Christmas Magic…it’s the Friday Blog!

The questions I have been asked most frequently in recent weeks (apart from whether Watford were right to sack our manager – we were) largely revolve around what’s happening with Toy Fair Season ’22. I am gradually piecing together the overall picture, so for anyone who is looking for clues, I am happy to share what I have uncovered thus far.

There is, naturally, a huge caveat – we still aren’t out of the Covid woods, and with winter coming, there may yet be twists and turns. However, clarity is beginning to emerge on several fronts. We now know that the Hong Kong Toys and Games Fair won’t be taking place in January. With the 21-day quarantine restrictions extended to March, this also effectively rules out the traditional FOB buying trip for the vast majority of international visitors for the second year running.

Although that’s a huge shame, thankfully, there will be plenty of other opportunities to see customers in the early part of next year. London Toy Fair is very much in ‘full steam ahead’ mode – and with it being the first show of next year’s Toy Fair Season (along with the fact that many of us won’t be exhausted from 7-14 days in Hong Kong), no wonder the BTHA’s mantra is “we’re more ready than we’ve ever been.”

The Nuremberg Toy Fair team is equally bullish about next year’s event. A few people had been in touch in recent weeks to say that they have been concerned at a lack of response from the organisers, but I had lunch with the Spielwarenmesse team this week and they are optimistic about prospects for the ’22 event. There will be some changes (Hall 11.1 won’t be used next year) and some challenges, notably for exhibitors and visitors from the Far East – the travel regulations apply both ways, so anyone travelling from Hong Kong will have to quarantine for 21 days when they return. That is going to put a lot of Asian visitors off. However, for the European toy community, Nuremberg has put stringent safety measures in place to reassure visitors, and there are plenty of new initiatives to keep the show fresh and enticing. So, will there be fewer exhibitors and visitors next year? Almost certainly. Will it still be the world’s largest and most extensive Toy Fair? I very much suspect it will.

New York Toy Fair will be the next stop on the tour – other events have taken place at Javits recently, so confidence is high for the return of Toy Fair in mid-February. The opening of the US borders to international travellers has been delayed, but apparently only until the end of November. Although those who like me had the Astro Zeneca vaccine will be hoping that it will be approved by the FDA in time – this is one area where international co-ordination and co-operation would be enormously helpful, as there is still so much variation when it comes to what is accepted where.

Before the main Toy Fair Season kicks into gear, there is another intriguing option for UK & European buyers: Preshow Noël, which takes place in Deauville, France from 22nd-26th November. Traditionally focused on the French market, the show is opening up to an international audience this year – and there is a very attractive package of incentives on offer to buyers from ‘top 10’ accounts to attend, including free hotel rooms and complimentary lunches. Find out more about that opportunity here.

Meanwhile, back in the here and now, chaos at UK ports has hit the headlines this week, as Felixstowe went public to acknowledge severe delays and congestion, which it attributed largely to the shortage of HGV drivers (although, like all the supply chain issues which have blighted the UK this year, there is never one single cause behind the problems, but rather a complex web of inter-twining factors). This sparked another wave of national media stories talking about potential Christmas toy shortages. Some reporters chose to speak to people who know what they’re talking about – such as The Entertainer’s Gary Grant and Toytown’s Alan Simpson – who gave a sanguine, balanced overview of the situation, and explained the challenges and potential ramifications.

Other media outlets were forced to interview government ministers, who clearly have little idea of what goes on in the business community nor of the specific logistics challenges facing UK importers. These poor souls had to attempt to bluff their way through after a five minute briefing from a spad. It was highly entertaining – if a little frustrating – to watch them attempt to pretend that everything is getting better (it isn’t…yet) and that Father Christmas will be along shortly to save the day. Thankfully they stopped one step short of inventing a Brexit fairy to wave a magic wand and make all the problems disappear. Had I been asking the questions, I might have been tempted to push back on the suggestion that the situation was improving, only a day after the problems at Felixstowe had first been revealed. According to Oliver Dowden, someone managed to sort out total chaos overnight. Maybe he or she should be the government’s new supply chain adviser, rather than former Tesco boss ‘Drastic’ Dave Lewis – who was clearly chosen for his edgy nickname rather than for his specific supply chain experience, which apparently sits somewhere between negligeable and non-existent. Note to Johnson: just because he worked for Tesco, it doesn’t automatically make him a logistics expert. He had people to do that for him.

Finally, tributes have poured in across the world to Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner, who sadly passed away this week, only two days after it was announced that he would be stepping down from his role on medical grounds. I personally never met Brian, but I get a real sense of the man from reading so many warm and heartfelt comments from former colleagues, customers and competitors. They all spoke of his passion, his charisma and most of all what a great, down-to-earth person he was – so many people contrasted him with other high profile business figures, talking of how approachable and fundamentally decent he was. He will clearly be sadly missed by the whole toy community. It was sobering when I found out that Brian was younger than me – as Andy Laughton (another of a similar vintage) said on LinkedIn, “It makes you realise that life is for living.” It certainly does.

Hamleys reveals its top toys for Christmas

Imaginative role-play toys top the charts, as the toy retailer encourages kids to #believeinmagic again.

Father Christmas himself was present for the unveiling of Hamleys’ top toys selection

Hamleys has revealed its Top Ten Toys for Christmas 2021, saying this year’s festivities will bring people together for fun and games after the disappointment of last year.

The toy retailer believes that playing together will be at the heart of every family Christmas celebration and, with many children having become accustomed to spending time on screens over the last year, role-play and creativity top the toy charts, allowing children to create imaginary worlds and bring back the magic of Christmas.

The list includes a range of educational, magical and traditional toys, designed to allow children to combine their own imagination with clever edu-tech to build, role-play and create.

Lego’s Super Mario Adventures with Luigi Starter Course brings responsive LED magic and encourages teaming up for real-life social play, while the Playshifu AR Globe gets interactive around the world. For budding witches and wizards, the Moose Magic Mixies will surprise and delight.

The Hamleys Top Ten Toy list also contains exclusive to Hamleys picks, including the Ralleyz Warrior 3-in-1 Racing Car and the lovable Hamleys Huggable Range including furry friends Huggable Avocado and Huggable Unicorn.

Traditional family board games are represented by Hamleys Dicii Snakes & Ladders, plus Mattel’s Barbie Dream House, Playmobil’s City Action Police Special Operations Police Robot and L.O.L. Movie Magic Dolls all make the list.

Victoria Kay, head of buying at Hamleys said: “Our 2021 top picks for the most wanted toys this Christmas include accessible toys that will really allow children to harness their creativity and imagination. From the innovative and creative to the digital and classic toys on offer, we can see imagination really playing its part this year, bringing in-person ‘together-play’ back for the festive season. Creating Christmas magic feels more important this year than ever, and we think the top 10 toys will have families playing and creating memories together for Christmas and beyond.”

Hamleys Top 10.

The Hamleys Top Ten Toys for Christmas 2021 are:

Playmobil City Action Police Special Operations Police Robot (Playmobil)

Orboot (Earth): The Educational AR Globe (PlayShifu)

Magic Mixies Cauldron (Moose Toys)

Barbie Dream House (Mattel)

L.O.L Surprise! Movie Magic Doll (MGA Entertainment)

Ralleyz Warrior 3 in 1 RC (Hamleys exclusive)

Lego Super Mario Adventures Luigi Starter Course (Lego)

Nerf Elite Flip 2.0 8 (Hasbro)

Huggables Range (Hamleys exclusive)

Hamleys Dicii Snakes and Ladders (Hamleys exclusive)

Success for The Independent Toy & Gift Show as rebrands for 2022

The recent trade fair at Cranmore Park was held as an in-person event, and next year will return as the INDX Toys & Nursery show.

Exhibitors have spoken of their delight at being back live at The Independent Toy & Gift Show. The two-day event, which took place last month at Cranmore Park in Solihull, was attended by over 50 leading suppliers and next year will get a rebrand when it returns under the INDX Home Banner as the INDX Toys & Nursery show.

Organisers of the show worked hard to ensure the well-being of all its visitors and exhibitors and despite the challenges of holding a live event whilst maintaining Covid-19 safety, it was well attended by retailers from across the UK.

Nick Saunders from Brainstorm heralded the success of this year’s event, saying: “We had a great show. It was a fantastic tonic to be at the coal face again and actually talking to customers face-to-face.”

Buyers too were glad to be back out seeing what was on offer at a physical tradeshow.

“As the buyer for Wicked Uncle, I attend a lot of shows. From toy to gift, stationery, nursery, beauty, book fairs and more – in 2019 I visited a record 27 shows. Without doubt, The Indie Toy & Gift Show is my favourite by far,” said Liam O’Shea, of Wicked Uncle. “Smoothly run, with easy access, comfortable and welcoming, this is the show of the year for me. It is so good to chat to suppliers in such a relaxed setting and we do some great business there, regularly place large orders.”

Su Gill, of  Morley Stores, added: “A huge thank you for organising a terrific show. It was so wonderful to be able to see suppliers and products, many of them for the first time this year. There was a real buzz in the showroom.”

The INDX Toys & Nursery show returns to Cranmore Park on 6th and 7th April 2022. The addition of Toys & Nursery will expand and strengthen the existing INDX Home portfolio which already includes Furniture, Housewares, Linens, Beds & Bedroom and Gift Food, and is curated by buying group AIS (Associated Independent Stores).

“The Independent Toy & Gift ethos has a lot of similarities with the key values that the INDX brand stands for, such as providing a business and buyer focused approach to shows and a commitment to meeting the diverse requirements of today’s retailers. We are delighted to be joining the INDX family and we look forward to welcoming everyone to the launch show in April 2022,” said Rosie Marshall, head of toys & children’s gifts, AIS.

All INDX trade shows offer free admission and free on-site parking and are located at Cranmore Park in Solihull, close to the M42. For more information on the show click here.

Buyer registration for INDX Toys & Nursery is now open and can be accessed by clicking here.

Hornby introduces new BrickPunk range of construction kits

BrickPunk is now in stock in the lead up to the busy Christmas period, when Hornby believes the range will come into its own as a gifting opportunity.

Designed in conjunction with Bassett-Lowke SteamPunk Models, Hornby has launched BrickPunk- a new construction brick range which is markedly different to anything else on the market. The BrickPunk range consists of a series of construction kits which feature between 121 and 563 pieces, providing hours of entertainment for children and also kidult builders. Each kit also includes a figure to fit in with the model theme.

The range comprises kits including horses, a tractor, steam walker, tank, glider and airship, which all tap into the Steampunk genre, giving them a distinctive look and feel.

Hornby’s Montana Hoeren told Toy World: “BrickPunk takes Steampunk to another level. With price points ranging from £10.99 -£27.49, these sets make ideal Christmas gifts for not only children, but adults too. Our design team used many complicated building techniques to make the models extremely realistic, but they are easy enough for anyone to put together. The pair of Steam Horses has had a particularly strong reaction from everyone who has seen them. All of the models are sophisticated enough to appeal to adults – the finished models don’t appear to be made from brick pieces.”

Hornby says the world of BrickPunk is a world of war between empires and eco warriors that despise them. During this never-ending fight for justice, builders are invited to help construct steam machines.

There are seven models to collect in total: Shockwave Attack Glider, Arachnid Steam Walker, Comet Horsebot, Gaussian Blimpoid, Frenzy Horsebot, Scoundrel Tractoid and Vortex Tractional Tank.

The Steampunk fantasy alter ego hobby has become a global phenomenon among enthusiasts of all ages and genders, and such is its popularity that there are now many events and conventions attracting large numbers of participants dressed in a cross between historical and fantasy-based outfits, with the design heritage firmly entrenched in the Victorian era.

Under the Bassett-Lowke brand, Hornby has created a fascinating assortment of Steampunk inspired models and accessories to allow a fantasy Victorian world to be created. Last year, Steampunk inspired model railway items were launched including specially created military locomotives, wagons, buildings, figures and other accessories. With the BrickPunk range, this world can now develop further for fans of the genre.

To be kept updated on the BrickPunk range follow Bassett-Lowke on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

For more information, see the website here.

 

University Games kicks off Q4 Media Campaigns

Q4 Christmas Media activity includes heavyweight TV, radio and online for Subbuteo plus campaigns for a selection of the company’s bestselling family games.

Games and puzzles specialists University Games has set in motion its Q4 Christmas Media Campaigns. A major focus will see primetime TV, radio and high-profile online campaigns for the iconic table football game, Subbuteo. Several of the company’s ever-popular, bestselling family games will also see significant investment in digital campaigns.

The heavyweight media schedule for Subbuteo kicked-off in September, with core timing running across mid-October through to December. It will include TV advertising within family, sport and adult time with the inspiring and nostalgic family-led creative Subbuteo TV commercial, featuring the voice of the sporting broadcasting legend John Motson. The TV exposure will headline supporting activity that includes radio partnerships, YouTube and social media plans as well as digital activity with Sky Sports Premier League videos and highlights both in app and online.

In addition to the Subbuteo campaign, there will be comprehensive TV, online and social coverage for the ever-popular Smart Ass, as well as digital and social campaigns for bestsellers Kersplatt! and Dumb Criminals, and newcomers for 2021, Judge Your Friends and 5 Star Review, which will all benefit from significant digital marketing campaigns in the run-up to Christmas.

Gemma Lewington, marketing director at University Games and The Lagoon Group, said she is is excited to get these powerful marketing campaigns underway and eager to see the impact that they create: “Subbuteo is an iconic game that was a bestseller last Christmas. With the new Official England Lionesses Main Game – the first all female Subbuteo team – now available, this family favourite is certain to be featuring on Christmas lists this year.”

“Smart Ass, Kersplatt! and Dumb Criminals are also high performing and brilliantly entertaining family board games and the two new games, 5 Star Review and Judge Your Friends are on trend and perfect for a hilarious night in with family or friends,” added Gemma. “With these new and exciting lines supported by extensive campaigns running on TV and across social and digital media channels, University Games is set to create a bang for Q4.”

University Games and The Lagoon Group offers a comprehensive portfolio which includes the ever-popular lines Subbuteo, Smart Ass, Sort It Out, Stupid Deaths, Kersplatt, Lagoon Table Tops, What’s Up and Don’t Say It, as well as Football Stadiums, Harry Potter and Game of Thrones 3D puzzles.

Retailers can find out more on the University Games website, or follow the company on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Exclusive – Stock tactics: Talking Shop

In this month’s Talking Shop, Sam Giltrow caught up with Toys N Tuck, Osborne Sports & Toys, Roys Toys and Toys Galore.

Indie retailers told Sam that they have been getting ahead for Q4 in terms of orders, welcoming customers shopping early, shopping local and availing themselves of dedicated advice and support.

At Toys N Tuck in Southend, Emma Dadswell revealed that after a ‘fantastic’ summer, footfall shows no signs of slowing. “Every day has been busy, and we’ve not had a quiet period, even with the kids now back at school. We keep track on our average spend; our sales figures are up by at least 30% on 2019, which is amazing.”

Emma has taken a pragmatic approach to potential stock shortages: “What will be, will be,” she told us. “We are not going to be short of stock, we just may be short of selected lines, which in a sense is always the way, especially with TV advertised lines. Having said that, we are trying to pre-empt any disappointment by bringing in some lines earlier and stocking up on product we think will be hot.”

Will & Libby Osborne, from Osborne Sports & Toys in Rushden, have also enjoyed a very good summer. A traditional toy shop, now in its 66th year, the business prides itself on its local reputation and reliability. Will told us: “I have seen people buying early for Christmas and others asking what our stock will be like. Fortunately, the toy market has a wide breadth of choice.”

The couple is looking forward to meeting up with suppliers and reps again. “It’s much easier to do orders that way, rather than just looking online or through catalogues, which can be very time consuming,” they explained.

In Wroxham, Paul Roy of Roys Toys, was anticipating a highly successful second half. “People are definitely revealing their passion for real world shopping, and we see that preference continuing,” he said. “I encourage staff to explain the pros and cons of different product options to customers, so that we can try and please everyone.”

Paul is another retailer who can’t wait to return to trade shows. “I truly believe the best, and only coherent, way of buying is to see and touch toys in person,” he added.

Meanwhile, Donald Nairn of Toys Galore in Edinburgh has been pleased to see the craze for fidget toys continue and is of the firm opinion that in store shopping can never competely replace online transactions. “Online certainly has a use, but it is not the be all and end all; some lines are just not suited to online purchase,” he explained.

Donald sees problems with stock shortages as an opportunity for independents. “They can stock up and be well prepared,” he told us. “So far, there hasn’t been as much discounting this year; a trend I expect to continue. As long as we have stock, I think this Christmas will be absolutely nuts.”

To find out more, including what each retailer told us is selling well at the moment, read the full article from the October edition of Toy World, here.

Exclusive: Letter from America with Rick Derr

This month, Rick reveals lessons learned from the pandemic, looking at physical toy stores and how he believes their future is guaranteed.

Rick opened the first Learning Express Toys franchise in the Chicago area in 1996, and then became a sub-franchiser, opening nine more stores.

“Over the last decade or so, we all have questioned at one time or another whether physical brick and mortar toy stores can survive the growth of online services and, most of all, the rise of Amazon,” writes Rick. “It was only natural to question this existence as so many physical toy stores have disappeared, including the mother of all physical locations, Toys R Us, here in the States.”

Then came the pandemic. Nobody was certain what a new retail world would look like, even if they made it to the other side. With some perspective, Rick is now wondering why we were even worried.

He goes in to share his five takeaways from the pandemic, and comes to some very positive conclusions.

“As indie toy store owners, we have an important role to play in the lives of our customers, in the lives of children and as a vital part of a thriving community,” he finishes. “I wish the very best to all out there.”

To read the full article, which appears in the October edition of Toy World, click here.

Spin Master launches League of Legends collection

The new League of Legends Collection will include favourite characters from one of the world’s most-played PC games.

Spin Master has announced the launch of its first collection as the global master toy licensee for Riot Games’ League of Legends.

League of Legends was Riot Games’ debut title, released in 2009 to worldwide acclaim. It has gone on to be the most-played PC game in the world and a key driver of the explosive growth of e-sports.

Now a mainstay in the multiplayer online battle arena, the team-based, strategy game sees two teams of five powerful champions face off to conquer the other’s base. Players choose from over 150 champions to make epic plays and take down towers as they battle their way to victory.

“We are honoured to debut the first of our League of Legends collection, delivering to fans their favourite champions in action figure form and bringing the excitement of the renowned game to the toy aisle,” said Chris Beardall, Spin Master’s president of Toys and chief commercial officer. “Our assortment of core and collector figures deliver innovation, meticulous attention to detail and enhanced collectability for the massive international League of Legends fan base, both on and offline – and this is just the beginning.”

“Our mission is to make it better to be a player,” added Ashley Maidy, head of Global Consumer Products at Riot Games. “This involves extending the joy of our League of Legends IP into the real world through a variety of products including toys and collectibles. We are excited for players to see more of the Spin Master collection in the coming months.”

The initial wave of the League of Legends Collection includes:

  • 6” Collector Figures, which feature sculpted and deco, premium paint and plastic and a material finish. The figures have over 18 points of articulation, game inspired premium accessories and a thematic figure base. Thresh and Zed options are available.
  • 4” Core Figures 5-Pack, which feature sculpted details and deco, plus over 12 points of articulation in a convenient five pack. Characters included are Ekko, Caitlyn, Heimerdinger, Vi and an exclusive version of Jinx.
  • Individual 4” Core Figures, which feature sculpted details and deco, a figure base and over 12 points of articulation. Champion favorites include Darius, Yasuo and Jinx.

To mark the occasion, Spin Master teamed up with two renowned toy photographers, Mitchel Wu and Jax Navarro, to create dynamic imagery to honour the champions and highlight the authenticity of the figures.

Spin Master’s League of Legends collection is suitable for fans aged 12 years and over and is available now.

Visit leagueoflegends.com for more information and follow @leagueoflegends on social media.

 

 

Selfridges unveils its top Christmas toys for 2021

The retailer says Christmas-related online searches are 225% ahead of forecast as excitement for the festive season builds and customers shop early.

Selfridges has revealed its pick of the toys it believes will be topping kids’ letters to Father Christmas this year, with a number of household names making the list. The retailer’s predictions for the best-selling toys include an array of interactive and fun-filled Christmas gifts that will keep little ones entertained over the Christmas period and long after the festivities end.

Selfridge’s picks are as follows:

  • Luigi Starter Set (Lego)
  • Jiggly Pets Tan Tan the Orangutan (Character Options)
  • Little Live Pets Gotta Go Turdle (Character Options)
  • Paw Patrol Movie Ultimate City Tower (Spin Master)
  • Playtent Grey Star (Kids Concept)
  • Micro Scooter Eco Mini Deluxe (Micro)
  • Deluxe Interactive JJ Doll (Bandai)
  • Barbie Transforming SUV (Mattel)
  • Le Toy Van Shop & Café (Le Toy Van)

Two of the toys – the Micro Scooter Eco Mini Deluxe and the Le Toy Van Shop & Café – are highlighted as ‘Project Earth’ toys, reflecting consumers’ ongoing desire for products that are eco-friendly and sustainable. The Micro scooter’s deck is made from discarded fishing nets and is built from entirely replaceable parts that will never end up in landfill, while the wooden shop and café role-play set is made from sustainable rubber wood and non-toxic paints.

In 2020, Selfridges’ top Christmas toys list championed Lego’s Adventures with Mario Starter Set, Character’s Little Live Pets Gotta Go Flamingo, and Spin Master’s Paw Patrol Dino Patroller. Clearly, these sorts of toys haven’t waned in popularity among Selfridges shoppers.

BargainMax opens window on top advent calendars

The online retailer has picked its favourite toy-filled advent options available on BargainMax.co.uk ready for the Christmas countdown.

The Playmobil Farm calendar and the Funko Marvel Pocket Pop! calendar both make the cut

BargainMax.co.uk, the online retailer of great value toys, games, and collectibles, has unveiled 2021’s most sought-after advent calendars. The team predicts that these toy-filled delights will be highly sought after as children begin the countdown to Christmas 2021.

Emma Carden, buyer at BargainMax.co.uk, said: “These toy calendars are the perfect alternatives for all those looking to get creative and add a fun twist to the traditional chocolate options, and the best part is that they won’t break the bank.”

Buyers from BargainMax.co.uk are keen to help build the excitement towards the big day itself, and have based their predictions on trends and demand. The list is as follows:

  • The Funko Marvel Pocket Pop! Advent Calendar, which contains 24 Pocket Pop! figures covering a mix of superheroes and supervillains.
  • The Playmobil Back to the Future Advent Calendar is a fun retro choice, designed to transport parents  back to 1985 when the film was released and enable them to re-enact scenes from the sci-fi hit with all the family.
  • The Disney Pixar Cars Advent Calendar is one of the top choices currently on BargainMax.co.uk. The colourful calendar comes equipped with five mini vehicles, including the popular Lightning McQueen and Cruz Ramirez, as well as Cars-themed accessories like tool carts and traffic cones.
  • The Playmobil Farm Advent Calendar features 24 doors around the farmyard, each hiding animals and accessories to help bring the farm to life.
  • The Hot Wheels Christmas Advent Calendar contains eight decorated Hot Wheels vehicles and sixteen accessories, promising to keep kids busy this December.
  • The Premier League 2020/21 Adrenalyn XL Advent Calendar is tipped to be highly sought after this year and is ideal for football lovers.

Emma added: “We’ve looked carefully at shoppers demands and searches throughout the year to ensure we are providing the most popular advent calendars for 2021. It is our mission to always provide value, so we offer amazing, limited time deals and discounts on site, meaning we can cater to all budgets.”

Visit the BargainMax website here.