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People make the (toy) world go around…it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: January 19th, 2018

It has been a strange week. I came back from Hong Kong last Friday, feeling very tired but just putting it down to the usual jetlag / sleep deprivation challenges. Not this time. I came back with comfortably the worst flu I have ever had – put it this way, I had swine flu early on in its life-cycle, and that was like a very mild case of the sniffles compared to this. A week later I am still struggling. I have already identified a couple of potential culprits who themselves were ill in HK. At least I didn’t have to spend a week lying in a hotel room which is definitely no fun, but then neither is this.

The final two Hong Kong Blogs focused on ‘big picture’ observations and product, while this one will focus on the third toy business pillar whose importance is sometimes overlooked – people. This industry often revolves around people, and because of the close-knit sense of community amongst the UK toy fraternity, putting information into the Blog can spread the word in a way that it rarely would in a mega territory like USA.

I know I have been feeling a little sorry for myself this week, but there are a few people who have far larger health issues than I to contend with. So, get well soon and our thoughts are with Golden Bear’s Barry Hughes and licensing doyen Jane Evans. Meanwhile PR guru Lesley Singleton will also be missed at Toy Fair this year due to family reasons. I also wanted to make mention of Alpha’s Mark Hyndman: his absence in Hong Kong last week came after he was diagnosed with a tumour two days before Christmas. He was rushed in to hospital to have emergency surgery four days later, and hopefully this swift action means they’ve caught it in time. Mark told me that he is hoping to be at Toy Fair, but we all just want to see him rest and get well again soon.

It’s no surprise that at the early part of the year, a few people have moved on to pastures new. Andrew Hardwidge has parted company amicably with Zappies, and he says that he hopes to have news when his garden leave expires at the end of March. Meanwhile, Richard Venner has left Hornby, and with previous stints at Vivid, HTi and Corinthian, he too is hoping to stay within the toy market. Finally, I hear that Topps Chris Rodman will be moving on from his full-time role at Topps at the end of January, although he may offer some consultancy to tide them over.

I’d also like to congratulate Sally Walker (Sally Plumridge as many of you will still think of her) on her appointment as general manager for Interplay – a great move for both parties.

A few little snippets to report: exhibitor space at the Toymaster May show is now sold out, making the auction item of a stand in the BTHA media auction a very sought-after lot indeed. In addition to the selection of media treats on offer in the Media auction, there is also a raffle this year, with tickets costing £5 – so anyone can get involved. There are some great prizes on offer, as well as a slightly bizarre one; the chance to work for free at the Disney offices for three days! Now when I first saw this, I was perplexed – indeed, I wondered what the second prize was. I mean, I’ve been in those offices, and it is not the deathly silence and thousands of people keeping their head down, refusing to make eye contact (or breathe in some cases) that could possibly be the attraction. But on reflection, I’ve decided that is the prize I want to win: arguably they could do with some help in the trade media / marketing department, and I know just the right man for it….

Elsewhere, I gather that the Hamleys Toy Parade will be rested this year, after last year’s over-crowding. I think it’s a smart idea to leave it fallow and return to it once people forget what they went through. Meanwhile, Science4you has appointed Vivid as its new UK distributor, while IMC has appointed Mason Williams as its new PR agency and Hobbico has gone into Chapter 11 in the US (no word on how this development might effect Revell).

I mentioned Hornby earlier; I’m not sure whether a more switched-on marketing team would have signed up to the Daily Mail promotion which is currently running around giveaway Spitfire Airfix Models. After last summer’s highly-effective ‘Stop Funding Hate’ guerrilla marketing initiative, is it too soon to be forgiving The Fail for its vile rhetoric. I know there is a considerable synergy between the two operations – chiefly that they both wish it was still 1947 – but I’m still not sure the Mail should be welcomed back into the marketing fold just yet.

Speaking of marketing, and specifically TVR data for 2017, there are some very interesting swings and roundabouts in the 2017 data. No great surprise that the spend of the big three was down by some 25%, in line with their sales figures. Overall, although there was a 2% increase in campaigns, there was an 11% reduction in the overall number of 30” TVRs delivered. Spinmaster, Zapf, VTech and Drumond Park all upweighted significantly, while one company declined by 75%. Buyers, maybe you should insist the suppliers put their commitment in writing in a trade magazine – it’s one way to tell how serious they are.

Finally, I know he has nothing to do with toys, but our old ‘friend’ Sir Philip Greed was back in the news after insisting that suppliers must give him an extra 2% discount on all orders already placed with the Arcadia Group for this year. He’s obviously seen the unbelievable shenanigans at Carilllion, and thought: “You think you’re dodgy – Hang on, hold my beer…”

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