As it’s Easter tomorrow, the Friday Blog is coming to you a day early this week. Let’s hope that the Easter holidays bring an upturn in trade – toy retailers and suppliers could certainly do with a bit of a boost after a challenging month, where petrol, food, gas and electricity prices have all risen steeply, making us all feel poorer every time we fill the car up or put the heating on.
Sentiment plays an important role in many discretionary consumer purchases – and while we can put forward a compelling case for toys being considered ‘essential’ for kids, even the most ardent member of the toy community has to accept that we are not exactly at the front of the queue for family budget if the queue also includes eating and heating.
Easter has grown to become an important period for the toy industry over the years: it’s often seen as a decent gauge of consumer confidence and a chance to see what new launches are starting to excite our target audience. With Easter falling a little later in the calendar than last year, the next couple of weeks may give us a sense of just how much impact the current fiscal headwinds are having on family finances, as we head into a traditionally steadier time for toy sales.
Toymaster has recently launched its ‘Buy a toy for Easter’ campaign, and I am sure that many other retailers will be pulling out all the stops to entice shoppers into stores or onto websites – the two-week Easter school holidays certainly result in a lot of kids needing to be kept amused, occupied or entertained. Let’s hope many parents choose toys to help them fill that particular void.
Elsewhere this week, applications have opened for exhibitors looking to be part of London Toy Fair in 2023. Same venue, same timeline, and with the added opportunity provided by the move of the New York Toy Fair from February to September and continuing uncertainty around the viability of the Hong Kong January trip. Toy Fair Season could conceivably go from having four shows in six weeks to only two shows next year – which would certainly make it far easier from a workload perspective, if disappointing for those of us who enjoy visiting Hong Kong in January.
I also understand that the US Toy of the Year Awards will be following the show and moving from February to September; while that will undoubtedly present some challenges – principally, deciding what the year’s hot toys are going to be in August – it will also open up some interesting opportunities for pre-Christmas coverage for the winners. Rather than being a ‘congratulations, well done’ to the toys that did well a month or two ago, the awards will turn into a prediction of what is going to be big in the months to come, allowing winners to capitalize on their award while there are still sales to be fought over. In essence, it will do what Dream Toys aims to do here each year – fire the starting gun on the festive season and point consumers towards the latest hot toys ahead of the industry’s major sales season.
Meanwhile, the situation out in China and the Far East remains in flux; on the plus side, I have seen evidence to suggest that container prices are falling to far more manageable rates – not as low as they were back in 2020, but a long way below their 2021 peak. However, I am sure we are all aware just how sensitive pricing and capacity are in relation to Covid outbreaks, and if you have seen the footage from Shanghai this week – where lockdown really does mean lockdown, with all shops and even hospitals closed, frightening Covid camps and family pets of people who catch Covid being “taken care of” by the authorities in the same way The Godfather took care of his enemies – you will appreciate just how rapidly things could change. Bear in mind that when the Shanghai lockdown was initially announced, it was supposed to be in place for four days. A few days later, it was extended into an ‘indefinite’ lockdown. If that were to happen in a major port city or manufacturing hub, the impact on the global supply chain wouldn’t bear thinking about.
Still, as we have about as much control over China’s Covid policy as we do over gas, electricity and petrol prices (unless there are any Middle Eastern rulers reading this column, in which case can we agree that you can keep Manchester City and Newcastle if you give us a break on the oil prices), there is little point in fretting over things that may or may not happen. We just have to do all we can to let kids ands parents know about all the great new toys coming through over the coming months – and as we have highlighted online this week, from MGA’s Shadow High to Wow! Stuff’s Baby Blue Real FX Dinosaur and many many others – there are some fantastic lines about to hit shelves.
Finally, a few more positives to finish on: congratulations to all of the brave Fence Club members who raised over £20,000 for UK and Ukrainian charities by walking either 25k or 50k last weekend – there is still time to donate if you would like to reward their commendable efforts, just click here. Geomag’s Clive Wooster also led his annual charity walk around the Isle of Wight, raising money for the Brainstrust – there are clearly lots of very athletic people in toy community. I would also like to wish Gentleman Jeff Taylor all the best as he gets ready to step down from his role at Havas in July – although he will continue to play a valuable role in the toy community through his work with the BTHA and the Toy Trust.
And last but not least, a final plug for the digital version of the April issue of Toy World a) because it’s got a wealth of great content, b) because it’s the largest April issue we have ever published (did we mention that?), c) because thousands of people have already read it and if you missed it when it was published two weeks ago, now is a great time to catch up and d) because it’s April 14th and it is still the only toy magazine that has been published in the UK this month. Happy reading and have a fantastic Easter everyone.