President’s Letter: Service Remains Strategic in 2021
“What does strategy mean in an environment of discontinuous and unpredictable change…?”
- Stephan Haeckel
January 5, 2021 | I hope you greeted 2021 with great confidence. There is every reason for optimism as we each seek to move our businesses forward, strengthen the communities around us, and live healthy lives. For the business of toys, your trade association, and me personally, that means to serve with relentless determination even though so much remains unsettled around us.
I continue to trust forecasts of continued U.S. toy industry sales growth in Q4 2020 that will result in the full year up some 10 to 14 percent. That’s phenomenal, but also no reason to be sanguine. Underneath the wonderful successes and striking gross numbers lie the net damages and toll taken by an unprecedented global crisis. We know in an otherwise banner year some toy and play product categories have languished and smaller toy companies suffered drastically lower sales given shuttered retail channels, while independent retailers struggled mightily in a world where none of the old rules apply. This will continue until we are well past the pandemic. So, our imperative for 2021 remains serving all while also paying particularly close attention to supporting and finding ways to help those who have suffered and continue to see an unclear path forward. There is opportunity to come back stronger!
Today’s Toy Association is managed and functions as a coherent and adaptive system with ever-increasing levels of reliance and responsibilities between roles and departments as opposed to a set structure that leans back on goals and deliverables too frequently done in silos or reporting lines. This agility and spirit shared among our team members, volunteers, and board drives our behavior and is the reason why we’ve been able to quickly pivot multiple times over the past year to launch timely new products and services as we respond to member needs – both those that are known and those they may have not yet realized. Our organizational culture and agile system of working eats static strategy for lunch, but we still have great strides to make and so much to learn. The coming months can be no different.
Essentially, we are a service business and just like each of our member companies, our ways of doing business, our products, programs, and marketplace events must also significantly change. It’s not simply about remaining relevant, we must find new ways to be useful and deliver value in the coming years. We have to be accountable for outcomes on the issues that matter. Reinvent, tear down, rebuild, and reimagine as we must. From major annual trade shows to simple daily tasks. To that point, we’re honing the skill to continually assess the environment, take in the meaning of hard data and qualitative change, interpret all that, and convert interpretation into action. It’s an ongoing, iterative process. Not a singular event, nor what is contained in typical multiyear “strategic plan,” foisted down from on high.
In late 2019 and early 2020, The Toy Association launched waves of research and focus groups to determine member needs in swiftly changing, disruptive consumer and retail worlds. We shared that learning with staff and our board of directors. Those insights set us upon a refined blueprint focused on three essential commitments and one essential competency:
Sell – to help our members innovate in their businesses, find new selling opportunities, grow, and prosper;
- Protect – to ensure the continued ability of our members to do business both in the U.S. and global markets without undue legislative and regulatory burdens;
- Equip – to provide valuable information, interpretation of research, education, and insights that can help our members’ businesses and their people; and
- Adapt – to continually sense and respond with strategic agility across everything we do.
Those top three being what we and our members agreed are the elements of our service and core value to the toy industry – the “why” for a Toy Association and the foremost “how” to deliver on its mission. A hedgehog with members at the center. Those commitments drove expansive details on strategic priorities, action items, necessary resources, alignment, and work plans going forward. Then the world changed out from under all of us thanks to the latest novel coronavirus variant. The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men. With all that learning and planning in hand, our immediate reflex was to pivot.
Perhaps the best test of the core three has been the fact that while all the backing fine details, supporting goals, and elegant work plans were either not implemented or progressively tossed aside throughout 2020 given emerging member needs, urgency in a crisis, interruption, and diminished internal budgets, The Toy Association continually transformed, refocused, and delivered for those we exist to serve. This year can be no different even without the tailwinds of Toy Fair New York in February and business as was once usual.
So, for the near-term we’ll be keeping it simple. Fixated on the essentials and service. For your Toy Association team, the months ahead demands a simple set of imperatives to:
- Drive legislative and regulatory advocacy protecting all across the toy and play community;
- Advance members’ business interests via selling tools and opportunities, strong PR support, and insights;
- Actively engage with members to stay attuned and serve over 1,000 unique companies and diverse situations;
- Deliver relevant, influential, impactful communications highly targeted to protect and promote the industry and almost always digital; and
- Stay adaptive, seeking new learning, weighing scenarios, reimagining, continuously sensing, and responding with agility.
Like many of our members, it will take the coming year for us to fully reemerge to take on the functions, priorities, and plans we once held and might still remain sensible to benefit the toy and play community. In the meantime, however, we absolutely cannot let a single ball drop in our defense of and service to the industry. Inside our walls, we will be rethinking our business, marketplace events, and the changes to the landscape brought on by the pandemic that will remain permanent even when healthier days return for our nation and world.
A final thought...
No one does anything alone in the association world – it’s a consummate team business. There is virtually no activity one can carry through without help from others across staff, hundreds of committee volunteers from member companies, people at like-mined organizations, and our board of directors.
Our daily working lives are intertwined with the lives, loves, and aspirations of other human beings. We must care about those around us – be considerate of their feelings, problems, and needs. Especially at trying times like these. Give credit whenever it is due, and maybe even sometimes when it isn’t. Give praise to those who have done something worthwhile. Hold those who fall short accountable and give them help to be able to succeed. Thank those who have helped us.
At seminars in the distant past held at the Menninger Clinic in Kansas, executives regularly wrestled for a full week with the mysteries of the human element in business. How to get along with associates above and below; how to manage relationships for the greatest good. It is said to be a mind-stretching experience and many ideas and theories are advanced by the participants.
But the real answer does not come to light until the final day when the leader gives the closing talk. In that hour, he reviews what the group has learned, and the final word of the final sentence tells all you need to know about managing human relationships in business, in good times and bad. The word is “love.”
I know in the final analysis each of you individually love being in the business of toys, games, and play. As we all love being in the business of serving you. It is the people, the lives, loves, creativity, aspirations, and resilience that continue to make this community great. Challenges are here and more will come, but so will brighter days. Here’s to a healthier and prosperous new year. Let’s greet 2021 with confidence, flexibility, a commitment to service, and with ample love.
All good wishes,
President & CEO