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AIS, returning optimism and New Romantics….it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 19th April 2013

This week has seen the 5th AIS Show take place, and I think it’s fair to say that this year’s show was probably the best yet. The show has been rebranded as ‘The Independent Toy & Gift Show’ to reflect the addition of a selection of gift companies to the list of exhibitors. The show floor has also expanded (goodbye former office space), and there was already a decent number of visitors around when we arrived on Tuesday morning.

After a busy morning and lunch period the hall quietened down by mid-afternoon, so either people had placed their orders and were heading home, or they had all gone back to their hotel rooms to get into their 50s costume for the evening event.

Overall, the majority of the suppliers I spoke to seemed pretty happy with the turnout, and quite a few mentioned that they had opened new accounts, which is encouraging. It’s nice to see the show continuing to develop, and credit to Joyce, Miles and the team for doing a grand job organising the whole event.

It was also a relief to hear most suppliers saying that after a somewhat sluggish March, April trading is showing distinct signs of improvement. Whether as a result of better weather, the Easter holidays or just a general lurch in the right direction, I detect a distinct note of optimism creeping back into people’s outlook.

Mattel has unveiled a frankly stunning set of results, resulting in its shares hitting a 15-year high. Monster High seems to have been the stand-out performer, which comes as little surprise based on feedback from retailers for our Talking Shop section recently.

The other big news of the week came from K’Nex, which has announced that it will be setting up a brand new UK operation, starting in January 2014. Tomy will continue to distribute the range for the remainder of this year, and we’ll bring you more news on the new set-up as and when they become available.

Elsewhere, Tolo Toys has taken over the UK distribution for the Geomag construction range, whilst Saracens chairman Nigel Wray has taken a 44% equity stake in outdoor and wheeled toy supplier Hy-Pro, and will also sit on Hy-Pro’s board as chairman going forward.

Returning to the subject of evening events at trade shows, Toymaster has announced the theme for the parties at its own show in May: Wednesday is ‘posh night’, with a black tie dress code (or just general black and white attire for those who can’t be bothered to drag their djs up to Harrogate). Tuesday is a far more intriguing proposition: as this year is Toymaster’s 21st May Show, they are encouraging people to dress up either in what they were wearing 21 years ago, or what they were wearing when they were 21. I have a feeling this could turn out to be fun, and possibly quite an eye-opener. Personally, I have something of a dilemma: my fashion style in 1992 was nothing out-of-the-ordinary, but when I turned 21 in 1983, it was the height of the New Romantic era. I’m just not sure it’s a look I could carry off now (being more the ‘Mildly Rotund White Duke’ than the ‘Thin White Duke’ these days). Decisions….

My only other foray out of the office this week came on Wednesday, when I headed into a security-laden London, not for the funeral of the Iron Lady, but for a preview screening of Iron Man 3 (see what I did there…). Reviews are embargoed for another week, so I can’t reveal anything about the movie, but I’m sure I won’t get into too much trouble if I say it was a hugely enjoyable film, and it should prove to be a considerable success for licensees over the coming weeks.

Finally, it’s interesting what little nuggets you discover as a result of writing this blog. Last week, I made a cheap, throwaway gag about the band Status Quo; within minutes, I was contacted by someone who I known and dealt with for years, who – unbeknown to me – also turns out to be the toy trade’s number one Status Quo fan. The fact that the person in question has seen ‘the Quo’ live every year since 1977 shows how committed and enthusiastic a supporter he is, and naturally he took issue with my disparaging remarks. Chastised, I have been wearing ‘denim on denim’ all week to atone. Rock on Adrian!