Chicago Toy and Game Fair 2016

I’ve just returned from a whirlwind trip to Chicago for the Chicago Toy and Game Fair. Below, I’ve posted my thoughts about the Fair, as well as a bit of a cost-benefit analysis.

Never Been To ChiTAG? I’ll Explain…

When I told some colleagues of mine that I was going to the Chicago Toy and Game Fair (ChiTAG), they told me they had never attended this show and asked me to let them know what it was like. I suppose they are considering attending in the future. Here’s my recap!

ChiTAG begins with a conference during the week that I did not attend (the cost was quite high). The conference was designed as a way to network with big-wig industry professionals. I regret not doing this conference. In fact, if I could turn back time, I would have paid for the conference and not the booth. I found it hard to make industry connections on the show floor as many of these people were busy dealing with the general public. Anyway, I can’t comment on the Inventor Conference except to say that I shall go to my grave always wondering what might have been. (Just kidding. That’s a bit extreme.)

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My final setup at the show. This is a 10 x 10 with a round table, four chairs, a long table, and two banners that I shipped in to Chicago.

The setup day was Friday, November 18th. There was ample time to set up, from noon until 6 pm. We were allowed to stay past 6 pm but the doors were locked, so if you weren’t in the convention hall you got locked out. That night there were two events that I also didn’t attend because of the cost – PlayCHIC (a fashion show…<_<) and the TAGIEs, an award show. The TAGIEs cost $250 per plate! I decided to opt out due to the exorbitant cost and my general exhaustion.

This recap is off to a pretty bad start. I missed a ton of stuff! No wonder it sometimes felt like I didn’t get my money’s worth! I suppose I should have… spent more money?

Last thing about setup – the convention services people seemed professional, but swamped. They were in a bit over their head, and partially screwed up my order. I put in an order for two tables, four chairs, a carpet, 1 tablecloth, and a table skirt. I got most of that, except for the tablecloth. Also the table skirt was the wrong color. Not the end of the world – I brought my own tablecloths, because the Boy Scouts trained me well. But it was a bit annoying. Their offerings were quite expensive! I expected better service. They were nice people, though.

Before the show opened on Saturday morning, there was a breakfast with bloggers and influencers from 8 am to 9 am. I didn’t go to that either – that was reserved for event sponsors. Another paywall! I didn’t quite realize how many things I was prevented from doing at this conference until I started writing them all down. I can’t tell you much about this breakfast, because I didn’t see it. One blogger told me that it was mostly “people pitching their games to us” while they ate. Is that what “continental” means…?

On Saturday morning, the show opened to the public. On Saturday, the show went from 9 am to 6 pm, and on Sunday it went from 9 am to 5 pm.

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The Reception of Mr. Game!

I had 66 games shipped in, which is 11 cases. This number is quite high, but the warehouse team charges for a minimum of 200 lbs of product no matter how much you ship in. So, I thought it made sense to bring just enough in (198 lbs) so the value matched what I paid for it. In retrospect, this was an error in judgment. I also don’t like this system of charging for minimums, and will not do any shows in the future that have this policy.

Regarding sales, I was able to sell 10 games directly to customers, and 20 to a retailer named C&C Games. C&C Games appears to be a reseller that specializes in Rio Grande products. It was cool seeing my game on a shelf with modern classics like Power Grid and Dominion.

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Yes, that’s Mr. Game! on the C&C shelf next to all those Rio Grande games. No, I didn’t sneak it up there!

I gave 6 games (1 case) away to various influencers who approached the booth. Some were educators, and others were bloggers. I hope to reach more online now that the show is over – there were a few who expressed interest but never returned to the booth.

As planned, some of the excess product was donated to local charities to avoid the cost of shipping them back to my apartment. 11 games in all were donated to two different Chicago charities. The other 18 games were shipped back to me. So, the chart looks something like this:

  • 10 customer sales
  • 20 wholesale sales
  • 6 giveaways
  • 11 donations
  • 18 shipped back to me

I expected to sell more on the show floor to customers. It helps to have a third day, usually Friday, to absorb more of the show’s traffic. But we only had Saturday and Sunday to work with. ChiTAG felt like it was ending the moment the show opened on Saturday morning. That’s kind of a sickening feeling – after spending thousands of dollars on a booth, shipping, transportation and hospitality, I felt like I had barely enough time with the customers attending the Fair.

Traffic wasn’t dead, but it was definitely slow at times. It’s also worth mentioning that the buying habits of the attendees seemed rather frugal – I heard a lot of parents discussing the “one game” rule. That’s probably excellent parenting, but hearing that during the show got pretty annoying. I wanted them to buy all the games! Including Mr. Game!, of course…

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I was shocked (and overjoyed!) to see children as young as 8 years old grasping the game and enjoying it. This little girl was Ms. Game and she had no trouble bossing us around!

My sales technique was essentially to run demos at the booth and hope people would return to buy the game. Very rarely (never?) did someone buy it right after playing. Typically, they resolved to come back once they saw everything at the show. I lost a lot of people this way. I’m not sure what I could do to change this customer behavior.

I left the booth a few times to try to show the game to the larger players at the conference (Target, Pressman, North Star, Goliath) but they were too busy with customers to have time for me. I don’t blame them in the slightest – there are other shows (NY Toy Fair, GAMA) that are probably better for doing this kind of behind the scenes business.

Am I Returning Next Year?

At this point, I’m really not sure. It’s always fun to imagine what my schedule would be like if I was making millions of dollars and money was no object. Going to these events is always fun, and you’re guaranteed to meet new people.

But a trip with a $4,000 price tag is hard to justify. I’ll try anything once, but from that point onward I need to see some kind of obvious return if I’m going to become a repeat customer. This number is no exaggeration, by the way. See my costs below:

  • 10 x 10 booth – $1,800
  • Plane tickets – $325
  • Hotel, 2 nights – $360
  • Booth furnishings and game shipments – $915
  • Banner shipping and handout printing – $100
  • Various transportation costs – $135
  • Various food costs – $200
  • Return shipment of games – $125

I was surprised to hear that this show has been around for over a decade. It seemed a bit too small for a show with that kind of tenure. For a long running show in one of the largest cities in America, you’d expect a bit more traffic by your booth. Sadly, that was not the case. I expect that many people cancelled due to the weather, or the difficulty in getting to the show floor itself. (We were on the tail end of the Navy Pier, which itself is on the shore of Lake Michigan and might be a bit out of the way) Before the show, I heard anywhere from 7,000 to 30,000 people were going to attend. Now I see that the lower estimate was a better guess.

At this time, I’m not planning next year’s trip back to the Chicago Toy and Game Fair. There were too may paywalls and not enough people to justify the considerable time and effort I spent on this show. We’ll see if the residual business connections I made at the show pay off. Maybe in the next week or two, people who neglected to buy in person will buy the game online. One can only hope.

My plan for the future is to focus on shows that do one thing well. GAMA is a trade show – you go there to get business deals done. PAX is a customer show – you go there to sell product to customers eager to buy impulsively. Blending the two efforts together may seem like a good idea, but there simply isn’t enough time to do either one effectively and you end up in no man’s land.

For now, this was my first and last ChiTAG. Let’s hope the New York Toy Fair is 100 times better!

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

I’d like to hear from you. What did you think of ChiTAG? Where you there? Did I see you? Did you watch me as I slept? O_O!! Leave your feedback in the comments below, and be sure to check out the official Mr. Game! website, where you can purchase the game.

Frank DiCola is the founder and CEO of Game Revenant, a game studio in Hoboken, NJ.

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Like a building under construction, ChiTAG is worth exploring – but not yet stable.

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One thought on “Chicago Toy and Game Fair 2016

  1. Pingback: MAGFest 2017 Rocked! | Game Revenant

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