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Toymakers Go Back To Basics At N.Y. Trade Show

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Toymakers Go Back To Basics At N.Y. Trade Show

Economy

Toymakers Go Back To Basics At N.Y. Trade Show

Toymakers Go Back To Basics At N.Y. Trade Show

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/100804776/100804752" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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At this year's Toy Fair in New York, there's less emphasis on presentation and more on the products themselves. Some manufacturers are surviving the economic downturn by producing more affordable toys and dropping costly models. Buzz words on the exhibition floor include "classic," "safe," "green" and "made in the U.S.A." The makers of longtime favorites LEGO and Slinky report strong sales. "In these times, people want basic toys," the head of Poof-Slinky Inc. says.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The recession has even affected the toy industry. Every year, thousands of toy companies show off their products at the annual Toy Fair in New York City. NPR's Margot Adler has covered this fair many times and says the atmosphere this year is very understated.

MARGOT ADLER: There have been years when you would walk into Toy Fair and see showrooms so opulent they seem like palaces, rooms in pink satin to show off Barbie, or, perhaps more fun, you might wander into Lego's showroom only to walk over a huge bridge of Lego bricks. This week, I saw Barbies in boxes on shelves. And at Lego, despite an amazing 38 percent growth over the last year, everything was simply the toys. Spokesperson Michael McNally was showing me around.

Mr. MICHAEL MCNALLY (Spokesperson, LEGO): It's just all about the products here. And, you know, we love having inspiration models and big, oversized things because people love to see those, but this is all about the out-of-the box experience.

ADLER: Lego's President Soren Torp Laursen noted the toy industry only lost three percent this year and is fairly recession resistant. As for why Lego did so well…

Mr. SOREN TROP LAURSEN (President, LEGO): You know, we don't offer minutes of play. We offer hours of play. It's a new toy every day. You keep playing with it, and it comes out. And I think the consumer sees that.

ADLER: So here were the words that were repeated over and over: classic, safe, affordable, made in the USA. Mark Dinges at California Creations has hundreds of different tiny toys.

Mr. MARK DINGES (California Creations): If you look in the back here, they're clear, you can actually see it working. You can see it. It's almost like it's alive in there.

ADLER: These are tiny wind-up toys, more than a hundred different kinds, some 50 new styles this year - many rediscovered from a Japanese toymaker from years ago. They've all retailed for between 3.99 and 4.99.

Mr. DINGES: This one does a back flip. We've got whale - this actually spouts water as it swims. This is the best seller. It's called a Noggin Bop.

ADLER: It actually dances in all kinds of different ways.

Mr. DINGES: There are people, there are adults making vides for us on YouTube for this.

ADLER: The company had its best year ever last year.

Mr. DINGES: And we'll outsell last year by March of this year.

ADLER: Another toy for under $5 that is doing very well is Slinky. Yes, there is a gold-plated Slinky, but the basic Slinky is under $5 and is selling millions. And Ray Dallavecchia, the president of Poof-Slinky Inc., says in these times, people want basic toys.

Mr. RAY DALLAVECCHIA (President, Poof-Slinky Inc.): Many people are looking to toys that they've played when they were a child. The customer is looking at buying brands they recognize, and, of course, made in the USA is one of the leading desires of the American consumer today.

ADLER: And given the hue and cry over safety over toys from China and over a new consumer product safety regulations that no one I met understands, two words you hear over and over are safe and green. At Green Toys everything from 7.99 flying discs to dump trucks is made of recycled milk jugs. This is a new company less than two years old doing better than they ever expected. They are in 3,000 stores, and here is one of the founders, Robert von Goeben.

Mr. ROBERT VON GOEBEN (Founder, Green Toys): We make, essentially, classic toys. Our best seller is the tea set, which is a 17-piece set made completely from recycled milk jugs, completely safe and made in the USA.

ADLER: And when I ask him what parents want…

Mr. VON GOEBEN: People treat toys like they treat food. They want to know what's in it. We have almost an ingredients list on our toys. I think parents want to know: What's in this toy I'm giving my kid?

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man: One, two, let's all play.

(Soundbite of music)

ADLER: I walk down one aisle and suddenly come upon music, instruments from all of the world, fair-trade items, drums, rattles, shaker eggs. John Hayden, the president of Jamtown, tells me toys should promote authenticity and community. But back at those less-than-$5 wind-up toys, I asked Mark Dinges if a bad economy is actually helping him.

Mr. DINGES: I think it is helping us. I think people still want to have fun, they still want to smile. And I think these put a smile on people's face.

ADLER: And then he turned to me and said: I think people need that right now.

Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.

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