First things first: a very Happy New Year to you all. I hope you all had a splendid festive break, and are now suitably refreshed, reinvigorated and ready for Toy Fair season. Judging by yesterday’s emails, plenty of people are already safely ensconced in Hong Kong, preparing the showrooms and stands for the week(s) ahead. I head East tomorrow, and am looking forward to catching up with as many people as I can over the trip. I have a last few gaps remaining in my schedule if anyone would like to meet up while I’m there.
I try my best to switch off over the Christmas period, and recharge my (very much drained) batteries. Nevertheless, it’s impossible to forget about work completely, as there are reminders everywhere, especially on TV. I loved ‘How to Train your Dragon’, was reminded just how good ‘Up’ and ‘Finding Nemo’ were, did my best to keep up with Doctor Who (which I just about managed…I think), and thought Monsters University was ok, although both my daughters loved it and think I am a philistine for saying otherwise. And tonight sees the latest programme featuring James Mays’ toy-related high-jinks, this time a trip round the Isle of Man TT circuit on a bike made from Meccano. I’m sure it will be as fascinating as ever, and welcome publicity for Spin Master ahead of the forthcoming Toy Fair, where we should see the first fruits of their new development for the brand.
Alternatively, if you listen to (music) radio, it is nigh-on impossible to go more than 15 minutes without hearing Pharrel Williams’ ‘Happy’, which was given a massive helping hand to the top of the charts by its inclusion in Despicable Me 2.
The papers continued to cover toy stories throughout the Christmas period, with the Telegraph piece on the future of the Chinese toy manufacturing sector -and the implications for the global toy market- well worth a read. You can find it here if you missed it (warning: contains multiple quotes from Dave Cave). Certainly makes a change from reading endless articles about gender politics in toys, which – I’m sorry – is getting rather tiresome now.
You couldn’t even escape the toy market in the New Year’s Honours list this year, where it was a case of ‘Arise Sir Moshi’ as Michael Acton was awarded an OBE. Congratulations to Michael on this well-deserved recognition for what has been a thoroughly astonishing last couple of years.
So of course the big question everyone wants to know is how Christmas trading ended up. Media reports have been distinctly mixed: John Lewis has reported healthy Christmas sales, buoyed by what it describes as a “surge in activity in the last 10 days”. However, Debenhams has issued a profits warning after what it termed a “disappointing” Christmas trading season. In related news, its finance boss Simon Herrick (as far as I am aware, in no-way-related to Herrick the Vampire from Being Human….) has resigned. If you caught my final blog of 2013, you may remember that I took a not-so-gentle swing at Debenhams for sending out a begging letter to suppliers asking for ‘contributions’ in the run-up to Christmas. The letter – quickly dubbed the ‘Santa Tax’ by the media – was sent out by Mr Herrick himself, and it was fairly obvious at the time that the move was borne from desperation. So has our Mr H been made a scapegoat for the whole fiasco, or was it just the retailer’s overall poor performance which has lead to his demise? I guess we’ll never know the real answer, but I wonder whether other retailers contemplating passing round the begging bowl might think twice just in case.
And so, Toy Fair season begins next week in Hong Kong. I will be blogging every day from Hong Kong next week (I know, I’m spoiling you). So whether you’re back in the UK or tied up in your showroom or on a stand all day in Hong Kong, I’ll do my best to bring you a flavour of what’s happening ‘on the streets’ of TST and Wan Chai. Dave Cave has already been sending out weather reports telling us what to expect when we arrive (fairly nice at the start of the week, turning quite nippy by the end of the week apparently), and the football boots have been taken out of mothballs and packed. Basically, I’m ready and raring to go. See you along the way.
You can follow John on Twitter @Baulchtweet.