Toy Industry Revs Up Companies Are Eager to Roll out Products at Annual N.Y. Fair

By Sokol, Jordan | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), February 15, 2004 | Go to article overview

Toy Industry Revs Up Companies Are Eager to Roll out Products at Annual N.Y. Fair


Sokol, Jordan, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Jordan Sokol Daily Herald Staff Writer

If you asked the toy industry how its holiday season fared, the answer probably would not be sunny or enjoyable.

A couple of local toy companies, however, remain optimistic and still are having fun despite several damaging trends affecting their industry

"Toys are not a luxury in this country," said Rick Woldenberg, chief executive officer of Learning Resources, a Vernon Hills-based manufacturer of hands-on educational toys. "There is a need for toys that will always be around."

Beginning today, several local toy companies will be among the estimated 1,200 toy manufacturers boasting their products to as many as 20,000 small market buyers at the American International Toy Fair in New York. The fair continues through Wednesday.

"Everybody is cautiously optimistic," Neil Friedman, chairman of the Toy Industry Association, which owns and manages the fair, told Reuters. "Some issues this past year were a soft retail environment and lack of explosive new property. But the retailers will be looking to what's new and exciting."

Toys are approximately a $20 billion-a-year industry, according to NPD Group, a New York-based market information company. According to NPD's preliminary data, 2003 sales are expected to be down slightly after a flat year of sales in 2002.

The industry's struggles have had varying effects on each individual toy company.

While admitting that Wal-Mart's growth in the toy business at the expense of smaller specialty stores like Toys "R" Us and now defunct Zany Brainy impacts his business, Woldenberg said his company and its outlook are still healthy.

KB Toys, which runs mostly mall-based stores, filed for bankruptcy last year and plans to close 30 percent of it stores. Even Toy "R" Us posted weak holiday sales and complained of severe pricing pressure hurting profits.

"Those stores allowed us to bring our products to the market with confidence," Woldenberg said. "The specialty market is in a transition phase, but it will eventually come around."

Consumers want choices, he said. "They will not allow the mass market to determine what and how they buy toys."

Woldenberg also noted that Learning Resources sells a lot of merchandise to schools, keeping it somewhat insulated from retailing pressures. …

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