ASTRA interim president Sue Warfield discussed ASTRA Camp, the association’s key initiatives for this year, and more in the Toy Book’s annual State of the Industry Q&A.

The Toy Book: With major toy show shifts due to the pandemic, how has ASTRA stepped up its digital opportunities for its members year-round?
Sue Warfield: In 2020, ASTRA quickly responded to the cancellation of our in-person show in June by offering a virtual option, ASTRA Camp. Our members responded very well, so we felt that it was imperative to offer an ASTRA Winter Camp in February of this year. With many of our retailers having upped their game to salvage the fourth quarter by offering more online options, curbside pick-up, and local deliveries, they are finding their shelves are bare and they need to not only fill them with inventory, but also find new products.

We also learned from our initial virtual Camp that our members just want to see, chat, and share ideas with one another. We started Friday Fun Days in November, which were Zoom gatherings to discuss specific topics and share ideas. These continued in January and we continued these in a new format after our Winter Camp, which ran from Feb. 19-23.

While our virtual camps are specifically for our retailers to discover new products and learn more about existing products, we always include social offerings that allow our members to have fun and carry forth our message of the power of play.

With input and help from our volunteer members, we are looking at doing a virtual game and kit event in March, and additional virtual gatherings of all members together as well for specific segments, whether it be by member category or regionally.

While the digital offerings have helped us stay connected, we know they can never fully substitute in-person offerings. We were lucky to have been able to move our Marketplace & Academy from our original June date to Aug. 5-8, and we are very optimistic that the pandemic we are facing will be minimized enough to allow us all to gather in Minneapolis.

TB: What are ASTRA’s key initiatives for the year ahead?
SW: We will continue with our Best Toys For Kids awards and building what the pandemic has heightened the awareness of: the importance of the local community and supporting local businesses. Beyond the digital offerings noted above, we are going to renew and refresh the basic premises upon which ASTRA was originally based — building relationships in our industry, working together to succeed, and promoting the power of play. We have an Innovation Council made of up members from all segments of our membership that helps provide not only ideas, but also action plans for addressing our new normal and beyond. We will be reinventing our membership committees so that they can actually work with the staff to provide timely and relevant resources for our members.

To sum up our 2021 focus and goals: stay connected, work together with our members and industry partners more closely, and stay relevant as we face each new day.

This State of the Industry Q&A response was originally published in the February 2021 edition of the Toy Book. Click here to read the full issue!