Fat Brain Toys shows off new games in its booth at ASTRA’s Marketplace & Academy. | Source: ASTRA

 by SUE WARFIELD, president, American Specialty Toy Retailing Association

As ASTRA’s 2021 Marketplace & Academy drew to a close at noon on Aug. 8 in Minneapolis, the atmosphere was charged with energy as exhibitors and attendees left the venue excited to have actually been together in person again. The experience of being able to connect with industry colleagues and to see and touch products while learning what was readily in stock in U.S. warehouses was the key to driving all of the order writing that took place at the show.

What do retailers and manufacturers anticipate for the fourth quarter of 2021? We’ve all learned a lot about how to adjust our business models throughout the tough ups and downs of doing business during the pandemic. This fall, store openings and/or closings due to a resurgence of COVID-19 and the spread of the delta variant is not the focus, as retailers have adjusted their selling methods to cope with a limited number of customers in their stores, mask mandates, and even complete shutdowns.

The “buy local” movement gained great momentum during 2020 and continued this year. The biggest issue facing the entire specialty industry now is getting products into U.S. warehouses and on store shelves at reasonable prices.

ASTRA’s Neighborhood Toy Store Day is Saturday, Nov. 13, and plans are underway to make it a great day for independent, brick-and-mortar toy stores. If product is available, retailers will surely have it on their shelves for this event.

Related: ASTRA Introduces 2021 Leadership Team

Many specialty toy stores plan to highlight the award-winning products from ASTRA’s Best Toys for Kids list and have ramped up their orders to fill their shelves with these toys and games. Plus, there’s a renewed focus on interactive, classic playthings. Over the past 18 months, many of our retailers experienced parents and other caregivers looking for engaging, classic toys that use brain power instead of battery power. We have all been so tied to screens — adults working remotely and kids dealing with virtual learning — that the desire to incorporate more screen-free playtime is greater than ever.

ASTRA retailer SmartyPants Findlay in Findlay, Ohio shows off fully stocked puzzle shelves ahead of the holiday shopping season. | Source: Jane Hassan

Overall, the outlook for Q4 sales is stronger than ever. Perhaps one of the most important lessons that we’ve learned throughout the pandemic is that being together is crucial to our society. The need to interact with those around us is essential to our well-being. Consumers rediscovered toys, games, and puzzles as a means to connect with friends and family, and those categories will continue to fuel toy industry sales.

Independent, neighborhood toy stores will be ready to work with their local customers as needed, utilizing whatever shopping methods that they can to provide the best toys, games, and gifts for holiday gift-giving. The outlook for the specialty industry for Q4? Strong and steady as we forge ahead!

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

About the author

Sue Warfield

Sue Warfield

Sue Warfield, president of the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA), has more than 30 years of experience working in the toy industry, including owning a retail store, being a sales representative, and working with her husband in a manufacturing business.