Did you know that there are more than 160,000 toys on the market in the U.S. at any given time? That's a lot of toys! They range from the simplest collectibles and impulse toys to the most sophisticated electronic marvels.
At TTPM, we see more than 10,000 new toys every year. The process starts a year or more before our lists are revealed and the toys hit the shelves. Our teams attend Toy Fairs in the U.S. and overseas, and we visit with toy companies, getting exclusive backstage peeks at toys that are in development. Over the next months, we follow the progress of these toys as they get ready to come to market, and we review them almost as soon as they come off the assembly line.
We also spend a lot of time in toy stores—not a bad gig when you think about it. It's important to see what finally makes it to the shelves, the many ways a toy may be changed from when we saw a prototype and get an early sense of what's selling. The fact of the matter is, not every toy makes the cut. As with many industries, many more ideas are developed than ever to get to the toy shelves. Along the way, manufacturers may find things are too expensive to make, a great idea in the design studio may not appeal to kids, or retailers just may not want to take a chance on it.
Even for the toys that do make it through the process, it's not always clear sailing. There are a lot of things for parents to choose from, and in many cases kids are the ones who can make or break a toy. As we always say, it can be challenging to be in a business where your success or failure depends on what a kids wants at any given time.
Then, too, every kid is different. Over the years, we've seen again and again that every child has a different play style, as unique as his or her personality. Kids also never play with just one thing. When we've interviewed kids about what they like to play with, more often than not, they'll talk about toys in many different merchandise categories—from action figures to games and almost every category of toys they play with.
As quickly as kids tastes change, so too do the toys. We continue to see more and more technology introduced into toys, allowing them to do things that are surprising in their sophistication. While those innovations are amazing to parents and grandparents, those that are successful have one thing in common: good play.
The process of selecting toys for the TTPM Most Wanted lists takes months. Our editorial team reviews the toys. We take them out of the box, assemble and play with them. We talk to retailers and, of course, track trends in the culture from play to entertainment to fashion and more.
Here are some of the key criteria we use in making those tough choices:
Over the years we've also learned that this is a lot more an art than a science, as with anything that has such an element of fashion involved. At the end of the day, our lists are a snapshot of a moment in play time—a sense of what's inspiring imaginations and letters to Santa.
And, most importantly, one thing we always say is that no list will ever encompass the wonderfully diverse nature of the toy business—or every kid. The best thing that parents and toy buyers can ever do is know the kids that they're buying for, what excites them and stimulates their imaginations. As we say every time we announce a list, "The hot toy is only hot if it's hot for your kid."