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Stories From Toy Fair

The big show for the toy industry starts this weekend. It feels weird not gearing up for the trip to NYC. So instead of a trip to New York, I’m going to take a trip down memory lane. Here are some of my favorite stories…

Toy Fair LEGO Booth 2010

This first story goes back to my grandfather, Mayor Phil Conley’s first trip back in 1950. Munn Furman (Furman’s Clothing) pulled him aside and told him the vendors there did their “credit check” by the thread count of his jacket. Munn gave my grandfather a new suit to wear and told Phil to pay him for it after the trip. Sure enough, the first showroom my grandfather entered, the guy vigorously shook his right hand saying hello and welcome, all the while rubbing the shoulders and back of the suit coat with his left hand. My grandfather knew immediately he would be paying Munn for that suit (and that suit was already paying for itself!)

Lesson? Appearances do matter. They did back then and they do today. Make a good first impression if you want to be taken seriously.

My dad had an interesting story of being in a showroom once back in the early 80’s when the Toys R Us buyer entered the room. The man talking to my dad left him in mid-sentence – yes, with half a word still dangling in the air – to go meet the TRU guy. Another gentleman came and escorted my parents from the showroom as they closed shutters and locked doors behind them. I had a similar experience in a booth two decades later when a salesperson actually said, “You’re not as important to me as the Toys R Us buyer. You can find your way out.” In both cases, those companies lost our business. In both cases those companies were out of business long before we were. In both cases, politeness would have gone a long way.

Lesson? Sure, your best customers deserve top-level attention. But then again, so do all your other customers. If either company had been polite and apologetic toward my dad or me, they wouldn’t have lost any customers that day.

One of my favorite booths was Education Outdoors. They had a hunting lodge feel to their booth. Tim and Jesse were always welcoming and friendly. They had two camp chairs in the booth. Usually I would see them late in the day. After two days walking the concrete floors lugging a few hundred pounds of catalogs, those camp chairs felt like Lazy Boy recliners. One year I got to their booth and my phone battery was dead. They had paid extra to have electricity in their booth and let me plug in my phone and pick it up an hour later. I can count on one hand the number of booths I trusted enough to even ask such a request, let alone trust them to leave my phone behind. Yes, they were always one of my favorite vendors. Probably one of yours, too, if you ever played the game “Camp”.

Lesson? Relationships matter. Trust matters. Helping each other out matters. Little acts of kindness matter. Get those things right and the rest will follow.

My favorite part of attending Toy Fair had to be the basement booths. The basement was filled with a lot of smaller companies. A lot of game inventors were downstairs. Education Outdoors was always downstairs. A lot of single-item toy inventors were downstairs. A lot of treasures to be discovered were downstairs. You had to walk some of the aisles with blinders on. This is where the real salesmanship was happening. Everyone was trying to catch your eye. Everyone had their pitch ready. If you so much as slowed down or glanced in their direction, they pounced.

“This will be bigger than Tickle Me Elmo!”
“Come on, give a small guy a chance…”
“Boo! Made you look. Now you have to stop in the booth!”

Or my favorite line I heard once, “Hey Phil, my friend bet me I couldn’t get you to stop in my booth.”

There were people sitting on chairs in the back of their booths waiting to be discovered. (They never were.) There were people jumping out in front of you as you walked the aisle. It was dog-eat-dog selling. The line that worked best was simply, “Phil, can I show you something new?”

Lesson? Honest, sincere pitches always work best. Gimmicks might get my attention, but never got me to buy. (Same thing with your advertising.)

I don’t miss travel to NYC in mid-February (been there for several feet of snow over the years) but I do miss the trade show, especially the after-hour sessions talking shop with my peers over a few beers. A lot of lessons to be learned for anyone paying attention.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Yes, I stopped. But only after he agreed to split his winnings with me. Funny thing is that I don’t remember the booth or the product, only the gimmick.

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