs, and caterpillars. The 12- or 18-inch Kai Bear plush comes in a modern style and will be available this spring. The bear has an oversized head, embroidered paw pads, and a beige muzzle.

Tinkle Crinkle rattles

ISCREAM will debut Furry Sea Creatures Stuffed Animal Collections this spring. This plush assortment includes a range of ocean animals, including jellyfish, starfish, and seahorses. The characters are made of furry, fleece fabric and are designed for kids ages 5 and up.

YOTTOY has a new plush line inspired by The Busy World of Richard Scarry books. The toys capture author Richard Scarry’s signature characters in soft fabrics and bright colors, and also feature wooden wheels and clear-plastic headlights. The range includes Huckle Cat, Lowly Worm, and Bananas Gorilla characters seated in colorful cars with working wheels.

SNUGGLE GLOVE has launched its new, patented Snuggle Glove pillow that sits on kids’ hands. On the stomach, there is a built-in pocket that kids can put their hand in to move and carry the plush pillow. Snuggle Glove is available in panda, husky, and unikitty designs.

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STEIFF expanded its Soft Cuddly Friends line with Dixi Triceratops. Designed for babies, this handmade, plush dinosaur features the company’s trademark “button in ear.” The Little Elephant with Story Book is a white elephant made of soft fabric and loose stuffing. It comes with an an illustrated, anniversary storybook.

Dixi Triceratops

VTECH will introduce the Explore & Crawl Elephant this fall. The soft, plush animal provides babies ages 6 months and up with sensory stimulation through its flappy ears, light-up star, multiple textures, and bright patterns. Babies can press any button on the elephant to get it moving, and then crawl after it. When babies press other buttons, the toy will ask them to identify colors and numbers. The elephant plays more than 45 songs, melodies, sounds, and phrases.

MGA ENTERTAINMENT introduced the Little Bum Wiggling Wheels on the Bus for babies ages 9 months and up. The Buster the Bus character sings the popular “Little Baby Bum Wheels on the Bus” song when kids squeeze it. Kids can give it another squeeze to activate additional dance moves and wiggles. Na! Na! Na! Surprise expands with Na! Na! Na! Surprise Series 2 with a two-in-one surprise for kids to unbox. The package features a balloon that pops to reveal a fashion doll. Series 2 includes six new, soft dolls that each come with a pom-pom purse.

Tiny Tukkins Playset

BEVERLY HILLS TEDDY BEAR CO. expands its Tiny Tukkins line with the Tiny Tukkins Playset. Big sister and baby sibling character plush toys fit inside a colorful, compact playset and come in a range of themes. Each set comes with two characters, removable clothes for each, soft bedding, a crib, and three play accessories. The line also includes the Tiny Tukkins Play House and the Tiny Tukkins Playcrib. Kids can collect photo-realistic Wild Alive plush animals that are inspired by wild creatures. Available this August, the plush toys are made from a soft, bouncy fabric. Little Bum Wiggling Wheels on the Bus

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HORIZON GROUP USA introduced Story Magic Unicorn Dream Dollhouse this March for kids ages 4 and up. The set includes a plush unicorn tucked inside a wooden dollhouse. Kids can create their own story about the unicorn by filling in its birth certificate with 3D stickers and a starry garland.

MANHATTAN TOY CO.’s new Velveteen Dino Collection is made for babies ages 1 and up. The set includes four colorful dinosaurs that have squeezable bodies, velvet fabric, and weighted feet. Benny the Blue Footed Booby features striking eyes; a plump, stuffed body; and velvety soft, blue feet. Benny the Blue Footed Booby

Scruff-a-Luvs Spring Babies

MOOSE TOYS’ Scruff-a-Luvs Spring Babies join its existing Scruff-a-Luvs line. The babies arrive as small balls of matted fur in baby pet carriers. Kids can groom the plush into a fluffy and furry bunny, duckling, or lamb. Each Spring Baby comes with a comb, a pacifier, and a heart-shaped clip. Best Mate Bluey is a jumbo-sized plush dog based on the animated Disney character. Designed for kids ages 3 and up, it will be available in August.

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LEAPFROG will launch the LeapFrog Speak & Learn Puppy this fall for babies ages 12 months and up. Bailey the Speak & Learn Puppy responds as kids press buttons on his collar and paws to activate head movements, ear-flapping, and real-time responses. Buttons in two different modes activate a variety of sounds and content to teach kids about letters and numbers.

LITTLE MEDICAL SCHOOL has debuted the How to Be a Great Sibling Kit. The box includes several hands-on, educational activities that are designed for big brothers and sisters to help prepare for new baby siblings. The “Classroom in a Box” kit can be used again and again.

HABA has launched Snug Up Doll Till for babies ages 18 months and up. The doll has a soft body for kids to snuggle. The Noah the Elephant plush has a squeaking effect that fosters kids’ fine motor skills and reflexive clutching. A Nelly the Elephant plush makes a sweet rattling sound as kids play. Snug Up Doll Till

PILLOW PETS unveiled the Glittery Unicorn Pillow Pet. The convertable pillow features glitterystar fabric, a brushable mane and tail, and a decorative bow. Sunny Sloth and Chewbacca pillows are also available. Both convert from a plush character into a pillow, as well.

Sunny Sloth and Glittery Unicorn

COMFY CRITTERS offers wearable stuffed animals that tranform from a plush character into a hooded blanket and a pillow. The soft, fleece wearable plush is designed for kids ages 2 and up. There are currently characters based on PAW Patrol, PJ Masks, unicorns, and sharks.

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Enchanted Wands

Kids ages 2 and up can get moving with CUDDLE BARN’s Head to Toe Tucker and Head to Wilbur. The elephant and pig plush toys play a “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” song and game. Enchanted Wands are soft animal wands that play magical music when kids ages 3 and up wave them. The wands come in Trix Panda, Dazzle Llamacorn, and Glitz Unicorn characters.

The Care Bears Medium Plush from BASIC FUN! will launch this summer based on the popular franchise. The bears have new stylizations; colors; and unique, embroidered details. Each plush bear comes with a Care Coin for kids to collect. There are six bears in the lineup: Cheer Bear, Grumpy Bear, Share Bear, Good Luck Bear, Funshine Bear, and Tenderheart Bear.

Resoftables from HEADSTART is a new line of plush animals that are made from 100% recycled plastic bottles. The company’s first costeffective, sustainable plush launches this April for all ages. The 14-inch plush characters are available as a bunny, a unicorn, a poar bear, a koala, and a teddy bear.


KELLYTOY added Flip-A-Mallows to its Squishmallows line. The reversible plush characters are available in six styles of two-in-one characters. Designed for all ages, the combination plush characters are available in 5- and 12-inch sizes. With Squishmallows Mystery Squad Blind Bags, kids can unbox a small, individually wrapped, scented Squishmallow character. The first series currently offers an assortment of six characters to collect.

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CEPIA is launching Cats vs. Pickles: collectible cat plush toys in the shape of pickles. Available this spring, the plush toys are designed for kids ages 4 and up. There are hundreds of cats to collect, each dressed in different themes, such as foodie cats, sweet cats, scary cats, cats with glasses, and more. There are both common and rare varieties to collect. Nuzzy Luvs are newborn pet characters that snuggle into kids’ hands. When kids ages 4 and up pet them or whisper sweetly, the plush Cats vs. Pickles animals will turn their heads and respond with noises. Available this summer, there will be eight different animals to collect.

BUDSIES are custom plush toys inspired by kids’ drawings. Kids can create customized illustrations that the toy company will manufacture into a plush design.

THE PUPPET CO. has added a Red Dragon puppet to its plush offerings. The soft, cuddly character has an opening on the back of its neck for kids to operate its mouth, and the neck length allows kids to easily move the puppet’s head.

PLAYTIME FUN’s Love & Learn Doll is designed for kids ages 3 and up. The soft, learn-to-dress dolls teach kids dressing activities: buttons, ties, zippers, and fasteners. The Love & Hug Rag Doll is a soft rag doll that comes wearing a colorful dress, hat, and shoes. The dolls has long yarn hair and embroidered facial details. The 36-inch doll is designed for kids ages 3 and up.

Love & Hug Rag Doll

WILD REPUBLIC goes eco-friendly with its EcoKins line of biodegradable plush animals. The line includes a variety of animals, such as a wolf, a red panda, a river otter, a tiger, a unicorn, a sea turtle, and an African elephant. Plush characters all have an embroidered pair of eyes and a nose, and a soft fabric body. Each 12-inch plush is made out of 16 recycled-plastic water bottles and comes with a recycled-paper hangtag.

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REACH MILLIONS OF SHOPPERS THIS HOLIDAY SEASON The Toy Insider runs in the November issue of Parents magazine. Parents readers purchased nearly 36 MILLION toys and games in 2019 — that’s nearly $1.3 BILLION worth of products.

Our digital media program engages toy shoppers with giveaways, product reviews, and demo videos across Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, e-mail newsletters, and more. thetoyinsider




The Toy Insider team appeared in more than 400 national and major market TV segments in 2019, showcasing the BEST toys to millions of consumers all season, and this year we are on track to exceed that number!


Impressions in 2019!

Laurie Schacht (646) 736-2320 laurie@toyinsider.com

To participate, contact: Jackie Breyer (646) 736-2324 jackie@toyinsider.com toyinsider.com

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James Devin (203) 948-5927 jd@toyinsider.com


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GOES BIG Following years of sales declines, this category is relying on innovation. by MADELEINE BUCKLEY, associate editor THE R/C AISLE IS READY FOR A change. This time last year, the category was in a bit of a strange place, trying to find its footing after the drone craze that dominated R/C sales for multiple years completely subsided. According to The NPD Group, the category underperformed by 4% when compared to the total toy industry for the 12-month period that ended this January. Sales of air-specific R/C products continued their steep descent with a 47% decrease in that same time period, while sales for ground, sea, and other R/C products decreased by 7% (compared to the 12.3% decrease in the 12-month period that ended last January). Now, that uncertainty seems to have passed as the products in this year’s R/C toys lineup are huge — both in literal size and their level of innovation, from monster truck madness to vehicles that can transform or drive on water. This past holiday season, Spin Master introduced the Mega Grave Digger R/C Truck, a monster truck that clocked in at more than 2 feet long. According to Kate Keller, vice president of marketing for R/C at Spin Master, oversized R/C vehicles make kids feel like they are behind the wheel of a real truck. “They simulate real action, delivering an immersive and exciting play experience that puts them

in control of the trucks they know and love,” she says. The company has found success with the Monster Jam license — the No. 2 property in R/C toys last year, according to The NPD Group — which translates naturally into the vehicle category while still providing the familiarity of a licensed product. Keller credits Monster Jam’s wide age appeal and family-friendly nature with its success. Monster Jam vehicles — and monster trucks in general, which are plentiful in current R/C offerings — are also tailor-made for doing stunts and tricks, something Keller notes as a primary objective for kids. “Kids like to push the limits and conquer new stunts or tackle new terrain, so we are always in search of new features, form factors, or technologies to deliver just that,” she says.

Spin Master’s R/C offerings for this fall continue in that vein. The company’s Monster Jam Megaladon shark, for example, will drive on rocks, dirt, and mud, and even in water. This outdoor component may be

another positive for the R/C category at a time when parents are seeking out screen-free play options, says Beth Ann Vernon at Hobby Express, a hobby and toy store in Pennsylvania. “It gets kids away from the computers and the tablets, and that seems to be such a major thing for people, that they want the kid to do something,” she says. Many of this year’s upcoming R/C offerings also have features intended to inspire the “wow” factor. According to Sal Irigoyen, head toymaker at Odyssey Toys, success in the R/C category is “all about uniqueness and being different. … It’s not about colors. It’s not about the fact

Odyssey Toys' Drive & Blast

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Rollplay’s Mini Cooper Countryman

that it just rolls on the ground. It’s got to be something cool.” Irigoyen says that Odyssey Toys, which has had sales increases for its R/C products, incorporates something into each of its R/C offerings to make them stand apart. For example, the company is launching the Drive & Blast this fall, which transforms from an R/C vehicle into a blaster. Another innovation in this year’s R/C offerings blends R/C technology with a different toy category: ride-ons.

Multiple prominent ride-on companies, including Rollplay and Pacific Cycle, are launching vehicles that feature a parental R/C component. Using an included remote, parents can operate the vehicle, which allows younger kids to safely enjoy the ride-on experience. Alina Richardson, product manager at Rollplay, says this feature has been available in Rollplay vehicles internationally for many years, but the trend is starting to catch on in the U.S. Rollplay successfully launched a version of its Porshe Macan with an R/C component last fall, and it will follow with a Mini Cooper Countryman this fall. While the R/C feature is primarily intended for parents to use, Richardson says it also has creative potential.

“Not only is this feature great for safety, but it is also tremendously fun,” she says. “We have seen some creative uses of this feature, from dogs to even chimpanzees now being able to ride and join the electric ride-on fun.” Once kids are old enough, they can take over the R/C controls, too, effectively making the ride-on a massive R/C vehicle and expanding the lifespan of the toy. It is certainly a year of innovation for R/C, but only time will tell if these innovations are enough to turn around sales in the category. » Madeleine Buckley is an associate editor at Adventure Media & Events, where she writes for the Toy Book, the Pop Insider, and the Toy Insider. She enjoys covering the latest news and trends in the toy industry and pop culture.

MATTEL will offer two R/C vehicles inspired by Tesla’s all-electric Cybertruck. Kids ages 5 and up can control a 1:64-scale Cybertruck (pictured) that is the same size as a Hot Wheels car and can race on Hot Wheels track. The 1:10-scale Cybertruck, designed for teens ages 14 and up, is a hobby-grade R/C that features headlights and taillights, two speed modes — chill and sport — and a removable plastic body to show its full interior.

SILVERLIT, in partnership with Basic Fun!, introduces Robo Kombat: Balloon Punchers. Kids ages 5 and up inflate their balloons and choose their warriors, then use left-right combos and the Power Fist move to try to land the final blow.

The Cyklone Motobike from MAISTO features a single tread around two hubless wheels. The futuristic bike can climb, race, and perform donuts and wheelies.

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TOMY’s R/C Turbo Ricky, inspired by the show Ricky Zoom, is designed for kids ages 3 and up and will be available this fall. The R/C bike does spins and wheelies and features both bike and character sounds.

The Brookstone Amphibious Stunt-Force R/C Vehicle from INNOVATIVE DESIGNS is a waterproof vehicle that can drive through water. This R/C car can perform 360-degree spins and roll over flips, and it features working headlights. Kids can also pump up the tires with an included air pump and gauge.

The R/C Dancing Unicorn from THE LEARNING JOURNEY comes with a remote that kids ages 2 and up can use to make it walk, talk, dance, sing, or play music. The unicorn features two modes — action mode and learn mode, which teaches kids about letters and numbers.

Kids can prepare for battle with JADA TOYS’ Battle Machines R/C, which feature laser combat tag. Each player starts with three lives, indicated by lights on the vehicle’s rear sensor. The first player to land three hits on their opponent wins the battle. Battle Machines R/C are designed for kids ages 6 and up and will be available this fall.

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ODYSSEY TOYS’ Split Wheel Car has wheels that spread open, transforming the vehicle into a robotic structure. The R/C vehicle also features LED lights.

SPIN MASTER will expand its Air Hogs line with the Stunt Shot, an indoor R/C. It features lightweight technology so that it can perform wheelies and flips without damaging walls or furniture. Designed for kids ages 5 and up, the Air Hogs Stunt Shot will be available this fall.

NKOK’s 1:16-scale Striker Rock Crawler is the latest addition to its Mean Machine line. The R/C truck features a suspension system, a powerful motor, and grippy tires for driving on rocky surfaces.

WOWWEE’s Power Treads are all-surface vehicles that come with a modular, interchangeable track set. Kids can create a custom course, placing the pieces closer together for more control or farther apart for a more challenging route.

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HYPER TOY’s programmable King Drift R/C vehicle features four-wheel drive, suspension, a shaking “dance,” lights, and music. Kids can also control each of the four wheels independently for side-to-side driving and drifting.

Go Go Bird from ZING is an intelligent flying bird designed for kids ages 8 and up. The flying R/C looks and flies like a real bird, can fly up to 100 feet in the air, and features a sensor that makes the bird turn around automatically when it is 6 feet away from a potential obstacle.

PACIFIC CYCLE will launch the Kid Trax Premium collection this spring with three ride-on vehicles. The Land Rover Range Rover Velar, the Caserati Gran Turismo, and the Chevy Colorado all include LED headlights, Bluetooth audio capabilities, and other features. Each also comes with a remote control that adults can use to control the vehicle.

The Cat Massive Mover R/C from FUNRISE is a 16-inch dump truck with high-traction rubber wheels, designed for kids ages 5 and up. In work mode, the vehicle can climb obstacles at up to a 45-degree angle, carrying and dumping loads in its dump bed. In speed mode, the vehicle can perform drifts and burnouts.

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The Toy Book caught up with Philip Redmond, CEO of Nikko Toys, about the company’s year since entering the market and various strategies to keep up with the ever-evolving consumer. Toy Book: What was it like re-entering the marketplace in 2019? Philip Redmond: 2019 was an exciting year for the team. We had always penciled it in as a “set-up” year, but things have progressed positively and more quickly than we had originally anticipated. The history and legacy of the Nikko and Road Ripper brands meant we needed to be at the top of our game from the get-go. Conscious of the consumers’ and industry’s high expectations of our brands and products, we wanted not only to live up to these expectations, but also to surpass them. Naturally, this came with a lot of selfinflicted pressure. One of our biggest challenges was finding manufacturing partners who shared our passion and dedication to quality, and thankfully they have not disappointed. Having these top-class manufacturing partners behind us gives us the confidence to design and introduce new innovative functions and features in our toys, the hallmarks of our brands. At the end of the day, that is the reason why we are here. TB: What is your distribution strategy? PR: We are all aware that the toy market and retail landscape, in general, has undergone some sweeping changes over the last couple of years. We live in a time of flux with a continually evolving consumer, in which the traditional distribution structure is being shaken up with online merchants and discounters taking up an ever-increasing portion of the market. As the traditional model of selling toys through dedicated specialists continues to diminish, with a burgeoning base of web-savvy consumers, we have had to adapt and come up with new logistics and distribution solutions. At Nikko Toys, we work closely with our local partners to offer complete solutions for the different channels, [because] we can

no longer take a position of “one size fits all.” We have had to localize our strategy, offering the flexibility of free on board (FOB) or domestic opportunities in relevant markets. Continuing to develop our network of e-commerce partners and online presence is a key focus for us in the coming years. TB: How has your distribution strategy changed since the COVID-19 pandemic disruption? PR: In terms of worldwide distribution and plans, to be completely honest, it hasn’t changed our focus or plans for the year too much. 2020 is only our second trading year, and due to that we will experience triple-digit growth, which meets the targets set out in our mediumterm growth strategy. The varying levels of impact of the virus on different regions, as well as the differing lockdown rules implemented by governments, are out of our control. What we can focus on is having the product readily available and intelligently positioned globally in order to meet the needs of our partners for when the smoke begins to clear, and customers regain that confidence to place additional orders. Next to this, we try to use this time to educate ourselves on how to navigate and answer the growing online demand. TB: The Nikko brand has been a key player in the R/C category for more than 60 years. How has the brand evolved? PR: You’re right, the Nikko brand has been a category leader for the last 60 years, and in some markets, it’s even the catchall term for R/C cars. Nikko Toys now continues the great tradition with amazingly innovative R/C that seeks to excite users globally with

Nikko RC Omni-X

special functions and stunning performance. We are aware of the continuing evolution in children’s interest as toys go, and we make sure that our products offer the most exciting and impactful features to grab children’s interest. In our experience, kids are still happy to be pulled away from the screen provided they get to play with high-performance or special-function fun vehicles, and that’s what we aim to provide. For us, experience is everything. TB: What standout products do consumers have to look forward to this year? PR: The new Color Wheels and Speed Swipe cars from our Road Rippers brand is bringing some sorely missed innovation back into the Lights & Sound aisle. We have witnessed an overabundance of Road Ripper “inspired” items hitting the market in the last 12 months. This space has more and more competitors eyeing just a few feet of available shelf space, but this competitiveness is what drives us and we are committed to bringing back innovation and unique features in the category. Next to this, we are introducing high-performance Nikko RC Pro and Elite lines. They look awesome and the performance is incredible. Last, but not least, we are launching the special-action drifting vehicle Omni-X. Its unique wheelin-wheel construction gives driving and drifting another dimension like you never experienced before! »

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The water-reveal trend evolves to keep collectibles afloat. by JACKIE CUCCO, senior editor DUNK A SATCHEL INTO A MUG OF water and watch as clouds billow through the liquid, swirling and dancing as the contents of the bag steep into the water. No, you’re not making a fresh cup of oolong to soothe the soul — you’re unboxing a Kitten Catfe Purrista Girl, a collectible toy from Jakks Pacific. This is one of many hot, new collectibles that incorporate water-reveal elements into the unboxing experience. Collectibles made up 12% of all toy sales in the 12 months ended this January, but after several years of strong growth, overall sales decreased 5% last year, according to The NPD Group. Just when you thought the collectibles aisle was getting stale, the brains behind the toys doubled down on a key ingredient: water. JUST ADD WATER The Toy Association unveiled “H2O Play” as one of six new trends to watch out for at Toy Fair New York in February. The trend covers unboxing and surprise collectibles that use water to expose

a hidden message, color, character, or other surprise features — making water the catalyst in the unboxing experience. Why are so many manufacturers adding the water-reveal feature to their collectibles? “Water is easy to use, it is readily available, and from a mess standpoint, it is easy to clean up, making it more ‘mom-approved’ than some of the compound reveals out there,” says Adrienne Appell, The Toy Association’s senior director of strategic communications. Skyrocket was ahead of the game when it launched the first wave of Blume dolls — collectible dolls that bloom out of flower pots when kids activate the “soil” with water — last year. The company is continuing to bank on the water trend with Blume Fun in the Sun dolls, which also grow out of flower pots when kids water them, but with new features added, such as squishier, color-changing hair. Using water in the unboxing process adds a magical twist to the typical unwrapping procedure. This new reveal trend also yields exciting social media content for kids and influencers to post. “The water definitely adds a fun layer to the [viewing] element and becomes a part of the mar-

Kitten Catfe Purrista Girls from Jakks Pacific

keting,” says Skyrocket Vice President of Marketing Lindsey Scheftic. The interactive nature of the water reveal boosts social media engagement and creates free exposure for the manufacturers. This fall, Basic Fun! is launching a new line of collectible dolls that combine water and hair play, called CurliGirls. “Adding any kind of experience to collectibles makes the on-screen unboxing more exciting and the at-home reveal that much more fun. It may even help to introduce new types of influencer- and user-generated content,” says Basic Fun! Head of Brand Development Ashley Mady. The dolls feature MagiCurl hair that curls into ringlets when kids give it a tug. Kids can change the hairstyle as many times as they want by dipping the hair in warm water to instantly straighten it again, boosting the play value of the toy. “Water is a tool for limitless play and, in this case, total transformation,” Mady says. The way in which CurliGirls incorporates water into hair styling makes kids less focused on the one-time novelty of the reveal and more focused on the total play experience. VANISHING ACT As more toymakers are going with the flow, they are also starting to think outside the box, evolving the water element into new play patterns. Toys such as Kitten Catfe Purrista Girls, Moose Toys’ Shopkins Real Littles, and Spin Master’s Uni-Verse are just a few of the new products that include a vanishing act of sorts. The packaging is designed in such a way that it disappears when kids add water. The Kitten Catfe Purrista Girls toys are cat- and cafe-themed collectibles

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packaged inside a to-go coffee or teacup. There are multiple mystery packets inside, including a tea bag that dissolves in cold water to reveal a surprise number of collectible “Meowbles” kittens. “The dissolving tea bag adds a fun level of play in that instead of just ripping open another bag or container, kids get to actively control the reveal,” says Jakks Pacific Senior Vice President Jill Nordquist. “Further, there is something fun and satisfying about dipping the bag just as you would with a real tea bag.” Traditionally, manufacturers used the water feature to activate a color change in the product, Nordquist explains. Now, some toy companies are taking it to the next level. “Kids are still very interested in unboxing and surprises. However, their expectations for delivery systems (i.e., how the magic is delivered) have increased. Kids want various ways to reveal surprises: unwrapping, unboxing, using codes, dissolving, etc. … As kids’ expectations for reveals increase, manufacturers are forced to rethink ways of delivering magic,” she says. Uni-Verse is a whimsical new line that mixes the magic of rainbows, unicorns, and clouds. When kids dunk the fluffy, emoji-inspired cloud into warm water, it dissolves into a slimy, colored goo that disguises a unicorn figure and accessories. This year, Mattel also launched a cloud-themed collection called Cloudees. The collectible initially resembles a fluffy cloud that kids can place inside the cloud-shaped case with water. As kids shake the water-filled case, the collectible’s covering will break apart into pieces of cloud fluff that kids can sift through to find a pet character and accessories.

BRAND REFRESH While those collections are entirely new for Spin Master and Mattel, other companies are using the water-reveal trend to make a splash with more established brands. Earlier this year, Moose Toys launched Shopkins Real Littles Mini Packs: tiny versions of real frozen food brands. They differ from the original Shopkins Real Littles collectibles in that these are packaged inside of a box that is inside of an “ice bag” that kids can dunk into water and swish around. The box melts away to reveal two Shopkins. Moose Toys linked the water play to the theme of the Shopkins line. “This season of Shopkins Real Littles is a frozen theme, so it only seemed fitting that the mini versions of your favorite frozen supermarket brands — such as Popsicle, Good Humor, Klondike, Breyers ice creams, Marie Callender’s pie, and Morningstar Farms frozen foods — literally melt out of the packaging,” says Shopkins Brand Manager Mallory Van Laeken. My Little Pony is another well-known brand, with no shortage of toys depicting the colorful, cartoon ponies. Hasbro put its spin on typical blind bags with the My Little Pony Magical Potion Surprise Blind Bags. The collectibles are packaged inside a tea-bag-like pouch, which comes inside a potion-bottle-shaped blind pack. Kids can fill the pack with water and shake it to dissolve the pouch, exposing 1.5inch, mystery My Little Pony characters. SUSTAINABILITY IS KEY Not only is dissolvable packaging exciting for kids to unbox, but it also creates less waste. With the My Little Pony toy, the inner packaging (the pouch) dissolves, and kids can use the outer packaging (the potion bottle) as a storage case for the figures. This is significant as parents become more dedicated to finding environ-

mentally friendly options for their households. “Some of the products we are seeing do fall into the sustainability trend because the packaging literally melts away in the water, making it appealing to families looking for more eco-friendly solutions to packaging,” Appell says. Sustainability is so top of mind for some toy manufacturers that Nordquist even cites it as a source of inspiration behind the Kitten Catfe Purrista Girls. “We wanted to provide kids with a fun reveal while also maintaining a level of sustainability. By having the tea bag dissolve, versus having something that gets thrown away, we were able to minimize waste while maximizing the fun,” Nordquist says. “Additionally, there is something magical to seeing one thing disappear while another thing appears.” Shoppers can consider it an added bonus that this trendy component doesn’t add much to the cost — all of the collectibles mentioned cost less than $10, and the My Little Pony collectibles are as low as $2.99. Using water as a key ingredient to transform the toy helps keep collectibles affordable, safe for kids to use, and easy for parents to clean. As the water-reveal trend evolves, dissolvable play keeps the collectibles category afloat. » Jackie Cucco is a senior editor at Adventure Media & Events. She writes for the Toy Book, the Toy Insider, and the Pop Insider, and runs all things Instagram. When she’s not watching slime videos, you can find her playing paparazzi for her pet bunny Peepers (@thebigpeep on Instagram).

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PLAYMONSTER’s My Singing Monsters are collectible singing figures that look and sound exactly like the monsters from the mobile game My Singing Monsters. Each monster can play its music solo, or kids ages 6 and up can collect multiple monsters and set them near one another to make them sing in sync. Each monster includes one of its favorite accessories from the game.

BASIC FUN! is launching Mash’ems — Baby Shark Series 1, squishy collectibles that feature Baby Sharkthemed characters. Kids ages 4 and up can collect all six, including an ultra-rare mystery character.

JUST PLAY expands its Hairdorables collection with series five: the Hairdorables Hair Art Series. Kids ages 3 and up can customize the dolls’ “Big Hair Don’t Care” attitudes with name barrettes and printed hair art extensions. Each doll is packaged in a reusable, plastic carrying case and features a fashion-forward look, a bright hairstyle, and accessories from one of two new themes: Masquerade Through Time and After School Fun.

Oh! My Gif from MOOSE TOYS is a line of moving collectible toys inspired by GIFs, memes, and social media stickers. The collection includes 50 “GIFbits” characters, including an exercising doughnut, a cat typing on a computer, and more. Each GIFbit features movements that kids ages 6 and up can reset with a touch. Kids can download a digital sticker version of the characters on the app that they can save on their phones and use across all social and messaging apps.

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YULU expands its Pop Pops Pets line with new heart- and flower-shaped Pop Pops filled with glitter slime. Kids ages 6 and up can pop the bubbles to release the slime and collectible pets. It is available in a Starter Pack with six bubbles and two pets, a Deluxe Pack with 12 bubbles and four pets, and a Super Deluxe Pack with 16 bubbles and five pets. The characters include suction cups for display.

Kids ages 3 and up can pull and pop the sprouts to uncover surprises with Blume Baby Pop from SKYROCKET. There is a baby or a baby accessory hidden under each sprout. The Blume babies come wrapped in removable swaddles with outrageous hairstyles and color-changing diapers. Each flower pot turns into a playset containing 25 surprises, including accessories, stickers, and three babies, guaranteed in each set. There are 50 styles in total.

SPIN MASTER’s Uni-Verse collectibles come packaged inside an emoji-inspired cloud that kids ages 5 and up can dunk in warm water to dissolve. The water will change color, and once the cloud dissolves, the water turns into goo. Kids can unwrap the multiple included blind bags to reveal a unicorn figure and accessories. The unicorn figures feature different shapes, sizes, and themes.

JAKKS PACIFIC is expanding its Kitten Catfe line with Kitten Catfe Purrista Girls Series 2. Each Purrista Girl doll comes in a mystery Bis-catti bag and features five points of articulation; glitter eyes; and a molded, removable hairstyle. Each package includes a mystery creamer cup; a packet containing a surprise outfit piece, a pair of shoes, and an accessory; a dissolvable tea bag containing one, two, or three Meowble kittens; a reusable, food-grade cup and lid suitable for cold drinks; drink recipes; and a collectors’ guide.

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ORB Arcade from ORB is a fusion of three toy trends: collectibles, surprise unboxing, and capsule toys. Designed for kids ages 3 and up, these blind-packaged figures come in arcade-styled store displays that each have one of 28 themes. Each ORB Arcade capsule includes a surprise toy, with more than 1,000 different collectibles in total.

SUNNY DAYS ENTERTAINMENT is launching Ravel Tales, a mutlicolored yarn ball that kids can unwind to uncover 12 surprises, including DIY activities, sticker sheets, accessories, and plush characters. There are 12 different Ravel Tales for kids ages 5 and up to collect.

Hairdooz Pastelz from HEADSTART are collectible dolls that live inside a pastel, fruit-scented, salon-bottle-shaped packaging. Kids can spin the bottle to find the Doo inside its own mini-salon and remove the dryer and cape to reveal the doll and its outfit. Kids ages 5 and up can collect 12 Doos in total.

With HEXBUG’s Junk Bots, kids ages 3 and up can open the trash can-shaped package to unbox customizable collectible figurines. There are more than 36 hero robots, featuring a universal socket system for kids to take them apart and reattach pieces with other Junk Bots to create unique figures. Some of the figures are static, some vibrate with the rumble of a motor, and others light up and spark.

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MGA ENTERTAINMENT is launching L.O.L. Surprise! O.M.G. Lights Fashion Dolls. Each doll includes a UV flashlight that kids ages 6 and up can use to activate surprise, glowing features. There are four dolls to collect: Groovy Babe, Dazzle, Angles, and Speedster.

Kids can unwrap more than 10 surprises with Party Surprise from WOWWEE. There are six different party themes to collect, including ice cream parties, sleepover parties, and pool parties. When kids are done unwrapping, they can wrap it all up again for unlimited unboxing fun.

REDWOOD VENTURES’ Foodie Surprise Yolkies are collectibles that kids can eat. Each Yolkies egg contains an edible candy slime that looks like an egg white, an edible gummy yolk, and an egg yolk character wearing a surprise costume. There are 12 Yolkies for kids ages 6 and up to collect in season one, with an assortment of holiday Foodie Surprise Yolkies rolling out throughout the year.

Cloudees from MATTEL are surprise pet characters packaged inside a cloud-shaped container that kids can add water to and shake for 60 seconds. Then, kids can open the container and sift through the soft cloud fluff to reveal the Cloudees pet friend. Each package includes accessories, such as a puffy, attachable cloud tail; a key chain; and a matching Cloudees Minis pet. The lid of the cloud case works as a display base. The Cloudees characters come from seven different lands, including Rainbow Point, Stormyville, Windy Way, and more.

BLIP TOYS’ Tic Tac Toy XOXO Cupcake Surprise features more than 20 XOXO Sweeties giant collectibles, sweet treats, and role-play accessories. Kids ages 3 and up can dress up with the XOXO wings, a unicorn headband, and the temporary tattoos.

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YUME TOYS is introducing Harry Potter Magical Capsules, suitable for kids ages 3 and up. The unboxing experience begins with a clue, such as water-reveal or heat-reveal hidden messages. Each Bronze Magical Capsule contains one of 10 Harry Potter characters, a wand, a fantastic beast pet, and three surprise accessories.

The Playmobil EverDreamerz feature a magical amulet that kids ages 7 and up can open for an unboxing experience with seven surprises inside. There are five EverDreamerz sets, which each include an EverDreamerz character, a silicone charm bracelet, a candy charm beads, a trading card, stickers, and other accessories. The Surprise Box features five surprises, including a character, a character-specific cupcake charm, a trading card, a sticker, and accessories. There are 12 characters for kids to collect in total.

The Surprise Box characters

The World’s Smallest Micro Action Figures from SUPER IMPULSE are micro-sized, highly detailed, retro action figures for fans of all ages to collect and display. Each micro-action figure measures 1.25 inches tall and features three points of articulation. The figures include a replica of the original blister card, a display stand, and accessories the figures can hold. IMC TOYS adds to its Cry Babies line with Cry Babies Magic Tears Winged Houses. Kids ages 3 and up can feed the doll water with the baby bottle, then squeeze its belly to watch it cry colorful tears. Each doll includes six glitter accessories: a winged magic bottle, a pacifier, either a bow and a toy wagon or a bib and a highchair, a customized blanket, and personalized stickers. Two of the accessories match the doll’s unique personality. Some Winged Houses will include a rare diamond bow or pacifier. There are more than 12 surprise dolls to collect, including an exclusive, rare character with a color-changing onesie.

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Mighty Together: Inspired by the Power of Play

American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA) Our world has changed and we are facing a new normal. You are responding by finding smart ways to keep your toy and children’s products business successful in today’s evolving landscape. Yet one thing remains steady: your belief in the power of play and its importance in healthy child development, especially in challenging times. Who in your community knows more about great toys and healthy play than you? The American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (www.astratoy.org) is here to help you turn that belief and passion into an effective approach as you face these challenging times. Connect with the specialty toy community and tap into ASTRA Academy education and resources to find support and experts to help you continue moving forward. ASTRA member retailers get a package of education, networking, product sourcing & discounting, and customer contact support that you cannot get anywhere else— all aimed at growing the independent, specialty toy industry and helping retailers run profitable businesses. When all of us in the independent toy industry join forces, we are mighty together. Join the ASTRA community of independent toy retailers, manufacturers and sales reps today to access ideas and best practices for delivering the magic and power of play to kids and their families everywhere.

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A Look at What’s Hitting Retailers’ Shelves Right Now WREBBIT 3D expanded its Harry Potter 3D puzzle selection with the 270-piece Harry Potter Hagrid’s Hut 3D Jigsaw Puzzle. Muggles and wizards alike can solve the puzzle using the unique, foam-backed pieces. The foam-back technology makes the pieces fit tightly together and creates a sturdy design.

The Magnetic Block Puzzle from DUNCAN TOYS features seven different colored blocks that include 120 magnets that lock the pieces together in hundreds of different configurations. Kids can stack the blocks together to create shapes or solve for a perfect cube. The puzzle includes 12 shape challenge cards that kids can use to refine their spatial awareness, memory, and problem-solving skills while doing the challenges.

The Fubbles Bubblin’ Whale from LITTLE KIDS INC. is a 2-foot-tall inflatable whale that spouts streams of continuous bubbles into the air. Kids ages 3 and up can jump, run, and dance through the bubbles. The bubble machine is in a plastic sleeve inside the inflatable whale, and it comes with a bottle of premium bubble solution.

Scratch and Sniff Puzzles are new from Peaceable Kingdom, a MINDWARE brand. Kids ages 5 and up can experience multi-sensory fun while learning visual and scent recognition, fine-motor development, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills as they put together each 70-plus piece puzzle. The Sweet Smells Bakery Scratch and Sniff Puzzle features vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry scents; the Fruity Pool Party Scratch and Sniff Puzzle features banana, strawberry, and pineapple scents; and the Jelly Jammers Scratch and Sniff Puzzle features blue raspberry, grape, and cherry scents.

Squishy Cuties from KESS are colorful jump ropes with handles made of cute, foamgrip characters, including a unicorn and ice cream cone. Designed for kids ages 6 and up, the collectible, handgrip characters add an element of sensory play to jumping rope.

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INFLUENCING KIDS — FROM YOUTUBE TO INSTAGRAM How Kids’ Preferred Steaming Services Impact Toys and Games by KRISTIN MORENCY GOLDMAN, senior communications specialist, The Toy Association THANKS TO A GROWING ARRAY OF streaming platforms, kids have more options than ever when it comes to where, when, and how they consume media content. And with about half of kids spending an average of 11.2 hours a week on streaming services, it’s not surprising that digital-first brands and family content creators are impacting toy development, toy purchases, and how kids play. The above — and additional — findings are available in a recently conducted NPD Group/Toy Association report that surveyed 2,500 U.S. kids (ages 0-14). Available exclusively to The Toy Association members, the “Children & Influencer Platforms Study” dives into how kids are engaging with key influencer platforms (YouTube/YouTube Kids, Facebook, and Instagram) by breaking down the types of content kids watch based on age, how they discovered the content, and why they use each platform. It also explores the content strategies of six (out of 67) of the study’s highest-performing YouTube channels: Ryan’s World, It’s JoJo Siwa, Pinkfong! Kids’ Songs & Stories, PewDiePie, 5-Minute Crafts, and Dude Perfect. KEY TAKEAWAYS 1. Toy content is at peak viewership among kids ages 6-9 (62% of YouTube users in this age group watch toy videos), but older kids still show an interest in “play-oriented” videos; 2. 37% of YouTube watchers ages 0-14 first learned about a toy through a video that featured someone playing with it or talking about it; and 3. 63% of kids watching YouTube bought something they saw featured in a video, and it was most likely to be a toy (69% of purchasers bought a toy). TRENDS AND PLAY PATTERNS “Family content creators are undeniably influential in terms of jumpstarting

“Streaming platforms are bringing more digital-first characters and stories into the toy aisle than ever.” trends and revealing the latest must-have toys,” says Adrienne Appell, senior director of strategic communications at The Toy Association. “They are even impacting play patterns, as we saw with the unboxing phenomenon that emerged a few years ago. And while movies have historically driven licensed toy sales, streaming platforms are bringing more digital-first

characters and stories into the toy aisle than ever. It will be interesting to watch this trend unfold in 2020 and beyond.” The Toy Association members can access the “Children & Influencer Platforms Study” in the “Industry Reports” section (under the “Research & Data” tab) at toyassociation.org. The report was also highlighted in a recent webinar with Juli Lennett, vice president and industry advisor of U.S. Toys at The NPD Group. A recording of the webinar is available on The Toy Association website under the Education tab. Questions about this study and other Toy Association research may be directed to Anne McConnell, senior director of market research and data strategy (amcconnell@toyassociation.org). » toybook.com | APRIL/MAY 2020 | THE TOY BOOK   53

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Learn how WIT’s new president is committed to the mission of advancing women in the industry. by MARY KAY RUSSELL, executive director of Women in Toys, Licensing & Entertainment ENTERING ITS 30TH-ANNIVERSARY year, Women in Toys, Licensing & Entertainment (WIT) recently made the exciting announcement that Janice Ross, managing partner at Brand Fresh Management, has ascended to the role of WIT president after serving on its leadership team as vice president for the last two years. An industry veteran for more than 20 years and senior-level global licensing and marketing executive, Ross has a diverse background across multiple industries from entertainment to consumer products, having worked at LEGO, American Greetings, and Lisa Frank Inc. With her strong commitment to

helping women advance and succeed, coupled with her extensive and varied knowledge, Ross has built a career creating and maintaining trustworthy business relationships with like-minded individuals and companies, and she brings this same passion to her new role at WIT. Now is your chance to get to know Ross a little better as she shares her views on her new role, how she plans to tackle it, the challenges women in our industry face, and what’s on the horizon for WIT. Mary Kay Russell: What attracted you to WIT? Janice Ross: Hands down, it’s the incred-

ible people in the WIT community. What drew me in as president is my strong belief in and commitment to our mission of advancing women. I’ve been in this business for more than 20 years, and this is an amazing way for me to give back and have the opportunity to make a real difference. WIT is a robust group of more than 2,000 professionals who come from all corners of our industry. They want to connect with each other and participate in the organization through our myriad of networking events, webinars, and programming, such as our recently announced Ruth Handler Mentorship

The WIT Executive Committee (pictured left to right) rang the closing bell at the Nasdaq MarketSite on Friday Feb. 21: Alita Friedman, Nancy Zwiers, Jennifer Caveza, Ashley Mady, Janice Ross, Mary Kay Russell, Genna Rosenberg, and De de Sherbinin.

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different. There are many ways for women to gain new experiences that will prepare them for future roles, and I look forward to having this important conversation with our community and industry leaders. We need to explore ways we can collectively change this and give women more visibility and exposure to new opportunities. MKR: How do you think WIT can help solve these challenges? JR: We’ve created programming and opportunities to help foster these and other important leadership skills for women and the men who advocate for them to succeed. We have a network and community that introduce women (and men) to each other across industries. Having a robust network is critical to succeed in any business. Women need to build their skills and resumes and then be given the chance to take on leadership positions.

Janice Ross, WIT president and managing partner at Brand Fresh Management, spoke at the 16th Annual Wonder Woman Awards, held at Pier Sixty on Sunday, Feb. 23.

Program, which is our industry’s first oneon-one online mentoring initiative. These vital resources can help women bolster their industry knowledge, elevate the quality of their networks, and have a beneficial impact on their careers. More information about these game-changing programs [and events] is available at womenintoys.com. MKR: Looking to the future, what are your top goals for WIT? JR: There continues to be a gap in female leadership today in many areas of the business. What’s exciting to see is that so many of our WIT partners and sponsors who believe in our mission and support our efforts are coming together, rolling up their sleeves, and working with us to advance more women into leadership roles. My goals for the organization are to deliver on that mission by continuing to elevate awareness and lead the conversation about the challenges we face, help to come up with solutions, and provide critical programming and opportunities that will help our members advance and suc-

ceed. Together, we’ll cultivate more female leaders who will positively impact our industry’s bottom-line results. MKR: In your view, what are the challenges facing women in our industry today? JR: I see a few top challenges for women, the first of which is confidence. At times, our natural instinct is to understate our experience and capabilities and [believe] that with enough hard work, our talents [will] be recognized and rewarded. But what we’ve heard from so many successful leaders, both female and male, is that they stepped up into roles they were not exactly qualified for on paper, but [they] had the confidence to know they could learn and succeed in those roles. I would like to see more women own their power, be more confident, and use their voice to successfully navigate and lead in today’s business environment. Second, women have historically been given fewer opportunities to propel their careers to new heights. We see this across most industries, and ours is no

MKR: WIT has grown so much over the last few years. What fuels the organization? JR: We’re a 501(c)3 nonprofit that was purely volunteer-run until 2016. Since then, we’ve hired two full-time employees — our Executive Director Mary Kay Russell and our Community Manager Peg Brom — and several project managers. We rely exclusively on sponsorship and membership to fund all of our programming and initiatives. Other than our small-but-mighty staff, WIT is fueled by hundreds of volunteers who, like me, juggle our day jobs with our passion to make WIT the amazing community that it is today. The magic of WIT is in the people who participate and have the passion to deliver on our mission. As we continue to be a visible voice for advocating the advancement of women, we invite the toy, licensing, and entertainment industries to join WIT and become a part of our powerful community. » Mary Kay Russell is executive director at Women in Toys, Licensing & Entertainment, a global nonprofit organization that champions the advancement of women through leadership, networking, and educational opportunities. Prior to her role at WIT, she worked in the toy industry in multiple roles as a marketing professional, inventor, and manufacturer.

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#RETHINKINGSOCIALMEDIA Adjusting your social media strategy can boost your brand. by WENDY SMOLEN, founder, wendysmolen.com UNLESS YOU’VE LIVED UNDER A rock the last few years, you’re well aware of the power of social media. A menacing tweet can start international incidents. A clever Facebook or YouTube post can go viral. “Instagrammability” is an actual thing. Companies can no longer just rely on traditional print and broadcast media. Reaching customers in real time is a key strategy for building a brand, especially a brand targeted at young parents and kids: the savvy, ad-skipping consumers. Whether you’ve already introduced social media into your brand and are amazed at how much time it takes to get it right or you finally admit that posting occasional updates isn’t gaining much traction, it pays to fine-tune your strategy. TRADITIONAL VERSUS SOCIAL MEDIA Social media can be used to reach all of the traditional marketing goals, including increased sales, brand recognition, customer feedback, market leadership, trendspotting, and customer service. However, most experts agree that it is rarely a 100% replacement. Traditional media can still provide the reach you want, while social media gives a brand endorsements and credibility. The key is not only knowing your audience, but also knowing what platforms they use and engaging with them in meaningful ways. “Millennial moms do their research on social media,” says Stephanie Azzarone, president of Child’s Play Communications. “For most of our clients, Instagram and YouTube are where their consumers

live. However, we don’t disregard the reach or reputation of established, traditional media.” David Becker, president of Blue Plate Media Services, agrees. “A good media plan combines multiple touch points, mixing traditional and social platforms. For example, on products geared to 2- to 5-year-olds, for which linear TV for kids is strongest, and up to 6- to 11-yearolds, we’d likely include TV in the mix; for products aimed at millennials, we’d skew to alternative screens because that’s where they live.” Cutetitos, Basic Fun!’s line of burritowrapped plush pets, was inspired by social media. Despite its digital origins, nearly half of its current budget is spent on TV ads. Ashley Mady, head of brand development at Basic Fun!, recognized that people were rolling their pets in towels like burritos, posting photos on social media, and getting millions of views. ChizComm Beacon Media is the current media buying agency of record for Basic Fun! “Cutetitos translated easily to social media since it basically was already on it,” she explains. “We reverse-engineered the product with social media built into its DNA, designing every detail for Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube.” Basic Fun! launched the line by sending out about 50 influencer boxes. “It was entertainment in a box,” Mady says. “We gave influencers lots to talk about. Each box came with a giant burrito blanket for the YouTubers to wrap [around] themselves. Cutetitos even has its own vernacular, with every character name ending in ‘ito,’ translating perfectly into branded content. Every animal’s birthday is connected to a social media ‘holiday.’ The details matter. Nothing should be left to chance.”

When the product quickly gained traction on social media, Basic Fun! knew it had a hit. THE “INFLUENTIAL” INFLUENCERS Influencers can range from unboxers on a small scale all the way up to those with huge followings. “There’s a value in both,” says Tim Jones, media director for Blue Plate Media Services. “The first thing is to find the right influencer for your product. Many companies assume they can do this by themselves, churning out content and hoping for one big hit. But hiring experts who can analyze reach, engagement, partnerships, and overall value will save you a lot of time and, ultimately, money. It’s a rapidly growing and changing community. You want to stay ahead of the curve.” ARE YOU SCRAPPY OR SAVVY? You get what you pay for when it comes to traditional media. Social media is no different. The key, as with any campaign, is being strategic. A digital native may have the social media skills but lack the experience to run a campaign. It takes both. “Many companies’ instinct is to hire an intern who can run a social media page,” Mady cautions. “But does that person truly understand branding and marketing? Do they have the knowledge and experience to make strategic decisions? Consider social media as a digital footprint that’s online forever. Everything you post is critically important.” » Wendy Smolen has spent 25 years playing in the toy industry as an editor, writer, and storyteller. She co-founded Sandbox Summit, an idea forum focused on the intersection of play, learning, and technology. Currently, she works with publications, companies, and organizations to create playful perspectives that engage kids and families in innovative and impactful ways.

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Advertise in



JUNE 2020

• Specialty Toy Showcase • Chatting with the Industry Q&A • Hot Trend Features Editorial Deadline: 4/15/20 Ad Deadline: 6/1/20


• Dolls • Board Games • Construction • Licensing Showcase Editorial Deadline: 6/17/20 Ad Deadline: 7/15/20


• Holiday 2020 Launches and 2021 Toy Preview Showcases • Science & Educational Toys • 2021 Industry Forecast • Bonus Distribution at Toy Fair Dallas Editorial Deadline: 8/3/20 Ad Deadline: 8/31/20

Advertising opportunities also available on toybook.com (200k UMPVs) and in our weekly Toy Report industry newsletter!

Contact Jackie Breyer, publisher: jackie@toybook.com ®

To place a classified ad, please contact Bill Reese at 212-575-4510 x2322 or bill@toybook.com.

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Get Ready for the Energy and Excitement of Sweet Suite, From Home! On July 22, 500+ top-tier press, vetted influencers, and YouTube content creators from all over the U.S. and Canada will enter the BRAND NEW Sweet Suite @ Home virtual platform. They will “walk” the show floor and visit all of our sponsors’ booths to see the hottest toys for the remainder of the year. Your three-dimensional virtual booth features your products and branding. Attendees will watch pre-recorded product demos/b-roll and download product assets. You will be able to engage directly with anyone who enters your booth, and invite them to chat with you face to face directly through the platform. Multiple face-to-face chats for each booth means your team has the ability to engage one-on-one with multiple attendees at once, while simultaneously running an opendoor product demo or throwing a product-themed party—just like Sweet Suite in real life! •

More press, influencers, and YouTubers than ever before means you take home the ability to connect with hundreds of journalists, content producers, and potential brand ambassadors.

We will provide post-event analytics to give you insight into how attendees engaged with you and your booth during the event.

And now announcing: Retailer Day! On July 23, all retailers and distributors who sell toys will be invited to schedule face-to-face appointments with you through the Sweet Suite virtual platform. They will walk the floor and see all the hottest new toys for Q4, and leave a virtual business card for follow-ups.

Visit toyinsider.com/events for more details. Limited Sponsorships Remaining!

Contact: Jackie Breyer, jackie@toyinsider.com and James Devin, jd@toyinsider.com

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