Expect Bigfoot, a cute little yeti with its own remote, and Beyblades, battling metal tops, to generate plenty of buzz in the coming week, as marketers from around the world gather in New York to kick off the annual Toy Fair. And with the beginning of this year's show, which typically includes a certain amount of Las Vegas-level showmanship in unveiling toys for the year ahead, it's a safe bet that most in the industry are happy to close the books on 2009.
In the U.S., retail toy sales came in at $21.5 billion in 2009, down slightly from $21.7 billion in 2008, reports the NPD Group. But sales seem to be bouncing back: The Port Washington, N.Y.-based market researcher says that while dollar sales were also flat in the fourth quarter, due to heavy price-cutting in order to woo shoppers, unit sales gained a healthy 4%. "In a time of continued economic turmoil, toy industry revenues were very stable, and the uptick in unit sales in the fourth quarter is a very positive sign for the industry heading into 2010," the company says in its analysis.
Mattel's big launches include Fisher-Price's Bigfoot, an interactive monster with a child-friendly remote, so kids can make the legendary beast walk, talk, eat, throw a ball, and do somersaults. Show festivities will include a big career move from Barbie, who will unveil her next career move. (The 50-year-old has been on the fence, vacillating among architect, computer engineer, environmentalist, news anchor or surgeon, and so far, more than a half a million consumers have voted.) And its new Dance Star Mickey will have a dance-off with Donny Osmond.
Hasbro has high hopes for its Beyblade: Metal Fusion Battle Top line. The tops come with a ripcord launcher and assembly tools, to custom-build tops for each battle. Two new versions of Monopoly -- Monopoly: Revolution Edition, with a round game board and song and sound clips, and Monopoly: U Build, with a snap-together game track that lets users customize the board -- are also expected to get lots of attention.
Among the more high-tech toys are Mattel's Puppy Tweets, "the new rage in social netwoofing." A tag with integrated motion and sound sensors attaches to the collar, which then connects to a USB receiver, and after the owner starts the dog's Twitter account, tweets will capture the dog's "level of activity whether barking, sleeping or playing, translating it to humorous or poignant tweets that are sure to make dog owners follow, sit or stay."
But launches are likely to include more toys in the building sets category, which NPD says jumped 23% in sales last year, and arts & crafts, which climbed 7%. Sales of youth electronics fell 17%, and the humble stuffed animal didn't do much better, with sales declining 13%.
Another surprise from NPD is that while sales of toys aimed at kids 8 and under still account for 69% of total sales, thanks to strong sales of building sets, "the only age group to gain in share and absolute dollar sales was kids ages 9 to 12."