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What a week…it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: November 16th, 2018

What an incredible week. Major toy-related news stories have been breaking thick and fast, each huge announcement producing a flurry of interaction and a volley of questions from the toy community. Our online traffic numbers have scaled new heights, as we’ve managed to break each and every one of these massive stories first on the Toy World website.

First up came the huge news that Goliath Games had acquired Vivid from its current VC owner, the Privet Group. Personally, I see it as a great move for both parties; Goliath is clearly expanding from its board game heartland, having last week acquired Italian company Macdue – owner of classic vehicle brands such as Bburago, Maisto and Polistil. My suspicion is that having an established toy company as an owner will prove to be a far better long-term option for Vivid than a venture capitalist, and Goliath has a tremendous reputation across the globe, so I am sure this will develop into a very successful partnership.

Next up came the massive announcement that Moose Toys had acquired Worlds Apart. Another fantastic move, the two companies share very similar cultures and, having collaborated to great effect on the Scruff-a-Luvs brand this year, the synergies between the two companies were self-evident. The Worlds Apart team is undoubtedly one of the nicest in the toy market, and it is great to hear that the current management team will be taking the reins when owners John Stewart and Simon Birchenough bow out gracefully at the end of the month. They’ve come a long way since I met them on their first-ever appearance at Toy Fair back in the early 80s – on a 3m stand, featuring a small selection of kites. They’ve done an amazing job building the company into what it is today, and this deal is a fantastic way to safeguard the business for the long-term.

After the deal was announced, the first question that sprang to mind revolved around what would happen to Moose’s existing distribution arrangements with its long-term partners such as Character Options and Flair. We spoke to Moose CEO Paul Solomon, who told us: “We greatly value the relationships with our existing distribution partners and this acquisition will not have any impact on our existing distribution arrangements. While we have plans to further strengthen and grow our business, at this stage we are focused on ensuring the transition of Worlds Apart into Moose Toys occurs smoothly and seamlessly. We value and appreciate the working relationships we have developed over the years in the UK, and we look forward to continuing them into the future.” Very reassuring for all concerned.

In addition, news has just reached us that Tomy will be taking over the exclusive UK and Ireland distribution of the Drumond Park games range from Vivid as of January 1st. It’s a huge coup for Tomy, which already has a strong foothold in the games category, which can only be strengthened by this new arrangement. Long-term Drumond Park director of sales Dave Howard will be moving over to Tomy to continue his 15-year relationship with the brand, and with a substantial launch programme planned – including the first new Articulate extension in a decade – Tomy will certainly need a much bigger stand at Toy Fair, where all the new introductions will be unveiled.

Finally, it was officially confirmed overnight that the Toys R Us Asian operation has secured its future with a deal between Taj Noteholders and Fung retailing, which will see Fung increase its ownership stake to 21%, making it the largest shareholder in the company. Great news for the Toys R Us Asian business and I know that suppliers will be mightily relieved that an agreement has been reached to keep Fung onboard. The deal facilitates the separation of the Asian business from its ultimate parent Toys R Us, Inc., and catching up with Jo Hall yesterday afternoon ahead of the official announcement, she was clearly delighted with the outcome: “Happy to be part of a truly historic inflection point in the toy industry – the industry we love – and we will be instrumental in shaping its new future. Game on!” Fantastic to hear Jo in ebullient mood, and we wish her and the team all the best for the future.

In addition to all of these huge developments, there have been numerous other significant events this week, including B&M reporting record first-half figures; the somewhat surprising news that Foye Pascoe will shortly be parting company with Hasbro and, of course, Dream Toys taking place. The Dream Toys event was as effervescent as ever: great coverage – including TV slots on Sky News, This Morning and BBC Breakfast, together with a host of radio interviews, widespread print coverage and plenty of online-driven content – has helped to spread the word about the hot Christmas toys far and wide. Now let’s hope that this helps to kick-start festive sales, which thus far have remained frustratingly inconsistent.

Last week’s Blog touched on the subject of the ‘lost’ Toys R Us turnover here in the UK; the US numbers look slightly more encouraging, with the market growing by 2% to the end of September, compared to the 11% decline in the UK YTD. Both countries are coming to grips with the loss of TRU, and indeed, the US should arguably be missing it far more than the UK: on which basis, one conclusion is that the key driver in terms of the respective performances of the two countries is likely to be the state of the economy. So isn’t it great that now everything is settled with Brexit, we can move onwards and upwards towards those sunlit uplands we were promised. Wait, what….

Regardless of what is happening in the broader economy, trust me, if you think this week has been a big news week in the toy community, I don’t think that we are finished yet – not by a long stretch. I know of a couple of other major stories ‘brewing’, and with the global toy market at a fascinating stage of its evolution, I suspect that there will be many further mergers, acquisitions and deals to come. As ever, we’ll do our best to bring you the very latest developments first, and also – crucially – to bring you the stories behind the headlines. Now that’s real news in real time! I’m off to catch my breath before it all starts up again….

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