President’s Letter: The Road Back for the Toy & Play Community

steve-pasierb-ceoApril 14, 2020 | As human tragedy on a global scale continues to unfold, we each foremost focus on safeguarding our families, loved ones, and co-workers. At the same time, we are trying to rationalize the complicated balance of staying safe and one day returning to what was once normal business ­− a normal that will likely never again be achieved, but together we must redefine. The resilience and determination of toy people has never been more important than right now.

While the team at The Toy Association and our Board of Directors have placed total focus these past weeks on protecting the broad toy and play community, providing useful and actionable COVID-19 information and advocating to keep as much of the business of toys functioning for the families we serve, the real futurist work remains to be understood let alone done. That is where we are now shifting, to what comes next and how to master the challenges of 2020, 2021, and beyond.

We’re also leaning back on great partners in the association community, such as the National Association of Manufacturers, National Retail Federation, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to tap their expertise, benefit from their unique perspectives, and continually find ways to share and collaborate. This outreach benefits our members now and will inform our direction in the future.

The road back will most certainly be gradual. There will be fits and starts, it will happen sooner in some states than in others, and each part of our community will move differently – manufacturing, mass retail, specialty retail, distribution, sales representatives, inventors, etc. Social distancing will remain with remote work and limited staffing used to limit density, new HR policies established, personal protective equipment provided, and a host of other measures yet to be imagined. Consumer behavior, likewise, will remain altered with the ascent of e-commerce even more unrelenting than before. The planning process for this next phase of business needs to be happening as we continue to grapple with the here and now.

The Toy Association is taking a long view that will embrace ambiguity and emphasize the need to continually sense, respond, and adapt as we move forward in our mission as a unifying force. We already started reassessing our strategic blueprint a year earlier than needed and that move now seems prescient. As one of my colleagues so perfectly said, “…we have the reach, the resources, and the responsibility…” So, it’s time to reinvent.

One immediate step is to leverage our technology assets to launch Toy Fair Everywhere. Recognizing there will be a bumpy, uneven reemergence of business and commerce, we’re targeting three designated weeks to connect hundreds of toy buyers with hundreds of sellers in advance of the fall and holiday selling seasons. Beginning July 13 through 19, The Toy Association will roll out the first of three virtual seven-day markets. Two additional Toy Fair Everywhere market weeks are planned for August 17 to 23 and September 14 to 20. Toy Fair Dallas will then take center stage October 6 to 8.

Our advocacy team is fighting to partially reopen U.S. and Mexico manufacturing and distributors that can safeguard employees, working to keep the aisles of essential retailers fully accessible in many states and jurisdictions, and taking a host of other actions at a time when record numbers of families are seeking toys, play, and learning products for kids cooped-up at home. These urgent issues here and around the world are being pursued by our team, including the finalization of the California Consumer Privacy Act, the introduction of new CPSC age determination guidelines, onerous new 60-percent tariffs in India on toys made in China, and dozens more.

Our entire staff has intensified its outreach and is listening, already making personal connections with some 2,000 contacts including members, specialty retailers, dedicated toy buyers, and the designer/inventor community. We’re trying to help and will apply this learning in our near- and long-term actions. We recognize this crisis looks very different based on business type, location, and a host of other variables. Some businesses are flourishing while many others are dormant or simply focused on treading water until better days. 

We’re then processing every input and point of useful information into a range of industry-centric and consumer-focused communications. Beyond deep resources, webinars, push emails, and social media alerts for toy businesses, we are leveraging the expert knowledge, resources, and assets of The Genius of Play. In just the past few weeks, our team has launched learning at home resources and a new national advertising campaign positioning home as “The World Headquarters of Play,” created a supply of new play ideas for families, and converted the 2020 edition of the successful “Play All May” campaign into a longer “Play Today” promotion more relevant for the here and now.

Likewise, during a time of crisis in society and in the toy community, The Toy Foundation, together with its Board of Trustees, is making a pivot to connect directly with companies and established toy company foundations to identify nonprofit organizations in greatest need. The goal is to move beyond toy donations and make dedicated cash grants that can show a measurable positive impact. The Toy Foundation, too, is embarking on a 360-degree review of its programs and strategic focus to ensure certain priorities and programs meet the future needs of a changed world. The Foundation’s work fits perfectly alongside the Association’s own dedicated charitable causes.

Over the past 104 years of the Association’s existence, we have continually evolved alongside society and toy companies bringing joy and learning to generations. Through the Great Depression, world wars, recessions, 9/11, and everything in between, the toy community and the people who make it so special have always found a way to prevail. Today our amazing team, many committees made up of volunteers from across the industry, and our Board fully embrace and deeply believe in our mission to be a unifying force for members’ creativity, responsibility, and global success advocating for your needs and championing the benefits of play. Our specific work will constantly change and move forward with strategic agility to face down threats and maximize opportunities. You have our absolute commitment to stay the course and remain at your side.


Steve Pasierb

Steve Pasierb
President & CEO
Follow me on Twitter @StevePasierb