COMMENTARY: As Play Gets Smarter, More Toys Come to Life Digitally

It’s official: Smart toys are taking over the toy space.

Gone are the days in which kids are content with traditional methods of play. Books, activities, and games are all available for kids on mobile devices, and they expect their toys to be no different. But although the mediums that kids are interacting with daily are changing, the one thing that won’t ever change is that kids love play.

Angry Birds Stella Telepods

Angry Birds Stella Telepods

Smart toys integrate physical toys and technology—essentially giving digital life to toys. Manufacturers are starting to realize the added value in these products and how wildly popular they can be. More than 72 million kids say they want smart toys, according to market research firm Interpret in a GameByte study.

In addition, kids are using mobile devices more than ever before. Seventy-one percent of households with a child age 4 to 14 reported owning a smartphone in 2014, already up from 55 percent in 2012, according to The NPD Group. Also, kids who own tablets doubled from 2012 to 2014, growing from 21 percent to 43 percent, respectively. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: China Toy Expo Showcases Regional Toy Brands with Worldwide Potential

DreamBeyond2Toy trade shows are terrific places in which to catch a sneak peek of the next play product sure to take the marketplace by storm. Recently, I was covering China Toy Expo, sponsored by China Toy & Juvenile Products Association, which took place this past week at the Shanghai New International Expo Center in Shanghai. While the show featured plenty of toy brands that would be familiar to Westerners—many of them imported by Chinese companies for domestic distribution—there were also lots of Chinese toy manufacturers on-hand, bearing properties that they hope will do well at home.

And of course, if a product does well in its native market, one assumes there’s a good chance it will gain an international partner that will help it take the next step. Think of Lego, which began selling in Europe during the 1940s before expanding to North America during the ’60s. Not every new toy brand can be Lego, of course; however, it’s always fun to speculate on new products and their potential to become the next big global star due to built-in appeal, compelling features, etc. Here are a few domestically-made items from China Toy Expo, which in this author’s opinion, have a shot at breaking out worldwide. [Read more...]

China Toy Expo Highlights Sustainability, Safety, and Education as Popular Trends in China

Despite being half a world away, the concerns and demands of toy consumers in China are not all that different from their U.S. counterparts, according to China Toy Expo.

The first day of the trade fair, along with China Kids Expo and China Licensing Expo—all hosted by China Toy & Juvenile Products Association—kicked off this past Tuesday in sprawling fashion at the Shanghai New International Expo Center in Shanghai. Across three days, 1,364 global brands were on display, and roughly 80,000 visitors were expected to participate.

CTE 1

The China Toy Expo took place at the Shanghai International Expo Center in Shanghai from Oct. 14-16.

Recent news shows reasons to be optimistic about the Chinese toy market’s future, including the country’s overtaking of the U.S. in terms of purchasing power. Yet based on the flow of crowds at the show, many of the types of toys that Chinese consumers are especially interested in are ones promoting sustainability, safety, and educational development. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Science Toys Appeal to Kids Younger Than Ever

In the past, the term “science toy” commonly elicited thoughts of volcano kits, magnifying glasses, and telescopes—and not much else. However, times have changed. Kids and parents today have a broad range of options to choose from in the science category, from toys that teach kids about outer space to kits that help them learn computer programming. With all the options available today, the industry is seeing new trends in the science toy space, and kids are reaping the benefits.

thamesDemand has grown for toys geared toward kids as young as 3 and 4 years old. Andrew Quartin, CEO of Thames & Kosmos, says, “I visit a lot of retail stores, and more times than not, I get requests for things specifically for 4-year-olds, and sometimes for 3-year-olds. This presents specific challenges, because the way kids ages 3 and 4 learn is very different from the way kids ages 6, 8, 10, or 12 learn.” The key to creating a successful product for this age demographic lies in how easy it is to play with. “One of the strongest assets of our kits are the manuals and the ease-of-use we create with them. How do you do that for a 3-year-old that hasn’t learned to read yet? Our thought is that we’re going to model our manuals after picture books, so it’ll be very image-driven and will tackle topics that they’re interested in.” [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: The Toy Industry Stands Up for National Bullying Prevention Month

October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and whether or not you believe bullying is a natural rite of passage among children, versus a series of preventable behaviors that can leave lasting emotional damage on the young, one thing is clear: It has become a part of the national conversation. Joining the voices chiming in on the subject is the toy industry, which in the months leading up to October, has seen a number of actions among various players to address the problem of bullying. Some take the form of products that try to make kids understand the bad feelings that come with being picked on; others seek galvanize youth into taking a stand against bullying together. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Nintendo Is Game for Playing in the Toy World

amiibo.largerversionSince the 1980s, Nintendo has always seemed to be the “family-friendly” choice in video games. With wholesome characters such as Mario and Luigi, Princess Peach, Yoshi, and Toad, and bad guys that make you laugh more often than they scare you (except for Bowser in the original Super Mario Bros. game on NES—he was straight up scary), Nintendo has always given off a welcoming, family-friendly vibe, with games available for kids of all ages, and systems and controllers that are intuitive rather than intimidating.

Despite knowing this—and being a Nintendo fan my whole life—it still caught me a bit off-guard when Nintendo announced that it would be launching amiibo, which are action-figures designed to connect and interact with compatible games. “By holding the amiibo over your Wii U GamePad, you’ll open up new experiences within each corresponding game,” reads the Nintendo website. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Comics’ Timeless Heroes (and Villains) Are Still Loved by Today’s Kids

Superman-First-Comic-Action-Comics-No-1-222x300Kids these days may not know that Superman, Spider-Man, and Batman (among many, many others) hailed from glorious comic books first published in the 1930s, costing someone 10 cents an issue on the stands. They also may not realize how well some have held their value, being that the very first Superman comic, Action Comics No. 1, supposedly goes for $3.2 million dollars—but let’s not get too sidetracked.

The real point here is that today, September 25, is National Comic Book Day, and it’s hard to imagine the toy aisles without the superheroes and villains who once upon a time, were neither action figures nor stars on the silver screen played by big-league actors and actresses; but instead, started out as hand-illustrated drawings on a comic strip. [Read more...]

Pley Plays with Experience

Ranan - Head Shot 1It can be hard to say no to a kid who consistently begs for a toy. But once they have that toy in their hands, parents are never sure how long the kid will play with it before they are ready to move on to something else.

Ranan Lachman had the same problem when his son was about five years old. Lachman realized that he had spent about $3,000 on toys, only for his son to play with each for only two to three hours. Lachman knew there had to be a more efficient way to provide toys for his son. Thus, he became the co-founder and CEO of Pley (yes, that’s spelled correctly), a company that allows its customers to rent as many Lego sets as they want for a monthly fee. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Dolls for Boys Are a Sign of the Times

Fritzi, from Haba

For the most recent issue of The Toy Book, I had a chance to research trends in the doll industry, and one that stuck out is an increase in dolls with potential appeal for boys. Arklu, the creator of Lottie Dolls, is planning to introduce its first boy doll, Kite Flyer, this fall. Meanwhile, Haba will be introducing Fritzi, a doll that has no assigned gender—Fritzi can be a boy doll for boys, or a girl doll for girls. There’s also Grandmas2Share, which is marketing grandmother-themed dolls as playthings for children of both genders. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Happy National Teddy Bear Day!

by Christine Duhaime and Phil Guie

toothpickLife—or childhood, at least—would have been simply un-bear-able without teddy bears, am I right? What other toy so effectively soothes us when we’re unhappy, or makes for a truer companion on picnics, tea parties, and other adventures? And since this is an industry blog, we should also point out that teddy bears are a perennial seller among audiences of all ages: Toddlers may receive them for their first toys, but so do young adults as college graduation presents; and grown-ups as birthday gifts, Valentine’s Day tokens, and souvenirs. [Read more...]