Can open, worms everywhere…it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 17th May 2019

For the past few years, I’ve grown accustomed to the feeling of mild embarrassment as I try to explain the concept of Brexit to bewildered international friends and colleagues. To them, it seems to be little more than an egregious act of economic self-harm for little material gain beyond intangible concepts of ‘control’ (or, more accurately, the illusion of control). So you might be forgiven for thinking that the UK would be a shoo-in for the ‘They didn’t think it through’ award of this – or indeed any other – year. However, it seems we may have some competition: America has stepped forward, asked us to hold its beer and jumped in with both feet.

The introduction of tariffs to Chinese goods was always going to be a contentious strategy. Yet, somehow, what appeared to be a crude negotiating tactic has escalated to the point where not only has the tariff increased from 10% to 25%, but now it is on the verge of being applied to just about every product emanating from China. Toys have escaped thus far, but that is set to change. Of course, this may yet prove to be a supreme act of brinkmanship, but like Brexit, there is the sense that the can has been opened and now the worms are everywhere. The Toy Association is trying its best to educate US consumers that it is they who will ultimately pay the price, not the Chinese. But as we have found with Brexit, if you have ‘charismatic’ political figures spouting populist rhetoric, there is always a risk that people will fall for it. The truth is that the Chinese will no more be ‘paying’ the 25% tariff on toys than the NHS will be receiving £350m a week. And as for the idea that it will bring manufacturing jobs home to the US, I think we all know that is extraordinarily unlikely – that ship sailed long ago.

However, this whole fiasco once again falls under the category of ‘there’s not much we can do about it’, and the US toy community will be hoping that Trump and his associates come to their senses in the nick of time. The main difference between their predicament and ours is that the US economy seems to be in a slightly more robust place than the UK economy: US consumers may even be able to shrug off modest price increases, whereas I am not convinced that the same could be said of UK consumers. So how will this latest development affect US vendors and retailers, and what will be the knock-on effect for Chinese factories and the overall global toy community? It will certainly be a fascinating situation to follow.

I am sure this will be a major talking point at Distoy in a couple of weeks’ time, and at Licensing Expo in Vegas the week after. I’ll be attending both events, and before that I’m looking forward to spending most of next week in Harrogate at the Toymaster May show, which is always immensely enjoyable. If anyone would like to catch up with me at any of these events, I still have a few gaps in my diary, so feel free to get in touch via any of the usual channels (landline, mobile, email, LinkedIn, WhatsApp, Twitter or Facebook). On which point, isn’t it interesting how some people remain harder to reach than The Pope, despite the huge number of channels through which we are able to communicate these days (and I can promise you, that doesn’t just apply to retail buyers). I don’t even mind if it’s the last day of the show; those of you who read my interview with Mattel EMEA MD Sanjay Luthra in the May issue of Toy World will have noted his comments about how Mattel was being asked for meetings on the Monday at Nuremberg (I loved his very honest reaction: “And you know what that means, right?”). Welcome to my world Sanjay! To be fair, I warmed to him when he admitted that he accepted all the requests. After all, a meeting is a meeting, whenever it takes place; I don’t mind being there when the cleaners are coming round – that’s infinitely preferable to those companies who claim they don’t have time to meet at all (and I wonder if you can guess what happens the next time their PR company sends in a press release and begs for coverage….).

I’d like to congratulate the BTHA’s Majen Immink on the birth of her daughter Freya – nice to see that she has chosen to name it after her favourite Sylvanian Families character (allegedly). I’d also like to wish Little Tikes all the best for this weekend, as the brand hosts its biggest party yet to celebrate its 50th anniversary. The World’s Biggest Play Date will be taking place in eleven countries, including the UK, where London’s South Bank will play host to the festivities. Normally I would be happy to join the fun, but I have somewhere else to be this Saturday – Wembley Stadium to be precise. Unless you come from the blue half of Manchester, I hope you’ll all join me in supporting the underdogs in this year’s Cup Final; remember, Watford’s entire team cost less than Riyad Mahrez, and he will probably be on the bench for City.

Finally, I know how much people love an amusing photo to round off the Blog, so I was delighted to receive this picture from Intertoy’s Jon Gregory, featuring a toy store he recently came across in Venice Beach, LA while attending Spring Summer 20 previews. I love the sentiment: I’m sure it’s one that everyone in the toy community can relate to.