More Than Child’s Play: The Toy Association Launches Three Virtual Market Weeks

Author: Danica Tormohlen       

virtual trade show

On May 7, The Toy Association announced Toy Fair Everywhere, a series of three digital market weeks to start in July, in a video message from Steve Pasierb, president and CEO of the association.

While in-person events are on pause, The Toy Association hit the play button on a digital market week series to help toy manufacturers connect with specialty and mass retailers who are buying for the upcoming holiday season.

“The Toy Association had already been in the digital space for a while because we believe that digital is an ‘and’ — not an ‘or’ — for face-to-face live events,” said Kim Carcone, the association’s vice president, market events. Prior to the pandemic, The Toy Association developed ShopToys365, a B2B digital marketplace where manufacturers could connect with global toy buyers and suppliers 24/7. Toy Fair Everywhere leverages the platform’s same technology. “Due to COVID-19, we found ourselves in the position to bring that digital offering forward now.”

On May 7, the association announced Toy Fair Everywhere, a series of three digital market weeks to start in July, described as “an opportunity for toy manufacturers, buyers, media, and other key stakeholders to reconnect and refocus for a successful fourth quarter during these uncertain times when in-person meetings and events are not possible.”

virtual trade show

Kimberly Carcone

The association rolled out its first virtual event on July 13. Toy Fair Everywhere debuted with 592 brands and 30,000 unique products for 1,627 buyers (retailers) who attended. More than 7,900 visitors — including trade guests in marketing, advertising, and PR, as well as sales reps, distributors, financial analysts, and media — racked up more than 317,000 page views and nearly 18,000 profile views. The stat that Carcone is most proud of: 19,100-plus connection requests across the platform.

The association worked with its long-term tech partner, Balluun, to expand its digital offering. Similar to an in-person trade show, Toy Fair Everywhere exhibitors and attendees can explore a calendar of daily events, browse exhibitors by category, book appointments for demos and meetings, and transact business. With market weeks in July, August, and planned for September, Toy Fair Everywhere features timely educational sessions and other special events, both live and pre-recorded, for the global toy community.

Of The Toy Association’s 1,000-plus member companies, 146 participated in the first market week in July, and 180 companies are confirmed to participate in the second market week in August (as of press time). Digital showrooms featured well-known brands like Lego, Melissa & Doug, and TOMY, and smaller companies like Fourth Castle Brands, Mom Truths Game, and Zen Monkey Studios.

“2020 went from a dead year to salvageable, largely due to the organic leads we attracted on Toy Fair Everywhere,” said Joe Sena, president, Fourth Castle Brands. “I am thankful the association put together such a robust resource so quickly.”

How did The Toy Association do it? Convene asked Carcone to share her experience on the exhibitor side for producing and selling a digital marketplace after completing the first event in the series.

virtual trade show

The cost for members and non-members to exhibit in all three market weeks — $650 — averages out to $30 a day.

By the Numbers

Topline stats from the July 13-19 Toy Fair Everywhere market week:

  • 146 companies
  • 592 brands
  • 29,000+ unique products
  • 1,627 unique buyers
  • 7,906 total visitors (including trade guests and media)
  • 317,500 pages views
  • 17,970 profile views
  • 19,165 connection requests

Exhibitor Pricing

“As an association, our mission is to serve the toy industry, so our goal was to offer our member base an opportunity for business continuity into the fourth quarter at a price point that was super affordable,” Carcone said.

The association opted for a limited-time flat fee of $650 for members and non-members to exhibit in all three market weeks, which includes 21 days of engagement, connection, and ordering. Additional options to participate in only the August and September market weeks or September only are also available.

“For 21 days of business opportunity, it’s very affordable at $30 a day,” Carcone said. “Plus in the digital space, there is no limit to the number of products you can display like there is in the physical space on the show floor.”

RELATED: Toy Fair’s Playbook to Allay Coronavirus Concerns

By comparison, Toy Fair New York, The Toy Association’s flagship trade show in February at the Jacob K. Javits Center, charges $35 per square foot of raw exhibit space for non-members, with discounted rates for members.

“Because of our long-term relationship with Balluun, our expenses are less than if we were starting from scratch in the digital space,” Carcone said. “We charged what we needed to charge to make it run on our end.”

Carcone is quick to call it “pioneer pricing” for the inaugural event. When asked if the series will generate a profit, Carcone said: “We are on track to be profitable, and we were also successful in selling sponsorships and advertising on the platform.”

In fact, several sponsorship options were sold out.

Customer Success

Since the pandemic, the association has refocused its existing events team to learn new skill sets. “We identified four people to serve as customer success managers to become the frontline support for exhibitors in Toy Fair Everywhere,” Carcone said. Once a company signed on to exhibit, a customer success manager would reach out to introduce themselves and help exhibitors to maximize their experience.

“Our approach to the exhibitor experience is 100-percent white-glove service,” she said. “We realize that not every exhibitor is comfortable using the technology, but it really runs the gamut. For some, the climb is steep, but what we’ve been able to do is provide a level of comfort and support.”

The customer success team even helped with digital showroom setup, if needed. “We are here to help exhibitors be successful no matter how much time it takes,” Carcone said. “We can help exhibitors put their best foot forward in the digital realm because it’s very different than having a booth in a convention center.”

The association hosted weekly on-boarding meetings with a live Q&A for new exhibitors. Carcone also worked with Balluun to produce on-demand tutorials on topics like exhibitor profile setup, sales-matching leads, showroom setup, promotion, and how to keep your business going and growing.

Lessons Learned

As Carcone prepared for the second market week, she offered advice for other organizers. “Producing a digital event isn’t as easy at it looks,” she said. “It’s not three clicks and go. Our team has been working seven days a week since May to pull this off.”

In August, the association is adding more education, including a mid-year toy trends update. “We were focused first on the product experience for buyers and sellers, but now we are enhancing the experience for the non-buying audience,” Carcone said. In September, the market week will feature the Toy Fair Everywhere Influencer Choice List of the best toys in partnership with Clamour, producers of the largest annual industry summit for professional online video influencers.

Finally, Carcone said that it’s important to remember that “just like a live event, things don’t always go as planned. Be ready to pivot and make changes.”

On opening day of the July event, thousands of users flooded the platform, crashing the system. “We broke the internet like Kim Kardashian,” she joked. “It’s not ideal, but it happens.” In response, the association extended the market week by two days to make up for lost time.

“Our long-term plan is to migrate this experience to a 365-opportunity,” Carcone said. “We are poised to make that transition and bring the 365 option to life later this fall.”

Danica Tormohlen was editor at large at Trade Show Executive magazine and is the former editor in chief of EXPO Magazine, and is based in the Kansas City, Missouri metro area.

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