Two weeks to go, and as the temperature gauge plummets alarmingly, things are definitely hotting up at retail. By all accounts, since we got Bonfire Night out of the way, there has been a tangible upsurge in retail footfall and consumer spend. I went into town for a screen break yesday, and it was the busiest Thursday lunchtime I have seen for a very long while. I’ve seen reports on social media of retailers working 14-hour days (or even longer), but at least it sounds like the rewards are finally worth the effort.
Given the ongoing Royal Mail dispute and the unavoidable knock-on effect for courier services, I would imagine that most consumers will be far happier to go into store and physically get their hands on the products they want from now on, rather than risk online shopping and home delivery. Hopefully that means two further weeks of metaphorically ringing tills (note to headline writers: tills haven’t actually rung since I worked part-time in a shop while still at school in the late 1970s).
The UK is by no means alone in facing economic challenges this year; I am told that sales in Europe have been impacted too, while the tales of massive stock surpluses in the USA are certainly causing concern amongst suppliers. That stock has to go somewhere, and it won’t necessarily stay on the other side of the Atlantic. But that is a conversation for another day, once we get to the other side of Christmas: Q1 is undoubtedly going to be interesting, but first things first – the next two weeks is still very much a land of opportunity.
While shopping centres are getting busier, I do have one small bugbear: the proliferation of pop-up stalls selling toys and novelties of dubious repute. There is even stall in the shopping centre in Hemel Hempstead, where our office is based, which is openly displaying knock-off character merchandise (soft toys etc). It reminds me of the sort of merchandise you see at a fairground or in these really dodgy seaside shops – and yet there it is, bold as brass, a few steps away from a branch of The Entertainer. I genuinely can’t believe that the centre owners don’t conduct thorough due diligence on who is renting space from them …especially pop ups that are only there for a few weeks in peak season, taking business away from tenants who pay to be there all year round. Very naughty.
We’re not pulling 14-hour days ourselves, but we certainly have an intense December, putting together the behemoth that is our January Toy Fair edition. We’ve managed to get out to a handful of previews, but we have to be extremely selective, otherwise we would never get an edition of that size to print in time. However, those we have attended have revealed some excellent new lines coming through for next year and, reading all the submissions for our Toy Fair issue, there is a whole lot more being unveiled at the shows, which I can’t wait to see in London and Nuremberg.
If you haven’t registered for the shows and booked your trips yet, don’t forget to get everything sorted in plenty of time: far from there being lots of last-minute bargains, it seems that prices of everything – from trains and planes to hotels – are more likely to increase when you book at short notice. And if you can stay for a few days, I am sure it will be time very well spent.
I envy my friends who work in the kind of industries that spend most of December partying and entertaining clients. I’m sure just about all of us are far too busy this month to leave our posts for any length of time. However, it was great to catch up with a bunch of people from the toy community at last Saturday’s Fence Club Christmas Ball, which raised a fantastic £13,000 for the Fence Club charity through the raffle. I also attended a Hasbro Licensing party one evening this week; with the unfortunate cancellation of the Warner Bros Christmas lunch due to train strikes, Hasbro seems to be the only licensor which has managed to go ahead with a festive event this year – cheers guys!
Speaking of Hasbro, the trailer for next year’s Transformers movie – Rise of the Beasts – has been released, and I have to say that I was mightily impressed. It struck me that the theme lends itself perfectly to toys and licensed merchandise, and I am genuinely excited to see the ranges from Hasbro and its licensee partners that will accompany the movie release next summer.
Several other movie trailers have been released recently, including Indiana Jones, which looks like a return to form – thankfully, it appears that the ‘Crystal Skull’ abomination has been wiped from the annals of the franchise, which can only be a good thing. I doubt there will be that many toys available, but maybe I’ll be proved wrong. My left-field tip for 2023: Wednesday, the Netflix series based on The Addams Family. While at first glance some people might think it is a bit edgy and perhaps not toyetic, you could easily have said the same about Stranger Things, and that certainly surprised a few people.
Finally, congratulations to the British Toy & Hobby Association, which raised a record amount – a whopping £19,250 – for the Toy Trust from its Christmas card initiative. The ad, which featured the logos of all the companies taking part, appeared in the December issue of Toy World – raising a great sum and helping the environment too. And bearing in mind the fantastic sum raised at the Fence Club Christmas Party, even in tough times, the toy community has once again shown what a generous bunch they are. Let’s hope the public are feeling equally generous over the next few weeks.