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Toy Fair, American Style
March 1, 2005, by Bill Cawthon
Imagine more than a half-million square feet of toy exhibits. That's over eleven acres, enough space for more than eighty residential lots out in modern suburbia. That's also how much space the American International Toy Fair occupied last week.
The American International Toy Fair is the largest event such in the Western Hemisphere and one of the largest in the world. This year, over 1,500 exhibitors from around the world were on hand to show their latest and greatest to toy buyers and retailers. It's hosted by the Toy Industry Association and takes place at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on Eleventh Avenue in New York City and at various sites in New York's Toy District. The event is so large it even has its own daily newspaper, the Toy Fair Times.
All of this, and no children in sight. Like Spielwarenmesse in Nürnberg, the American International Toy Fair is a trade show and no one under eighteen is allowed inside. In fact, other than media representatives and a few special guests, the only people admitted to the Fair are exhibitors and buyers.
While it's a lot of fun, Toy Fair is really all about business, as distributors and retailers place orders and discuss merchandising and discounts. In addition, the TIA offers an extensive program of seminars on topics like licensing, marketing and promotion and product safety.
This year, I was able to attend the American International Toy Fair for the first time. While the New York show was a bit light on hobby exhibitors, it was a diecast model fan's paradise. In addition to seeing more toys in one place than I have ever seen before, I was able to meet a number of the movers and shakers in the hobby industry, including Tim Geddes and John Engstrom of Athearn, Matthew Tager of Model Power and Larry Alsman of Boley. All of these companies have great things in store for the coming year.
I also had the opportunity to visit the Dragon display and chat with Alain Yuen, Director of Sales and Marketing for Dragon USA. All of the latest Dragon Wings models were on display, along with the Princess Line ship models in the Dragon Waves series. Mr. Yuen assured me that more models are planned for the Dragon Waves series and showed me some of the latest models in the Dragon Wings line. There was definitely enough to justify a future column devoted to strictly to the Dragon models line as soon as I can get some product pictures (cameras were strictly regulated at the show).
It's a good thing retail sales aren't allowed at the Toy Fair, or I would have come back with a severely dented credit card.
I was a bit surprised to find Micro-Trains Line at the Toy Fair until I learned they weren't there to show the latest in their model railroad products, but to introduce a new holiday-themed line. Micro Trains has had Christmas cars and a Christmas train for quite a while, but this year, they have added a complete holiday village, the first edition of the new Micro-Seasons line, holiday ornaments and a table-top Christmas tree.
The centerpiece of the new line is the Table Top 'N Track, a loop of N-Gauge track mounted on a wooden box, which also contains a power supply and control switch. The speed control is set up so that junior railroaders can't accelerate your holiday train to warp speed, sending delicate cars into convenient walls or floors. The whole thing is small enough to fit on a coffee table, while leaving room for coffee or eggnog.
Since a loop of track sitting on a bare wooden surface would be just as dull for the family as it is in model railroading, Micro-Trains is also producing a Table Top Town. This is a Christmas village of what appear to be small cast-resin buildings and accessories (I am sure about them being small buildings, but am not positive about them being resin). They are nicely painted and ready to set up on the Table Top 'N Track with a sprinkling of the artificial snow of your choice.
Given my fondness for the Christmas season, it won't surprise you to learn I am planning on adding one of these to our family's holiday decorations this year. Of course, being a scale vehicle fan, I will definitely be adding a few of Herpa's new N scale Mini Coopers to the scene. Too bad Herpa doesn't offer their annual Christmas truck in 1:160.
Athearn was showing their line of licensed models, with trucks, train sets and tractors in John Deere and Coca-Cola livery. Athearn now has a complete set of Coca-Cola trucks, including a tractor-trailer pulled by a very nice Kenworth W900, a Ford C tractor with a Hackney beverage trailer decorated for various Coke brands, a box van and stake bed truck. Though they weren't on display in New York, I asked John Engstrom, Athearn's director of marketing, about the arrival of the new Mack B and R truck models. He told me the first shipment was due to arrive at Athearn at the end of February, so these outstanding models should be appearing at hobby retailers soon.
I actually met Matthew Tager, president of Model Power at the International Toy Center at 200 Fifth Avenue. The International Toy Center has been the hub of the American toy industry for over three-quarters of a century. This historic 15-story building houses offices for more than a thousand toy firms who maintain a permanent presence in New York's toy district. Mr. Tager spent almost an hour showing me an almost bewildering variety of products, capped off by a look at the latest additions to the Model Power Minis line of HO-scale diecast cars. The 1969 Camaro convertible and 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air sedan are very nice and sure to be popular with model railroaders. The best news is that there is more to come as a nice selection of American vehicles will be appearing in the Minis collection. We even discussed future possibilities.
I hope you won't be surprised to learn I have relationships in the scale model vehicle field beyond the one I have with Promotex. For nearly eight years, I have been working to promote the enjoyment and collection of 1:87 and 1:160 scale cars and trucks and have developed a number of good contacts and friendships with several manufacturers. Since last year, I have been working with a manufacturer new to 1:87 scale vehicle models. Ricko has been producing 1:18 scale models since 2001 and decided to branch out into 1:87 scale a while back. They showed the new models at the Hobby Visions show in Las Vegas last fall and the official rollout took place at Spielwarenmesse 2005 in Nürnberg, Germany.
Ricko unveiled a new series of models at the American International Toy Fair and invited me to be their guest at the show. Being the sort of guy who is a sucker for a free plane ticket and hotel room to see brand-new items in my favorite hobby, and also because I wanted the opportunity to meet the folks with whom I had been exchanging e-mails for several months, I took them up on their offer. This was also very timely, as I had recently accepted an offer to become an associate editor for Model Railroad News and it would give me a chance to report on the show for them.
I met Tony Tsui and Emily Leung before the show opened and we had a pleasant dinner at a seafood restaurant in New York's Chinatown. The following day, I got my first look at the new models.
Unlike most Chinese manufacturers who work strictly in diecast metal, Hong Kong-based Ricko produces its 1:87 scale models in ABS plastic, the same material Promotex uses for its building kits. As part of their vision of producing a world-class model, Ricko brought in German equipment for their tooling and production.
The current Rickoricko 1:87 models are based on Italian upscale and racing cars and they are very nicely done. One of my favorites is the Lamborghini Gallardo, a car I mentioned in an earlier column. There is also a beautiful Maserati Quattroporte which, along with the sleek new Mercedes CLS, has to be one of the best-looking sedans on the road.
Coming later this year will be a 1961 Lincoln Continental convertible and more American vehicles are planned. Ricko already makes the Cadillac CTS-V and Escalade ESV in 1:18 scale, as well as gorgeous models of the 1934 Cadillac Aerodynamic Coupe and the 2003 Cadillac Sixteen concept car. Having seen the real car and the Rickoricko large-scale model, I am definitely hoping for a junior version of the Cadillac Sixteen.
As much fun as I had at the American International Toy Fair, there was one disappointment: I did not get to meet. A. J. Morley, export manager for Sieper Werke, parent company of Wiking Modellbau. Jonathan Morley has been my contact at Wiking for a number of years and we have had a pleasant correspondence in both electronic and written form. He has asked me to visit him at the New York fair for a number of years and I was looking forward to finally meeting him in person. Unfortunately, I received a holiday greeting from Jonathan last Christmas in which he announced his retirement, effective this month. Before leaving Sieper Werke, Jonathan did make it to the Nürnberg toy fair, but not to New York. Since I did not get to meet him in person, I want to take this opportunity to thank him for all his help and insight in the past and wish him well for the future.
See you next time!
- Bill Cawthon
Bill Cawthon is a modeler and collector. His primary hobby interests are vehicle models in 1:87 and 1:160 scales and model railroading. He is senior editor of Route 1-87, the magazine of the 1/87 Vehicle Club, and a columnist and product reviewer for Model Railroad News. He is one of the creators of the award-winning "Grimy Gulch" model railroad layout.
In real life, Bill is a marketing and public relations consultant for MARK III Systems, a successful information technology company. He also writes for just-auto.com, an international auto industry publication, reporting on the U.S. light vehicle industry.
He lives in Houston, Texas with his wife, Marge, and their children.
Bill's columns appear twice monthly on Promotex Online. To learn more about him, click here.
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