Exciting times …it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 10th June 2022

I hope all of our British readers – at home and abroad – had a wonderful Platinum Jubilee weekend. No doubt about the big winner from the whole event; take a bow, Paddington Bear. An immigrant who arrived in the UK by boat and managed to evade both the Palace Guards and Priti Patel’s Rwanda extraction squad to share tea and marmalade sandwiches with the Queen – a truly heartwarming vignette (if any of our international readers haven’t seen the televised segment, I can heartily recommend going on YouTube as soon as you have read the Blog. It may even have surpassed the Queen & James Bond film from the last Royal celebration, and that is saying something).

We’ve been doing some celebrating of our own this week, after finalizing a deal to acquire our competitor ToyNews and licensing website Licensing.Biz. Now you know why I wasn’t in Vegas this year; I couldn’t say anything until the deal was signed, sealed and delivered, and unfortunately these things always take a little more time than you hope, especially once the lawyers get involved.

Thank you to all those people who got in touch to offer their congratulations when we announced the good news– it was almost impossible to keep up with all the messages at one point, so I’m sorry if I missed replying to anyone or acknowledging the lovely comments. The whole Toy World team has worked incredibly hard to put us in this position – we are writing a great story, and there are plenty more chapters to write yet.

It’s our first-ever acquisition, and it only took us eleven years. For all those people asking who we will buy next, you may have to wait another eleven years…or indeed, you may not. However, I can say for certain that we aren’t going to start buying random titles in less interesting markets: I have served my time on magazines like ‘Plates n Sh*t’ (not its actual name, but how we referred to it internally), and I have absolutely no interest in going back there. But toys and licensing are inextricably linked, and as we already have a strong toehold in the licensing space through Toy World, this move gives us a platform to extend that footprint, while strengthening our position as the specialist in the kids’ and family entertainment space.

And, of course, it ‘right sizes’ the toy media space. Let’s be honest – there was never room for three toy magazines and websites. In fact, I genuinely believe I could make an extremely compelling case that one great UK toy magazine and website is all anyone really needs. There are enough challenges without triplicating time and effort (and budget) to reach a finite, defined group of retailers. We’re all time poor enough, so having all the information you need in one place will make everyone’s life a whole lot easier and make marketing decisions infinitely more straightforward. We can focus our energy on bringing you even stronger content, which in turn will make us an even more essential media partner for anyone serious about the toy business. It’s a win-win-win…and we all need a few of those right now.

Hopefully the Jubilee weekend and the half term holiday gave a bit of a boost to toy retailers: I gather that footfall in general was up, although there are suggestions that it was the grocers who were the main beneficiaries. And whether they sold a lot of toys, or just a lot of beer/wine, will be interesting to assess when the June NPD data arrives.

NPD recently released some global data for the opening months of the year, which suggests the rate of worldwide toy sales is reverting closer to pre-pandemic levels, with unit sales down but selling prices up, although how much of that is down to inflation would be interesting to evaluate.

Overall, UK toy retailers remain ever-so-slightly wary, with external fiscal headwinds tempering the boundless enthusiasm they have exuded for a while. No-one is over-reacting just yet, but there are a few signs of caution creeping in; one major retailer has apparently postponed all of its June orders until July, with suppliers expected to hold stock that was due for imminent delivery for a further month. Very frustrating, I’m sure. If it all ends up getting delivered in four weeks’ time, I am sure it will be a case of ‘all’s well that ends well’, and it could even be the case that a few retailers pushed for orders a little too early to mitigate possible supply chain issues that may not have transpired.

However, it is equally possible that this is an early example of retailers rebalancing order quantities to reflect a perception that consumer spending will be impacted, unless the government introduces tangible measures to support lower income families and the ‘squeezed middle’. A headline in Retail Week this week pointed to one potential trend to keep an eye on: “A quarter of UK households turn to second-hand market to beat cost-of-living crunch.” Let’s hope that this won’t be too widespread when it comes to toys; I like to think that parents will avoid this where possible, although realistically, there are probably going to be some who have little choice but to cut their cloth this year. However, it’s also important to remember that the entry price point for toys can be comparatively low, and there are many options available for all budgets.

There’s just time to round-up a few of the week’s main stories; congratulations to Ken Goodison on his new role as commercial director EMEA at Maxx Marketing, while I am delighted that Hasbro fended off the unwelcome intervention from activist investor Alta Fox by re-appointing all 13 of its directors. I am sure Hasbro has done the right thing, especially in not spinning off its gaming division, as had also been suggested.

And if you were off for the whole Jubilee week, as many seem to have been, you can catch up on the digital version of our fantastic June issue here. We have plenty more great issues lined up for the second half of the year, and we’ll be bringing you more on our plans to rejuvenate Licensing.Biz in the coming weeks. Exciting times.