Christmas Magic…it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 15th October 2021

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.