Chicago toy fair showcases latest holiday products

Sat Nov 19, 2011 10:38am EST
 
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By Karin Matz

CHICAGO (Reuters) - When Kathy O'Brien couldn't find the perfect dollhouse for her daughter Caitlin's 18-inch dolls last Christmas, the mother made one herself. The portable, fold-up house was an instant hit with Caitlin and her friends who came to play.

"Over the next month...every one of the girls left and said, 'Mom, can you ask Mrs. O'Brien where she bought that?' and I said, 'Well you know, maybe there's something here,'" O'Brien said.

Now, in time for the holiday shopping season, she is debuting the dollhouses at the Chicago Toy & Game Fair this weekend. O'Brien, an architect who sold her family's house in suburban Chicago to launch her new dollhouse business, hopes the exposure will translate to sales.

Organizers say this is the only toy show in the United States that is open to the public, and they're expecting more than 20,000 visitors looking to test new products and perhaps buy them ahead of the Black Friday hoopla next week.

The 150 exhibitors, a mix of large and small toy companies, will be competing in a market where consumers increasingly watch what they spend.

"There is a movement out there right now for families to buy more quality and less quantity," said Mary Couzin, president and founder of the event, now in its ninth year.

Holiday sales are critical for the more than $20-billion-a-year industry, with nearly 50 percent of annual toy sales generated in the fourth quarter. Sales from January through September of this year were down 2 percent from the same period last year, according to NPD, a market research company.

"There's not going to be just one toy this year that jumps out," said Reyne Rice, a toy trends expert.   Continued...