Academy Schedule


Four days jam-packed with networking, education, and shopping, crafted specifically for the specialty toy industry. What could be better?

See our education sessions listed below. All events will take place at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, 1000 Fort Duquesne Blvd, Pittsburgh, PA 15222, unless noted otherwise.

Friday, June 7 & Saturday, June 8

9:00AM - 5:00PM | PRE-CONFERENCE WORKSHOP

Certified Play Expert Workshop

Track: 
Children & Play


Master the science behind PLAY: Become a PLAYfessional at Marketplace & Academy! 

You know play is powerful, but can you explain why? ASTRA's Certified Play Expert Workshop gives you the research, language, and tools to support the science behind play. For the first time, you can become a Certified Play Expert at Marketplace & Academy. This pre-conference workshop will elevate your expertise in just two days.

ASTRA invites toy industry professionals, therapists, librarians, educators and anyone in the business of play to take part in this event. Become a Certified Play Expert at our first in-person, interactive 2-day pre-conference workshop!

Speakers: Jean Bailey & Kerry Bauer

Location: Westin Convention Center Pittsburgh (Hotel) | Cambria

Register Now


Sunday, June 9

10:15AM - 11:30AM | EXPERT LED WORKSHOPS

The Inner Secrets to Double Your Memory

Track: 
Business Operations


Do you have trouble remembering people’s names and other important information? Learn four simple steps that will help you remember names and faces and discover five techniques to help you remember product and customer information. Unlock your memory potential and create lasting impressions on your customers, colleagues, family, and friends in this session.

Speakers: Ron Rosenberg, QualityTalk, Inc.

Location: 302-303

#NotARule: The Art of Winning at Life by Breaking Rules That Don’t Exist

Track: 
Children & Play


The world is moving faster than ever, and the only constant is change. What worked yesterday probably won’t work tomorrow, and we’re asked to do more with less. We need to see the world with new eyes and identify the old ways of thinking that are holding us back. In this session, uncover and annihilate so-called rules that don’t exist. Learn surprising principles that provide a powerful competitive advantage, foster breakthrough levels of innovation, and accomplish what was once thought impossible. You’ll walk away armed with tools for to help you identify the rules that don’t exist and tactics for breaking them with confidence.

Speakers: Jason Kotecki, Escape Adulthood

Location: 304-305


Compelling Connections: The Current of Influence
Track: 
Industry Trends & Relations

Get a sneak peek at clips from the documentary film “OPERATION: Operation, The Power of Play” chronicling the classic American story of John Spinello, inventor of the iconic board game Operation. John sold the patent to the game for $500 and forfeited his rights to royalties. The game went on to sell 45 million copies. This film takes viewers on a journey of healing with John as he discovers how the game he invented touched millions of people in ways he could not have imagined. Using the film clips as a springboard for discussion, you’ll discuss the themes of play along with the connection and influence that inspired it.  

Speakers: Tim Walsh, Getta1Games

Location: 306-307*

*This session will be recorded. 


Conquering the New World of Marketing Musts
Track: 
Sales & Marketing

Independent businesses need to utilize old and new marketing methods in order to survive and thrive. Just when you think you’ve mastered SEO, along comes a new way to search for businesses like yours—and consumers are embracing it. Voice search is still in the early stages, but its use is on the rise, as more and more consumers turn to their voice assistants (Alexa, Siri, Google Home, Cortana, etc.) to find a business or order a product. The growth of voice search means big changes in the way you write copy and marketing content for your business. In this session, learn the best tips, tricks and tactics to create loyal customers. You’ll come away knowing social media best practices, the secrets of email marketing and how you can conquer the new world of voice search.

Speakers: Rieva Lesonsky, GrowBiz Media

Location: 319-320

 

11:45AM - 12:45PM | LUNCH & LEARN

 

Lemonade Stand 2.0: Secrets from Childhood for Succeeding in Business & Life
Track: 
Children & Play

An entrepreneur since the day he graduated from college, Jason Kotecki has built a profitable business that is bolstered by a tribe of raving fans and has sparked a worldwide movement. Learn about the often-overlooked principles from Jason’s childhood that have contributed to his success. You’ll not only come away with tools to achieve bigger growth, but also insights on how you can design a life to achieve better balance from your small business. (Yes, it’s possible!)

Speakers: Jason Kotecki, Escape Adulthood

Location: Pennsylvania Ballroom

 

1:00PM - 2:00PM | BREAKOUT SESSIONS

 

Development Through Delegation: How Letting Go Can Build Them Up

Track: Business Operations

“It’s easier if I just do it myself.” “They won’t do it right, and I’ll have to redo it!” “They’re overwhelmed as it is. They don’t need extra work.” When it comes to delegation, there are many things we tell ourselves – and most of them aren’t true. In fact, most employees are excited to have their leaders delegate to them, if it’s done the right way. When done well, delegation works as one of the most effective ways a leader can prepare team members for their next role. The trick is delegating the right tasks, to the right person, at the right level. In this session, you’ll learn how to delegate effectively so you can develop your team, increase engagement, and get a little time back for yourself!


Speakers: Courtney Ramsey, Courtney Ramsey Speaks

Location: 306-307*

*This session will be recorded. 

 

STEAM Learning: Makerspace Toys & Tools

Track: Children & Play

The latest New Media Consortium/CoSN 2017 K-12 Edition report deemed makerspaces as an important factor in considering the future of EdTech. Makerspaces have been predicted to be fully adopted by K-12 schools in the coming years. How do makerspaces, manufacturers and the toy industry shape a role in this new EdTech space? How will these industries intersect in unique ways to design and inspire play, learning and creativity? Get the answers to these questions and learn about the latest trends. You’ll come away equipped with information on the importance of bridging the opportunity gap in technology and how the toy industry can contribute to the toys and tools of makerspaces.


Speakers: Ronah Harris, Play Pattern, LLC

Location: 304-305



Tips & Tricks: Working with Social Media Influencers

Track: Industry Trends & Relations

Social media influencers have established credibility and access to a large audience that can persuade others outside of your reach. Whether you are a retailer, manufacturer, sales representative or inventor, learn foundational tips and tricks to build a strong community through the support of influencers on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. You’ll leave this session understanding the basics for working with influencers, how to find the best fit for your store and/or product and how to form a successful partnership.


Speakers: Kathleen Tomes & Alexa Vogue, Brilliant PR & Marketing 

Location: 302-303

 

 

Vital Engagement: The Grandparent

Track: Sales & Marketing

Explore the challenges and opportunities of the grandparent market pertinent to the independent toy industry ecosystem of retailers, sales representatives, manufacturers and inventors. This session will review grandparent market groups, examine grandparent consumer priorities and share key ways the independent toy industry can develop their own strategies for the vital engagement of the grandparent.


Speakers: Roger Bildsten, Hip Hooray, LLC

Location: 310-311



Omni-Channel Retail & the Modern Marketplace

Track: Business Operations

Customers are inherently omni-channel shoppers – less than one-percent of customers shop the same way every time. Understanding omni-channel retail and using adaptive strategies is critical to the survival of brick and mortar stores. Avoid channel conflict by offering a seamless transition from online to offline and offline to online. In this session, learn the tools designed to get shoppers into your store.


Speakers: Kelly Nelson, Locally

Location: 315-316



Attract & Retain Customers All Year Long

Track: Business Operations

Whether a holiday or a season, make the most of those times on the calendar that boost the fun in your store. Learn to leverage everything from the obvious—Halloween and Easter—to the obscure—National Kazoo Day, World Juggling Day or International Talk Like a Pirate Day. Come away from this session with a calendar of ideas to implement, and planning tools so you don’t miss a step in making sure your store is known as the fun place to be in town. You’ll gain new ideas to market events to bring customers in and give them lots to talk about.  

Speakers: Mary Sisson, Kazoodles 

Location: 319-320



6 Steps to Creating & Executing a Profitable Social Media Plan

Track: Sales & Marketing

Not enough hours in the day to focus on your store’s social media? No problem! Get a crash-course in social media planning and do more than you thought was possible. You’ll learn about the proven step-by-step process that covers six specific areas critical to sales success from social media. Identify specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time bound (S.M.A.R.T.) goals and learn how to reverse engineer them to drive business results using social media and build a loyal social media audience and leads list.

Speakers: Crystal Vilkaitis, Crystal Media Co

Location: 321

 

 

2:15pm - 3:15pm | BREAKOUT SESSIONS

 

“I Need to Speak to the Manager!”

Track: Business Operations

Five store managers from across the country are joining forces (think Voltron) to share industry insight on the topics of hiring, retention, training and promotion. This session will illuminate ideas for adjusting to hiring trends, curating an application process, creating a training process, and understanding customer engagement. You’ll have the opportunity to dialogue openly about your experiences (including both the successes and failures) and network with other store managers.


Moderator: Nick Guffey |The Toy Store

Panelists:
Cliff Moss | Fundamentally Toys, Kira Mattheson | The Toy Box, Leah Pickering | Kazoodles & Elisa Moriconi | The Learning Tree

Location: 321


Make an Impact: Toys with Purpose

Track: Children & Play

Get key insights and learnings about how working with children and their families can directly inform the design of a product. Sproutel, a patient-centered research and development company, will share the case study of developing the My Special Aflac Duck, a companion for children with cancer, and working with more than 100 patients and 35 doctors to bring the product to market. Discover how you can use the power of play to meet the specific and unique needs of children.

Speakers: Aaron Horowitz, Sproutel

Location: 304-305

 

 

5 Easy Steps to Find the Hidden Cash in Your Business

Track: Financial Management

Tweaking just a few analytics can help you find thousands of dollars in hidden cash in your business. Explore how easy it is to add profit to your bottom line by slightly adjusting your initial markup and planning for your markdowns. You’ll gain an understanding of the difference between cost of goods sold versus cost of purchases and learn how using cost of purchases can improve cash flow.

Speakers: Jennifer Rust, Retail Centered 

Location: 317-318



3 Proven Ways to Drive Retail Foot Traffic

Track: Industry Trends & Relations

Join this discussion focused on how brick & mortar toy retailers can drive more foot traffic to their store. Moderated by Caroline Brady from Pointy, the panel will be comprised of three toy store owners who will discuss some of the ways in which they have successfully driven more foot traffic to their physical store location. A representative from the Google Shopping team will also be on the panel to provide attendees with advice on how they can use Google’s services and features to drive in-store sales. You’ll gain an understanding of the some of the key tools and technology they can use to leverage their competitive advantages and drive more customers into their brick & mortar store.

Speakers: Caroline Brady, Pointy

Location: 302-303



“The Inventor Lady” Presents: How Inventors Think

Track: Sales & Marketing

Inventing is habit-forming, contagious and there is no cure. Join Rita Crompton, “The Inventor Lady”, to learn three key tactics to support the inventors that come through your door. You’ll learn about the challenges inventors face, gain insight on how to give good advice and explore how an inventor thinks. Gain new insight on how you can support the inventors who are the driving force of innovation and creativity in our industry.

Speakers: Rita Crompton, The Inventor Lady

Location: 310-311

 

 

In Real Life: Connecting with People in a Gadget Crazed World

Track: Sales & Marketing

There is more to creating business relationships than a “like”, “link”, “share” or “follow”. While the popular social media tools can make it seem like we have countless friends and business associates, it is real human engagement that leads to opportunity. Get back to the basics on establishing connections that lead to more success in business, sales, and life.

Speakers: Thom Singer, The Conference Catalyst 

Location: 319-320



Survival Strategies for Amazon

Track: Business Operations

Business in the age of Amazon has disrupted time-tested practices used by manufacturers, distributors, retailers, marketing firms and consumers alike. It has created overnight millionaires and caused the demise of titans in all sectors. You must know what successful businesses are doing. You must know what disastrous practices to avoid. You must know what has happened, what is currently happening and, most importantly, you must know what is coming. In an easy-to-understand format, you’ll learn about the common best practices used by a wide range of businesses in various industries. Through concrete examples and specific recommendations, you’ll learn how—and why—to apply these strategic concepts to your own business.

Speakers: Ron Solomon, The Creditors Network/MAPP Trap

Location: 306-307*

*This session will be recorded. 



Toy Safety 101: Safe Shopping Education for Families

Track: Children & Play

Whether children are playing indoors or outdoors, enjoying their favorite toys or picking out new ones, caregivers want to make sure they stay safe while they play. Ensure your customers are shopping safely. Learn how to share common safety tips like age grading and toy storage with families while instilling confidence that the products you are selling are tested and regulated. You’ll come away with the confidence to talk with your customers about toy safety and the importance of safety at home.

Speakers: Adrienne Appell, The Toy Association

Location: 321


3:30PM - 5:00PM | CERTIFIED MASTER SALES REPRESENTATIVE WORKSHOP 

 

Toy Safety 101: Safe Shopping Education for Families

Track: Sales & Marketing

Join ASTRA for the Certified Master Sales Representative Workshop. This is your chance to expand your professional development on the topic of customer service. Registrants will walk out the door with the customer service component of CMSR complete and gain access to the remainder of the program to complete online and become fully credentialed. 

Speakers: TJ Simmons, Kahootz 

Location: 302-303

Register Now


Monday, June 10

8:00AM - 9:30AM | ANNUAL BUSINESS MEETING & AWARDS PRESENTATION


Annual Business Meeting 

Join ASTRA in an award ceremony to honor the following Excellence Award recipients:

Lifetime Achievement Award

Retailer Excellence Award
Sales Representative Excellence Award
Manufacturer Excellence Award
Young Professional Rising Star Award
Certified Master Retailer Gradates
Certified Master Sales Representative Graduates
Certified Play Expert Graduates

Following the awards presentation, ASTRA will start the annual business meeting providing updates on the specialty toy industry, ASTRA's membership and current financials. This meeting will also allow us to give thanks to our outgoing board members and install the newest board of directors. 


Location: Pennsylvania Ballroom


10:00AM - 10:15AM | LIGHTNING LEARNING



3 Mistakes You Can Fix Tomorrow

Track: Sales & Marketing

Ready, set, learn! Lightning Learning brings education to the Marketplace show floor and features content in 15-minute segments. The learning continues with an additional 15-minutes of time for Q&A, giving you a chance to gain fresh insights and inspiration as you walk the Marketplace floor.

Speakers: TBD

Location: Lightning Learning/Best Toys for Kids Zone

12:00PM - 12:15PM | LIGHTNING LEARNING

 

Top 3 Trends of Spielwarenmesse

Track: Industry Trends & Relations

Ready, set, learn! Lightning Learning brings education to the Marketplace show floor and features content in 15-minute segments. The learning continues with an additional 15-minutes of time for Q&A, giving you a chance to gain fresh insights and inspiration as you walk the Marketplace floor.

Speakers: Schylon Hofmann, Spielwarenmesse

Location: Lightning Learning/Best Toys for Kids Zone

1:00PM - 1:15PM | LIGHTNING LEARNING

 

TITLE TBD

Track: Industry Trends & Relations

Ready, set, learn! Lightning Learning brings education to the Marketplace show floor and features content in 15-minute segments. The learning continues with an additional 15-minutes of time for Q&A, giving you a chance to gain fresh insights and inspiration as you walk the Marketplace floor.

Speakers: Thom Singer, The Conference Catalyst 

Location: Lightning Learning/Best Toys for Kids Zone


3:00PM - 3:15PM | LIGHTNING LEARNING

 

Top 5 Website Mistakes

Track: Sales & Marketing

Ready, set, learn! Lightning Learning brings education to the Marketplace show floor and features content in 15-minute segments. The learning continues with an additional 15-minutes of time for Q&A, giving you a chance to gain fresh insights and inspiration as you walk the Marketplace floor.

Speakers: Brian King, Rain

Location: Lightning Learning/Best Toys for Kids Zone


Tuesday, June 11

10:00AM - 10:15AM | LIGHTNING LEARNING


3 Mistakes You Can Fix Tomorrow

Track: Sales & Marketing

Ready, set, learn! Lightning Learning brings education to the Marketplace show floor and features content in 15-minute segments. The learning continues with an additional 15-minutes of time for Q&A, giving you a chance to gain fresh insights and inspiration as you walk the Marketplace floor.

Speakers: TBD

Location: Lightning Learning/Best Toys for Kids Zone


12:00PM - 12:15PM | LIGHTNING LEARNING

 

Top 3 Trends of Spielwarenmesse

Track: Industry Trends & Relations

Ready, set, learn! Lightning Learning brings education to the Marketplace show floor and features content in 15-minute segments. The learning continues with an additional 15-minutes of time for Q&A, giving you a chance to gain fresh insights and inspiration as you walk the Marketplace floor.

Speakers: Schylon Hofmann, Spielwarenmesse

Location: Lightning Learning/Best Toys for Kids Zone





1:00PM - 1:15PM | LIGHTNING LEARNING



TITLE TBD

Track: Industry Trends & Relations

Ready, set, learn! Lightning Learning brings education to the Marketplace show floor and features content in 15-minute segments. The learning continues with an additional 15-minutes of time for Q&A, giving you a chance to gain fresh insights and inspiration as you walk the Marketplace floor.

Speakers: Thom Singer, The Conference Catalyst 

Location: Lightning Learning/Best Toys for Kids Zone


3:00PM - 3:15PM | LIGHTNING LEARNING

 

Top 5 Website Mistakes

Track: Sales & Marketing

Ready, set, learn! Lightning Learning brings education to the Marketplace show floor and features content in 15-minute segments. The learning continues with an additional 15-minutes of time for Q&A, giving you a chance to gain fresh insights and inspiration as you walk the Marketplace floor.

Speakers: Brian King, Rain

Location: Lightning Learning/Best Toys for Kids Zone


Wednesday, June 12

8:30AM - 10:00AM | GENERAL SESSION & KEYNOTE

Creating Lasting Value

Kickstarter co-founder and former CEO, Yancey Strickler, shares a unique perspective on what it means to grow values in our organizations and in ourselves. Yancey tells the story of Kickstarter, from its humble beginnings to its innovative approach as a Public Benefit Corporation, revealing insights and lessons from the experience. Kickstarter has helped independent creative people raise more than $4 billion to fund their ideas, from Cards Against Humanity to Oculus Rift to Oscar-winning movies. Yancey also puts the Kickstarter story into the larger context of a world that's dominated by bigger and bigger players. how can we better navigate this world, and find new ways of creating value?


Speakers: Yancey Strickler, Co-Founder of Kickstarter

Location: Pennsylvania Ballroom

Learn More

**PLEASE NOTE: Schedule Subject to Change**