an International Toy Fair here kicked off its one week run Feb. 9 with good news that retail sales rose 7.8% in 1997, reaching $22.5 billion.
Manufacturers' unit sales were up 5.6% without video games ($3.1 billion versus $2.9 billion in 1996). Including video games, total industry shipments in units grew 6.9%, or 14.3% in dollars.
New products, high consumer confidence and Hollywood licenses helped drive sales, according to Gary Baughman, this year's Toy Manufacturers of America Chairman.
Among successful selling toys last year were Tickle Me Elmo; Beanie Babies; virtual pets such as Tamagotchi, NanoPets and Giga Pets; V-Tech's Talking Whiz Kid; Barney Actimates, Lazer Challenge by ToyMax; and Barbie's Sun Jammer and Motorhome.
Licensing was an important factor in the growth of the industry, Baughman said. "The marriage of Hollywood and the toy industry hit an all-time high with summer blockbusters coming out at a record pace," Baughman said.
Having come off a healthy year, Baughman predicted toy sales will increase 4% this year. However, he said the Asian stock market and economies are causes of concern and its overall impact remains unclear.