I finally managed to get out of the UK for a couple of days – for someone who loves travelling, 30 months without jumping on a plane felt like an eternity. A bit of time away was long overdue and even though this trip was just a quick city break to Lisbon, it felt great to finally be getting back to some semblance of normality. Or at least it did until I saw the queue at passport control when we arrived in Lisbon – how I looked longingly at the empty lanes for EU travellers while we waited in line for an hour to get through the non-EU section. I can only imagine what it’s like for lorry drivers trying to get deliveries in and out of the UK – and to think that ‘we’ voted to inflict this on ourselves. The danger of giving people what they want is that there can sometimes be unintended, unavoidable consequences.
Talking of giving people what they want, the US Toy Association has announced the new dates for the ’23 New York Toy Fair and has also unveiled some of the thinking behind the decision. Members of the press were invited to a conference call at which Toy Association president Steve Pasierb revealed that the show will take place from 30th September to 3rd October next year – apparently it was not possible to make the change in time for this autumn, presumably due to venue availability. It is worth noting that this date overlaps slightly with BLE in 2023 – the New York Fair will finish on the day that BLE starts. While there is only a relatively modest crossover in terms of exhibitors and visitors for both shows, it will still be an inconvenience – but at least it is only for one year.
The change of date came after the Toy Association canvassed its members and other stakeholders about when and where the show should be held. Steve admitted that the feedback was not unanimous, and that there was no magic solution which would work for everyone. Nevertheless, the end of September was clearly the majority decision – and given that neither November or December were viable options due to Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays / sales periods, and January is already a heavily congested calendar for the global toy community, you can certainly see the logic behind that conclusion.
The best analogy I have come up with is to look at the whole autumn winter selection period as a race, with a start and finishing line: previously, when it took place in the middle of February, the New York Toy Fair was held right at the finishing line…indeed, perhaps after the finishing line. The show has now moved to the starting line – where previously people aiming to get a headstart on selections looked to Hong Kong or previews, the New York Toy Fair is now presenting an opportunity for those retailers who start the process early. Steve pointed to a post-pandemic change in product development and selling in cycles within the US toy community as a key driver of the new timeline.
There will undoubtedly be challenges: not all toy companies would traditionally be ready to present finished lines in September, so some may have to look at shifting their development process forward – although at least they have 18 months to do that. The concerns about the show resembling a ‘walled city’ have already been noted by the Toy Association, which has said it will make a concerted effort to stop that from happening. They’re right to be wary of creating an unwelcoming atmosphere, but how many US companies will be worried about putting new innovations in the public eye so early on? There has always been concern from US companies over knock offs (partly understandable, partly verging on the overly paranoid), which will only be exacerbated by moving the show forward by over four months. And with certain new lines being dependent on selections from Walmart and Target to go into production, some buyers could end up selecting ranges that never even make it to shelves.
Conversely, the change of date could be good for both the London and Nuremberg Toy Fairs – and indeed Toy World. In the past, certain US companies have chosen to wait until New York to unveil their biggest new releases, meaning visitors to the two European shows sometimes only get to see half of the picture. By January 2024, there should be no reason why visitors to London and Nuremberg shouldn’t get to see the full range, including the hottest new lines. I am also looking forward to advertisers being able to include ALL their most exciting new launches for 2024 in our January Toy Fair edition – with nothing embargoed or being kept ‘under wraps’ for a show taking place six weeks later, when some of our readers are making their key selection decisions in the weeks immediately after our issue appears.
On the subject of the London and Nuremberg toy fairs, I have seen a few people on LinkedIn suggesting that they should consider aligning their dates with New York. Having spoken to both organisers in the past two days, I can categorically assure you that there are currently no plans for that to happen. Both organisers are happy with their current timeslots, and while I suspect they will be watching the New York developments to see how the US toy community reacts, they are happy that the timing of their events matches the needs of their own audiences. Production and delivery lead times may well be getting longer: however, selecting spring summer lines before the sun has made an appearance, or making a call on autumn winter lines before festive sales have even started, seems to me to carry an inherent risk – some retailers are large enough to mitigate that risk, others may not be.
Finally, our April issue landed on desks this week and is now available to read online. It’s our largest-ever April issue – and it really does have some fantastic content, including what I believe is one of the best retail articles we’ve ever published, featuring a fascinating conversation between Richard Derr and David Middleton, comparing and contrasting the life of an indie retailer in the US and the UK. Grab a brew and dive in – I promise you won’t regret it.