Winter 2016
Never Grow Up By Sam Ujvary

Thanks to products boasted at shows like Toy Fair, we’re reminded that growing up is overrated.

The Toy Industry Association announced 84 finalists for the 2016 Toy of the Year Awards that will be held Feb. 12, 2016. This year's finalists were selected from more than 700 nominees submitted by more than 200 companies. The categories are:

Activity Toy of the Year - Arts and crafts, construction and other indoor toys that inspire creative play through various forms of activity

BOY TOY OF THE YEAR - Toys developed for boys of any age

E-CONNECTED TOY OF THE YEAR - A physical toy or game that is app-enabled or otherwise interacts with a smartphone, tablet or gaming device

EDUCATIONAL TOY OF THE YEAR - Toys that help children to develop special skills and knowledge through play

GAME OF THE YEAR - Children's board, card, electronic or other physical game formats and puzzles - (does not include video games or apps)

GIRL TOY OF THE YEAR - Toys developed for girls of any age

INFANT/TODDLER TOY OF THE YEAR - Toys developed for infant children and toddlers (ages up to 36 months) -

INNOVATIVE TOY OF THE YEAR - Toys that utilize innovative design, technology, or manufacturing processes to enhance play value

OUTDOOR TOY OF THE YEAR - Toys designed for outdoor play

PRESCHOOL TOY OF THE YEAR - Toys developed for preschool-aged children (ages 3-5)

PROPERTY OF THE YEAR"¨ - Property that had the greatest success spreading its brand throughout the industry

SPECIALTY TOY OF THE YEAR Toys primarily distributed through specialty retailers

Amidst the plethora of children’s products that are introduced into the juvenile industry in a given year, arguably the favorites are the hidden gems found by grandmas and papas who spend countless hours, weeks and months scouring store shelves for cuddly plush characters, noise-making, light-up toys and precious keepsakes to give their grand little ones.

One of the places undoubtedly considered a product goldmine for the baby and kids industry is the Toy Industry Association’s (TIA) annual Toy Fair, held in New York City. Conveniently sectioned off in more than 422,000 square feet of fun and games for little ones, The Javits Center will again play host to the show that has been around since 1903. TIA is a not-for-profit trade association that aims to meet all the needs of the global toy industry. And it is a force to be reckoned with. Marian Bossard, senior vice president of global marketing events for TIA has been an integral cog in the organization’s machine for 16 years. She’s the go-to for all things events, but she sees her evolved position as so much more than a trade show organizer. “I see my role as helping our members sell more products, in more places, to more people, more often,” she said. “Toy Fair and Fall Toy Preview are two ways we accomplish that but I don’t want a relationship with the industry in 3-4 day increments. I want to understand their goals and aspirations so that I can help our member companies grow their business domestically and globally, before during and after our events.” Of course, participating in Toy Fair helps establish those relationships.

The show used to be a buyer-seller event, but has since evolved along with the industry. Sure, it still has that transactional quality of fulfilling the needs of buyers and sellers, but now it welcomes and celebrates the broad workforce behind the juvenile industry. “The foundation of the industry has many bricks and includes safety experts, trend specialists, inventors and product designers along with television, movie and online entertainment brand owners. All are important and we seek ways to create value for all who attend,” said Bossard.

There’s no doubt that every company showcasing products at this year’s Toy Fair is thrilled to be a part of such a successful staple in the industry. Be on the lookout for some of these highlights.

Inside the Toy House

Back in 2003, husband-and-wife team Jennifer and Clint Telfer began creating foldable plush characters in an attempt to keep their children’s rooms. The products of Pillow Pets have morphed into room décor for little ones starting to show their personalities. Making their debut at the show, Sweet Scented Pets bring a subtle scent of sweetness to the plush pals. “The power of smell can enhance a memory or special event so tying it with the comfort of a stuffed animal is a perfect blend,” said Heidi Niehart, director of marketing and public relations for Pillow Pets. The company’s first releases — CookiePup, GummiPup and PupCake — will debut alongside new licenses that will be showcased in time with new movie releases like Finding Dory.

When it comes to foreseeing what the kiddos will love, “Our success has always been about finding ways to have a dual function with plush,” said Niehart.

Much like Pillow Pets, Cuddle Barn, another heartfelt company with a gift for all walks of life, thinks the possibilities of shelf-stocking favorites seem endless. Cuddle Barn creates animated plush characters that marry child-favorite animal friends with grownup musical favorites: a monkey that plays the piña colada song; a honey-loving bear that dances to The Archies’ classic, Sugar, Sugar; and an edgy cow that has the moos like Jagger. While these fun sing-along pals are suitable for all ages, Cuddle Barn has been seeing growth in the children’s section and will continue to expand their products in that category. “Next year we are introducing Big Brother/Big Sister Bears that make great gifts for kids who are about to become siblings,” said Mye Hoang of Cuddle Barn. The company is also anticipating an upcoming mermaid trend and is already on top of it with sea life creatures that will be welcomed to the family soon.

On the Night You Were Born by Nancy Tillman celebrates new bundles. Endearing items in the book’s collection like the polar bear plush are soft and cuddly for Baby and are new to Demdaco.
On the Night You Were Born by Nancy Tillman celebrates new bundles. Endearing items in the book’s collection like the polar bear plush are soft and cuddly for Baby and are new to Demdaco.

With an international reach thanks to worldwide sports and superhero fans — it boasts 10-inch plush figures in idols like Lebron James, Steph Curry and Batman — Bleacher Creatures is licensed in every major league sports category including international soccer clubs such as Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester, as well as on the entertainment side with Marvel and DC comics. While the popularity of some products it carries will depend on the region and the market, the popularity of others span the globe. “Lebron James sells anywhere in the world,” said Micah Levy, director of marketing for Bleacher Creatures. The team works with key buyers in specific markets and strategizes releases with which players are doing well and what new entertainment releases are coming up. As we head into 2016, “we’ll have a lot of new sports products, but we’ll really be focusing on entertainment as well in terms of movie releases such as Captain America: Civil War, Batman vs. Superman and Suicide Squad as well,” Levy added.

If you’re not into yoga, Vacation Monty from Cuddle Barn is vacation ready and perfect for your store shelves. He sips his coconut drink and bounces around to Escape (the Piña Colada song).
If you’re not into yoga, Vacation Monty from Cuddle Barn is vacation ready and perfect for your store shelves. He sips his coconut drink and bounces around to Escape (the Piña Colada song).

For older children, companies like OYO Sports created buildable sports teams that resemble Legos, and Winning Moves is well known for offering classic games including Guess Who, Clue, Monopoly and the ageless Rubik’s Cube. “We were founded by Phil Orbanes Sr., the long-time head of R&D at Parker Brothers and world Monopoly expert; Mike Meyers, the once head of R&D at Milton Bradley, Tom Kremer the man who discovered Erno Rubik in Hungary back in the 70s and brought it to Toy Fair 1980; and Alex Randolph, a famous European game designer,” said Joe Sequino, vice president of marketing for Winning Moves. “Board games, specifically the brands that we offer, are part of American culture. Many of our games are rite-of-passage games like Classic Candy Land and Classic Chutes & Ladders. Other games like Classic Monopoly, Classic Sorry, Aggravation and so on – are brands that everyone knows and loves. Same with the Rubik’s Cube. It’s the best selling puzzle of all time and it is all over pop culture.”

For the countless exhibitors at Toy Fair, they’re in a business that’s all about joy. Have you ever seen a child receive a toy and not smile? “The creativity this business brings out in people is amazing; not only in the manufacturing and design, but on the retail side as well,” said Niehart. Toy Fair arms retailers with the products they need to succeed. To see what these retailers are able to do with their stores is incredible – the whimsy and imagination of their merchandising is inspiring to people like Niehart and the rest of those who attend Toy Fair each year.

Brag Blocks from Sticky Bellies allow parents to share their growing little one's ages with colorful month blocks.
Brag Blocks from Sticky Bellies allow parents to share their growing little one’s ages with colorful month blocks.

Sam Ujvary

Sam is the managing editor of Gift Shop Pets, Museums & More and Party & Halloween Retailer, and is a contributing editor for Gift Shop Magazine. She has a copywriting background and has been in publishing for six years.

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