If I knew I would tell you …it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 17th December 2021

I have been thinking of changing my voicemail message all week – to something along the lines of: “Thank you for calling Toy World. If your enquiry is about whether the Nuremberg Toy Fair is going ahead, congratulations – you are our 1000th caller today, you win a special prize.”

Clearly, it is a fluid situation, with a fair amount of questionable and – in some cases outright misleading – information circulating. I am certainly not going to make matters worse by commenting on or repeating speculation. However, without doubt, everyone needs clarity now as a matter of urgency. I have just seen a communication which states that the board of directors will be meeting today (Friday) to evaluate the situation and will communicate their decision to exhibitors later this afternoon. Assuming that timeline is correct, we will of course share the information as soon as it is available. Hopefully it will be positive news.

The Bavarian Infection Control met this week and decided to keep regulations as they are, with a promise to review current guidelines again by 12th January – so they certainly aren’t precluding the show from taking place at this juncture.

I am aware that a survey was sent out to a selection of Nuremberg exhibitors earlier this week, asking if they still intended to exhibit at the ’22 show. There were four options, ranging from definitely yes to definitely no, with a couple of ‘maybe / maybe not’ choices thrown in the middle to gauge the strength of feeling (now wondering whether the questions were based on the organisers’ favourite Oasis album…?).

It will be fascinating to hear what the response to the survey was – and I wonder if a similar survey will be sent to potential visitors? It is, of course, a very difficult question to answer (especially for visitors), as the virus situation is changing on a daily basis – albeit I am hearing that the infection rate is stabilizing in Bavaria, which is certainly encouraging news. A few UK buyers have expressed concern this week that they have been told there would be no UK presence on some of the ‘larger’ stands this time round – nothing personal I’m sure, but they don’t seem keen to be shown the range by a German salesperson who isn’t familiar with their account.

The challenge for all concerned is that a final decision needs to be taken soon, without knowing what may happen between now and when the show opens– indeed, since I started writing this column, I have just found out that France is toughening travel rules for UK visitors, requiring them to have a ‘compelling reason’ for their visit. Interestingly, business trips are not permitted under the new restrictions. It doesn’t help that these sorts of measures could be introduced while you are abroad, adding all manner of complications to what used to be a straightforward international journey, and that is without all the additional testing and paperwork requirements.

(UPDATE: A statement from the Nuremberg Toy Fair organisers was released on Friday – click here. There has also been new travel guidance for visitors to Germany.)

Covid is rearing its head in China again too – new Covid cases have been reported in Tianjin and Guangzhou this week, including the Omicron variant, but the outbreak in Zhejiang, another major manufacturing heartland which is also home to the Ningbo port, remains the most serious, forcing many companies operating in the region to suspend operations.

Last week’s supply chain seminar – which we ran in conjunction with our great friends at the BTHA and TIE – touched on the possibility of further Covid-related disruption next year, along with many other facets of this complex subject. If you missed it live, you can view a recording of the seminar here, while there will be a handy Tldr summary of some of the points discussed in our monster January issue.

There was, however, a fascinating postscript to the seminar: a few days after it aired, I was contacted by an anonymous person from the shipping industry…to all intents and purposes, a whistle blower. I had never heard from him before, but in fairness he seemed to know what he was talking about. He had listened to part of the webinar talking about what may happen with container pricing next year, and he had a very different take on it to our panellists: please take this in the spirit I offer it (it’s the opinion of an insider, sure, but he doesn’t have a magic crystal ball any more than anyone else), but in his view, we could see container rates reach as a whopping $25,000 at some points next year. He was also pretty scathing about the behaviour of certain individuals and companies within the shipping sector, suggesting that some pretty nefarious activity is going on behind the scenes. One thing I think most people agree on: next year’s supply chain will remain volatile and unpredictable, with the potential for major swings in terms of pricing, capacity and quality of service. It is something that everyone will need to keep a very close eye on – in fact, on almost a daily basis, just as you would if you dabble in stocks & shares or play Fantasy Football seriously (whatever your poison is).

There have been a couple of major news stories this week: the new Toys R Us UK operation has made its first hire, appointing former TRU marketing person Mike Coogan, which suggests that the new owners value the experience of someone who has been closely associated with the brand in the past. Elsewhere, it has been announced that Shahbaz Khan will be leaving Clementoni at the end of January, while Character Options and the Smyths Toys Irish business both unveiled a strong set of financial results and Tobar / H Grossman / HGL / Ozbozz / Kits for Kids has revealed that it will be going into ’22 with a new name – One for Fun Ltd – as part of a total rebrand. Given the number of names it has previously been called by, as well as the number of brands the company distributes, harmonising everything into one unifying entity makes perfect sense. Hopefully the new name will soon be imprinted on everyone’s memory.

Finally, it’s not just Father Christmas who is making a list and checking it twice. We have our own list running at the moment, referred to in-house as the ‘deadline dodgers’. If you suspect you are on the list, we’d all really appreciate if you can do your utmost to get yourselves crossed off as soon as possible (that also applies to licensing companies whose painfully protracted approval process is holding up your licensees from supplying their ad copy). It’s a gargantuan issue – Radio Times Christmas issue eat your heart out, ours is way bigger – so we really do want to make sure it arrives with readers early in the New Year, so they have plenty of time to read it before they head down to Olympia and hopefully over to Nuremberg. We aren’t one of those publishers who sneak an issue out the day before the show and hope no-one notices…how they sleep at night I just don’t know. But we can only get that issue onto desks on time if everyone does their bit…so thank you in advance for all your help and support in getting this over the line. I promise the extra effort now will all be worth it when ‘the beast’ lands with an almighty thud on your desk early in January.