Different strokes for different folks …it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 25th August 2023

Last week’s Blog about the timing of toy shows and the never-ending debate about when retailers actually make selections certainly struck a chord with many in the toy community, judging by the feedback I received. One company which humbly admitted to being in the ‘20% club’ told me that after a meeting with a major retailer during London Toy Fair in January, selections were finally confirmed on 5th August, with initial orders “squeezed painfully out of them” a week later. Remind me again why some people genuinely believe that all selections are finalised by the start of January…?! That may be true for a select few, but for the majority it is a very different scenario.

There is, however, one point on which just about everyone seems to agree: how many times do retailers actually need to see the same item and have the same discussion with the same people at a different location over a period of 4-6 months? Individual company previews in the US and UK (and I include LA in this group), plus formal trade shows in New York, Deauville, Hong Kong, London, Nuremberg and other localised events…something surely has to give eventually? I don’t think that is a particularly controversial view – but whenever the topic is discussed, a consensus about which trip should disappear is hard to reach.

I have seen some people writing off Hong Kong recently (especially Americans), but surely it is a destination where retailers can focus on lines that deliver good margins, to balance the high profile brands? LA may be a great place to see the big boys, but it doesn’t feel like it is necessarily the best place to source FOB, own label and bread and butter lines. Perhaps the key to an event/trip surviving is having a specific strength and a clear remit which appeals to a different audience to other shows (even if it is a smaller audience).

In my opinion, that is why London and Nuremberg will always peacefully co-exist, despite running in consecutive weeks. London is undoubtedly the best show for the UK market – it gives exhibitors access to the widest cross-section of independent specialist retailers and entire buying & merchandising teams from the major accounts. Nuremberg has a much broader remit across Europe and the world; indeed, the show has become the de facto ‘home’ show for many European countries, not just Germany. Different audiences, different strengths.

Given the fact that New York and LA now run almost consecutively (with an annoying one week gap for international visitors to navigate), will the two events attract different audiences, or alternatively provide different opportunities for certain sizes of exhibitors? Thinking back to the 50-30-20 rule from last week, will those in the 30 and 20% clubs have a better chance of seeing certain retail buyers in New York than in LA, where a lot of their time will be taken up with the biggest players? I think there is a reasonable chance that might prove to be the case, but it will certainly be interesting to see what people have to say about that when I am over in the US next month.

On the subject of upcoming US events, the list of nominations for the TOTY awards has been released this week. And my word, it is a long list: you’ll need a giant Sports Direct mug of coffee before wading through all the nominees. I have previously criticised the UK licensing awards for having too many categories and going on far too long (to be fair, I am only saying what literally everyone else is thinking…). I will be attending the TOTY awards event, so it will be interesting to see how they deal with the challenge of keeping everyone engaged with that many awards to present. I bet they are secretly hoping that Nick Mowbray and Isaac Larian start roasting each other on stage again – that certainly kept everyone’s attention last time. Although with MGA bizarrely not even nominated in the doll category or for Miniverse, and Zuru not being nominated for either 5 Surprise or Snackles (really – who makes these decisions??), we may all be deprived of one of the traditional highlights of the evening this time round.

Back in the UK, unless HMV owner Doug Putnam rides to the rescue at the last minute (as is being rumoured this morning), it looks like we are about to witness the demise of Wilko. The high street retailer long ago ceased to be a significant player in the toy market, and it may even be a bonus if B&M and Pepco/Poundland manage to pick up a chunk of the store estate as has been reported (40-50 stores for B&M and around 100 stores for Pepco are apparently under discussion). But that still leaves around 200 stores that are likely to close and remain empty, putting at least 6,000 jobs at risk – and the final figure may sadly end up much higher.

Those are unquestionably the people I feel sorry for – they have done nothing wrong. And how many of those 6,000+ people are potential toy consumers with kids or grandkids to buy for? As for the owners, it’s hard to have any sympathy for people who took a £3m dividend last year when the company lost £37m. And let’s not forget the whopping £63m shareholder windfall in 2015, when one side of the family sold their shares to the other side. All presumably completely legal and above board – as it always is. One day, maybe we will have a government which will take a look at some of these practices and decide to do something about them. Unfortunately, today is not that day.

Anyway, rather than dwelling on why the law is an ass, let’s end on an upbeat note. Congratulations to Andrew Welch on being appointed country manager UK and Ireland for Eolo Toys and to Paul Bulger and Nicolas Caillaud, who have joined the United Wheels sales team. We have a lovely long weekend ahead of us, before the summer starts to wind down over the next week or so, as normal service resumes in the toy community. Thankfully, the number of ‘out of office’ responses should drop dramatically, as the business end of the year beckons. I, for one, can’t wait.