Direct from Market: Toy Fair 2015

by Tina Benitez-Eves | Gifts and Decorative Accessories

NEW YORK - Despite the frigid New York City weather over the Valentine's Day weekend, thousands still trekked in to see what was in store, spring through fourth quarter, at this year's North American International Toy Fair at the Jacob K. Javits Center.

It was big year for Toy Fair, which expanded to 422,000+ net square feet of exhibit space for its nearly 1,100 exhibitors showcasing hundreds of thousands of toys and games releasing this spring and fall for the holiday season and 13,000 buyers from nearly 100 countries.

Things kicked off Friday night with the annual Toy of the Year Awards. Spin Master took the top honor of Toy of the Year with its Zoomer Dino. The evening also honored Pat Feely, chairman of the Toy Industry Foundation and retired CEO of Radica Games, as well as the late Leslie Berge, founder of Cardinal Games. Throughout the week, the Toy Industry Association (TIA) expanded its educational programming and officially launched ShopToyFair365, a digital marketplace for exhibitors and attendees to stay connected and continue business during Toy Fair and throughout the year.

The American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA) was also on hand to introduce exclusive products for member retailers and Share the Fair event. "It was also a pleasure to welcome all the retailers who became new ASTRA members at Toy Fair," said Kathleen McHugh, president, ASTRA, "and who will be able to participate in our exclusives and Best Toys for Kids and Neighborhood Toy Store Day programs.”

Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) was influencing most of the product at Toy Fair, and something Matthew Robb was looking to add more of at his Darien, IL, shop. "It's [Toy Fair] overwhelming, but I've met all our goals," Robb, manager of Oakridge Hobbies, told Playthings. "I wanted to scout out new science games and puzzles. I'm really trying to find what works in our market. The East and West Coasts seem to be up on what is trending before we are at times in Chicago, so Toy Fair brings me up to date. Like everyone else, we're looking for high quality but a good price point. There's the challenge."

While STEM was infused into play, it was clear that kids want more do-it-yourself, customizable toys and games. Digital and robotic playthings and licenses are also going strong this year.

Gaining Mobility

Toys controlled by mobile device and app were racing all around this year's Fair.

Anki premiered Overdrive, a collection of track pieces that easily snap together via magnetic connectors allowing you to create and race your own customized courses within seconds. How fast the cars move, whether they turn left, right and do a 360 is all controlled by mobile device. “Think of it as bringing physical toys to life, like a video game,” said Mark Palatucci Ph.D., co-founder and chief product officer, Anki. “It’s something modern. It’s not just about racing. It’s about creative play.”

Meanwhile, Sphero’s Ollie was jumping ramps and racing against other Sphero tire pieces. The toy is controlled by mobile device and app and can move up to 14 miles per hour on any surface for racing fun.

Bringing the force into players hands, and minds, just in time for Star Wars The Force Awakens to hit theaters on December 18, Uncle Milton officially released its Force Trainer II, which lets players use the power of their mind to move holographic objects.

CogniToys introduces cute dinosaur figures to kids that can interact, teach kids via a virtual portal. The technology allows the toy to listen, speak and simultaneously evolve, learn and grow with a child.

School Zone also launched its Little Scholar tablet for pre-k through 1st graders. The life-size tablet lets kids learn as they grow with more than 150 apps, video, songs and books.

Makers Movement

There's a maker's movement happening, and more arts and craft kits are tapping into everything from upcycling, finger knitting, fabric- and paper-dyeing, decoupage, while other kits are letting kids build their own playthings. Klutz expanded its craft kit books to Finger Knitting, Tiny Stitches, Skrink and Link, gadgets, decoupage, dye designing and more, while Wooky Entertainment’s Charmazing line was made available nationwide. This fall, Wooky is also launching its iLoom digital looming machine, which connected to an ipade for more intricate design instructions and measurements.

Over at Fashion Angels, there was more upcycling with their collection of craft kits for repurposing plastics fabrics and more.

There’s even a rubber band art kit. Chalk art kits and Freaky Peeps, DIY string doll kits that come with comic books, are also part of the collection.

Alex Brands not only expanded its collection of craft kits for boys-everything from bracelets, cuffs, wallets and more, the company also just entered into a licensing agreement with Nickelodeon for SpongeBob, Dora and TMNT themed products across all its brands.

Celebrating 30 years in business and marriage-ThinkFun founders Andrea Barthello and Bill Ritchie started the company in 1985 and got married that same year. This year, the game makers expanded their line of games to Laser Maze Jr., Rush Hour Shift, which allows players to actually shift the game board to added play and more. Something new to the company is its Maker Studio collection of buildable structures. toyishCreated by engineers, players can use old cereal boxes or cans to construct different vehicles and more objects.

Also tapping into STEM educational play, Makey Makey lets anyone play piano using banana or other objects like they would never imagine. The circuity kit, created by two MIT students during a class project, started on Kickstarter back in 2012 with a video that went viral with more than four million views.

Assaf Eshet used to work for some of the biggest toy companies like Tomy, Fisher-Price and Hasbro, but wanted to make a crafting construction kit that was not on the market. Now teaching toy design at New York University and Pratt, Eshet has also officially launched Toyish, which combines construction, crafts, and story-telling. Each figure can change its face shape and form within seconds.

Griddly Games mixes chemistry and design with its Just Add Milk kit. Add color provided color droplets, milk and soap and watch the tie-dye reaction happen. Then dip paper and let dry for customized post cards, post its and more.

Colorforms has never left the toy shelves in 64 years. Today, the company has expanded it’s collection to included licensed craft sets featuring Nickelodeon, Marvel, Frozen and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. New for the company are it’s Story Creator board, which opens up to four scents, in addition to a Big Wall playset.

As Seen on TV…and Film

McFarlane Toys unveiled new Walking Dead scenes and construction sets, including the Boiler Room and Prison Cells. "Construction helps anchor us in the construction aisle,” Todd McFarlane told Playthings. “Right now, retailers are price conscious. It’s not the fourth quarter, so they want nothing over $40 or $30.”

Bleacher Creatures just launched its World Wrestling Entertainment plush figures. The construction sets feature exclusive figures. Sports figures from MLB, NFL, NBA, in addition to Marvel, DC Comics are part of the collection. Star Wars may be on the way as well.

Wicked Cool Toys are taking the Cabbage Patch Kids (CPK) digital for the first time in more than 35 years. Just named the master toy maker for the iconic doll, the company debuted a standing dancing version of the iconic doll, in addition to 36 new dolls and Adoptimals, pets with a digital component. The Cabbage Patch Kids feature a bracelet with a heart-shaped charm that interacts with the 8-inch Adoptimals.

The Girl Scouts were licensing out more this year. Wicked Cool Toys had a Girl Scouts section devoted to its new cookie oven. The Girl Scouts Oven lets fans of the Samoa and chocolate mint cookies make their very own at home, albeit smaller, but they taste like the real, full-size thing.

Cepia was also celebrating the return of Zhu Zhu Pets, which were last on the market in 2009. Today, the Zhu Zhu's have a slightly new look (stitched eyes) and new packaging. Kids can watch their hamsters race through tracks or build a hamster trail. Zhu Zhus also have different personalities. A little mark on each critter will give kids an idea of each Zhu Zhu's behavior.

Madame Alexander revamped its Toy Fair booth and offerings to really make everything-Baby, Play and The Collection-stand out. “We want to present a new face of Madame Alexander and keep it fresh, vibrant, said Judy Herbst. “Our mission is to make Madame Alexander relevant. In the collectibles area, the company launched its Wonder Woman 18-inch figure in its DC Comics collection. In Play, Madame Alexander has added 7-inch figures for younger girls for the first time. Dr. Sylvie LeFloch was on hand at a doll nursery, where she held new Babble Babies and newborn dolls, one of which was featured in the Oscar-nominated film American Sniper. Madame Alexander recently donated dolls to the family care center to the Fischer House veterans hospital in Texas.

Next year, Toy Fair will run February 13-16.

Check out more photos from this year's Toy Fair at the Playthings Facebook page.

Direct from Market: Toy Fair 2015