Coming out of Toy Fair New York, despite all of the doom and gloom in the headlines thanks to the growing concern over the spread of coronavirus, the vibe of the industry has been overwhelmingly positive. In speaking with many attendees, the general consensus has been that this year’s show featured better product, a better attitude, and an overall better outlook for the future.
One thing lacking, however, was a truly big story (COVID-19 and Baby Yoda excluded) that would resonate beyond the industry and into the mainstream. Of particular note, there were no big national retail headlines out of Toy Fair this year. In fact, some of the most talked-about players from last year had largely retreated from the show floor.
Last year, FAO Schwarz had a sizable space in the Javits Center that not only promoted the “return to wonder” promised by its retail stores, but also a selection of merchandise that it sells to other retailers such as Kohl’s and Meijer. Tru Kids Brands, ahead of its Toys “R” Us (TRU) relaunch in the U.S., had a booth on the lower level offering sales from its “Geoffrey’s Toy Box” line of proprietary brands. This year, neither company maintained a formal space at Toy Fair, though buyers and executives from both retailers were present during the show. FAO, which had initially booked meeting room space, instead opted to shuttle partners from the Javits to its offices at Rockefeller Center for meetings.
Conflicting reports from last year show toy industry retail sales as being down 4%, up 4%, or landing somewhere near flat. Regardless of which math you prefer, what’s clear is that the sales have shifted, and Amazon and Target look to be the two biggest benefactors. For holiday 2019, Amazon says it had its biggest toy year ever. And Target, despite stating that toy sales for the season were “essentially flat” following two seasons of growth, said in January that it still gained market share, though it declined to offer a number at the time.
Perhaps the biggest retail story just wasn’t reported because it’s been simmering right in front of us.
During its Q4 and full-year earnings reports this week, toys weren’t directly mentioned — but they were on the corresponding call with investors and analysts.
“Since TRU’s market exit, we picked up more than $1.7 billion in toys and baby,” said Target Corp. Chairman and CEO Brian C. Cornell on the call. “And there’s not a day that goes by where you don’t see a headline predicting another share donation to Target from a struggling competitor.”
Elsewhere, Cornell noted that toys is still an area of strength, but that the challenges of 2019 would be addressed this year, particularly in the fourth quarter and the all-important holiday season.
“We were disappointed with our performance in the fourth quarter in several spaces,” Cornell said. “And we think we’ve got opportunities to go back into 2020 and improve performance in toys, in electronics, in parts of our home business. As we focus on key items, we want to make sure we’re buying to the depth required to make sure that we meet the demand in the marketplace during the holiday season.”
Curiously, Target has not gone on record with any statements regarding its relationship with the rebirthed Toys “R” Us since the news broke last fall that Target would be powering online sales for the relaunched toysrus.com and in-store ordering for the new TRU stores in New Jersey and Texas. The relationship has also not been mentioned by Target executives, nor questioned by analysts in the past two Target earnings calls. Still, Tru Kids brands calls the relationship “a win for consumers.”
Following the rush by many retailers to gain market share during the 2018 season, I’ve long-cited Target as having “won the toy wars” in the U.S. The company made a genuine investment in reinventing its toy departments, expanding its selection, and giving families an inviting and fun place to shop with a regular schedule of in-store events and the addition of Disney Store shop-within-a-shop presentations in selection locations.
But the battle for market share is far from over.
As toy retailing continues to evolve this year through new store openings (LEGO, Lakeshore Learning), direct-to-consumer offerings (Hasbro Pulse), and pop-up locations (Schleich, Distroller USA), a number of executives have taken part in the Toy Book‘s annual State of the Industry Q&A series including reps from Learning Express, Camp, Wonder Works, Amazon, eBay, FAO Schwarz, and yes — Target and Tru Kids Brands. Each profile offers insight into a business that’s changing by the day.