There's a pile of toys sitting in my living room. A couple of Fancy Nancys, an Elmo, a Tumbles, a cow and a moose (they're a couple) and some night vision goggles. They're not mine. Well, they're mine but I don't really play with them. Other than the Elmo and the Tumbles on rare occasion.
These toys came my way via various PR and brand managers who sent them upon request. Most of these toys appeared with me on a TV or web show. Some, like cow and moose, just found their way to me somehow.
The amazing thing about all this is that a year ago, I didn't know much about toys. Now, I have become an official toy expert. Not only am I a contributing editor for Toy Wishes Magazine, but I often appear on TV or online talking about the hottest toys for nieces and nephews of all ages. And I feel confident I know my stuff. Or at least I try.
Of course, there's that incredible Gifts section on SavvyAuntie.com that lists the best toys we've seen this year. Yes, it's nearing 2009 and we're already scouting for the best of the new year. And by we I mean me. Because I'm still a one-woman show. (Although after the new year, I am welcoming @savvychrista and @savvydebi as part-time interns and they are going to be a tremendous help!)
My point about my becoming a toy expert in less than a year is that if you set your mind out to do something, to be something, and if you work hard enough, you might just be able to achieve it.
I learned that when I began working at L'Oreal in 2002. The beauty industry is pretty incestuous. When I thought about getting into the industry just a few years before I landed the job at L'Oreal, a woman who had been in the industry forever told me that if you weren't 'born' into the beauty industry, it was almost impossible to get in. Beauty execs move from one company to another, or are lifers at their first. Rarely do people enter the industry after entry-level.
But I got in at a senior level.... and knew little about cosmetics other than my own passion for them. But I learned. I studied. I inquired. I went to makeup counters and watched. I read research data. I scanned the internet for cosmetics news. I dove right in. And became a beauty expert.
The toy industry reminds me a little of the beauty industry. There are a few independent brands with some winning products, but mostly there are just a few larger companies that own a significant number of toy brands - just like in the beauty industry. And just like the beauty industry, it's tough to get into the toy industry if you weren't born into it.
Both industries thrive on innovation - but true innovation is rare and fleeting. A truly innovative product has never been done before, and it often takes either a small, nimble company, or a rich mega-company, to produce and launch it. And as technology gets easier to replicate, an innovative product doesn't own a category for too long before a copy-cat comes along to steal part if its thunder.
Finally, technologies are often replicated between brands of a larger company. Just like you'll find similar technologies in mascaras across mass and prestige makeup brands, you'll notice similar technologies sweep across toy brands. For example, this year it was hard to find a toy that wasn't motorized in one way or another.
Elmo Live! by Fisher Price is the latest incarnation of our ticklish furry friend, and is really life-like. Or toddler monster-like. While a few steps above the original Tickle-Me Elmo, Elmo Live! is still a motorized plush.
Playskool, a division of Hasbro, and a wonderful Savvy Auntie sponsor, launched Kota the Triceratops, the motorized dino that little kids just love. And Playskool's Tumbles, Biscuit and Butterscotch were also favorites of kids for whom the basic plush is no longer the only option. And Tonka, another brand associated with Hasbro, has a real winner with the Tonka Bounce Back Racer which sold out quickly.
Non-tech toys also made it big this year. Bakugan, a trading card/marbles/action figure game based on the anime series of the same name, caused quite a stir among school-aged boys. And the hackysack-like Myachi, took ten years to become and over-night success.
Alex Toys, a leading crafts brand, launched it's Alex Jr baby plush baby products and I instantly fell in love with the gorgeous colors and designs. Somewhere between pastels and prime colors, the toys are really a delight to look at.
Of course, there are smaller, independant companies that I see a lot of promise for as well. Tedde - the 'un-mass' produced teddy bear company, really has an opportunity to reach an audience that is looking for a different toy to give a unique child.
Finally, companies are making great strides in developing toys specifically for Special Needs kids, or realizing that their traditional products are developmental for those kids as well.
I am eager to see what 2009 will bring for toy innovation and how the economy will shape the industry. What will be this year's Webkindz, Guitar Hero or Wii Fit? Will technology play an even greater role, or will consumers lean toward basic toys as the economy brings them back to basics at home?
I'll be attending the Toy Fair in New York in February and will have a better idea then. I'll share all the new innovations with you as I learn about them myself, here and at SavvyAuntie.com. Plus, this year I'm launching a still hush-hush way of telling you about all the latest, hottest gifts for kids. It's coming soon and I can't wait for the reveal!
In the meantime, I have Elmo and Tumbles to keep me company. And yes - having great toys does make me a very cool Savvy Auntie. Just ask my nephew and nieces. They're coming to play this week.
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