Facing Challenges and Disruption with Innovation

It’s hard not to feel most days that we’re faced only with challenges and disruption.  We are worried about how the digital revolution is impacting our bricks and mortar businesses.  The press is full of stories about the retail apocalypse.  Our customers are harried, glued to their smartphones, and demanding ever more from us.  We wonder about tomorrow.

But wait a minute.  Maybe, just maybe, this is a great time to be a player in the specialty toy ecosystem.

For many specialty retailers the digital revolution is a positive tool rather than a direct competitor.  Much of the dire news about the demise of retail actually concerns large chains that are overloaded with debt from private equity leveraged buyouts.  Consumer confidence is high, U.S. unemployment is historically low, and the economy is growing.  Sure our customers are harried and demanding — but they’re shopping!

Yes, we have challenges.  And digital disruption is everywhere.  But we also have significant opportunity.  ASTRA leadership is moving to understand these critical developments and help members act.

The move began with a mid-2017 deep dive into understanding how the ASTRA ecosystem of retailer/manufacturer/sales representative is being impacted by the rapid pace of digital change.  Through a series of roundtable sessions we dug into the bad and the good.  After these sessions, the ASTRA Board received a detailed report on the roundtable results and held a robust discussion about next steps.  A well-attended and lively panel was also held at the 2017 Marketplace & Academy in Philadelphia to present results to membership.

Now the Board is moving to establish the ASTRA Innovation Council because leadership recognizes that our modern world is changing at an accelerating rate.  The ASTRA Innovation Council is charged with examining the global landscape to identify important developments that impact the ASTRA ecosystem.  The Council will prioritize key developments and provide to the ASTRA Board insight and recommendations for further action to help members adapt and thrive in the face of these developments.

We have just posted the Call for Volunteers to participate on the Innovation Council.  Take a moment to look it over and consider getting involved.  We hope you’ll want to join us!

The rapid pace of change affecting the ASTRA ecosystem continues to gather speed.  We are watching reports of the Hasbro move on Mattel.  Toys “R” Us is struggling through bankruptcy.  Larger vendors are acquiring some long time specialty manufacturers.  Might these developments somehow be opportunities for ASTRA members?  The ASTRA Innovation Council will help identify and assess the direction.

Meanwhile, our core bricks and mortar specialty toy retail model continues to hold its own.  Indeed, perhaps this is a great time to be in the ASTRA ecosystem.  The Innovation Council heads into 2018 charged with analyzing important developments and seeking innovative responses to help ASTRA members adapt and thrive.  We’re all in this together!


Roger Bildsten
Roger Bildsten is the past CEO of both Manhattan Toy and International Playthings (now Epoch Everlasting Play).  He has served multiple terms on the ASTRA and Toy Association (TIA) Boards.  In 2007 Roger formed Hip Hooray LLC to speak and write about kids and advise the unique businesses that serve them.


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