Features Industry Outlook

The Toy Coach: Why the Global Pandemic is Evening Out the Toy Industry Playing Field

Azhelle Wade The Toy Coach

When I look at my upcoming 2021 toy trade show calendar, all I see is red. COVID-19 rocked the toy industry, throwing off decades of habitual in-person trade show behavior and forcing it all either online or into nonexistence. Our biggest trade shows are postponed now, and they’ve been pushed back so far in my calendar that in my mind, they might as well be canceled.

In place of insane shipping fees, expensive plane tickets, luxury hotel rooms, and firm handshakes, we suddenly had awkward Zoom pitch meetings, complicated trade show platforms, and a truly global perspective.

And I know, I know; we all saw the toy industry as a truly “global” industry long before the pandemic. How could we not? We work with factories all over the globe to create our products, we ship and sell those products all over the globe, so how were we not already thinking globally?  Because our global business never offered an easy entry point for non-toy industry people.

The toy industry is notorious for being a closed-off industry. Tough and expensive to break into. Our high-ticket trade shows held in expensive cities couldn’t easily serve as an entry point for someone just getting started. And with most of our buyers forming deals at trade shows or at in-person meetings, newcomers struggled to connect.

Then COVID-19 happened. And we ALL went online.

When our toy trade shows went online it freed up time and opened up possibilities. We could schedule more meetings, and attend them with less stress and more open minds. We’re at the early stage of a dot-com boom that happened in other industries long ago. And all of this access could change the way that new toys are bought, and how brands are discovered for the foreseeable future.

As I explored my way through all of the different online trade shows this year, from ASTRA Camp, to Toy Fair Everywhere, and Licensing Week Virtual, one thing became abundantly clear to me. This is the new normal, these platforms are not going away.

Platforms like Toy Fair Everywhere, Licensing Week Virtual, and ASTRA Camp all offer invaluable core features that are leveling the playing field between smaller and bigger toy companies.    

With virtual booths, size is no longer an issue. Exhibitors won’t run out of wall space to display product, or feel cramped in a fabric-walled meeting room or at a counter height table. Instead, focus is put on the quality of your marketing materials and the quality of your goods, areas in which new toypreneurs are happy to and capable of competing.

I believe that what is being created right now, industry-wide, is the Facebook of the toy industry. It’s happening with almost every single toy trade show organization we have. These platforms are connecting exhibitors, buyers, salespeople, agents, inventors, and designers in a strategic, data-focused way. The platforms are gathering information about who we are in the toy industry and what types of toy products and services we need. And with that data, the algorithm can show us who in that database is the best fit to provide that good or service.

But here’s the catch. The clock is ticking.

If new toy companies want to benefit from this industry shift before they’re priced out of it, they’ve got to get onto these platforms now. As with any social platform, the early adapters are the ones that thrive the most. Now is the time.

Now is the time to perfect your sizzles and reels.

Now is the time to fine tune your copy for clicks.

Now is the time to nail down the automated funnel that takes a booth visitor from your landing page to your sales form.

If you’re a savvy digital marketer, your wheels are already turning. These platforms are opening up a whole new host of digital marketing opportunities and strategies that both big and small toy companies can put into place if they just get a little creative.

In marketing, it’s all about sending the right message to the right audience in the right medium at the right time. These new online toy trade shows have already solved part of the equation — they created the right medium. And that medium is an easy-to-use online platform that categorizes attendees and allows them to find and connect with the people and products they need for their business, when they need them.

A cancer survivor, 3x patented inventor, Women in Toys Wonder Woman award finalist, and award-winning designer, Azhelle Wade has climbed up and across the ladder in the toy industry for over 10 years with companies like Toys’R’ Us, Horizon Group USA, Madame Alexander, and Creative Kids. Now, as the President of The Toy Coach and host of the podcast, Making It in The Toy Industry, Azhelle creates online resources that help educate inventors and entrepreneurs about the toy biz.

You can learn more about Azhelle at www.TheToyCoach.com and about her podcast at www.MakingItInTheToyIndustry.com.

This article appeared in the October 2020 issue of TFE Magazine.