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Hong Kong Blog: Day One

Published on: January 6th, 2014

I didn’t even manage to make it through customs before I had to swerve (with heavy case in tow) to avoid a collision with gentleman walking with purpose straight at me – welcome to Hong Kong. At least I’ve been here enough times now to know the drill – don’t naturally assume your personal space will be fully respected at all times and you’ll be fine. On the plus side, I am at least avoiding the storms which have been battering the UK, arriving into a temperate, spring-like climate. After the obligatory first night ritual of laying awake from 3am onwards (something else I’ve grown accustomed to over the years), the first day of my trip has been spent at the Toys and Games Fair, which is celebrating its 40th ‘birthday’ this year.

It’s a markedly different show to the event I first visited a decade ago. Now combined with a Licensing Show and a Nursery Show, there is a distinct cross-category air to proceedings (not to mention well over 2,500 exhibitors across the three shows). The Brand Gallery continues to grow, giving brand-owning toy companies a viable reason to attend the show rather than just relying on their Kowloon Showroom. That said, a number of the companies I saw today admitted that their most interesting new developments were either being kept under ‘lock and key’ in secret rooms, or in most cases confined to the TST showrooms. Some habits take longer to change than others.

It’s also become something of a multi-faceted event: one American exhibitor told me that he has four separate aims while he’s here – selling to FOB customers; finding distributors in territories in which he currently isn’t represented; sourcing potential new lines to add to his range and also discussing terms with his local factories.

The first morning gave me the opportunity to catch up with journalists from around the globe, many of whom – like me – are here as invited guests of the show organiser HKTDC. Straight after the pleasantries, everyone swaps stories of how the year’s business ended up in their territory. Most seem to be taking the neutral “it was ok: not great, but alright” stance, but the American delegate was more forthright – “dismal” was his pithy summary of Christmas trading Stateside.

It also transpires that Wal-Mart has decided to schedule its Hong Kong trip for next week rather than this week, which has inevitably resulted in a number of American suppliers also delaying their trip. So if there are a few less of our American cousins around this week, that will probably be the reason.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow night’s legendary Fence Club Football event. I’m reliably informed that it’s a complete sell-out, and unfortunately as it has reached capacity, there will be no tickets on sale on the door (and as far as I’m aware, local touts haven’t managed to get their hands on any either), so I’m afraid there’s no point in turning up unless you’ve already booked your place. While we’re on the subject of warnings, I think I should point out that you might want to avoid the Asia World Expo on Thursday, as James Blunt is playing there as part of his World Tour (sorry if I’ve offended any ‘Blunters’ fans…actually that’s a lie, I’m not really).

Gossip-wise, it’s fairly thin on the ground thus far (although to be fair I have been here less than a day, so give me time…), but I have heard that Mark Ashurst starts as Head of Retail at Hornby today, so good luck to him in his new role. Conversely, I hear that following last year’s acquisition of Meccano by Spin Master, Sue Barratt has now moved on, and with her many years of toy trade experience, I hope there is an exciting new challenge awaiting Sue somewhere in the industry in the not too distant future.

You can follow John on Twitter @Baulchtweet.

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Hong Kong Blog: Day One

Published on: January 7th, 2013

I finally arrived in Hong Kong 24 hours ago. Somewhat inevitably, my body is still not entirely sure whether it is 4pm or 8am. Those of you familiar with the joys of global travel may therefore appreciate the level of difficulty I am currently experiencing in my attempt to craft a vaguely coherent blog, yet alone typing it out on an unfamiliar keyboard, festooned with rather distracting Chinese symbols.

The obligatory first night 3am wide-awake spell once again proved unavoidable, although judging by several conversations last night, I am clearly far from alone in this respect. My first night in town was spent at Bulldogs, partly to avoid going to bed too early for fear of waking up in the middle of the night (epic fail), and partly to find out if I’d missed much over the past few days (it seems not).

I did, however, particularly enjoy the story of the person who decided to take a power nap in the back office between meetings, and found the most comfortable position was to lay his head on his arm. Unfortunately, he chose his watch arm to lie on, with the result that when he emerged back into the showroom, the imprint of his watch face on his forehead rather gave the game away to his colleagues.

After an Anglo-American/Finnish/Canadian breakfast meeting, I spent my first morning at the Toys and Games Fair, which appears to be respectably busy on opening day. Wandering the halls, I’ve come across a company called Zego (but no Zasbro or Zattel yet), a giraffe anatomy model complete with visible internal organs (what child could possibly resist) and far too many realistic-looking guns (after what happened in America recently, I’m truly amazed there is any sort of demand). I also discovered that Galt Toys is in the process of taking over Ambi Toys, a deal which I’m told will be finalised in the next few days, and that Brainstorm has taken over the UK distribution for the Aqua Dragons range as from January 1st. An American contact also told me that he’s heard that Wal Mart will be cutting its sku count back again this year; the last time they did this 3 years ago, I gather it didn’t end well, so understandably there are a few nervous American toy suppliers right now.

I’ve just spent most of the afternoon participating in a seminar and panel discussion about the ‘Kidult’ toy market, which certainly covered some interesting ground. The fact that the seminar was being held in Meeting Room 101 wasn’t exactly an auspicious start (had we been consigned there deliberately?), but we had a larger turnout than I had anticipated, and moderator Richard Gottlieb and my fellow presenters – from Tactic Games and Nanodots, two suppliers with an active interest in targeting the adult toy demographic – had some intriguing perspectives to share.

Although this is something of a digression, having absolutely nothing to do with Hong Kong, I also wanted to briefly mention how sad I was to hear that CPLG’s Chris Protheroe passed away last week. I first met Chris shortly after he joined the BBC at the start of his 30-year career in licensing, and he was always one of the truly good guys. He will certainly be missed, and at only 54, the news came as a huge shock.

Finally, anyone who has yet to leave the UK and is flying from Heathrow, you may care to look out for the most unusual poster I have seen in a long time. The toy industry has often been accused of promoting the concept of pester power, but we could certainly learn a thing or two from the East Poland development agency; their poster features a picture of a sweetly-smiling child with the frankly unanswerable question “what will you say when your child asks why you didn’t invest in eastern Poland”? In fairness, it’s not something I’ve given a huge amount of thought to up until now…

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