Better late than never …it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 2nd December 2022

A couple of weeks ago, I posted what I realised at the time was potentially a risky Blog. It was written as a response to a series of conversations which suggested to me that with some companies, confidence was wilting faster than Qatar’s dreams of getting a point at the World Cup. It struck me that some were on the verge of writing 2022 off as a bad job, which I felt was just a wee bit premature.

However, I had little except gut feel to go on. There was plenty of evidence to the contrary; just about every major retailer that was quoted in the media was issuing dire warnings of a disastrous festive trading period. I listen and read stuff (quite a lot of stuff actually): I wasn’t living in a bubble, or impervious to the very real economic challenges that many consumers are facing. I just had this gut feel that things were going to pick up in November. Even as I pressed send on the Blog, I realised it could well come back to bite me on the backside at a later date. There I was, telling everyone not to panic, when in reality that may well have turned out to be the appropriate response.

I was also aware that I may have sounded like the kind of B2B journalist I don’t respect; the Prozac journalists who only ever simper about how great business is, or even how wonderful a trade show or product is, when it patently obviously isn’t. I always said that Toy World wouldn’t do that, and yet here we were, in the midst of a major period of financial upheaval, saying things were probably going to turn out ok in the end.

Well, so far, it appears I may not have been too far wide of the mark. The upswing in sales I predicted (in truth, was praying for…) has indeed materialised. Better late than never, eh? Black Friday really is turning out to be a pivotal event to drive sales here in the UK. Many said it would never truly catch on here, yet here we are, following the USA in accepting that Black Friday is now very much part of the retail landscape. It’s still nowhere near the level of importance it takes on in the USA, where I gather sales literally exploded over Thanksgiving/Black Friday weekend. But with pay day for many consumers falling last Friday, it certainly moved the dial, which has apparently prompted numerous retailers to place re-orders with suppliers – something few people thought would happen in the dark days of late September/early October.

Once again, I am hearing that it is specialist toy retailers – large and small – that are performing well, although unsurprisingly, online retailers also picked up dramatically last week. And as we are all about to steel ourselves to head to our favourite supermarket to start festive food shopping in earnest, the grocery channel may well be poised to pick up significantly too.

Of course, I am not trying to pretend that everything is rosy. Is it too little, too late? For some suppliers and retailers, it may well be. But I have had enough people contact me since I wrote the ‘Don’t Panic Captain Mainwaring’ Blog to make me feel that my cautious optimism wasn’t entirely misplaced. I think it probably stemmed from having spent four decades in an industry which nearly always comes through right at the end of the race. When I met my wife Anita over 30 years ago, she was working as a toy buyer for what was then a big player in the market; she once told me that the biggest fights they had every year weren’t with suppliers, but with internal finance and management, who came to the toy team every year in late autumn to tell them they were overstocked and to cancel all outstanding orders. And every year they pushed back, confident that sales would pick up sufficiently to move through the stock they were sitting on. I suspect most people who have worked within a major retail environment will recognise that debate – and most years, they were right to dig their heels in.

I just hope the momentum which has built up carries on right the way through to the final trading hours of the season. With the likelihood that most people will get paid on either Friday 16th or Friday 23rd, that last week – and even last day – could be pivotal. Is everyone out of the woods yet? Certainly not. There is still a genuine concern that retailers will be left with a lot of stock, which will have a major impact on the first quarter. Jobbers have confirmed the rumour I heard last week: there is indeed plenty of stock around, although several were keen to point out that “you can never have too much stock – as long as it is the right product at the right price” (and that last bit of that equation may well be the key here…). But is the UK toy market in a better place than it was two months ago…I would say emphatically yes.

There’s just time to give a shout out to our December issue, which is available to read online now and will hopefully have arrived in the post or be landing on your desk very soon. We’re somewhat at the mercy of postal strikes at the moment, but again, better late than never – and at least we’re like clockwork, we don’t miss random issues out or send them the following month.

I also wanted to say how much we enjoyed our tour around the new Hamleys store at Westfield White City last week; a fantastic execution, with some wonderful in-store theatre, put together in conjunction with a host of leading toy suppliers. I loved the Ty slide (just gutted I couldn’t have a go as there was a small child on it), the Nerf target practice, the animatronic Schleich dinosaur, the Playmobil play area, the K’Nex Big Wheel and so many other activations. Thanks to Karen Dennett and Daniel King for showing us round.

I also just wanted to quickly debunk a rumour which was apparently doing the rounds during the People of Play event  in the US last week. Contrary to what was being talked about as ‘fact’, I am going to go out on a limb and say that there is precisely zero chance of the Nuremberg Toy Fair moving to August in 2024. Now, of course, I appreciate I may be setting myself up for a fall here – but is a major European show really going to move to August, when Spain, Italy and France are still in the habit of taking the whole month off? There are many other reasons why I highly doubt any change will be forthcoming, at least until the effect of the move of the New York Toy Fair from February to September is thoroughly evaluated (and I am not at all sure we will get an accurate picture after just one year). So, stand down Americans – we’ll let you know if anything changes. Best to stick to trusted sources when it comes to these sort of rumours…and you won’t get a better source than Toy World.