Irony alert …it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 25th November 2022

Another lively week out at the retail coalface, which may yet turn even more lively as the dreaded/golden opportunity (delete as applicable) Black Friday weekend is upon us. The toy community will no doubt be keeping a close eye on pricing across the market, as the post-pandemic landscape sees retailers adopting a far more aggressive promotional pricing strategy than we’ve seen in the past few years. This approach has almost certainly been exacerbated by soft trading in the early autumn, coupled with a general surfeit of stock. Someone even suggested to me this week that the jobbers have too much stock – if true, that really is the height of irony.

There will be time after the season ends to reflect on whether it was a good idea to cut prices to the bone or not – it’s easy to talk about ‘holding your nerve’ when you are sitting where I am, but pricing is so dynamic and reactive these days that inaction is sometimes a risky option.

The retail arena is also as unforgiving as ever; the news that Wilko is apparently seeking a £30m emergency loan shows that even established players in the value sector – perceived by some as less likely to be impacted by prevailing economic headwinds – aren’t entirely immune.

Still, as I said in last week’s Blog, there are also plenty of signs of encouragement amidst the chaos; one salesperson contacted me after he read the Blog to confirm that he had just received an order from a major account for one of his leading lines which was “pretty much double the original.” As he said: “If the price is right, people are buying.”

In addition to the economic challenges, we have another curveball to deal with this year – the World Cup taking place during the run-up to the festive season. One indie told me that Monday trading was way down, as England played their opening game at lunchtime. At least the next two games are evening games – and who knows, there might even be a welcome ‘feelgood factor’ if we progress to the latter stages of the tournament.

We’ve seen some significant moves in the toy job market in recent weeks: Justin McGiffin has joined Rubies as head of Licensing; Andy Clempson has joined Funko Far East to lead the Asia regional commercial team; Craig Salt has announced that he will be leaving The Range in the New Year, where he will be replaced by Natalie Miller – and I also hear on the grapevine that Bargain Max will be announcing a very well-known addition to its ranks soon.

In fact, I’ve been hearing quite a few interesting snippets of gossip recently: we have definitely reached that time of the year where change is afoot. Pre-Show Noel has been taking place in Deauville this week, and word reached me that the event organiser is planning to branch out with a new event in a different country, aimed at a completely different audience next year. More news on that development when I am officially able to share, but it will potentially add another intriguing option into the global toy trade event mix.

Of course, the big question is – how many events does the global toy industry truly need? And where and when should they take place? There is no doubt that the traditional toy calendar is in the process of being well and truly shaken up. We’ve seen some traditional trips dropping off the radar in recent years, as well as some toy fairs moving to completely different times of the year. But while many suggested that the toy calendar was far too congested and needed streamlining, ironically it seems the opposite has happened; we’ve seen fragmentation and the launch of even more events, rather than a cull of existing ones and a concentration around fewer, larger trips.

It looks like 2023 could see several new toy shows and events taking place, as well as more frequent trips to places like LA – and with FOMO being a driving factor, I suspect that many people will choose to go to all of them to see what they make of it all. But what happens then in 2024? Will people make definitive choices, or will we end up creating an even more congested calendar for the toy community? Someone pointed out to me this week that – irony alert – some of the most vociferous voices suggesting there are too many events are the very same people who attend just about every one of them.

I used to have the same conversation with some people about trade magazines: “John, why are there three UK toy magazines – it’s bloody ridiculous”. Occasionally, I needed to gently point out that while they continued to advertise in all of the magazines “just to be fair and keep everyone happy,” they were part of the problem. Eventually, the penny dropped and the lack of advertising support has led to the demise of one magazine…so far. The same will apply with shows and trips; if everyone continues to moan that there are too many trips but nevertheless continues to go to every single one for fear of missing out, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that events will only continue to proliferate.

In the short term, what we do know for certain is that the two main opportunities for retailers to see product in Q1 will be the London and Nuremberg Toy Fairs. Our January issue, previewing both shows, is now 90% full. If you are one of the few toy or licensing companies that hasn’t yet booked your space in what will undoubtedly be the biggest, best and first preview to hit desks in the New Year, you need to be quick, as deadlines are rapidly approaching. Retailers will have to cram a lot into the two shows this year, with no Hong Kong or New York trips to mop up appointments – don’t miss the chance to tell them why you should be on their ‘must see’ list for the two shows.

Finally, with the big England v USA World Cup match taking place tonight, two toy retailers have already started the transatlantic banter ahead of the big game. Nice to see a bit of ‘friendly’ rivalry (as long as we don’t lose, of course):