Rolling for Initiative is a weekly column by Scott Thorne, PhD, owner of Castle Perilous Games & Books in Carbondale, Illinois and instructor in marketing at Southeast Missouri State University.  This week, Thorne talks about his experiences at ASTRA in St. Louis.

I attended the Marketplace and Academy sponsored by the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA) in St. Louis this past week.  My store manager and I were only there for a couple of days, but I was struck by the differences between this trade show, GAMA Expo and the shows put on by various game distributors.  I cannot speak to comic trade shows as the ComicsPro show is the only one I have attended and not for several years now.  Here are my thoughts:

I find that presentations at game industry meetings are more business-oriented than the ones I attended at ASTRA and there were more "tracks" from which to choose.  The GAMA Expo especially offers presentations on inventory management, business planning, displays, consumer behavior etc.  Both GAMA Expo and distributor shows offer several hours of manufacturer and publisher presentations, which you must attend if you want to receive the promotional box shipped to stores after the show.  At the ASTRA show, there were only about half a dozen education sessions, dealing with topics such as the rise of the Kidult, ADA Essentials, STEAM toys, AI and neurodiversity, as well as the opportunity to get credentialed as a Certified Play Expert.

The ASTRA sessions reminded me of the educator and librarian sessions offered at Gen Con.  There was no track of programming with publishers promoting their products to retailers attending the event.

Exhibit Hall
The ASTRA exhibit hall was huge, easily twice the size of the hall at distributor events and about a quarter to a third larger than that at GAMA Expo.  Such a large amount of space made it easy to spread the booths out, so I never felt crowded as I have at game industry shows.

Placing orders was the focus of the show, so catalogs and flyers were the order of the day. At game industry events, manufacturers come loaded up with products to give away to attending retailers and it is quite common to see someone walking around with an armload of free games they have received from various publishers.  None of that at ASTRA. Instead, attending retailers get loaded up with catalogs, some of which are quite thick, from which to place orders when they get back to the store.  I heard one publisher who primarily sells to the game industry comment that they preferred the ASTRA show, because they were writing more orders and giving away less free stuff.

I thought I did a decent amount of business until I saw the size of orders manufacturers expected to write for a store to qualify for a show special like free shipping or a 5% discount.  $400 to $500 orders from a single manufacturer with only partially subsidized shipping or a 5% discount were not uncommon, with some specials requiring a $1,000 or $3,000 order to qualify.

Games at the ASTRA show are kind of secondary.  The focus was on kids’ toys, plush, craft kits and the like.  The games offered are generally targeted at family and young players; none of the more complex games found in most hobby game stores.  Norse Foundry, The OP and Games Workshop were the only ones I recognized, although due to the size of the hall, I likely missed a few.  I had one publisher, who was attending but had no booth, tell me they had a booth last year but had so few customers that it was not worth their while to set up this year.

Worth it?
Certainly.  I am just trying to figure out where I am going to fit the orders I wrote at the show when they arrive.

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The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of