Ah, the start of a new year. Typically, it’s the time in which we take stock of what we have, consider how we can make our lives even better, and then “resolve” to carry out those plans. It’s with this in mind that I’ve put together a list of New Year’s resolutions–not for myself, mind you; I’ve already composed that list, which is why this commentary is up at deadline, instead of several hours past. No, I’m talking about resolutions that I’d like the toy industry to consider taking on. Because as absolutely perfect as a thing is, there’s nothing like a detached observer’s unsolicited advice to make it even more perfect, am I right?
(Another of my personal resolutions was to not say anything in my commentaries this year that might offend someone in the toy industry. Drop me a line periodically, and let me know how I’m doing!)
So without further ado, here’s my New Year’s resolutions for the toy industry:
Bring more toy manufacturing back to the U.S. The good news is, some North American toy makers are already taking up this challenge. Indeed, this past year, we heard from K’Nex, which said it was much better off with most of its manufacturing stateside (K’Nex also recently moved production of Lincoln Logs back to the U.S. after finding a suitable partner for manufacturing them in large volumes). Along with no longer having to cross an entire ocean to ship toys from China, technological innovations in the U.S.–as well as business-friendly climates in certain states–are overcoming the long-spoken argument that cheap labor is why these types of jobs must go overseas.
In addition, American consumers are more concerned about safety and quality than ever, and both are traits that the tag, “Made in the USA,” is synonymous with. For those reasons (and probably more I haven’t thought of), let’s hope toy manufacturing jobs keep migrating back.
Keep it civil with the federal government. Sometimes the most difficult resolution is staying the course. One of the biggest issues consuming the attention of the toy industry is the cost of imposed product and safety testing. Given the age that we live in, in which any perceived government intervention on private industry tends to be met with loud objections, it wouldn’t be surprising to hear toxic rhetoric aimed at agencies like the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). But instead, an overall tone of civility has been maintained. Robert Adler, the acting chair for the CPSC, gave the keynote address at a Toy Industry Association (TIA) event during American International Toy Fair last year. It isn’t as if the federal government has given toy companies the brush-off, either. As reported last December, the CPSC has allocated $1 million of its operating budget this year to finding ways of alleviating testing burdens (the result of TIA-supported legislation).
It’s refreshing, downright inspiring to see public agencies and private businesses not at each other’s necks, and actually working together to solve their differences. Whatever the coming year brings, I’ll be rooting for these crazy kids and their marriage of convenience to pull through.
Unleash more Frozen. That’s probably a given, seeing as how the license has done well in just about every category, including toys. But as new licensed products continue to be announced, what’s interesting is how the appeal has managed to reach both extremes of the consumer market. Late last year, Madame Alexander introduced a collectible Elsa doll featuring Swarovski crystals and a price tag of $5,000. Meanwhile, this February, Funko will release Frozen Mystery Minis, small collectible figures that will probably cost just a few dollars each. Again, the wide disparity is testament to the strength of the license. We’re already looking forward to next year, where there will undoubtedly be a Frozen castle, made of real Danish carved ice and equipped with its own abominable snowman security system, aimed at the very high-end luxury segment.
Continue to grow up, green toys! In 2013, I began covering Eco-friendly toys for The Toy Book, and the majority of what I found was intended for infants and preschoolers. Last year I was still covering the Eco-friendly beat, but this time I stumbled across a few items for an older demographic (For example, UncommonGoods‘ Crumple, The Make-It-Yourself Bear, recommended for an audience ages 14 and up). It’s good to see green toy manufacturers aging up along with their initial demographic, and here’s hoping they continue to do so.
Show more love to specialty toy retailers. I always thought of indie toy shops as great, but last year I gained an even deeper appreciation while talking to a few store owners for the Neighborhood Toy Store Day Q&A. I learned how many of these stores serve as important hubs for their communities. In addition, several toy manufacturers have services for specialty retailers, such as custom store displays. Still, we’d like to see even more special treatment tossed their way. The big box retailers may claim the largest chunk of toy sales, but it’s neighborhood toy stores that greet people where they live, often introducing them to the latest products on their way home from work, or during weekends. That’s an important service for the industry, and one that can’t be completely replaced by destination toy shops or the Internet.
Listen to us on issues of gender and play. Here at The Toy Book Blog, we publish a lot of commentaries on a lot of different topics, but a recurring subject is gender roles. Our talented cadre writes pretty regularly about the depiction of boys and girls playing with toys in TV advertising, boys playing with dolls, girls’ self-image, etc. And yet, these problems persist in both the toy industry and society at large. Obviously, if the folks running the toy companies paid greater attention to our commentaries, the result would be a better toy industry, not to mention a happier world. This could be the year they finally listen. Of course, even if I’m wrong, we’ll just keep plugging away.
Now, by no means was this intended to be a comprehensive list of suggested resolutions. If there’s one you think we unjustly omitted, let us know in the comments section below. In the meantime, thanks for reading, and Happy New Year to you and yours.
For more commentary from Phil, check back often. Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Toy Book as a whole. We hope that you will share your comments and feedback below. Until next time!