While no-one is pretending it’s easy at the moment, thankfully it seems that the toy market is continuing to buck the general retail trend. We don’t have the launch of the Argos catalogue in summer to galvanise the market these days, but there are plenty of new lines hitting shelves over the coming weeks to start injecting some excitement and ‘newness’ (a word I dislike intensely – someone please come up with an alternative as soon as possible so it never has to assault my ears or brain ever again) into proceedings.
Overall, retail is pretty grim in the UK right now: according to the British Retail Consortium, sales in physical stores and online have now dropped for three months in a row, while prices in the UK are currently rising at their fastest rate for 40 years. Total retail sales decreased by 1% in the five weeks between the end of May and the start of July, compared with an increase of 10.4% in June last year. And yet…. Mattel shares have actually been rising this week following an upgrade from Goldman Sachs, which was predicated on the belief that toy companies are better placed to withstand economic uncertainty than many other categories.
Hasbro is another business in good shape, as the 200+ attendees at this week’s Peppa Pig partner event learned. There is positive momentum in both the toy and licensed Peppa ranges, and there are already strong brand plans in place for next year, building towards 2024, which will be Peppa’s 20th anniversary. An incredible achievement and you can see why Hasbro intends to paint the trade pink that year. Congratulations to all the winners of the awards given out on the day, brilliantly dubbed ‘The Oinksters’ – there was a strong showing from the toy category, with both Character Options and Wow Stuff triumphant, along with retailers Tesco and Asda.
Toy retailers can also take heart from this week’s Amazon Prime Day, which apparently saw many sale prices looking remarkably like normal prices from last year, and overall, toy deals didn’t seem to be especially prevalent or outrageous. Collectively, the toy community probably heaved a sigh of relief – the last thing anyone needs right now is current or best-selling lines being killed for the rest of the trade in an unnecessary two-day bloodbath in the middle of summer. I liked the way someone described Amazon’s approach: “They want to be the lowest price…but they want the lowest price to be as high as possible.”
Elsewhere, Lego finally confirmed that it would be pulling out of Russia indefinitely. Although the company had stopped delivering products to Russia back in March, its shops remained open despite most other international retailers pulling out of the territory. However, Lego has now confirmed it will be ending its partnership with Inventive Retail Group which ran 81 Russian shops on Lego’s behalf. Even though it did not specifically cite Russia’s invasion of Ukraine for the move, it is unquestionably the right decision for a company as ethically and morally impeccable as Lego.
I was sad to hear that Eaglemoss has given notice of its intention to call in administrators – I remember meeting the team when it first entered the retail space a few years ago and was always impressed with the quality of the product the company produced. Unfortunately, a fall in revenue from £68m to just over £30m in the company’s latest accounts suggests there were significant issues, and there have been murmurs for a few months which hinted that all was not well.
Conversely, Character Options will be delighted to have been appointed by Playmates to distribute the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toy range in 2023: a Classic TMNT range will launch for Easter 2023, followed by a line based on Paramount Picture’s highly anticipated animated new feature film, set for release next summer.
Over in Hong Kong, Hong Kong’s new health chief has claimed that “conditional quarantine-free travel could be allowed by November” – although the word ‘conditional’ appears to be doing a lot of heavy lifting in that sentence. To be fair, readers of the Blog will know that I was told something similar several months ago, so there is clearly movement in the right direction in terms of loosening restrictions. But, as ever, the devil is in the detail – and there were some very mixed messages in the comments attributed to the new Secretary for Health. Within the space of a single article, the possibility of removing quarantine completely and moving to a five day quarantine were both mooted – and those are two very different scenarios for international visitors, especially when you consider the traditional timing of the Hong Kong Toy Fair and the opening of the showrooms in TST.
In addition, it was suggested that visitors could be subject to PCR testing (which is fine) and prohibited from attending “high-risk venues like bars.” Ok, but what about restaurants – or even bar/restaurants? Or trade shows and showrooms? Would these be classified as “high risk venues”? What constitutes the risk – the number of people, the density, the ability to control interactions?
As I see it, a sizeable number of people from the global toy community would welcome the opportunity to return to Hong Kong – but in order to do that, they need reassurance that the goalposts won’t be moved after the trip has been booked, or – heaven forbid – while they are there. No-one wants to be forced into quarantine if something suddenly changes. The challenge is whether anyone in the Hong Kong government can offer travellers a cast-iron guarantee – and if that isn’t feasible, how many will be prepared to take the risk?
Finally, with the new football season a few short weeks away, if you would like to join our Toy World Masters League this year, the entry code is vnpxlv. We already have lots of last year’s contestants signed up, but if you play the game and want to join in and compete with fellow toy people, head to fantasy.premierleague.com or drop me an email firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send you an email invitation.