If you´re looking for the can´t-miss toy for 2004, you´re not alone. Every year at the American International Toy Fair in New York City, retailers sift through thousands of products looking for the next big hit. In some cases, the buzz surrounding a new toy translates into consumer excitement and a retail bonanza. Other times, the buzz might not leave the showroom floor of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.
"In the end, it is the consumers who are ultimately responsible for making a toy a hit—they buy the toy and spread word of mouth about its appeal," said Diane Cardinale, the public information manager for the Toy Industry Association, Inc. (TIA). "Cabbage Patch Kids didn´t have big buzz when unveiled at Toy Fair, but look at their success. In this case, the buyers who first saw the dolls in February did not expect consumers to respond so tremendously."
There are, however, toys that never live up to their Toy Fair billing. American Specialty Toy Retailers Association President, Joanne Farrugia, recalls the buzz generated around a line of toys from the Jay Jay the Jet Plane children´s show.
"There was a bit of a bust," she recalled. "I just didn´t love it so I didn´t bring it in. I heard a lot of people saying they were going to wait and see how it does, and if you hear that, it usually means it isn´t going to do well."
So how do you know what will be a hit and what will be a miss? Industry observers say unfortunately there isn´t a magic solution for predicting the success of a line of toys.
"If there was an exact formula, I would be long retired," said Tony Laferra, co-president of the United League Toy Representatives Association. "There are far too many factors that go into making a toy a success. The buzz can help but is not always the determining factor. There are many intangibles."
Unfortunately, the industry hasn´t found a runaway success in recent years.
"I´m one who likes to capture something that´s hot, because if it´s hot, people like to buy it wherever they see it," said Farrugia, who runs three specialty toy stores in the New Jersey area. "Knowing how long it´s going to last is the trick."
But in the absence of a single big score, Toy Fair is still crucial for producing valuable product introduction and promotion.
"A homerun product can help boost sluggish sales at retail, as it drives consumers into the stores where they purchase other items besides the hot seller," said Cardinale. "But better than one homerun is a group of singles, doubles and triples: several good-selling items rather than just one megahit."
In the end, though, Cardinale believes the success or failure of a product is ultimately based on its value as a play thing.