ASTRA Marketplace & Academy 2013

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This past week, ASTRA held their annual Marketplace & Academy in Nashville.  I was not personally in attendance this year, but our company had a booth.  This was the 11th time that Outset Media has exhibited at ASTRA.
The show ended on Tuesday.  That evening, an interesting email appeared in my inbox.  It was from my US Sales manager, Gareth Turner.  For those of you who don’t know Gareth, he is a no-nonsense type of fellow, and is not normally one to exaggerate.  The subject of his email simply said “best ASTRA ever”.  Of course, he did not elaborate.
After ASTRA, Gareth flew directly to the Dallas Gift Show, so I did not have an opportunity to talk to him at great lengths about ASTRA until Monday morning.  According to Gareth, there were several key factors that contributed to making ASTRA the best one ever!
To her credit, Kathleen McHugh and her staff have done a remarkable job at making ASTRA relevant.  The retail membership of ASTRA is an influential force in toy retailing, one that cannot be ignored.  In the past, there were suppliers who snubbed ASTRA.  No longer!  There is now a waiting list to get into the show.
Like NETS in Canada, ASTRA is all about specialty toy retailing.  Having a waiting list to get into the show is an important indicator that specialty toys are still important, and so are independent retailers.  Last year, 30% of all U.S. retail dollars spent on toys were for licensed products.  It’s enough that independent toy retailers must compete with video games, electronics, discount chains, internet discounters, and age compression - but they must also compete against more “popular” licensed goods.  But the benefit of having an organization like ASTRA is that it supports retailers in their efforts to provide parents with products that focus on what the child can do with the toy, and not just what the toy can do.  ASTRA ensures that parents can walk into their local neighbourhood toy store and find toys and board games that are well made and offer a high play value.
ASTRA has also done a fantastic job at making the learning portion of the ASTRA Marketplace & Academy important.  The caliber of the speakers and breakout sessions was impressive.  Whether it was learning how to improve your marketing via Social Media, sharing tips on engaging store windows, or discussing the legal implications of minimum advertised pricing (MAP) programs – ASTRA had fantastic learning opportunities for everyone.
ASTRA has also done a great job at getting suppliers to offer good show specials.  While this does hurt our bottom line somewhat, it certainly makes attending the show worthwhile for retailers.
Similar to last year, it was good to see some Canadian retailers down in Nashville.  Gareth spoke to four different Canadian retailers who stopped by to say “hi”.  And I’m sure there were other Canadians down there.
I was also pleased to hear that retailers were upbeat.  People were certainly there to write orders.  It was a good show.  Hope to see you at the next year’s ASTRA Marketplace & Academy in Phoenix!

*Note: Here are the links to ASTRA's business website and the Wahoo Factor website for parents:
For Retailers:
For Parents:


Hi Dave, We certainly missed you this year but hope to see you in Phoenix. Thank you for the kind words. When we understand each other and the challenges we all face, it becomes about supporting each other and that's what makes the people of ASTRA special. All my best, Kathleen