Because of changing conditions in the toy industry, where major mass market retailers are making their purchasing decisions well over a year before each all-important holiday selling season, the Toy Industry Association inaugurated a second trade show this year. The Mass Market Toy Expo, held October 21—23 at New York's Toy Center, was an appointment-only show limited to mass market retailers and vendors. Unlike the 100-year-old Toy Fair, which will continue as usual in February with more of a specialty focus, this show was a no-media event meant to generate orders for the fourth quarter of 2004.

While close to 50 publishers typically exhibit at the February Toy Fair each year, the majority took a wait-and-see attitude toward the new Expo. Most of the trade publishers that send special sales teams to Toy Fair did not participate in this mass market show, and even a number of mass market publishers, whose coloring, activity and other titles are largely sold through mass merchants and toy retailers, opted out. Many cited timing conflicts with other important shows, including Frankfurt, CIROBE and SHOPA (for stationery and office products), while others said they consulted their key retail customers and licensors, who told them it wasn't necessary to attend.

Overall, the Toy Expo attracted 223 exhibitors and 1,700 attendees, according to the TIA. The latter included 731 buyers and 969 others (licensors, non-exhibiting manufacturers, reps, etc.).

Unlike toy companies, which require long manufacturing lead times, publishers highlighted mostly spring offerings, as well as taking late orders for holiday 2003. (The February show is geared primarily toward spring lists and previews of fall product, often in mock-up form.) Publishers who exhibited at the Expo found that while the narrowly focused event attracted far less traffic than Toy Fair, there was more order writing. But one publisher questioned whether the orders would have come in anyway at other shows, notably CIROBE. "I wrote some orders, but where did they come from?" he asked.

Others were more positive. "I would definitely do it again. The buyers are here, so why not be here?" said Andrew Steinberg, president of Modern Publishing, which has a part-time showroom at the Toy Center. "It was less about a party [than the February show] and more focused on business. There's a lot more pomp and circumstance in February."

"It was a little less hectic [than Toy Fair]," agreed Ben Ferguson, president of Bendon Publishing International, which has a year-round Toy Center showroom, fully staffed during the Expo, and, unlike at Toy Fair, he wrote several hundred thousand dollars in orders. "There was more time to discuss actual programs and large promotions for the year," Ferguson explained. "At Toy Fair, it's a quicker show and tell." Toy Fair appointments usually require follow-up meetings to impart details, he noted.

Licensors took advantage of the fact that many of their partners were all in one place by holding licensing summits—where they gather their licensees together, communicate new information and encourage partners to join in cross-promotions—just as they do during Toy Fair. Many non-exhibiting and exhibiting publishers alike, particularly those based in New York, said they attended such meetings during Expo week.

Some publishers and toy companies have questioned how the Expo will affect traditional Toy Fair, which ostensibly will focus on the needs of specialty chains and shops but will surely be attended by the Expo's mass retailers as well. While the big toy companies, including Mattel and Hasbro, have been cutting back their presence at the February show over the past several years, most toy vendors plan to maintain a profile at both shows, at least in the short term, since the respective events serve different customers during different buying periods. The February Toy Fair is still likely to attract a lot of attention—with more new product announcements and heavy media coverage—and to continue attracting a large publishing contingent.

Ferguson said he would support both shows for now. "The more times you get to see buyers and licensors, the better."