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Word on the street…it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: October 26th, 2018

Despite what some people may have assumed, I haven’t been out in Hong Kong this week. Quite apart from the fact that it was press day for our November issue on Monday, previews have already started here in the UK and conversations with our key customers about 2019 are very much in full swing. So, all in all, I had far too much to do here – but I’ll be heading out in January as usual.

Word on the street – the street in question being Mody Road and the immediate surrounding area – is that the global toy business is experiencing some challenges, but as you would expect, people remain stoic and eternally hopeful. Resilience is very much the watchword, and if numbers were slightly down (as has been suggested in some quarters), that was probably to be expected. The biggest talking point seems to have been the closure not of Toys R Us, but of HK institution Al’s Diner. I don’t believe I have ever visited this legendary establishment, but by all accounts it was a Saturday night institution and will be very much missed. But when one door closes, another opens elsewhere – people won’t just sit in their hotel room alone on a Saturday night, they will find a new watering hole to frequent (yes, I did just use Al’s Diner as a metaphor for Toys R Us).

Back here in the UK, the retail channel continues to provide a rich vein of news stories: Hamleys’ grammatically-questionable Chinese owner C.banner is said to be considering selling up after last week’s revelations of mounting losses. A strategic review is said to be underway, which is probably code for “we’re letting it be known that we’re open to offers…..anyone??” Mike Ashley has been touted as a potential suitor, prompting talk of ‘frying pans’ and ‘fires’. If a new owner does come on board, it would be the fourth since 2003.

Following the announcement of its biggest loss in 240 years of trading – a staggering £490m – it has been reported that number of store closures being considered by Debenhams will be nearer to 50 than the 10 stores initially earmarked for the chop. Plus I gather that the spectre of ‘credit insurance issues’ has been rearing its ugly head again. Mind you, the brand-new Watford flagship store is undeniably impressive – it seems that the retailer’s future lies in fewer, more impactful outlets.

Balancing up the tribulations of Hamleys and Debenhams, there was great news for B&M as it announced the £80m acquisition of French value chain Babou, a deal which gives the retailer a strong foothold in the French market. Home Bargains also posted a great set of results, with sales exceeding £2bn, while profits grew by 20% to over £200m. Whether the common denominator is the ‘value’ element of the two retailers’ strategies, or the ‘owner/driver’ model I have enthused over before, there is no doubt that these two north-western chains offer ample proof that retail can still be profitable, despite the turbulence.

I mentioned some choice BLE-related jargon last week; one late nomination came from someone who professed himself to be “super-excited” at the classic phrases “Omni-platform” and – my particular favourite – “Symphony of marketing.” Folks, I think we have a winner! Show organiser UBM confirmed this week that visitor numbers increased by 6% to 7,862, retail numbers increased by an impressive 24% and the event attracted the highest number of overseas attendees in its 20-year history. All in all, a highly creditable performance. As well as a change of venue next year, the show will also move a week earlier in the calendar, when it will take place from 1st-3rd October.

Good news for the toy community, as it will avoid a clash with both the October Far East trip and the burgeoning ‘LA Week’. Mixed news for the Jewish community, though: the show starts the day after Rosh Hashanah, but had it stayed in its current slot, Yom Kippur would have fallen on the middle day of the show. Of the two options, I am guessing the earlier date will present fewer challenges. 85% of the show floor is already full, so it looks like any potential negative feelings surrounding the new location have had negligible/zero impact on the exhibitor base.

The Toy Fair has also announced that next year’s event is a sell-out: great to know we have another full show to look forward to in January. Our January Toy Fair preview issue is already filling up rather rapidly (perhaps helped by some rather interesting recent developments at other toy magazines), so if you haven’t yet been in touch with Mark or I to start discussing what’s on offer, please accept this as a gentle nudge to drop us a line or pick up the phone. We’ll also be covering both Hong Kong and Nuremberg in our December issue, if you’re looking to attract buyers to your booth or showroom in either venue.

There’s just time to reveal that former Tesco senior toy buyer Dawn Lavalette will be joining Wow Stuff as commercial director on 5th November – a tremendous coup for the company. I always knew that Dawn would miss toys far too much to be away from it for too long.

Finally, Aldi has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons this week, after a bath-time toy and book set featuring what was supposed to have been an Octopus turned out to feature a ‘Hexopus’ and a ‘Heptopus’ instead. For those who didn’t study Greek at school, that means that unfortunately, the toy in question had only six tentacles, while one illustration in the bath book showed a creature with seven tentacles. I can see how it might have happened with the toy:

Aldi buyer: “We need to buy it at that price.”

Chinese manufacturer to Aldi buyer: “Sure, no problem.

Chinese manufacturer to head of production: “We need to save on our costs. Chop a couple of legs off, no-one will notice.”

But as for what happened with the book, that is anyone’s guess….I guess proof-reading isn’t their strong point.

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