ATA Virtual Toy Fair 2021―four exhibitors share their experience

While events are slowly making their way back into our lives, holding a physical trade fair was still out of reach for the Toy Hobby and Licensing Fair this month, so it went digital for 2021.

Held from 1 to 5 March, the platform provided exhibitors and buyers the opportunity to forge new partnerships, build on current relationships, network with peers and get a glimpse of what is hot and new set to hit Aussie shores.

We spoke to four exhibitors about their virtual experience.

Sue Brennan, Divisible By Zero

It was an easy decision to participate in the digital fair―trade fairs are by far the best and most effective way to get your range in front of as many retailers as possible, and if we couldn’t do that at our normal physical fair then DBZ was keen to explore and participate in being at a virtual fair.

Being our first time exhibiting digitally we were unsure of how many retailers would embrace the concept and attend, and have been very pleased with the result. We have had meetings with both existing customers and new, which is fantastic.

Feedback has been varied, with some experiencing IT glitches, but on the whole it has been a positive experience from both sides. A huge positive is we don’t have to pull down the stand tonight!

Andrew McGregor, Artiwood

The virtual platform seems to be working well as a substitute for the physical event, but the planning and preparation for virtual meetings and showroom tours took more time and effort than anticipated. 

I must admit that we went into the whole exercise of a virtual trade show with some trepidation. However, it’s been a delight to see attendee after attendee signing up for online meetings all week. We’ve seen an encouraging mix of regular customers and new business prospects. The platform has also proved reasonably stable and we’ve been able to host most meetings through our exhibitor portal. This has included live video tours of our Sydney showroom and providing highlights collateral for those short of time.

Perhaps the most surprising observation is that people are making a conscious effort to set this week aside as usual to focus on meeting and greeting toy fair exhibitors. It has always been challenging to get any retailer to commit to a meeting―especially a virtual one. However, last week everyone gave us their time and energy. This includes a few technophobes who despite their fears (and struggles) are valiantly giving the digital platform a red hot go.

While I’m sure we’d love to return to a normal life, as an interim venture, the digital fair has definitely made an impact. The ability to grab the attention of so many people―with very little resistance―has been a blessing in disguise. Without doubt, everyone’s commitment to the digital fair is testament to the vital role this event plays in our industry every year. 

Teresa Roos, Bright Wonders

Our reasons for joining the ATA Virtual Toy Fair last year were quite varied. It was becoming evident to us that there were too many challenges surrounding physical fairs and they were unlikely to eventuate in the front end of 2021.

As a company we could not ask staff to travel interstate at a time when border closures were becoming common and being implemented with only hours’ notice. We also felt that customers were unlikely to travel to fairs, so even if we had booked, paid and turned up, the number of customers actually able and willing to visit such a large scale event was likely to be limited. While all other fair companies were attempting to encourage companies into a face to face environment, the ATA was thinking outside the box and exploring new ways for companies to connect.

Whilst on the face of it was clear that a virtual fair would not be like other fairs, we did feel that the ATA was actually being brave and forward thinking to commit to a new way of working. The ATA have to be applauded for this.

Going into the fair our expectations were very low, we did not expect any large scale deals or leads to come from it, but we did feel it needed supporting as it was a new way of operating. The low cost to entry also meant that as a company we didn’t have much to lose.

Whilst the platform was rather challenging to use and there was definitely learning to be had from our perspective, with improvements to enhance the customer and user experience it has great potential. It was wonderful to connect with so many new and existing customers.

We were also encouraged to see stores embracing new technology and realising that there are alternate methods to connect with businesses and view new trends and products. Whilst the traditional trade show space may have its place and is great for touching and feeling product as well as forming face to face relationships, it will be interesting to see what will happen in this space.

Paula Opfer, Axis Toys

We felt it was important to participate this year in the ATA Virtual Toy Fair as being able to communicate with prospects and our customers. It created a deadline and calendar event after spending so much time apart thanks to the ongoing challenges of Covid-19.

One of the benefits to the virtual fair was the ability to give each customer a small window of dedicated time and focus―it made our meetings more efficient and targeted which both parties were pleased with. It also meant we got to speak and touch base in the virtual form with many customers that are often on a tight time frame and opened the opportunity for further discussion.

We began virtual meetings using Zoom last year and found them to be an effective medium when we couldn’t meet to have open discussions, so the fair was a good adjunct to our current showroom tour program.