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It’s great when you get here…it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: October 4th, 2019

Someone once said “It is better to travel hopefully than to arrive.” With all due respect, I disagree. While I am sure that Robert Louis Stephenson was speaking metaphorically, I am adopting a more literal interpretation, having spent the week commuting to Excel for BLE. I will spare you the details of my train-related travel horrors, and those of many other visitors who shared similar experiences, but arriving was most definitely a blessed relief.

However, the positive news is that the most frequently used phrase of the week rapidly became “It’s great…when you get here “- accompanied by a slightly forced smile. Concerns that the move from Olympia to Excel would adversely impact BLE proved wholly unfounded: the show floor looked great and attendance felt buoyant. Away from the show floor there were a few teething issues; the food court literally ran out of food on Monday lunchtime (you’re a food court, you had one job. It brought to mind the famous Michael Gove quote about Brexit – “there will be adequate food” – let’s hope this doesn’t turn out to be an awkward omen), while many of the nearby bars were apparently closed for private functions on Tuesday evening, leaving a few thirsty punters frustrated. But these minor niggles will sort themselves out over the coming years; the most important thing was that the show itself retained its vibrancy and buzz. Informa built it and they came.

Looking specifically at the toy contingent, licensee representation remained as healthy as ever. There may have been fewer major toy buyers (if my sources are correct), but given the relentless toy calendar – LA last week, Dallas this week, Hong Kong at the end of next week – that would necessarily not be a surprise. Having said that, Jo Hall came over from Hong Kong, so if she can make it, I’m not sure a trip from the wilds of Milton Keynes, Welwyn or Galway would be too much to ask. To be fair, given the number of markets covered by BLE, not to mention religious holidays, it would be tricky to find a week that suited everyone. I think there may have been a blank Tuesday in August at some point.

I don’t like to pick out individual properties in show reviews, as there is no longer a ‘one size fits all’ approach to licensing; what works for one particular licensee or retailer may not work for another. So maybe it’s no bad thing that a range of licences were mentioned when the inevitable ‘what have you seen?/what are you signing?’ conversation came up, including several properties which featured prominently in our BLE preview issue, such as Trolls, Minions, Masters of the Universe and DC. Inevitably, there were a lot of conversations around Frozen II: the potential impact it will have on the girls’ category, how sales patterns will pan out both this year and next, and the level of expectation that Disney, its licensees and retailers have for its performance. General consensus suggested that people are working to a ballpark figure of 60-65% of the ‘big year’ sales from the first time around; some felt that was optimistic (especially a couple of retail buyers I spoke to), while others felt it was pessimistic not to at least aim to match the original numbers. It will be fascinating to see where it ultimately lands. It will also have a major impact on Disney’s fortunes over the next 12 months; while much has been made of the decline in sales of licensed toys, two of the panellists who took part in my forum on Tuesday pointed out that, according to NPD, if you strip Disney out of the numbers, far from declining, sales of licensed toys would actually be keeping pace with peak years. I wonder what the person from Disney who was apparently in the audience made of that particular observation…

What is undeniable, as those of you who made it along to our panel discussion would have heard, is that the licensing world is changing. A movie or linear TV on its own is no longer enough; an ‘always on’ content strategy is becoming essential, to reflect the way that kids are consuming content. It also appears that the days of kids gravitating towards a single character at a specific time of the year are long gone; creating a lasting emotional attachment between property and consumer has never been more crucial.

Gossip was relatively thin on the ground this week; we were finally able to announce yesterday that Marianne James has joined Hasbro Consumer Products as vice president EMEA, while the rumour mill was buzzing with the news that Nikki Samuels will shortly be parting company with Sambro and that David Martin has moved on from Kids Insights.

Away from BLE, it has been another turbulent week in the retail market. Tesco’s head honcho Dave Lewis and Argos’ John Rogers both announced their departures, while John Lewis confirmed that it would be combining its department stores and Waitrose under same management team, shedding around a third of head office management roles (equating to 75 job losses). As well as retail consolidation, toy suppliers continue to pursue mergers and acquisitions; this week’s big news was that Jazwares had acquired Wicked Cool Toys. Where that leaves the recent rumours about Jazwares acquiring Jakks, no-one knows; apparently Jakks was being extremely tight-lipped about the situation in LA last week. I did hear that a lot of the new developments shown in LA focused around the girls’ category, so expect an even more competitive sector next year. I also gather that the four UK retailers present all had markedly different takes on the state of the UK toy market and what they felt needed to be done to address the challenges in the run-up to Christmas. In fairness, this could be because they are each being affected differently by the prevailing market conditions. I received some interesting feedback about the recent promotions by a couple of the big retailers, but if anyone else has observations to share, I thought it might be good to get a wider sample base before committing any thoughts to print.

Finally, times have got so tough for Mothercare chairman Clive Whiley – employed a year ago at the extremely modest salary of £480,000- that he has taken a second job with funeral provide Dignity. Come on guys, you’re making it too easy for me: some headlines just write themselves….or is it to early to use the words RIP and Mothercare in the same sentence??!!

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