ASTRA, the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association’s Marketplace & Academy, took place over 4 days this past week in Baltimore. The event, which includes both professional seminars and an exhibit hall for manufacturers to display their wares, is considered one of the main shows of the year for the U.S. toy and game industry. ASTRA is geared toward the interest of small and independent retailers, and according to several participants that I spoke to, what sets it apart is the relaxed atmosphere and sense of camaraderie.

Among the seminars this year were sessions for retailers, manufacturers, and sales reps, covering such topics as making a store a destination, strategies for promotion through social media, inventory management, and pricing. The hall, while big with over 300 exhibitors, is not as frenetic as say New York Toy Fair. This, I found, is appreciated by both the buyers and exhibitors. Another element of the show that helps bring buyers and manufacturers together is Game Night. On Monday night, retailers have an opportunity to sit down and play through the games being pitched to them.

Other advantages to ASTRA for the small-to-medium buyer include the fact that the show moves through moderate markets around the country, thus possibly reducing travel costs, and that by this point in the summer, the details of displayed products (packaging, pricing, etc.,) are usually settled.

For a serious show that is at the same time more easygoing, I highly recommend ASTRA.