3 Things I learned from ASTRA

3 Things I Learned from ASTRA 2017 by Matt Swain, Marketing Director

Recently in Philly, I gathered together with hundreds of retailers, manufacturers, and movers and shakers to become inspired by the power of play!  Being a returning exhibitor and first-time attendee at the American Specialty Toy Retailers Association Market Place and Academy, I walked away challenging myself (and hopefully you) with 3 thing I learned.

  1. Connections Matter

Being able to network, spend time with, and hear from retailers was huge.  They are my customers.  What am I REALLY doing to HELP them?  What’s their mission?  Why did they get into the toy game?  This took me quickly down memory lane when I was once an (overworked and stressed) operations manager for one of the nation’s largest big box discount and closeout retailers.  I remember setting up confusing merchandising displays, worrying about inventory shipments, cash flow, staffing, training, the right product promos, and how amazing it felt to see a plan-o-gram come to life.

I also remember how much better my day was when my suppliers and vendors delivered product that sold.  There was nothing more disappointing to see a 4 foot end- cap not moving, just glaring at me every time I passed it.  (Ok, I feel better now that I got that off my chest).

At our booth, we showcased our best-selling microscopes and science kits for kids in elementary through high-school.  It was amazing to see the reaction from our retail customers when they explained how much they loved the Duo-Scope™ Starter Kit and how well it SOLD in their store or in their catalog.  Right product, right price.

Being able to connect and hear from our customers on their expansion goals, new ideas for products, and how we can help them bring their ideas to life was invaluable at this show.

  1. Support Matters

For the first time ever, we showcased two in-store product displays to help better showcase and sell our microscope slides and experiment kits. This required us to be intentional in LISTENING to our customers leading up to the show.    Our vision was to think of better ways for us to support the merchandising space challenges in retail stores, while providing ways to gain customer attention and help move inventory out the door.

  • We developed In-Store Display Concepts and were open to feedback. Some customers loved it, some wanted smaller displays, some wanted less product, and so on.  What matters here is we addressed a need and are continuing to respond.
  • We created a collection of customizable in-store product signs and flyers. We learned that our customers are using pages from out catalog to help sell our award-winning microscopes and hanging them next to products on the shelf.  We can do better.  We’ve created a series of full-color product signs the customer can insert their logo, store name, and website on to and print out.  The result is a full-designed product flyer with THEIR store information on it, clearly explaining to the customer the selling features with hi-quality images and professional marketing copy.

I remember my retail management days when a vendor would blindly send a POP display to our stores without understanding space requirements.  Most ended up in the dumpster if it didn’t fit because they weren’t listening and supporting us.  They were simply filling an order.


  • STEM Products Matter

Educational products that grow STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) based skills in children are HUGE right now.  Major retailers are taking notice and are offering monthly subscription kits, in-store activities, and entire product lines all focuses on this category – and for good reason.  Retailers report that STEM product sales in the United State alone generate 56 MILLON dollars in revenue overall.

ASTRA recently released a report on STEM product sales and the impact on revenue to their members.  As a science company, we are plugged in to STEM on a daily basis.  We make lab equipment, microscope slides, and medical supplies used in hospitals, labs, and research facilities worldwide.  With My First Lab®, our toy and science educational product line launched 20 years ago, we use the same medical-grade technology.  The result?  Microscopes, science kits, experiment sets, and REAL specimens, with the same type of technology and concepts used by the pros – delivering a hands-on, interactive and fun learning experience POWERED by STEM.

At ASTRA, we had several conversations with stores who are seeking to expand more into the STEM category, or test out this revenue generator for the first time.  Interestingly, some admitted that their traditional franchise product portfolios needed to change to compete with higher margins, and science education products were a direct focus for them.

ASTRA 2017 was a success – our customers and fellow members were able to experience the fun of scientific discovery at our booth, and we experienced valuable connections, conversations, and insights to be MIGHTY TOGETHER!