Traditionally, many people from the UK toy community would have been over in New York for the US Toy Fair this week. But with the North American trade show landscape currently in a state of flux, we find ourselves without a US-based Q1 show for another year, before it is scheduled to return to New York in early March 2025. I am sure that’s a subject I will return to in future Blogs, but for now, one of the positives from everyone not being out of the office for another week is that all the follow up from Toy Fair Season gets done just that little bit quicker (although here in the UK, half term certainly doesn’t help).
Achieving a happy equilibrium between seeing the people you need to see and doing the things you need to do is a constant balancing act for everyone in the global toy community across Q4 and Q1. I was speaking to someone this week who told me he had a fantastic London Toy Fair, although he had been disappointed that several retailers had cancelled previews with him in December. I asked him if he felt the two were connected, and it did get me thinking: there was a tremendous retail turn-out at Toy Fair this year, and I do wonder if it makes sense for retailers to maximise their time by seeing 40-50 people over three days in London, rather than visiting individual companies for previews in Q4.
I appreciate that trade shows and previews are two entirely different things, and that having a buyer visit your office for a preview for half (or a whole) day is a dream for suppliers. But equally, Q4 is a markedly different trading landscape these days, with buyers needing to be highly reactive to dynamic pricing, stock fluctuations, marketing activity and many other facets of modern retailing – and it is harder to keep on top of all that if you are constantly out of the office all day at previews in the run-up to the festive season.
In the past, much of the retail reactiveness would come the minute the Argos catalogue launched, or when a Christmas flyer landed (which was why so many sales directors went on holiday when the Argos catalogue launched, to avoid being shouted at down the phone by certain accounts). Now, pricing can change on a daily basis, sometimes several times in a single day. A bit like monitoring the stock market, it’s a constant and ever-changing process. I am sure previews will continue, but I got the sense last year that fewer toy companies were block booking whole months out for previews, and I do wonder if buyers will focus more on concentrated events like LA, where they can see a large number of companies in a short space of time, rather than visiting individual companies at their offices throughout November and December– although I’m curious to hear what other people think.
Even though there is no event in New York this week, it remains the time of the year when the big toy companies announce their Q4 and full year results (I wonder if they will postpone them to coincide with the New York Toy Fair next year or keep them in the middle of February?). This week has seen Mattel, Hasbro and Spin Master unveil their 2023 figures: the pattern that generally emerged was of a challenging year which was mitigated by a strong finish to the year in Q4. Mattel and Spin Master in particular can take comfort from their respective Q4 performances, driven by key evergreen brands and new launches, which sets both companies up nicely for the year ahead. Hasbro’s Q4 numbers didn’t quite come through in the same way, but Furby was certainly a bright spot, as was the performance of Wizards of the Coast across the whole of 2023. There are some excellent new launches for ’24 which we saw in Nuremberg, and hopefully it’s now a case of drawing a line under last year and moving onwards and upwards.
Back in the UK, I was very sad to report the sudden, untimely passing of popular sales agent Mark Sharp at the end of last week. The huge number of heartfelt comments on my LinkedIn post reflect just how well-loved and respected he was amongst his industry peers, colleagues and customers. Our thoughts are with his family at this very sad time.
Elsewhere, there have been reports that the Very Group owners the Barclay family are exploring options to sell the business. Very is said to have approached several private equity firms to sound out their interest, but the owners have allegedly put a “hefty” valuation of £4b on the company and are said to be unwilling to budge, leading some to speculate that a sale is unlikely. Meanwhile, the new Asda owners have been grappling with the first-world problem of whether it is acceptable to borrow millions from the parent company (EG Group) to pay down debts incurred on buying not one but two private jets (I love the fact they couldn’t share one, but each had to have their own. Perfectly normal behaviour). After all, it’s not as if their debt-laden takeover of Asda has come under government scrutiny recently. Oh wait…
Finally, it has been announced that Jazwares has decided to take legal action against Build-a-Bear, which it has accused of “copying the look, feel and tactile design” of Squishmallows. To be fair, I saw numerous ranges in both London and Nuremberg which – one could possibly argue – are also sailing very close to the wind in that regard, so it will be interesting to find out in the fullness of time why Jazwares chose Build-a-Bear to go after. Maybe on this occasion the design has finally crossed the line, or maybe Jazwares feels it will garner more publicity to go after a big name like that, which in turn may scare others off without the need for legal action. Perhaps there is a perception that Build-a-Bear has deep pockets and is therefore a more attractive target? Whatever the rationale, I bet there are a few toy companies which will be nervously checking the post every morning just in case they’re the next in line for a letter from Jazwares’ solicitors…