Christmas in July: Toy Makers Are Gearing Up—for Next Year’s Holidays

Sixteen months before the 2017 shopping season, buyers are already buzzing.

Christmas in July: Preview the Hottest Holiday Toys

It’s six months before Christmas, and every retail creature is stirring. Yes, even the mice.

Few consumers have holiday shopping on the brain this time of year, but retailers and manufacturers across the country are already in the trenches. Despite sweltering temperatures, digital snow sets the mood at the offices of Lego, where holiday displays line the hallways. At Mattel Inc., manufacturer of the iconic Barbie, spirits are bright as second-quarter revenue outpaced analyst projections, in large part due to doll sales. Barbie released a variety of new body types this year, considered more realistic than the old-school tall blonde, a line that is nevertheless expected to do well.

Within the toy industry, the Christmas shopping season never really ends, but its unofficial start is September of the year before. Yes, 16 months ahead of time. That's when company leaders meet at the Fall Toy Preview in Dallas, put on by the Toy Industry Association. "That gives buyers and manufacturers a chance to really work with each other," association spokeswoman Adrienne Appell says. At the preview, toy makers can make changes based on feedback from buyers as orders are placed. Almost a year and a half ahead of the holiday season, a toy's destiny is defined. 

In mid-July, manufacturers are gearing up for the preview to plan for two Christmases down the line and simultaneously make sure all their toys are delivered for the more immediate holiday season. There's also all the design and production to worry about: toys can take years to get just right. Lego's Friends collection, which is geared toward girls, took four years to research, design, and test. Today, the line boasts an item the company says buyers were raving about for Christmas 2016: a $99.99 amusement park that's assembled from more than 1,o00 pieces. 

While all the big name toy companies are expected to make a splash in December, there are potential breakout toys that could make a sudden appearance as well, bolstering the close to $20 billion industry. Last holiday season, a once-unknown robotics company found itself selling BB-8, a beloved robot from the latest Star Wars movie. "We could never have seen this coming like that," the founder, Adam Wilson, said at the time.  

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