Toy Fair Has Left the Building

Canadian Toy Fair RIPAfter 73 years, the Canadian Toy & Hobby Fair is no more.

The fair’s demise came earlier in the week after the Canadian Toy Association, organizer of the venerable event, announced it had inked a closer affiliation with its U.S. counterpart, Toy Industry Association.

CTA spokesmen said the new arrangement would enhance shared strengths and result in a more unified voice for the North American industry when it comes to important issues, such as safety.

Unfortunately, the merger also means there won’t be the resources to operate an annual trade show on each side of the border. So, not surprisingly, the doors are closing on the Canadian show and the bigger American International Toy Fair will remain in place.

Granted, Canada’s annual toy fair has been ailing for several years now with a decreased roster of exhibitors and diminishing retailer numbers. Still, it comes as a shock to realize a piece of our history and the most visible aspect of the Canadian toy industry has joined the dearly departed.

No doubt, some old timers will say the writing was on the wall the day the event left its long-time venue in Montreal and moved to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. And they could be right. When it relocated to downtown Toronto, the fair suddenly had to compete for the same retailer audience that also shopped the popular CGTA Gift Show, which ran simultaneously on Toronto’s Airport strip. (To a lesser extent, the Toy Importers’ Show, also taking place in the Airport area, impacted toy fair attendance.)

However, the Canadian Toy & Hobby Fair ran successfully at the Convention Centre through the 90s and much of the 2000s – with exhibitors spilling over some years onto a second floor. Each January, toy fair was “the” place to go to meet new customers, as well as reconnect with old acquaintances and colleagues. We saw amazing suppliers like Ottawa’s PlaSmart Inc., Quebec’s Family Games and B.C.’s Outset Media, all of whom created and distributed unique products geared just for Canadian consumers, especially those who patronized specialty stores.

Unfortunately, the good times didn’t last. For a variety of reasons, including bad weather and the high costs associated with a downtown Toronto venue, many retailers often didn’t bother making the trek to the toy fair site, choosing instead to shop at the CGTA show, which was closer to affordable hotels, parking and transportation. Of course, the most significant factors were an evolving and shrinking industry, blurring markets, and the internet as a new sourcing tool.

Attendance at toy fair decreased and more and more suppliers, especially those whose product lines increasingly straddled the boundary between gifts and toys, abandoned ship to exhibit elsewhere.

To its credit, in an attempt to staunch the unrest of its members, the Canadian Toy Association considered and debated a variety of fixes, including: a later spring date, alternating venues in other Canadian cities, and opening the fair to the public. In 2010, the CTA implemented one of the most popular changes put forward by both exhibitors and buyers. It moved toy fair to Mississauga, Ontario’s International Centre, conveniently located in a hall near the CGTA Gift Show.

The move rejuvenated enthusiasm only temporarily. Toy fair finally bottomed out this past January, presenting just 40 — albeit excellent — exhibitors and attracting very little buyer traffic. It seems fewer retailers from other provinces made the journey to Toronto, this year. And of those who made it as far as the International Centre, many apparently decided to simply forgo toy fair.

Once again, typical Canadian toy-industry apathy has won out. The CTA built it, but eventually no one came. So, who can blame the organization for putting its members’ interests first and cutting its losses by eliminating the show? I certainly can’t.

However, that doesn’t mean I don’t sincerely regret its loss right now. And I probably will again many times in the future, especially next January when the snow’s blowing and thoughts of seeing new products and old friends are in the air.

Lynn Winston has been the editor of both print and online versions of Toys & Games Magazine since 1991. To contact her directly, please click here.
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