I mentioned last week that my packed Toy Fair schedule isn’t entirely conducive to writing the Blog. London Toy Fair provides a tricky – but not insurmountable – challenge in terms of timing, but this week’s Nuremberg Toy Fair presents a far stiffer hurdle. Three extremely long days and nights, with minimal free time, that cut right across my usual writing schedule. However, if I ever miss a Friday Blog, I spend most of the day answering emails from people enquiring as to my health, worried by the non-appearance of their favourite weekly round-up of the toy world. I’m extraordinarily flattered by this, but feel it’s best not to leave people wondering whether I have been cut off in a sudden Bavarian snow drift or got lost somewhere on the labyrinthine Mattel stand.
Hence this week’s Blog comes to you in the spirit of a Blue Peter model, i.e. ‘here’s one I (largely) made earlier.’ It feels strange to start writing so early in the week, but thankfully there have been several interesting developments over the past few days to highlight. The Entertainer revealed on Monday that it had signed a deal with a new partner – the Dubai-based Apparel Group – to take another crack at the Middle East market. I will be speaking to The Entertainer team in Nuremberg about the agreement, with details to follow in the March issue of Toy World, as part of our new regular editorial collaboration with the retailer. I have to say, I think it’s a bold move; not only was The Entertainer’s previous foray into the Middle East a rare blip in its impeccable trading record, but I’m also reliably informed that economic conditions in certain Gulf States are not exactly favourable right now. So, what will be different this time round? You’ll find out more in the next issue.
Elsewhere, Tesco has agreed a deal to acquire the Booker Group, the country’s largest food wholesaler and owner of the Budgens and Londis convenience brands, as well as wholesaler Makro. You may ask what this has to do with toys, but I suspect many people will see this move as one strand of Tesco’s reaction to Sainsbury’s acquisition of Argos last year. The thinking being that if its main rival is building towards potential dominance in the non-food market, then Tesco may be looking to strike back at the very heartland of the supermarket war, the food sector. Whatever truth there is in this perspective, the supermarket battle in undeniably going to get more intense than ever as the year progresses – providing of course that the CMA doesn’t object to the proposed acquisition…
On the subject of Tesco, I hear that director of general merchandise Rob Hattrell leaves the retailer for a new post at eBay today. I understand that his replacement is Ashwin Prasad, who moves over from his current role of director of health, beauty and wellness. I also hear that Preston Kevin Lewis will be leaving his role as general manager of Warner Bros Consumer Products UK to head back to Burbank for a new position in the US licensing team. No word yet on his replacement, although a couple of interesting names have been mentioned as being in the frame – more news as and when we have it.
Nuremberg has followed the pattern of the Hong Kong and London shows; good attendance from the people that count, a healthy degree of common sense apparently now prevailing on pricing negotiations and plenty of fascinating new product. I’m not allowed to talk about it per se, but Tomy’s Lightseekers certainly looks like a very interesting proposition, while the sophistication of the animatronics in Hasbro’s new Furreal hero SKU is simply incredible. Barbie’s new Dreamhorse looks a winner, while the coming together of VTech and Leapfrog is already paying dividends with some strong new lines in both ranges. Naturally, there is a tendency to pick out cutting edge technological developments when attempting to summarise what I’ve seen, but there are also lots of great new introductions in more traditional fields, which – lest we forget – still account for a sizeable percentage of the overall toy market.
All in all, it has been another successful show, helped by far better weather than was predicted. Not to mention my mood being considerably improved by Watford’s wholly unexpected win over Arsenal on Tuesday night. Just before we took off from Stansted, I saw that we were 2-0 up after 15 minutes of the match. I then had to spend the rest of the flight in suspense, fully expecting to find out when we landed that we had lost 4-2. So, it was great that we held on for a famous victory, an occasion which was even marked by Topps with a limited edition collector card (see below). Meanwhile, another toy magazine owner has been conspicuous by his absence this week… are these two things unrelated we wonder?