Going Nowhere… it’s the Bank Holiday Blog!

It has been a strange week on so many levels; had coronavirus not intervened, I would have been walking my eldest daughter down the aisle today. Like so many other things, the big day has had to be put on hold – in her case, until September. At least it gives me more time to work on my speech. It certainly isn’t the easiest of times to write a wedding speech (or even a Blog for that matter) – getting the tone right is no mean feat.

Coming just too late for inclusion in last week’s Blog was the news that Toymaster has postponed its May Show, with proposed new dates of 2nd-4th September. Looks like I am going to have a busy September, what with the rearranged wedding and at least three UK trade shows to fit in to what is traditionally a busy month anyway.

A little bit of context about the Toymaster decision; it has been evident for weeks that the May Show wasn’t going to happen. Quite rightly, Toymaster wanted to ensure it had weighed up all the options before deciding on the best course of action. Having ascertained that the majority of its members and suppliers were broadly receptive to postponing rather than cancelling the show outright, a variety of different dates were apparently under consideration. It was eventually decided that August would be too early, with school holidays likely to restrict attendance. Relocating the May Show to October alongside the traditional FOB event was also considered but rejected for being too late. The first week of September does seem the most logical slot from a timing perspective, despite the resultant fixture congestion – the show will now finish a couple of days before Autumn Fair starts, while AIS’s Independent Toy & Gift Show has elected to choose a date towards the end of the month.

While it may force some retailers and suppliers to choose which of the shows to visit, I’m reliably informed that less than a couple of dozen Toymaster members traditionally visit Autumn Fair anyway. With Toymaster’s Autumn Winter FOB programme cancelled, members will be reliant on domestic stock to carry them through the key pre-Christmas trading period. There are reportedly still plans to publish an autumn winter catalogue, so if retailers can re-open and trade through the summer holidays, early September should see them relatively clean in terms of stock, ready and raring to place Christmas orders. Suppliers should have fully worked through their own stock holding issues by then, so should be able to offer immediate delivery on orders placed at the show. In theory, everyone is a winner.

We just have to hope that retailers – not just independents, but stores of all sizes – will make it safely through the lockdown period, however long it turns out to be. Somehow, I doubt that Debenhams and Cath Kidson will be the last retailers to go into administration to protect themselves from legal action from creditors. It’s not all doom and gloom: there are some encouraging signs, but it’s also important to keep a sense of perspective – unlike some international media reports over the past few weeks, which may have given the impression that sales of toys are at record levels and we will all be retiring to a desert island with Richard Branson on the proceeds of this amazing year. I spoke to NPD’s Melissa Symonds yesterday to get some clarity and up-to-date numbers, as I have become increasingly perplexed at the inherent contradictions and lack of context within some of these reports.

To start with, it is important to bear several things in mind: these stories generally refer to sales data from at least a couple of weeks ago – and in the current climate, two weeks is a very long time! Most of the numbers are coming from stock retailers already held, hence the apparent disparity between current trading trends and cancellation of outstanding orders. And, of course, March is traditionally a low sales period, so even modest increases can have a significant impact on percentage growth.

That said, the March numbers for the UK – reflecting three weeks when stores were open and a week of lockdown – were extremely positive, reaching the levels normally associated with Q4 in some categories. March saw a healthy value growth of 9%, bringing the UK market into modest growth for Q1 overall (+2%). The last two weeks of the month fared even better, with a massive 24% increase in value sales. However, at the same time, volume sales declined by 20% – essentially, fewer toys were sold, but at much higher prices. Winners included Lego Technic and outdoor items such as Swingball, trampolines, swings and so on.

Here is where the context comes in handy: this welcome trend is clearly unsustainable, for a variety of reasons. First, these are predominantly ‘one-off’ purchases; secondly, many of these purchases have been brought forward from Easter or even May Bank Holiday, as parents rushed to make early preparations for kids being at home. In France, Spain and Italy, there were significant drops in sales the longer lockdown continued – parental purchases there were ‘front-ended’ with parents planning for the coming weeks, making it unlikely that these numbers can be sustained across the remainder of the lockdown period. The April data will be fascinating….keep a look out for NPD’s exclusive article in the May issue of Toy World, which should hopefully be able to give us an updated picture based on several weeks of April trading.

In addition to a huge growth in the outdoor category, games & puzzles also saw a massive uplift in the UK in March, which matches what we are all hearing anecdotally. One saving grace for the UK is how sophisticated our online sales channel is – bear in mind that 38% of toy sales in 2019 were made online. Southern European countries are nowhere near as developed in this area, which has been reflected in a far greater decline in short-term sales as stores shut. If the UK figure for last year was 38%, one wonders what it will be at the end of this year…

And finally, isn’t it mildly amusing that suppliers are now complaining about some online retailers taking advantage by selling certain products at inflated prices, rather than bemoaning the fact that they are undercutting bricks and mortar retailers…how times have changed.

Happy Easter everyone – enjoy the long weekend and I hope you’re not going anywhere nice.

Fanbytes announces new reality-style online show

Opportunity for toy brands to partner with Fanbytes for online exposure.

Fanbytes, the world’s leading Gen Z agency, has launched ByteHouse, a three-month online show featuring the UK’s biggest TikTok talent in the form of the Bytesquad – the UK’s first ever TikTok squad, comprising six of the biggest TikTok stars in the country.

This show is the second big project from ByteSized Talent, the talent management arm of Fanbytes. Currently the largest dedicated talent agency for TikTok, BytesizedTalent manages the careers of over 40 talent influencers with over 55m fans, helping them build brands using TikTok through merchandising and IP development.

The show is set to launch publicly on April 3rd, with the influencers – Shauni (19) SurfaceLdn (22), Seb (20) Monty (17) KT Franklin (19) and Lily Rose (20) – having moved into the Victorian townhouse, situated in central London, prior to the nationwide lockdown. Byte House is “what would happen if Big Brother and TikTok had a baby,” says Fanbytes founder Timothy Armoo.

Participating brands include global games company What Do You Meme, which is sponsoring a regular games night in the house. Rise Above, an organisation which uses behaviour change to delay and prevent risky behaviours from young people and give them the best start in life, is also working with the house as an opportunity to create widespread awareness and encouraging people to remain active through the coronavirus lockdown. Several record labels are also using the house to drive engagement around their songs, and more brands have signed which cannot yet be revealed.

“Toy brands can challenge our stars,” explained Timothy. “For example, one of our Tiktok stars – SurfaceLDN – created a video that got 90m views, and if you look at his content you’ll see that all the toy content goes insane. Toy brands could also partner with us to build limited-edition ByteHouse toys or games, miniature figures for example, while games companies can be part of games night. We’re currently seeing 10m views a week on our content; that’s just been the past week and it’s set to rise.”

Timothy added: “Since the beginning, we’ve always seen ourselves as being leaders in Gen Z marketing. This expands from helping brands win the hearts of Gen Z audience to owning and operating the most engaging programming on social to merchandising. The Bytesquad comprises some of the most entertaining and talented people there are and I’m extremely excited to see what we can cook up. In a world where younger audiences are moving away from linear TV and moving online and more specifically moving to social, it’s ever more important for programming to be created by Gen Z for Gen Z. Our role in this is very simply to just be the curator, and let the experts do their thing.”

A video introducing the ByteSquad, posted six days ago and viewable below, has already attracted over 11,000 views. Between them, the six influencers boast a total following of over +14m people, with some 73m total views per week.

Fisher-Price report highlights positive effects of play on parents and carers

Research covered the impact of playful interactions between parents/carers and children while engaged in object play.

Dr Jacqueline Harding

Fisher-Price has published the new report, which it has conducted in conjunction with Dr Jacqueline Harding (MA Cert Ed SFHEA), a senior lecturer at Middlesex University and an international expert in child development and neurophysiology.

For the report, titled “Playtime for Everyone,” Dr Harding conducted the first ever review of academic evidence on the possible impact of playful interactions between parents/carers and young children while engaged in object play, analysing over 100 different studies.

Originally set for release later this year as part of the Fisher-Price global campaign “Let’s Be Kids,” which invites grown-ups to rediscover the joy of playtime, the decision was made to release the findings early to offer parents affected by the current COVID-19 situation some comfort and scientific insights on the social, psychological and physical benefits they can gain through playing with their children.

The evidence suggests playtime can help reduce stress levels, increase well-being, boost mental stamina and even strengthen the immune system. In one study referenced by Dr Harding in her report, doctors describe “mirthful laughter” as the equivalent of “internal jogging” because it can lower blood pressure, stress and boost the immune system much like moderate exercise.

One area Dr Harding focuses on in her report looks at how constant stress releases the hormone cortisol in the brain, and how playing with children helps to counteract this. Parents and carers who are being subjected to increased levels of stress during the Coronavirus crisis can help prevent the erosion of positive relationships with children through bursts of harmonious play-driven interaction. This is particularly important now that kids are unable to interact or play with other children.

Dr Harding says: “We know this is an incredibly stressful time for parents who are trying to juggle so much in an unprecedented situation. This report reveals that playtime can be an antidote to stress and have many positive benefits for adults as well as kids.”

Pauline de la Riviere, UK marketing director for Fisher Price, says: “This new research brings together all the positives that can be gained through play for all the family which is particularly relevant for the times we are living. Whatever time you can spare to play, in whichever way you choose to play, there are no rights or wrongs, we hope to support parents and inspire them to keep on playing knowing there are benefits for them and their children which will help during this difficult time.”


Statement from TIE’s Sanjay Luthra on the power of play

Toys Industry Europe’s chairman, Mattel’s Sanjay Luthra, speaks about the #PowerOfPlay during the pandemic and his admiration of the toy industry’s response.

“Despite the uncertainties we currently face in the world around us, one of the things I am sure of is the continued importance of play in children’s lives. Play is an essential part of daily life for children – and often adults – during this global pandemic. Play offers a multitude of benefits and opportunities for learning, entertainment, distraction and stress relief from being confined inside for hours on end. For many, it will also be a source of comfort and happy memories of spending time together, once the pandemic has passed.

Helping children to get the most out of play is at the heart of everything the toy sector does. That’s why I am proud to be part of a sector that has responded to the crisis by providing much needed resources for the public health response. I am also proud of the work being done across the industry to support children and families to play during the confinement period.

Despite a difficult landscape, and the fears this brings for the future, it is heartening to see so many companies big and small asking what more they can do to help. Like many toy companies, at Mattel we are using our resources and technical know-how to contribute to the production of protective gear like facemasks.

National toy associations and companies alike have been busy developing a wealth of free and safe online play tools and ideas for children and families. Others in the sector have activated funding programmes to help the most vulnerable children during these difficult times. We all have an important part to play.

As Chairman of Toy Industries of Europe, I would particularly like to thank our national toy associations for the work they are doing at local level to ensure companies can keep selling toys, despite businesses being forced to close across the EU. TIE itself is working to make sure that channels of communication are kept open for members to exchange essential local insights and responses.

It’s clear that long after the public health crisis ends, we will see an impact on society, culture and the way we do business for years to come. Let’s hope that one positive that comes out of all of this is an appreciation of the difference that the magic and power of play can make in children’s lives.”

Exclusive – IETP’s Carmel Giblin calls for the toy industry to work together

Worrying reports of cancelled orders and changed payments terms have emerged which are having a serious impact on Chinese toy manufacturers, writes the Ethical Toy Program’s CEO & president. 

Carmel Giblin, CEO & president of the ICTI Ethical Toy Program

COVID-19 is a crisis for our industry and indeed most other industries. The uncertainty of how long this situation will last, and how it may change our industry as a result, are worries everyone I speak with shares with me.

One of the biggest concerns right now is how can we ensure that our manufacturers survive and are there to respond to consumer demand when it comes.

I am pleased that there is positive news from some of our members right now. As more families stay at home, board games, building sets, arts & crafts and other similar products are in high demand. However, there are many in our industry who are seeing no demand at all.

When speaking with manufacturers, the words I hear most often are trust and hope.  Many have no certainty about their future, and they understand this is the same for some of their buyers. Everyone voices empathy, sympathy and understanding of the others’ situation, but action is also essential. We must realise that there will be negative consequences if we do not work together at this time.

We have spoken with our manufacturer members, and over 90% report significant changes in their operations and business relationships. These include customers cutting orders significantly or totally, sometimes even when they are in transit, asking for extended payment terms, requests to hold produced goods for longer without payment, increased transit costs and restrictions on shipping.

The toy industry is resilient but COVID-19 is presenting us with challenges on a scale that we have no experience of managing. I’d encourage you to discuss the impact to your business with your suppliers and your customers and seek ways to work together that support each other. The industry is innovative and creative, and now is a time to utilise the skills of all parts of the industry to find solutions that provide confidence in the future.

I would urge those of you who rely on external manufacturers to think now about how you can help them.  Some ideas to consider:

  • Take the stock already produced and ready to ship
  • Place even minimal orders where possible
  • Stick to your pre-existing payment terms
  • If you have to change your commercial agreements inform your suppliers and ask them how this will impact their business, work together to find ways to minimise any negative impact
  • Consider the impact in the long term from any short-medium term decisions you may make – manufacturer capacity and capability will be critical enablers of the global recovery
  • Think about how the workers at the factory will be affected, what can you do to reduce any negative impacts?
  • Continue to follow your responsible purchasing practices and support your suppliers as much as possible in this crisis. Good communication with suppliers and customers is essential

No-one can offer certainty on when we will return to normal business, but it will happen and when it does the efforts taken now to support each other will be rewarded.

Lastly, I would remind you that there are nearly 1m workers employed at IETP Certified factories. These are the people who make the toys enjoyed all around the world.  Please consider these people as you do your own colleagues. Through their efforts the industry has enjoyed much success – let us not forget them now.

Find out more at www.ethicaltoyprogram.org Or email at info@ethicaltoyprogram.org.

Operation Pac-Man issues update after first week of efforts

The non-profit organisation has been created to help fight the spread of Covid-19 worldwide. 

Established by Isaac Larian, CEO and founder of MGA Entertainment, the parent company of L.O.L. Surprise! and Little Tikes, Operation Pac-Man has so far delivered more than 65,000 masks (surgical, N95 and KN95) and face shields to 40 hospitals across the US, successfully tested a new ventilator prototype and supported the 250-bed, makeshift hospital in the Los Angeles Convention Center – all within seven days.

With requests coming throughout the day, the team has ordered 2m masks, 500,000 face shields and 300,000 goggles, which are in transit and will arrive next week.

Isaac commented: “Team MGA has worked around the clock to get Operation Pac-Man up and running, but there is still so much more to do. I ask everyone to please help in any way you can to support. Any donation amount to Operation Pac-Man will provide more funds to purchase personal protective equipment for our fearless healthcare workers fighting for us.”

In addition, throughout the past week the designers and engineers at MGAE and Little Tikes worked with a local hospital to test the MGAE ventilator prototype design. After a few modifications, it is now ready for production. The ventilators will be produced at the Little Tikes factory in Hudson, Ohio, where the team is already re-tooling machines so that mass production can begin immediately.

Please visit www.MGAEcares.org to learn more, donate to Operation Pac-Man or to hear directly from Isaac Larian regarding these efforts.

Generation Media announces launch of Generation Academy

The academy will offer a series of free learning webinars covering topics relevant to media and marketing professionals. 

Tamara Strange will host ‘Rocking the Social Media Party’ on 16th April.

Generation Media has announced the launch of Generation Academy this week. The company, which has been accredited by Investors in People and The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising for its commitment to the continuous professional development of its team, has stated that it is keen to extend elements of its internal training programme to the industry, free of charge, during the Covid-19 lockdown.

“By investing in training at this critical time we can help work towards an industry that can continue to grow talent despite current challenges,” says the official statement.

The programme will consist of weekly learning webinars on a variety of topics across the media and marketing spectrum. This will include TV, social media, content strategy, e-commerce, programmatic, You Tube, influencers and the consumer journey to purchase. Generation Media will also invite special guests to host webinars including Giraffe Insights and carefully selected media owner partners.

The series will kick off with Tamara Strange, who will host ‘Rocking the Social Media Party’ next Thursday 16th April at 10.30am GMT. The sessions are open to marketing professionals across the industry; even those on furlough are still able to participate in training during this period.

For more information on the Generation Academy schedule and how to sign up, please get in touch with Sofia (Sofia.Liandrakis@generationmedia.co.uk) who will provide details on how to get involved.

Exclusive: collection perfection – what’s new in the Collectibles category

In 2019, Collectibles continued to dominate the market, with sales equivalent to 21% of all toys sold.

Despite being responsible for one in five toys sold in 2019, the Collectibles category declined by 12% last year. Interestingly, products under £5 represented the biggest decline, as the average price of a collectible rose to £5.92. It seems that for many consumers, a small cheap lump of plastic in a blind bag is no longer enough: the trend appears to be moving towards higher quality collectibles with more added value by way of accessories, play sets or packaging which can be incorporated into the play pattern.

The appropriately named Wow! Stuff launched Wow! Pods in January. These innovative collectibles make use of a nifty tech element to offer fans of character brands a totally new way to collect and display their favourite characters. A swipe-to-light function and interlocking hexagonal casing means kids can personalise their displays exactly the way they want them. Wow! Stuff is no stranger to bringing cutting edge play patterns to market – this is the company behind the multi award-winning Harry Potter Invisibility Cloak, after all – and reaction from trade shows earlier in the year, and from retailers, suggest that Wow! Pods is another sure-fire winner.

“We are keen to uphold our position as a first port of call for Tier 1 licensed brands looking for innovation in toys,” Wow! Stuff CEO Richard North told Toy World. “When entering the collectibles market, we didn’t want to create a ‘samey’ item. Our mission at Wow! Stuff has always been to create a ‘wow’ reaction from the end user. We wanted to utilise the licensed brand relationships we have developed over the years and disrupt the collectibles market with something really new, different and exciting. The reaction when a kid swipes to light the Pop delivers on the wow reaction we were hoping for.”

To read the full article, which was published in the April issue of Toy World, click here.

BargainMax.co.uk launches kids arts & crafts competition

The UK online toy retailer is on the hunt for the very best arts & craft talent from children aged 0-16.

Parents are able to enter their children’s homemade creations for a chance to win a Bargain Max gift voucher worth £100.

The competition welcomes anything craft related: painting, drawing, sewing, felting, origami, sculpture, construction and more. The parent or guardian of entrants will be required to submit a photograph of their child’s homemade creation either via either Facebook or Instagram.

The competition is open for six weeks, with the closing date falling on 18th May at 23:59 PM. For families interested in entering their children’s creations, full competition terms and conditions can be found on the Bargain Max website.

A spokesperson for Bargain Max said: “We are looking for any art or craft specialism, and that could be a variety of things from painting, drawing or origami, to crafty entries such as Lego designs. The competition is open to children aged 0-16 but we please ask the parent or guardian to enter their children’s creations via our Facebook or Instagram channel. Very best of luck to everyone and we hope it brings you lots of fun.”

Zappies offers route to market during lockdown

The toy and game distributor has seen an upsurge in sales since the lockdown, and is keen to assist suppliers which might be struggling at this time. 

Zappies, based in West Sussex, distributes ranges from many of the biggest names in the toy industry, including Character, Flair, Jakks, Tomy and many more. The company, which counts a number of successful niche online retailers among its customers, has experienced a big upswing in sales since the UK lockdown began on 23rd March; online retail is proving a lifeline for families stuck at home with nothing to do, and in March alone the company was 65% up on the previous year as a result.

“One of our online clients reported that it had one of its busiest trading periods ever over the weekend,” managing director Stephen Suckling told Toy World. “What’s helping is the fact that Amazon has stopped taking on FBA orders, so those companies offering self-fulfilment at the moment are seeing a massive surge in orders. At the same time, brick & mortar stores offering home delivery, which are still able to take goods in and dish them out to the local community, are weathering this far better than some others might be.”

Zappies is keen for suppliers to know that it can provide a solution during the pandemic. Its third party warehouse is staffed by key workers, so trading continues unabated, and turnaround upon delivery is approximately 24 hours, offering suppliers a swift and convenient route to market. Mass-market suppliers in particular are encouraged to contact Zappies – the company’s experience in the online space can provide an attractive stopgap for suppliers whose usual channels have been cut off by lockdowns and the closure of major toy store chains.

“If you’re reading this, and your company is struggling to keep meaningful trade going, then do get in touch – you might have lines to offer that we can pass on to our clients, which can make the most of your brand online,” says Stephen. “I believe that products to keep kids entertained are essential. The upsurge in sales we’ve seen has been in arts & crafts, puzzles and board games, with the latter bringing families together to play in a manner which is usually unheard of outside Q4. People in flats, people without gardens – what are they going to do? Keeping the nation’s kids happy at this moment is vital, otherwise it’s only going to lead to more problems.”

Readers who want to find out more, or are interested in working with Zappies, are invited to email Stephen at stephen@zappies.com.