Just when you thought it was safe to go back on the water, it’s ‘throwback to 2021’ time, as supply chain disruption is firmly back on the agenda once more. The potential impact of this week’s strike at the port of Felixstowe – the UK’s largest container port, which deals with around half of the UK’s standard-size container traffic – has been likened to the Ever Given getting stuck in the Suez Canal by The Entertainer’s Gary Grant. The Union has even threatened that if the dispute is not resolved successfully, it could drag on until Christmas. If that were to happen, it would surely dwarf the consequences of the Ever Given fiasco.
It may not even end there; workers at Liverpool docks have also voted to strike. No date has been given for any action as yet, but apparently it could be called at “any time in the next six months.”
Felixstowe port owner (the massive Hong Kong-based firm Hutchison) has adopted a more sanguine view than Gary and the Union bosses, claiming that the strikes are an ‘inconvenience not a catastrophe’, as “the supply chain has got used to disruption during the pandemic.” Let’s hope that proves to be the case – no-one needs delays in deliveries or additional costs right now. Because School won’t be out much longer, and the race towards the festive season will start soon.
If you believe everything you read, Christmas shopping has already started in some quarters: eBay claimed this week that 32% of Brits are planning to start their Christmas shopping earlier than last year, with 29% allegedly planning to start before the end of August. To be fair, I added the word allegedly into that sentence; let’s just say I remain mildly sceptical of the veracity of these numbers, and suspect it is as much to do with what they would like to happen as the reality of what is actually happening on the ground. You have to admire their optimism, but I wonder if they would say the same if they were hooked up to a lie detector which gave them a massive shock every time they played fast and loose with the truth (a tactic I would particularly love to see used on politicians, but I digress).
Nevertheless, I do agree that some families will see the sense in planning early this year, so that gifts are bought and paid for before the massive jump in the energy price cap arrives in October. Indeed, in ‘everyone loves a list’ news, Midco Toys’ Dave Middleton released his tips for festive best-sellers last weekend. The top 14 picks included a host of Toymaster exclusives, which underlines the direction of travel for many specialists, who are unsurprisingly prioritising lines that they can’t be undercut on over the items that everyone is stocking, which could easily become pawns in skirmishes between big retailers. The list was also dominated by lines up to £30, increasingly the sweet spot for many indies – although Dave also admitted that Spin Master’s Gabby’s Dolls House is already selling well out of season at £80, so let’s not write off big ticket items just yet.
Speaking of writing off things, it gives me no pleasure to say this whatsoever, but it looks like we may well have to write off the Hong Kong January ’23 trip. There were a couple of encouraging developments earlier this week; first, the Hong Kong government rescinded its ban on international visitors being able to visit trade shows during the four days of ‘medical surveillance’ that follow the initial three days of quarantine. Next, it was announced that the Hong Kong Optical Show – originally scheduled for November – will be moving to January to run alongside the Toys & Games Fair. Optimists would have taken that as a strong sign that the January show would be going ahead. Sadly, within hours, a report on Bloomberg suggested that rising Covid cases (the highest number since the end of March was recorded this week) would almost certainly lead to further restrictions,. Even if that doesn’t happen, it is now the uncertainty that is the overriding concern: who amongst us will be sufficiently confident to make travel arrangements when the situation can turn so dramatically in a single day. Ultimately, it seems entirely plausible that the Hong Kong Toy Fair may well go ahead in January, but the chances are it will be a largely domestic event this time round.
Over in the US, Macy’s has been talking up its partnership with Toys R Us, suggesting it is targeting annual sales of $1b from the arrangement. Once again, I find myself admiring their optimism, while wondering if it is a realistic aspiration for them to grab 2.5% of the highly competitive US toy market in year one. That said, the US market has lacked a strong specialist toy operation since Toys R Us’ demise – something which European toy communities don’t have to worry about. This side of the pond, I think we can all agree that the health of specialist operations can only be a good thing for the toy market as a whole – so let’s applaud Toys R Us’ ambition and wish them all the best in their goal. And no, I have no further news on what is happening with the Toys R Us UK operation – hopefully there will be something to report soon.
Finally, there have been numerous stories this week, highlighting the fact that the ending of the new Minions movie has been changed in China: unlike the original movie, the Chinese version does not end with ‘baddies’ Gru and his mentor Wild Knuckles riding off into the sunset. Instead, the more ‘morally conscious’ Chinese cut sees Wild Knuckles jailed, while Gru becomes one of the good guys. Mind you, wouldn’t it be great if we could rewrite the endings of some of the news stories at the moment…perhaps we should ask China to come up with a new end for the port strikes where everyone goes back to work happy and content, and the energy companies decide that they have made such obscene profits that they don’t have to double the price to consumers and businesses after all. (It might get a few more people back to the office though, so perhaps it might be a happy ending after all…).