The American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA) is a nonprofit trade association that provides leadership and resources to specialty toy manufacturers, independent retailers, specialty suppliers and service providers, and industry affiliates.1 They support toys that “focus on the features of play, rather than the features of the toy,”2 and in this way they fulfill their mission to “lead the way through play.”3
Founded in 1992 and based in Chicago, Illinois, ASTRA focuses on promoting materials that have high play value because they believe that “play is the way a child explores his world, builds skills, exercises his imagination and learns through experience.”4 Generally these type of toys are found in locally owned neighborhood toy stores, are not likely to be electronically based nor based on television or movie characters, are not heavily advertised on television, and are made to last for generations.5
ASTRA supports the specialty toy retailer through advocating for their needs within the broader toy industry; publishing a quarterly newsletter to communicate concerning new manufacturers and toys; providing business skill development seminars, an online forum, and periodic webinars; maintaining a website with resources, news, and links; and publishing educational tools, such as Play for Profit: A Retail Business Plan for Toy Stores.6
Every two years ASTRA conducts a retail store performance survey, which gives independent toy stores a report on the industry's general financial performance and a specific report comparing their store's performance with other ASTRA stores.7 Further analysis of the gathered data is given at the annual ASTRA's Marketplace & Academy conference.
Generally held in June, the multi-day ASTRA's Marketplace & Academy features tools to increase store profits, information on the importance of play, and exhibits of specialty manufacturers’ products, including the unveiling of new products in time for the important fourth-quarter retail sales.8 Attendees include not only special toy store owners, managers, or staff, but also interested parties from gifts and card stores, museum stores, school supply stores, hobby stores, and stores featuring baby, children, and juvenile products.
At the Marketplace & Academy, the finalist toys for the annual Best Toys for Kids list are displayed, played with, and voted upon. The resulting winners in 12 categories based on age and type of play are considered the most engaging, unique, open-ended, fun, and safe toys of the season.9 These recommendations and a store locator feature are published on the website for consumers. Additionally, the retailer receives a package of resources to utilize the Best Toys for Kids list for holiday sales.
Another event that ASTRA sponsors each year is the Neighborhood Toy Store Day on the second Saturday of November. Since fourth-quarter sales are the most vital for the toy industry, ASTRA supports their members in many ways: strategies learned at the Marketplace & Academy, the Best Toys for Kids list, resources for marketing with the Best Toys list, group discounts for products, and the early beginning of the holiday shopping season with the Neighborhood Toy Store Day.10
ASTRA also has a presence at the New York Toy Fair in February of each year. They offer discounts on products for members, social events, and a Share the Fair guide to assist members in finding specialty toys among the broader selection of products.
For parents and retailers, ASTRA offers online links of nearly 20 organizations and companies who support play, including the Alliance for Childhood, Association of Children’s Museums, Children & Nature Network, International Play Association, Strong National Museum of Play, and the National Toy Hall of Fame.11 They also have a resource section with articles highlighting children's needs for play as they grow, toy safety tips, and a guide for choosing toys.
- 1. “Who We Are.” ASTRA. < http://www.astratoy.org/who-we-are.asp > 8 June 2012.
- 2. “Specialty Toy Industry Fact Sheet.” ASTRA. < http://www.astratoy.org/specialty-toy-industry-fact-sheet.asp > 8 June 2012.
- 3. “Mission.” ASTRA. < http://www.astratoy.org/mission.asp > 8 June 2012.
- 4. “The Importance of Play.” ASTRA. < http://www.astratoy.org/the-importance-of-play.asp > 14 July 2012.
- 5. Op.cit., “Specialty Toy Industry Fact Sheet.”
- 6. “What We Do.” ASTRA. < http://www.astratoy.org/what-we-do.asp > 8 June 2012.
- 7. “ASTRA Conducts Retail Store Performance Survey.” ASTRA. < http://www.astratoy.org/downloads/ASTRA_PRESS_RELEASE-RETAIL_PERFORMANCE_SURVEY_2012.pdf > 15 July 2012.
- 8. “ASTRA Marketplace & Academy Educational Program Unveiled.” ASTRA. < http://www.astratoy.org/downloads/ASTRA_PRESS_RELEASE_2012_Marketplace_Academy_Program_Unveiled.pdf > 15 July 2012.
- 9. “Best Toys for Kids 2011.” ASTRA Best Toys for Kids 2011. < http://www.astrabesttoysforkids.com/ > 8 June 2012.
- 10. Op.cit., “What We Do.”
- 11. “Play Links.” ASTRA. < http://www.astratoy.org/play-links.asp > 14 July 2012.