Source: ASTRA

by SUE WARFIELD, interim president, American Specialty Toy Retailing Association

It’s been a crazy 12 months. I can still remember gathering in Las Vegas for Toy Fest West just about a year ago. After returning from that event, all in-person gatherings came to a screeching halt — fast forward to May 2021, and we have survived.

What does the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA) look like in 2021? Due to the success of ASTRA’s Summer Camp virtual event in 2020 and our members’ need for new products, ASTRA successfully completed its Winter Camp from Feb. 19-23. We kicked off our camp by passing a virtual torch and lighting a campfire at the opening ceremony, which also included an amazing magic show put on by professional magician Bill Cook, provided by our member manufacturer D. Robbins (EZ Magic). The next four days were filled with great product showings in our live “huddles” and manufacturer “campsites” that offered videos, product information, and “office hours” for virtual live meetings with retailers.

We kicked off the event every morning with live Zoom gatherings, complete with a wellness session and a fresh discussion topic. Our evening social events included “On the Road”, during which we virtually toured many of our members’ stores and businesses; “Kit and Game Night” for manufacturers to show off their latest activity kits and board games; and “Share the Fair”, during which retailers shared their best-performing items in 2020 and what they are seeing as great new 2021 products. In our closing ceremony on Feb. 23, we shared what our community means to us. Winter Camp brought out the best in what we are all about: working together for success as well as having fun through play.

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We will announce our “Best Toys for Kids” award winners in June along with a special print edition of our magazine that will highlight all the finalists. This program is intended to heighten consumer awareness of the value of creative, open-ended play and the role that independent, locally owned toy stores play in providing kids with quality products that promote happy, healthy, and productive childhoods. Companies have already nominated their products for the “Best Toys for Kid”s awards, and ASTRA retailers will soon vote to determine the winners.

While virtual events will continue to keep us connected, we are full steam ahead for our in-person gathering in August. ASTRA’s Marketplace & Academy is scheduled to take place from Aug. 5-8 at the Minneapolis Convention Center. With the vaccine rollout showing promise, we believe this event will be our own “shot in the arm” as we gather in-person for the first time in more than 17 months! While it will be a bit of a scaled-down version from previous Marketplace & Academy events due to the lingering effects of the pandemic, the energy, offerings, and fun will be stronger than ever after our long drought of personal interactions.

We will have all safety precautions put in place based on the guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for large gatherings. We are in the planning stages as this article goes to press, but rest assured, it will be an amazing event with a sold-out show floor. The popular Kit and Game Night retailer events will take place, as will the infamous lip sync contest. Minneapolis, along with our strong independent retailer, sales rep, and manufacturer “home state” businesses, are ready to roll out the red carpet and make this an event you won’t want to miss.

As we all continue to stretch ourselves in 2021, ASTRA’s staff, our board, and our members are working together to provide the support we all need as we begin to see a “new beginning.” We are and will continue to be mightier than ever!

This article was originally published in the May 2021 edition of the Toy Book. Click here to read the full issue!