Festive frenzy … it’s the Christmas Blog!

Published on: 21st December 2023

Yep, we’re still here plugging away, ironing out the last little foibles on our January issue and making sure it will be a thing of beauty and wonder when it lands with an almighty thud on your doormat early in the New Year. Hopefully by the time you read this – my final Blog of 2023 – we’ll be dotting the final i’s and crossing the final t’s, before our designer Mark has the unenviable task of uploading the spectacularly huge file to our printer’s portal.

Of course, while it is the last working week of the year for many of us in the toy community (and some have already clocked off for the year), I appreciate that for retailers, it is a crucial week. And it’s followed by another massive week after the big day, when many consumers will hit the shops a) to see what is in the sales, b) because they have money or vouchers to spend or c) because they just need to get up from the sofa and out of the house. Whatever their motivation, retailers will be happy to see them (unless they’re bringing products back, of course…).

I’ve read a couple of LinkedIn posts from retailers this week saying that despite the lack of buzz and an absence of the kind of festive frenzy they were hoping for, they’re still trading up on last year – and in the end, the numbers are all that really matters.

On the retail front, we also unveiled the nominees for the Retailer of the Year Awards 2023 earlier this week. Congratulations to all the retailers who made the shortlist, and commiserations to those who just missed out. It is never easy to whittle down each category to only three potential winners. I look forward to finding out who has ultimately triumphed at the presentation during Toy Fair.

I also received a rather bizarre press release this week, highlighting a survey which suggested that over half of small business owners will be working on Christmas Day. According to the survey, many will spend time answering emails, while others will perform general admin tasks like paying wages or checking invoices. I am not sure I entirely believe this survey – I certainly hope it has just been completely made up to flog some kind of business service. Because if it is true, it’s a bit sad. Business owners – small, medium and large – work hard enough all year. Taking a few days off around Christmas is important. You’ve earned it. Whatever needs attention can wait a few days or should be done beforehand. I am not saying this from any particular religious standpoint – more from the perspective that we all need time off to recharge the batteries from time to time, and to spend time with our families.

Whoever was asked to fill in that survey, I can pretty much guarantee that it wasn’t anyone from the licensing community. I received a WhatsApp message from a licensee friend on Monday who had tried to email a licensing contact, only to receive an out of office reply saying that the person wouldn’t be back until 8th January. If his reply was on the latest episode of Sesame Street, his comment would have been brought to you by the letters F (repeated) and S. Although maybe small business owners should be ‘more licensing’? I doubt you will catch many of them working on Christmas Day… (insert your own punchline).

Meanwhile, back in the real world, who had ‘toy shipping disrupted by Huthi rebels’ on their 2023 Bingo card? It appears that the scamps have been targeting ships sailing through the Red Sea with drone attacks, presumably having watched the new series of Vigil and thinking ‘ooh, now there’s an idea we should try.’ In fairness, I shouldn’t be making light of this. Apart from the obvious danger to the ships and crew operating them, the decision by many shipping companies to avoid the Red Sea completely could have significant repercussions for the wider business community.

For toy importers, extended lead times by anything up to two weeks are looking likely in the short term. The diversion being proposed to avoid the Red Sea – a route around Cape Horn – not only takes longer, but will eat up more fuel, which means the shipping companies will surely be looking to offset their increased costs by putting up container prices, just like it was 2022 all over again. Thankfully, this is not a time of the year when many toy companies are bringing in large numbers of containers, but outdoor toy suppliers and companies with big Easter launches will no doubt be keeping a close eye on proceedings. It’s not just the UK either – the US is also likely to be affected if the situation isn’t brought under control swiftly.

On top of that, the Red Sea is apparently the main route for much of the UK’s oil supplies, prompting fears that the price of petrol, which has finally been coming down to a more sensible level, could well bounce back up again. Seriously – and I can’t stress this enough – NOT NOW HUTHI REBELS!

As this is my last Blog of 2023, I just wanted to wish all of our readers across the globe a joyful Christmas and a Happy – and above all Peaceful – New Year. Once our printer confirms that the January issue has been uploaded successfully, we’re out of here to enjoy the festivities – Anita and I have our first Christmas with our granddaughter to look forward to.

The Toy World team will return to the office on Tuesday 2nd January, and the email newsflash service will resume on the same day. Until then, you’re on your own. If any major stories break, I might put a line on LinkedIn, but that’s about it. Have a fantastic festive break and bring on 2024. It has to be an improvement on 2023…surely?!