I attended the first two days of Toy Fair 2009 in New York City. Officially speaking, I was not there as a member of the "press". The line between personal blogger and actual, real-life press outlet is a blurry one and while OWTK definitively comes closer to the latter side of the ledger, the odds of me convincing the Toy Fair powers-that-be of that fact were slim to none. I was in The Javits Center as the special guest of the talented Andi Green, as an honorary 2-day member of Team WorryWoo.
I longed to be at Toy Fair '09 for a couple reasons. Sure, I thought it'd be cool to get a look at the next wave of toys and games but what I wanted most of all was an inside peek at the toy business itself. The result of my two day stint there produced less of a peel-back-the-curtain moment than an overall feeling (well, a couple of feelings actually).
Over the next couple of days OWTK will give you an almost-exclusive look some fantastic new toys. Some of these can be acquired immediately, others are so fresh that they aren't quite on the market yet and some are still in a prototype phase. But before we get to all that fun stuff I'm going to wax poetic about passion, dreams and the joys of childhood.
The scene at NYC Toy Fair is a vibrant one. The companies are allotted booths to showcase their wares. Some of these spaces were small, yet others rivaled the size of my modest home. Most all were decorated nicely with the company's logos, colors and littered with products. The Fair was split between two floors in the multi-layered Javits Center. Upstairs were the big boys and girls - Hasbro, Mattel, Ty, Ugly Dolls and Melissa & Doug among many many others. Beneath them stood, with some exceptions like Franklin and Todd McFarlan Toys, the up and comers, the entrepreneurs, the dreamers. The lower level housed a vibrant collection of creative types who may spend M-F earning a paycheck but 24/7 consumed by a passion. There was an energy downstairs, a budding creativity with an eye on the future of fun. In talking with several inventors, artists and entrepreneurs, I was overwhelmed by the passion these folks had for their particular journey and the joy in their hearts when sharing their creation with the world.
Mingling with these regular folks was the most delicious part of the NYC Toy Fair experience, not the chance to see what LEGO has up it's sleeve or on what new piece of molded plastic Dora's face will soon appear. These "starving artists", if you will, have a glimmer in their eye. It's equal parts hope and fear. The hope that a special connection will be made at Toy Fair, be it a promising conversation with a toy buyer or a media member who takes a shine to their work. The fear is obvious and justified. What if all the hard work, long hours and money (be it real dollars or time-cost) ends up being for not? Fear of failure and of rejection - it's an emotion powerful enough to drive some to the brink while pushing others to heights never before imaginable.
If the bottom floor of the Toy Fair is the heart of the industry, the top floor is it's purse. Here, the individuals staffing the booths of multi-national corporations are many layers of management removed from the head-honcho(s) and likely just as far from their organization's creative teams. They are well-dressed, well-groomed and looking for more dollars. I don't mean to kick dirt on the role the major toy players have in this thing, but for me their story isn't nearly as compelling. While it may have been so at inception, the hankering up there is no longer for the creation, it's for the next signed order form.
Not to turn Toy Fair into an upstairs/downstairs motif but the lower floor's purveyors of innovation offer lessons that need to be shared with the toy's primary audience. It's vital that we let kids know what truly matters in life is that it's lived in a manner in which dreams, however wild, are given a proper opportunity to come true. Optimism must be taught, nurtured and practiced despite potential long odds or hard times.
Coming tomorrow - a look at the most interesting toys and games I saw at NYC Toy Fair 2009. Stay tuned!