As you may know If you happened to catch your on-site coverage on our Instagram, Francine and I made the trip out to China for the first-ever Shanghai Toy Show last weekend (4.5 – 4.7). We were really excited to attend the show and thoroughly enjoyed the convention organized by POP MART, one of China’s leading Art Toy retailers and brands. Here’s a quick recap and overview of STS which we will follow with posts focused on selected booths.
While Art Toys are a fairly new trend in China, toy hungry fans were amped up for the event with several thousand lining up early, the night before the show opened. Eager to buy the hottest toys, many couldn’t help but run-walk, or in some cases sprint into the convention hall. What struck us as we entered Shanghai Toy Show is the tremendous sense of scale from the large number of showcase booths, many with elaborate designs, to the sprawling 130,000+ square feet layout which likely makes it the largest Art Toy-specific convention in terms of floor size.
From Chino Lam’s brilliant Japanese food stall-style booth offering fresh Maguro Senpai vinyl to Fluffy House’s cute school house-themed booth and many in-between, STS outclassed other art toy shows in terms of presentation and ‘feel’. In fact, someone mentioned that in terms of the show’s ambiance and look, STS felt more like SDCC than any other Art Toy convention. STS has definitely raised the bar of what an Art Toy show can look and feel like, from the glitzy showcase booths (20×20’s and even several 30×30’s) to the smaller 10×10’s—which all featured ‘shell’ style booths with integrated display cases.
Since we weren’t too familiar with China’s Art Toy scene we were curious to see what the must-buy toys were. Based on line-ups, fans couldn’t get enough of Molly by Kennyswork—not surprising considering POP MART sells 2 Million+ Molly minis each year—and Labubu by Kasing Lung – both booths consistently had the largest lines over the three days. From what we saw, several other booths had considerable lines each day, including Chino Lam, Coarse, Pop Life, Pucky, Unitoy and T9G /Shoko Nakazawa. Fans came eager to buy and buy they did. As we walked the floor, we noticed almost everyone carrying at least one STS-branded bag, many with several. While it might not be immediately obvious from the photos, women were the primary buyers, informally it seemed like perhaps 70% of the attendees were female. Not to oversimplify things, but the flip-flopped demographics between Western shows and STS—as well other Asian shows including Taipei Toy Festival—seemed to drive buying tastes, as noted by several vendors.
Beyond conventional booths, Shanghai Toy Show also featured self-serve toy buying. A large Gashapon section in the rear of the hall was heaven for fans of capsule toys. POP MART also installed two of its innovative Robo Shops at STS. These high-tech vending machines feature a robotic arm that gently retrieves and delivers art toys to fans who select toys from the electronic display and purchase them seamlessly with mobile QR code payment systems that have nearly replaced cash in China’s larger cities. While one can browse by looking at the rows of blind box toys in the machine, each Robo Shop also features an embedded display case giving buyers a chance to view each figure in a series and get a better feel for what they might find when they open their blind boxes. While the Robo Shop offers mostly individual blind boxes, it also offers full cases. It’s one thing to see customers grab a blind box or two from the large door on the machine, but I was pretty amazed to see a customer reach down to retrieve a full case of the new Aquatic Molly minis. It would be great to see similar art toy machines here in the United States. Mollys, Dunnys and Be@rbricks from a machine at my local mall? Yes, please.
Complimenting the buying experience, Shanghai Toy Show offered programming on two stages including the opening/closing ceremonies—a common feature of Asian toy shows—artist talks, live-drawing sessions and an auction of one-off pieces from exhibiting artists. Continuing the ‘next-level’ vibe, each stage featured video boards for presentations and close-up views of artists’ live-drawing.
POP MART’s expressed goal for Shanghai Toy Show and Beijing Toy Show is to deliver the best Art Toy show experience in the world. An ambitious goal certainly, but one that seems attainable over the course of several years. With its next-level presentation, STS is raising the bar for what fans should expect from an Art Toy convention. The next step growth wise will be to attract more international brands and artists beyond the notable ones featured at STS. This is happening on its own with several state-side brands mentioning their interest in becoming vendors—noteworthy considering the distance/logistics.
We had a great time at Shanghai Toy Show, meeting artists new to us, scouting out new toys, buying quite a few of them and learning about Art Toys in China, a rapidly growing and extremely promising new market. With STS in the books, POP MART is now focused on the second Beijing Toy Show which will take place from September 7th to 9th 2018. Another toy trip to China? Tempting.