My time at the Hong Kong Toys and Games Fair has come to an end. I have returned to the office for a single day, before heading down to Olympia on Monday. There’s no doubt that the proximity of the two shows causes significant challenges: at one time there was over two weeks between the two events. The show itself remains off the radar of some UK visitors, not currently helped by the fact that it runs a week later than the opening of the Kowloon showrooms. Nevertheless I’ve seen plenty of people from the UK toy community over the past few days: a handful exhibiting, many more visiting. Apparently there were some concerns before Christmas that the pro-democracy demonstrations might deter some visitors (especially from mainland China), but I didn’t see any evidence to suggest that had proved to be the case.
For those already over in Hong Kong – and indeed for those thinking of making the trip next year – there are compelling reasons to attend or exhibit at the show, as well as visiting the showrooms in TST. One exhibitor told me he picked up the Carrefour account at the show last year, while another said that while the showroom appointments were important for his existing customers, he would never pick up random drop-ins or passing trade in the way he can at the show. Sometimes this can be in the form of a retail account, sometimes a distributor for a territory: I saw someone’s appointment list yesterday, and it really was like a roll call of the United Nations.
Retail accounts from all over the world attend the show, and the Chinese mainland is especially well represented. It is a burgeoning market, and consumers favour brands, so there are definite opportunities for global companies to expand in the Asia Pacific region. I also found out – via a very informative seminar given by Toys R Us’s Jo Hall at the show – that the Asian market is not, as she so eloquently described it, as reliant on the “white knuckle ride of Christmas” for sales. There are a number of holidays and events throughout the year – such as China Children’s Day on 1st June – which help to drive sales outside the Christmas period. There were some other great nuggets of information in the presentation about doing business in this part of the world, which I’ll be sharing in our March issue (as I don’t have the space here).
Conversely, a number of UK retailers and distributors walk the halls in search of new product to order or distribute. I saw both Smyths and Menkind on the first morning of the show, while most of the big UK retail chains are represented by their local sourcing teams. When I first came over to the Hong Kong Toys and Games Fair a decade ago, people would say that finding an interesting new product at the show was like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. Most of the exhibitors were ‘bread and butter’ Chinese factories, willing to perhaps shave a cent or two off the price of an existing line, but offered little beyond that: aisles and aisles of similar, generic lines seemed to blur into one. If that is still your impression of the show, I would suggest it might be worth taking a fresh look. Yes, there are still sections populated by Chinese mainland vendors which look like that. But many other sections are far more exciting: Hall 1 and the Brand Name gallery in particular stood out. Of course, old habits die hard: there are some obvious product copies (I’m sorry, you’re not fooling anyone by calling it My Little Penguin, it’s a Furby with big eyebrows!), and many companies don’t like putting their latest products on open view in case they are copied. But I still saw some very interesting new ideas which I would give every chance of working in the UK market.
One toy company owner told me he was at the show for two days, and was struggling to do all he wanted in the time. Truth is that the show has evolved considerably over the past few years, and it’s good to see that it has developed into such a strong event.
Of course, the showrooms continue to be the focus for many global vendors, and I managed to pack a few more in since my last blog. So, to close, I have a few more highlights to mention:
Zuru – Bunch o’ Balloons is going to be a popular Spring Summer 16 line, while there are some interesting extensions to both the Robo Fish and X-Shot lines
Worlds Apart – It’s great to see Rose Petal Cottage back in the range, redesigned and better value than ever. There is also Yugo, an excellent innovation in the pop-up tent category which now makes it far easier to pop down as well as up, and Laser Pitch, which is without doubt the most fun I’ve had in any showroom this week: basically, it’s a machine which fires balls at you which you have to hit with a bat. Apparently I was quite good at it (as perhaps someone who played the odd game of cricket in his youth should be).
Vivid – As something of a Gerry Anderson aficionado / devotee, I’m delighted to say that the Thunderbirds line is looking really strong, especially the vehicles and playsets, which are faithful updates of the old classics. Real FX offers a great play experience, while I – Que, a funny sarcastic interactive robot (basically a version of Cayla aimed at boys) is also great fun.
Dragon-I – Dave Cave was on tremendous form, especially when demonstrating Dar-C the dancing robot, whose moves are clearly based on Dave’s own dancefloor prowess. The new Magic Butterfly is also a nice new introduction: both lines will be TV advertised this autumn. Dave was also giving away a gift: ‘the perfect buyer’ doll, which was very amusing (and I’m sure will be taken in the right spirit by buyers).
Across the whole week I saw an awful lot of Frozen and Minions product (plus there were copious amounts of Star Wars product which, as a media representative, I wasn’t permitted to see by order of the Disney Police): to the person who tweeted after my last blog to say there was perhaps a little too much mediocre merchandise around, let’s just say I have some sympathy with that viewpoint. Nevertheless, there’s certainly no shortage of options for buyers to choose from.
That’s my lot from Hong Kong. I’m off to catch upon some proper sleep before heading to Toy Fair next week. Unlike my American counterpart Chris ‘sleep ninja’ Byrne, my Asian slumbers are not great. During a conversation one morning, it seemed that this problem was also affecting many show visitors, who were apparently to be seen falling asleep on their stands, leaning against pillars and in corners all around the show. This gave rise to a game amongst the international journalists present, to see who could get the first picture of a sleeping visitor. Guess who won…