Two local toy makers have gone to New York City this week to wow toy store buyers and the press with new offerings such as digital cameras for 3-year-olds and 300-piece puzzles for time-strapped puzzlers.
At the 103rd annual Toy Fair, which runs through this week, representatives from Fisher-Price and Buffalo Games will display an easel that makes dinosaurs roar once they're drawn, toys wired with amplified speaker choo-choo sounds, tables for trying out new games, and jigsaw puzzles with 'Pirates of the Caribbean' movie star pictures.
"The New York Toy Fair really focuses on the public unveiling," said Kevin Curran, the general manager of Fisher-Price, the East Aurora-based division of the Mattel toy company. For the smaller Buffalo-based Buffalo Games company, toy fair goals include getting more orders from the small and medium sized buyers, such as bookstores, and talking to inventors who might have a good new game.
"We actually increased the size of the booth," said Jennifer Mengay, who arranges puzzle licensing agreements with companies, such as Disney and Warner Brothers.
Both local companies, with slightly different aims, work to seize the business opportunities that come with the crowds that started arriving last week in advance of Sunday's formal opening of the American International Toy Fair. Some 15,000 buyers have registered to attend through Wednesday as representatives of more than 7,000 retail outlets from 7-Eleven stores to Costco, said Adrienne Citrin, spokeswoman for the Toy Industry Association. Toy displays, about 1,500 of them, are spread from Fifth Avenue toy buildings to the Javits Convention Center. New this year are two special sections of the show created for electronic toys and action figures based on comic books and Japanese animation.
After surveying the new toys, Citrin was taken with a projector that lets kids play video games while watching them on the wall instead of the TV screen. She also liked Fisher-Price's digital camera with simple buttons that 3-year-olds can use easily. "This is the first time we're seeing this type of product for a child so young," she said.
Fisher-Price, which just earned its largest-ever annual sales figure of more than $2 billion, leased its own separate showroom space on 23rd Street and began hosting media last week.
While many big buyers, such as Wal-Mart, have already placed orders for new toys that will be shipped this summer, the fair displays are intended to get customers excited about going to stores to buy.
Toys new for 2006 are on pedestals and wired for sound. "It's a very noisy, loud environment," said Curran, who described some toys as he spoke from New York City by cell phone. A new digital song and story player lets kids practice for future iPods by pressing picture icons -- of a barn or dog -- to play related music. More songs can be downloaded for a fee.
A fairy doll based on the TV character Dora the Explorer, encourages girls to make wishes by looking upwards and saying, "That's a great wish." An easel talks to kids as they draw with the help of a special pen, offering sound effects, drawing and coloring suggestions, such as, "This is a dinosaur. Why don't you color me?" A learning game plugs into the TV and teaches kids to read music by encouraging them to hit the right keys as they follow a butterfly to sounds of Mozart and "Row, row, row your boat."
If Fisher-Price can get the media visiting the showroom excited, as it hopes to, news travels and more people buy. "There are millions of parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles out there," said Curran. And they love buying toys, he said.
"I think that's why our culture just loves the toy business," he said. "It's associated with a very happy time when they see that look of joy on a child's face."
Like Fisher-Price, Buffalo Games already has orders from its big clients, such as Target. At the fair, the puzzle company will show off its expanding line of new puzzles and games.
Last year the company sold 1.4 million puzzles and 450,000 games. The company, which started out selling a difficult double-sided puzzle 20 years ago, has worked to increase market share by adding to its line of 1,000-piece puzzles. This year it has debuted 2,000- and 300-piece versions with Norman Rockwell pictures.
To help draw people in at the fair, Buffalo Games made displays out of 3-feet-by-5-foot game boxes. Seeing the creative ways other people hawk their products is part of what company president Paul Dedrick likes about the week. "That's what's fun about Toy Fair," he said. "Some of that stuff's pretty cool."
Director of Finance Thomas Calabrese intends to spend part of the week at the company game-playing demonstration tables. One game, called "Last Word" has a random buzzer timer designed to sound like the Sabres goal buzzer.
"When people come in and see you playing games, they come in and say, 'You're getting paid for this?' " Calabrese said.