Hope for the best… it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 4th September 2020

Most people accepted a while ago that trade fairs were essentially off the menu for 2020, especially those events with an international visitor profile. The occasional, focused domestic show may yet survive (some suggest Deauville?), but in the main, toy community attention has switched to the fate of toy fairs in Q1 2021.

As we closed the office early last Friday ahead of the Bank Holiday, I cheerily suggested “Don’t worry, nothing’s going to happen now.” Well, that turned out to be the opposite of prophetic: a few hours later, we received the announcement that the New York Toy Fair was being postponed.

Ironically, the last of the major international Q1 shows (from a calendar perspective) was the first to announce that it was being pushed out to an as yet indeterminate date in the spring. We shared the news, and my assumption that everyone had clocked off for the weekend and was already in the pub (physically or metaphorically speaking) was as accurate as my comment about nothing happening – it became our most read story of the week in a matter of (after) hours, showing the level of interest the toy community has in the subject.

So, what happens next? As our (in)glorious leader might say, “Hope for the best, plan for the worst.” As far as New York is concerned, we wait on a new date, while debating the merits of a postponed show. As I suggested a few weeks ago in the Blog, the same conversations are already underway about trade shows in Hong Kong and London, ahead of any official announcement about their intentions. I don’t envy any of the show organisers – these are tough calls to make with little in the way of concrete information to base them on.

A few extra months could potentially make a difference to the quality of these events, but how late can a show be moved and still catch the key retail selection period, especially for the larger accounts? In the UK, if it’s too late for the majors, there are two shows – the AIS Independent Toy & Gift and Toymaster shows – which take place in late spring that already cater for the specialist channel (while the same is true for the Astra show in the US). For shows thinking of postponing, where is the window of opportunity…and indeed, what exactly is the opportunity? In the US, Walmart and Target will apparently be building their spring planograms via photoshop, so it seems that some major retailers have already decided to pursue a different course for 2021. Do postponed shows become early ‘22 preview opportunities instead, pitting them against Distoy, which could itself become a pivotal event next year, especially if Hong Kong is a no-go.

In relation to Hong Kong, there are two separate strands to consider – the official toy fair and the TST showrooms. Can a consensus be reached to run them concurrently? If the two events take place at different times, will attendance at both be impacted? And then there are the international travel restrictions and quarantine situation to take into consideration: Hong Kong has currently reduced the number of daily covid cases to single digits. What are the chances it will throw open its borders and all that potentially entails, especially with winter coming? And even if some international visitors are granted exemption, Americans would surely be at the back of that particular queue.

With all the shows, you can see why there is a temptation to buy some time by postponing, but whether a three-month delay would transform their fortunes remains the crux of the debate.

Meanwhile, as the global toy community grapples with these conundrums, UK toy suppliers and retailers have a delightful extra curveball to factor into the equation – the looming Brexit deadline. This week we’ve seen some clarity emerge on the impending CE Mark situation, but the official government guidance – such as it is – throws up just as many questions as answers. All the extra testing or mould modification required look likely add to the financial burden of companies still recovering from this year’s pandemic. And then there are the other niggling bureaucratic hurdles – lorry parks in Kent, 50,000 new customs officers – which suggest that far from being reduced, we are about to face an explosion in red tape. It has been suggested (by a well-positioned source) that a certain Mr D. Cummings wants to personally oversee everything to do with Brexit – so while industry bodies can talk to the experts in the government departments, none of them appears to have any say in the final documents, because Dodgy Dom famously doesn’t trust civil servants. What could possibly go wrong? Actually, don’t answer that…

However, all these potential bear-traps lie some months ahead; there is still all to play for in 2020. The September issue of Toy World landed on desks with a reassuringly healthy thud this week. Believe it or not, this was our 9th birthday issue – and despite all the year’s challenges, it was still packed full of hot new lines that will be hitting stores in the coming weeks. It was accompanied by our annual dedicated Games & Puzzles supplement, featuring the cream of the suppliers from a category that is still very much on fire. The two publications – a whopping 158 pages combined – show that the UK toy trade is very much alive and kicking, facing everything 2020 had to throw at it with aplomb. Yes, I’m sure we could all do without the unnecessary obstacles (especially the self-inflicted ones), but the majority of toy suppliers and retailers continue to thrive in the face of not inconsiderable adversity.

Whatever else happens, holidays are coming. Kids and parents have been reminded of the value of toys and play this year. There will be challenges in the supply chain and logistical hurdles for retailers to overcome in the festive period, but ultimately, we are working with products that evoke a positive emotional response in just about everyone you meet, both inside and outside of the business – and that will hopefully work massively in our favour in the coming weeks. And in the tricky moments, remember – it could be worse. You could be the person at Pokemon responsible for this unfortunate hashtag: ladies and gentlemen, I give you this week’s ‘you had one job’ contender (unless, of course, it was a deliberate attempt to gain extra publicity for something fairly pedestrian , in which case – fair play):

Hope for the best