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Adults Becoming Even More Important Toy Buyers

‘Kidults’ no longer a trend but a major consumer category, with ‘playful adults’ buying higher-priced toys who helped sustain industry during the pandemic

Steve Pasierb, president and CEO of the Toy Association (image credit: Stewart Wolpin)

Just as they are in the consumer technology market, inflation, recession, geopolitical issues pressuring supply chains, excess inventory, a shrinking retail base, and identifying and retaining talent are all issues the toy industry is concerned about in 2023. But the state of the toy industry is healthy, according to Steve Pasierb, president and CEO of the Toy Association, who presented his state-of-the-industry address at the organization’s Play Date event on March 8, 2023, in midtown Manhattan. Play Date served as a winter press preview event now that Toy Fair has moved from its traditional February dates to the fall – September 30-October 3, 2023.

Pasierb reported the toy business generated about $40 billion in sales in 2022, up 2.7% over 2021. Over the pandemic period, Pasierb said the industry enjoyed about 33% growth between 2019 and 2022, about 9% average growth, which was “much stronger than our past history.”

“Heading into 2023, I think you’ll all agree we do know that there’s some real headwinds,” Pasierb opined. “Our members are really looking forward to the second half of 2023. They really do believe as we get through this first half of the year we’ll have a strong second half in 2023, which will put us in a great position for the holiday season.”

(image credit: Olly Curtis/Edge)

Toy-Playing Adults Key to Toy Selling Success?

Pasierb believes the toy industry has a secret weapon to help maintain and even improve sales in 2023: so-called “kidults,” who Pasierb thinks are more accurately described as “playful adults” who tend to buy higher-priced playthings.

“Kidults,” insists Pasierb, “has “transcended trend, it’s now a category. If you think about that consumer, they’re the ones who have been buying products at higher price points, they’re the ones who’ve been buying the building sets and other things which are more expensive, which again helped fuel this industry over the last couple of years. So think of kidults not so much as a trend anymore, but as a category that is a really important part of the toy industry.”

Another aspect of the toy industry that helps fuel the market is the size of the companies within it. “It’s also important to remember, while the number shifts back and forth, about 95% of the U.S. toy industry qualify as small businesses,” Pasierb says. “We all know the major household names in the toy industry, but if we have 1,000 member companies, 950 of them are very small companies, some that work out of the spare bedroom at home, and they’re all essential parts of the toy industry today.”

Fall Toy Fair

When Toy Fair convenes on September 30, it will have been nearly 19 months since the last show in February 2022, and companies seem to be chomping at the bit to reconvene.

“The show is moving, in general, to meet that very different selling season that we have now in our toy industry, where August and September are so important,” Pasierb explains. “About 80% of the goods that are sold have been in that time frame. It’s the perfect time of the year if you think about the fall for what a lot of what you do in media and promotion.”

Pasierb reports that 95% of the space at New York’s Javits Center is already sold, representing around 770 exhibitors, and a “large number” of new exhibitors are being vetted. Pasierb hopes to have some “really big” Toy Fair announcements coming up in the next few weeks. One planned change: more open booths, “much more openness than you’ve ever seen before at Toy Fair, not the big walls that we may have seen in the past.”

High Tech Toy Preview

More than three dozen companies exhibited their latest play wares at Play Date Some of the high-tech toys previewed include:

(image credit: Stewart Wolpin)

Arcade1Up IGT Game Board (spring, >$500)
Joining previous 32- and 24-inch versions is this new tabletop 18.5-inch, seven-pound semi-portable widescreen Infinity Game Table (IGT) Game Board. Pre-loaded with 50 free games – more can be purchased through the Board – this AC-powered touchscreen gaming device with built-in speakers can accommodate five players or more, depending on their squeezed-in comfort level.

(image credit: Stewart Wolpin)

Arcade1Up Deluxe Edition arcade machines (spring, $499.95)
More traditional arcade gamers might feel more at home at one of the three new standalone arcade-style cabinets from Arcade1Up. While each cabinet focuses on major game titles – Pac-Man, Class of 81/Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga, and Mortal Kombat – each actually includes 14 games, with some overlap between the three cabinets. Each cabinet is equipped with a 17-inch screen, a joystick, and all the buttons an arcade veteran would want to pound.

(image credit: Pyxel Educational Insights)

Education Insights Pyxel coding robot dog (April, $124.99)
Rather than learning from a user’s interactions, Pyxel’s behaviors and activities are coded by kids eight and up, using either the drag-and-drop Blockly programming language or writing code in Python. However, the app can translate programming created in Blockly into Python to help the child learn standard written code. In addition to actions, coding also can create customized Pyxel color and LED facial expressions. Pyxel runs on a rechargeable battery, which supplies six hours of programmed play. Oh, the fire hydrant is not included – or necessary, since Pyxel isn’t anatomically accurate.

Left: Just Play RUKUSfx Pro (image credit: Stewart Wolpin)

Just Play RUKUSfx Pro (July, $69.99)
Gripping and jerking this second-generation hand-held handle speaker and light generator while dancing changes the rhythm, punch, and the LED light display of programmed music when you move it in one of four ways – punching, swiping side-to-side, flicking, or twisting. Unlike the original standalone all-white RUKUSfx, this black-and-white “pro” model can be paired with an app that allows users to choose from 125 instrumental tracks and 120 sound effects, as well as cut, manipulate, and mix songs from their own digital music library using its DJ mixing tools. Also included is Beat Snap, an autotune-like function to keep even the least rhythmic user on the beat, a thumb lock button to maintain a particular rhythm or beat pattern, and two games with more to come. RUKUSfx runs on three AAAs which will last “months,” according to the company.

(image credit: WowWee)

WowWee MINTid Dog-E robot dog (fall, $79.99)
If Pyxel’s programming presents too many challenges, this more traditional robot dog interprets a user’s “minting” touches and interactions to create a unique personality exhibited through Dog-E’s more than a million combinations of colored lights, sounds, and personality traits. Each family member can create a distinct Dog-E profile and personality through the app, which also enables other simple programming. The e-pup is equipped with wheels on each paw, its tail wagging produces programmable persistence-of-vision messages, and it’s powered by a rechargeable battery. Pre-order customers will receive a bonus accessory pack of four collars in a variety of colors.

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