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  • Jim Bessman

Upbeat forecast revealed at toy review site TTPM's annual Holiday Showcase


TTPM's 2020 Most Wanted Holiday Toys list

Prior to the pandemic, TTPM--the leading video review site for toys, baby toys and gear, and pet products--would have staged its 2020 Holiday Showcase before scores of excited toy industry manufacturers and media reps, families and friends—all joyously checking out and reviewing new toy product prior to the holiday sales push.

Held yesterday at Manhattan’s Metropolitan Pavilion, the Showcase was understandably quite different. Attendance was restricted mostly to masked media, with only 20 or so participating vendors—half the usual number--widely socially distanced in two big showrooms.

Still, the stripped-down event was much appreciated by both attendees and TTPM, even minus the opening press conference and usual ensuing hoopla of pet fashion shows, licensed cartoon characters roaming through the exhibit spaces trailed by camera crews, and of course, squealing kids.

“We did our press presentation of the annual Holiday Most Wanted List via an online video,” said TTPM chief executive officer/editor-in-chief Jim Silver. “There was no buzz or hype, pomp and circumstance, and everything was spaced out instead of crammed together. But it was fully booked throughout the entire day. People felt very comfortable—and were thanking me for getting them out of the house!”

Indeed, TTPM’s Holiday Showcase brought the toy industry together for the first time since February’s Toy Fair—which took place just ahead of the pandemic shutdown. Noteworthy among the attendees were Asley and Emma--TikTok’s hugely popular WeWearCute stars--who are featured in showcase supplier Spin Master’s new tween-targeted “inkFLUENCER” line via Click N Color Marker Set and Style N Create Light Desk arts-and-crafts kits.

Meanwhile, nine-year-old YouTube sensation Ryan Kaji was represented at Just Play’s display area, with it’s Entertainment category Most Wanted List-designated Ryan’s World Mystery Spy Vault (his Ryan’s World Road Trip Mega Micro Egg from Bonkers Toy also made the list). Another Most Wanted Lister, Ness Toys’ ArmoGear Boxing Battle, took over center stage, thanks to its compact boxing ring, where local boxer/trainer Eric Rakofsky took on all comers in the boxing/laser tag combo toy—with brave challengers allowed to keep their gloves out of coronavirus cleanliness concerns.

Eric Rakofsky

Welterweight boxer/trainer Eric Rakovsky (left) squares off against unidentified heavyweight reporter at Armogear Boxing Battle display at @ttpm 2020 Holiday Showcase at Metropolitan Pavilion.

The pandemic was also referenced over at Just Play, with its “Covid-friendly” Disney Junior Doc McStuffins Wash Your Hands Doll, which comes with a mask among other accessories—including a stethoscope, which when pressed, signals it to “sing” the “Wash Your Hands” song from Disney Junior’s hit animated show. Over at Taste Beauty’s table, the pop culture-inspired beauty product line (primarily geared for teens and tweens) showed its new Defendr+ hand sanitizer, filling a market need for a “contemporary hand sanitizer,” according to the company rep on hand.

Licensed toy product is receiving a big boost from Playmates’ forthcoming Billie Eilish All the Good Girls Go to Hell and Bad Guy figures, prominently displayed at TTPM on a table along with Godzilla vs. Kong and Spy Ninjas product. Packaging for the new Eilish entries conveniently morphs into a display setting.

Billie Eilish

Playmates' Billie Eilish figures

Playmates, incidentally, was cited in the Most Wanted List’s entertainment category for its Frozen 2 Adventure Storytelling Dolls. Under the Games and Activities heading, four-time TOTY (Toy of the Year) nominee Magformers was listed for its Backyard Adventure Set, and the supplier was at the showcase in full force with new additions to its Magformers signature geometric magnetic construction toys, 3D magnetic construction Tileblox, snap-together Clicformers, and new Stick-O magnetic construction sets for toddlers.

CEO Chris Tidwell also showed new additions to Magformers’ Dolce collection of “friendly character animal” plush product.

“It’s plush, but we call them ‘soft learning toys,’” said Tidwell, adding that the three-year-old Dolce (an acronym for Develop, Observe, Learn, Create and Educate) is the only STEM-authenticated plush line. Pointing to its new Kangaroo release, he noted that the crinkly ears, baby kangaroo sitting in the pouch (with a musical shaker egg), peek-a-boo door under the left foot revealing a mirror, plastic teether ring attached to the right foot, and other rattle, ringing and squeaking features, make for many varied play activities.

Magformers

Chris Tidwell and Magformers

On the more traditional STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) side, E-Blox, which makes educational electronic toys and products to engage children to “Learn by Building,” showed its new illuminated Lumen Mini PowerFigure line of characters from its Story Blox storytelling building blocks. And 3Doodler highlighted its Learn From Home sets: These bring educational STEM concepts into the home—where so many young students remain stuck--via activity guides employing the 3Doodler 3D pen in creating art, designing objects, and building working models (bridges, engines, and on display at TTPM, a ukulele) that demonstrate understanding of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) concepts.

While there was no official press announcement of this year’s Most Wanted List, the results were listed and displayed against one of the showroom’s walls.

Without the kickoff press conference, there were also no predictions from top TTPM staffers as to which toys will be the biggest sellers, let alone an overall assessment of the state of the toy industry--particularly in light of the pandemic.

“There’s a quote I use: ‘Fear can make you a prisoner. Hope can set you free,’” said Silver, noting that he began planning for the Holiday Showcase in May, at the height of the pandemic.

“We just had to keep it simple and make it more about the toys instead of all the other stuff. You got to keep living.”

Asked for holiday predictions, Silver submitted that the fourth quarter will be up by single digits over last year.

“Point-of-sale is really good the last three or four months,” he reported. “And there are three things: One, kids are at home and parents are looking to get them off screens. Two, there aren’t many options [besides toys like] board games and activities that families can play together. And three, the three most dominant by far toy retailers are strong, Walmart, Target and Amazon are all thriving.”

Looking back at past recessions, Silver added, “We like to say that the toy industry is ‘recession-resistant.’ There’s always a concern that people are out of work, but in tough times, parents cut back on each other but buy for their kids to make things as normal for them as possible.”

And Silver took special pride in helping the Holiday Showcase suppliers’ pandemic-stricken media efforts.

“Two-thirds of them couldn’t send their own employees,” he said. “So we hired out-of-work local PR specialists and matched them with the companies--and picked up the tab and paid them.”

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