Internet stealing toy fairs' thunder

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 February, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 26 February, 2001, 12:00am

The once all-important trade fair looks to be dying source of business as foreign merchandisers go online to place orders and make inquiries.

Playmates Interactive Entertainment executive director Sidney To Shu-sing said major exhibitions, such as the American International Toy Fair, used to be an important source of business for toy manufacturers.

'But now that communication is made much easier with advanced technology, the importance of these fairs has diminished,' he said.

'We communicate with our major clients almost every day to keep them posted on our latest product developments.'

For the company's smaller customers, however, toy fairs continue to be an important source of information on latest trends.

The American International Toy Fair, which ran for five days in New York earlier this month, is seen as the most authoritative exhibition in the toy industry.

This year it drew about 2,000 exhibitors - 50 from Hong Kong and about 30 from the mainland.

While leading companies such as Mattel, Hasbro and Playmates opened their showrooms to buyers, other companies displayed their products at booths in the Jacob K. Javits Convention Centre on New York's west side.

Hong Kong-based manufacturer Eastcolight managing director Samuel Sy said the number of visitors had fallen compared with last year.

'We have been displaying our products here for four years and it seems to be a little quieter this year. But we do plan to come back next year because of the attention this toy fair receives,' he said.

But according to Mr Sy, very few buyers made their orders at the toy fair because they needed time to compare products and prices.

'We hardly receive orders on the spot. Most people ask for our e-mail address and say they will get back to us if they are interested,' he said.

Eastcolight specialises in educational products, such as telescopes and microscopes, and sells them to the European and United States markets.

Mainland-based Meisida Electronic Toys, which makes radio-controlled cars, also received a lukewarm response at the toy fair.

'This is our first year at the fair and we haven't done much business,' sales manager Michael Kwok said.

'But we've sealed a lot of orders in Hong Kong before coming here and we just want to show the buyers our products.'

According to a survey by market research firm NPD Group, which tracks about 60 per cent of retail sales in the industry, toy sales in the US amounted to US$18.21 billion last year, down 1.2 per cent from a year earlier.

While sales of traditional toys - such as dolls and action figures - edged up 0.5 per cent, sales of video games were down 5.4 per cent.

The performance of traditional toys was partly explained by the popularity of scooters, which saw sales go up by 42.7 per cent year on year.

Sales of non-licensed products rose 13 per cent from a year earlier, which compensated for the 13 per cent decline in sales of licensed products.