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Dear Tim, 16% growth? $3.5 BILLION in additional sales? What?! tBR Columnist Tim Kilpin Comments

By now, you’ve likely seen NPD’s recent headlines about the U.S. toy industry posting unprecedented growth this past year — this most extraordinary and challenging of all years.

Have some of you been watching your shipping and POS ratchet ever upward this past year, hunkered down at your home desk/kitchen table/rec room couch and on your 14th Zoom call of the day — and felt a strange mix of elation, guilt, and dread? Does any of this make any sense? How are we supposed to feel about record sales in the face of a global pandemic, severe economic dislocation, and — just because the year wasn’t already stressful enough — enough domestic political upheaval to make folks in Serbia tsk-tsk over their Rakijas? (Go ahead, look it up, I had to.)

There are obvious answers, of course, and they will make sense to all of us. We retreated to our homes, our families, our cocoons — and needed entertainment, distraction, and comfort. The Games and Puzzles supercategory grew 25% in those markets that NPD tracks, and the Puzzles subsegment alone (puzzles, people!) grew +44%. I have a stack of decks from a decade ago that predicted the imminent demise of these categories. And in the summer months, our backyards became our vacation destinations, so the Outdoor & Sports Toys category grew +22% — to almost $10 billion in total. That’s a LOT of jungle gyms and playhouses.

But there’s an emotional answer, too — and it’s really the important one. Parents knew and understood instinctively that they needed to project calm at home, a sense of normalcy, a retreat from the day’s desperate and dizzying headlines, a chance for some relief — and some fun. And toys and games — those products you tinker with and toil over, those programs you conspire to get buyers to support, those projects driving 14 Zoom calls — they are one of the best answers for parents in times like these. After all those years of experts telling you that screen time will obliterate your quaint old 3-dimensional business — toys matter. Now more than ever.

Will this behavior sustain? Will parents continue to seek out the solace that toys and games can deliver daily? Or will we finally turn a corner this Summer — with families suddenly vacationing with a vengeance and leaving the toys behind?

No one knows, of course. I know many of you well enough to know that you have a point of view and a plan. For me, right now it’s enough to know that, when Covid came and the stress mounted, parents turned to toys — to the magic YOU make — for an answer.

Source: The NPD Group/Retail Tracking Service/G13/Jan-Dec 2020/Projected USD

Source: The NPD Group/Retail Tracking Service/G13/Outdoor & Sports Toys Supercategory/Jan-Dec 2020/Projected USD: $9.85B


In additional to penning his thoughts here, Tim Kilpin is enjoying his role as President of PlayMonster. To read more about Tim's career in the toy industry, check out this interview with Tim last year! Tim Kilpin - I’m a very proud elf. Every Christmas morning...


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