NEW YORK, New York – The 111th American International Toy Fair was held this week in New York City. The four-day event was full of fun and excitement for the Learning Express Toys franchise. Each year our franchisees and home office staff make a point to attend the expo to identify great new products, connect with vendors, and network with other storeowners. More than 110 Learning Express Toys stores attended this year’s Toy Fair—174 store owners and store managers. Our time in NYC was packed with insightful training sessions, fun get-togethers, and of course TOYS—here’s how Learning Express Toys took Manhattan.
1st Year Training
In 2013, we were thrilled to welcome 12 new stores into our franchise family. Of those 12 stores, six were entirely new to the franchise including: Citrus Park, Florida; Sea Girt, New Jersey; Howard Beach, New York; Collegeville, Pennsylvania; Niagara Falls, New York; and Highlands Ranch, Colorado. Each year before the craziness of Toy Fair begins, stores that are in their first ever year of business meet with one another and members of the home office team for an all-day training session. This is a great opportunity for the owners to bond over shared experiences, learn from one another, and brainstorm with our experts. The new stores gained new insights on topics such as social media, staff management, in-store events, and inventory management. In addition to the new store owners, two of our seasoned owners, Mary and Bill Lewis of the Brookfield, Wisconsin store, also attended the training to provide valuable tips and advice.
The American International Toy Fair took place at the Javits Convention Center in Manhattan. Singer-songwriter Alicia Keys cut the ribbon to open the show on Sunday (Keys is the co-creator of a Children’s app called The Journals of Mama Mae & LeeLee). The three main floors of Javits were jam-packed with vendors and distributors from all over the world who introduced tons of great new products in all areas of the business, including electronics, plush, arts and crafts, outdoor play and much more. This year there were more than 1,000 booths to visit representing vendors such as Melissa & Doug, LEGO, ALEX, Ty, and everyone in between. Many of the larger vendors had booths that were sized and merchandised to mimic an actual store. We are very fortunate that the Toy Manufacturer’s Association gives us a huge hospitality suite so we don’t have to stand in line to check our coats or purchase our breakfast or lunch in the restaurants. Four of our vendors graciously provide breakfast and lunch for us as a way of thanking us for our business. Of course, we like this special treatment!
Learning Express Toys Banquet
To enhance the Learning Express Toy Fair experience, franchisees were invited to a special banquet at the famous Central Park Boat House. During a cocktail hour and delicious dinner, store owners and managers mingled with one another and reconnected with dear friends. Many store owners, including Steve Zdunek of Naperville, Illinois, said that bonding with store owners from different regions of the country is one of the aspects they most enjoy about attending Toy Fair. CEO Sharon DiMinico presented awards to stores that had the highest sales in the company, highest year over year percent of increase, top sales per square foot, and the top three contributors to our L.E.A.P. Program (the Learning Express Achievement Program). As a whole, the company had a record-breaking year in 2013 across all categories.
Share the Fair Dinner
To conclude the successful four days, our franchisees gathered once again on Monday evening to share all of the interesting new products that were discovered at the expo. Over dinner, store owners worked together at their tables to identify three products that they believe have the potential to perform well in 2014. Each table presented their great new finds to the company. On the list were items such as the Magnetic Easel by Melissa & Doug, Robot Turtles Game by ThinkFun, Loopdeloom by Ann Williams Group, Tangle Soccer Ball by Tangle, and Spirograph Cyclex by Kahootz. This Share the Fair dinner lets our home-office buyers see what products our franchisees would like advertised in our holiday catalogs.
All of us look forward to our next gathering as a group: the Learning Express Toys Convention in June!