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Hong Kong Blog: Day Four

Published on: January 9th, 2014

Today has been the final day of the Hong Kong Toys and Games Fair, and from the selection of exhibitors and visitors I’ve spoken to over the past few days, it seems to have lived up to expectations. Speaking to an ex-pat who has been coming to the show far longer than I, he agreed that it has a very different look and feel to the fair he first visited back in the eighties and nineties. Admittedly, there are still large sections of the fair populated by open-market Chinese factories and vendors, but according to the aforementioned ex-pat , innovation can be found even there if you look hard enough. In fact, he confessed to trawling the vendor aisles in search of ‘inspiration’. When I suggested that could be construed as rather ironic, and arguably a case of him turning the tables and ‘copying the copiers’, he just smiled.

As ever, many British retail buyers seem to spend most of their time over in the showrooms in Kowloon rather than at the show itself, although I did spot a team of buyers from one of the UK and Ireland’s largest and most successful toy retail chains at the fair yesterday, which is encouraging. I’ve started to work in some visits to showrooms myself in the past couple of days, and I’ve certainly seen a number of very interesting new developments. App technology and augmented reality are being incorporated into an increasing number of ranges (arguably more successfully this time round), along with other ways of enhancing toys and consumer electronic devices (think Skylanders/Disney Infinity/Wii-style developments). I’ve seen some cutting edge innovation within radio control ranges which might give some of the established RC suppliers some genuine competition. At the other end of the spectrum, I’ve seen a Dennis the Menace-branded farting football (yes really) which has got ‘winner’ written all over it.

That said, having sat in on a couple of presentations with buyers present, it seems that pricing remains of paramount importance in the equation. Of course they all want exciting, innovative new product, but they want it at the absolute best possible price, and then a bit cheaper still. That’s certainly a massively challenging balancing act for suppliers. On the positive side, I think that the Chinese factories are acutely aware of the importance of exceptionally keen pricing, and I haven’t heard too many people grumbling about manufacturing price hikes so far this trip.

On my travels around TST I’ve learnt that Julian Hare has left Worlds Apart to join Jakks Pacific, while I gather that Argos’ Martyn Walker has ‘crossed the fence’ to join licensed bedding company Character World. And if you – or anyone you know – is looking for a new challenge out in the Far East, Dave Cave is looking to recruit a sales-based CEO to work in Hong Kong at the rapidly growing Dragon-i Toys.

I’ll be back tomorrow with the final instalment of the Hong Kong blog, which – in true ‘end of term’ style – will feature this year’s alternative Hong Kong Blog awards, which include a number of off-the-wall categories such as ‘Jammiest flight upgrade’, ‘Least tactful corporate entertainers’, ‘Best fashion statement at the Fair’ and ‘Best sign seen in a coach’.

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Hong Kong Blog: Day Four

Published on: January 10th, 2013

The Toys and Games Fair has now drawn to a close. The final day of an exhibition can sometimes be somewhat anti-climactic, but I’m pleased to report that it still seemed very busy around the show this afternoon, and Green Board Games told me they took a very healthy order from a brand new Hungarian customer today, which they admitted came as a pleasant surprise on the last day. I’d like to thank my hosts the HKTDC for their hospitality this week; as ever, they have looked after the visiting journalists superbly.

Now that the show is over, my attention turns fully to the showrooms in Kowloon; I’ve managed to squeeze a few visits in so far, with more to come tomorrow, so I’ll bring you a round-up in tomorrow’s closing blog. In the meantime, a couple of snippets I’ve picked up on my rounds; Famosa has just signed the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles licence for ride-ons, while Thinkway has recently finalised a deal with Disney which will result in a selection of the company’s brand new ‘Planes’ lines being made available in the European market.

One of the most frequently used words of the week has been ‘realistic’. There appears to be a healthy sense of perspective about the year ahead, with expectations modest rather than optimistic. That said, it certainly isn’t by any means gloomy; I’ve even had a couple of overseas companies enquire if I know of any potential acquisition targets in the UK/European market, so the current climate must be producing plenty of winners as well as the odd loser (of course, any interested parties can always drop me an email and rely on my complete discretion…).

The ‘winners and losers’ situation is just as true on the retail front as the supply side. The news that Play.com is to close its direct retail business in March, with the loss of over 200 staff in its offices in Jersey and England, was sad, as was today’s announcement that Jessops has entered administration (I know they’re not a toy account, but it’s yet more bad news for the retail market, and the High Street in particular). Conversely, I hear that B+M Bargains is looking to expand into Europe, having enjoyed a hugely successful 2012. I also understand that two of the large multi-channel retail players appear to be putting plans in place to combat the inexorable rise of Amazon, although how easy they will find it to catch up remains to be seen. And then, of course, there is Toys R Us. In an interview which UK MD Roger Mclaughlan gave to Retail Week just before Christmas, he rather boldly stated that he wanted TRU to become the largest toy retailer in the UK. Admirable ambition for sure, and who knows, it might even result in a few orders actually being confirmed over the coming weeks (come on, I’m only saying what most of you are thinking…).

Valuable things I have learnt today: if I want cold water in a showroom, I should ask for Bing-Soi (thanks Chalky). Amazon USA has a buyer whose responsibilities specifically include the purchase of fart-related merchandise. And I’ve travelled on the MTR so frequently this week, I can almost say “please hold the handrail” in Cantonese.

I can also confirm that the main Hong Kong Football match will be making a welcome return next year, and will be held on Tuesday 7th January. I arrived too late to see this year’s comparatively low-key ‘practice game’, in which I am told the UK team was narrowly edged out 6-1 by its Hong Kong opposition. But obviously it’s the proper match next year which really counts….

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