I’m on my way…it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 29th September 2023

After I wrote in last week’s Blog that I had caught Covid, I was amazed at how many people got in touch to say they have also had it recently – one person was on her fifth bout! It just goes to show that Covid is still very much in circulation, although I suspect the media blackout reflects the government’s decision to carry on without lockdowns or any other form of restrictions moving forward.

I am just grateful I caught it when I did – although I was forced to miss the Play for Change award ceremony, had I contracted it this week, it would have jeopardized my forthcoming trips to the New York Toy Fair and BLE. Instead, I should be fizzing with antibodies, which will hopefully help to protect me on my travels.

The New York Toy Fair is going to be interesting – the first show since 2020, and the first in its new timeslot. Will the shift from February to September be a success, and more importantly, will it be a permanent move? I read a Blog from Jay Foreman on Global Toy News a couple of days ago, in which he teased the suggestion that an announcement concerning future dates is going to be made during the show. Assuming he knows something I don’t, it will be fascinating to see what The Toy Association and its board members have decided.

Then it’s an overnight flight home to get down to ExCeL for BLE. When I started looking at my plans for the two events, that arrangement looked perfectly feasible on paper, if potentially exhausting (working 12 days on the bounce including two trade shows, which are always full-on events). That is, until Mick Lynch and his band of merry men decided to throw a spanner in the works. Visitors to ExCeL will now have to contend with a series of travel hurdles, including a National Rail strike on the Wednesday, compounded by an underground strike on both Wednesday and Friday.

Nevertheless, if you scratch below the surface, there is actually a fair bit of good news – the truth is that it could have been a whole lot worse. If you read our comprehensive guide to travel options, it will give you a good idea of just how the strikes could impact your own journey, and what the alternatives are. The good news is that several key train lines should still be fully operational throughout the week, including the Elizabeth Line and the DLR. That will make a huge difference in actually getting to ExCeL once you are in London. There are also a couple of car parks on site and close by, for those who decide to drive instead. Basically, there are numerous ways and means of getting to the show, and hopefully the vast majority will be able to find a route that works for them.

If you are still preparing for the show, a great place to get inspiration and ideas ahead of the event is the October issue of Toy World, which landed on desks at the start of this week. You can read the digital version of the issue here – the special extended Licensing World section features a comprehensive show preview, detailing the key licensors to see at BLE in the kids’ and family space.

Accompanying the issue, we also published a special supplement in partnership with Mattel Licensing, which has unsurprisingly enjoyed a stellar 2023. Indeed, 2024 is set to be another landmark year, with the company celebrating Barbie’s 65th anniversary. So, what better time to be looking at everything that is happening with Barbie and Mattel’s entire licensing portfolio, in conjunction with its leading EMEA licensees.

In other news this week, The Entertainer released its year-end results, which covers the twelve month period to the end of January 2023. The retailer made a £7m profit and increased sales by 1% over the year, which strikes me as a thoroughly respectable performance in what was certainly not a ‘business as usual’ year. Indeed, the numbers compare very favourably with the pre-pandemic results from 2020, even allowing for the far higher energy costs, increases in the minimum wage (+20% versus 2020) and the expansion of the senior leadership team over the past year. All in all, a very solid set of results.

In less positive news, I was absolutely devastated to report the untimely passing of toy sales stalwart Craig Mair. He was such a good person, and he will be sorely missed by his family, as well as his many industry friends and colleagues. The founder and senior producer of Active Pictures, Nick Hancock, has also passed away following a lengthy battle with cancer. Sad times indeed.

Lego has also been making headlines this week, after announcing it would be scrapping plans to make its bricks from recycled bottles. Some media outlets interpreted this as “a blow” to the company’s ambitious sustainability goals, but I just think that is incredibly lazy journalism. Based on my understanding, this is 100% the correct decision and in no way should be interpreted as Lego rowing back on its commitments…quite the opposite in fact. Having established after two full years of testing that this approach doesn’t actually reduce carbon emissions, going ahead with it would simply have been greenwashing – and Lego is far better than that. I think we will see quite a few companies pivoting on their approach to sustainability, as more information becomes available and, crucially, new technologies and options become viable.

I have spoken to many toy companies about sustainability, and there is absolutely no question that the will is there to improve – but it has to be done in the right way, and not impact the quality and integrity of the product. Make no mistake, Lego will get there – but it won’t cut corners or compromise its impeccable quality in the process. The quote from chief executive Niels Christiansen to the FT says it all: “There is no magic material.” Quite.

I look forward to seeing as many of you as possible in New York and at BLE, and hope that everyone comes away from the shows feeling positive about 2024. There is no doubt that it is going to be a rollercoaster ride between now and Christmas, but I still believe there is plenty to play for in the Golden Quarter.