ICYMI: Is everything OK…it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 29th November 2021

In case anyone didn’t have time to catch up with the latest Blog last week, here it is again for your reading pleasure.

Some of you may remember that we attempted to arrange a shipping webinar back in the summer, which unfortunately had to be cancelled. I learnt a couple of valuable lessons: first, giving advanced technology to a freight forwarding salesperson working from home with dodgy broadband is like putting a learner driver in a Formula One car – it isn’t going to end well. Secondly, if you want to have a frank and honest conversation about supply chain issues, it is probably best not to involve very senior people directly involved in the shipping business. To be fair, I can understand why they wouldn’t want to be ‘black balled’ by shipping owners, and perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised to find out just how vindictive some of those shipping magnates can be.

However, if at first you don’t succeed, there are always other avenues to pursue. So, I am delighted that we have teamed up with two hugely respected toy industry bodies – the British Toy & Hobby Association and Toy Industries of Europe – to bring the toy community a webinar we’ve entitled ‘Supply Chains, transportation and toys – thoughts into the future.’ The BTHA has managed to secure a couple of excellent speakers: Dr John Mangan, who holds the chair in Logistics at the School of Engineering, Newcastle University, and is also visiting professor at the School of Business, Trinity College Dublin, and Iain Prince, associate partner of KPMG’s Operational Transformation practice and head of KPMG’s Supply Chain team. Together they have great understanding of the key issues and what may lie ahead in this fractious and chaotic arena in 2022.

The webinar will take place on Friday 10th December at 2.00pm GMT – if you haven’t already signed up, you can register here. I will be moderating the event, so if you have any questions you would like me to put to our esteemed panellists on the day, by all means let me know. I hope it will be a lively, informative and above all honest look at the whole thorny logistics issue – and hopefully this time, no-one will endeavour to pass off obscene record-breaking profits as ‘just one of those things, a simple supply and demand issue.’ When someone says, ‘nothing to see here’, the journalist in me tends to think the complete opposite.

I covered the evolving Nuremberg situation in last week’s Blog. For those who missed it, events this week have largely reinforced what I was told, at least in the short term. The new coalition government has allegedly blocked outgoing chancellor Angela Merkel’s suggestion for a two week country-wide lockdown – for now. Although, in some respects, maybe it would have been better had it gone ahead, as it could potentially have helped to break the cycle of rising infection rates while there are still over two months to go before the show. However, despite declining an immediate lockdown, the German health minister admitted ‘nothing could be ruled out for the future’. With Bavaria described as a ‘hotspot’ where the situation is ‘very, very dramatic’ and talk of ‘regional measures’ where necessary, I am sure everyone in the toy community will continue to watch the situation extremely closely. I gather that some German companies have returned to working from home, so perhaps preventative action now will help calm the situation down over the winter. We all want the show to go ahead, but equally we all know that the clock is ticking. The Spielwarenmesse organiser has reaffirmed safety measures for the event, which it says it will regularly update in light of prevailing developments.

As we head into the final straight as far as the year’s trading is concerned, it’s good to see retailers not afraid to expand their operations – this week saw the announcement that Menkind has completed the acquisition of Hawkin’s Bazaar and Stocking Fillers, which were both previously owned by H Grossman Ltd – this strikes me as the perfect fit for Menkind and a smart move all round. And in local news, congratulations to Toy Galaxy on the opening of its new Watford branch, which becomes the fifth store in the retailer’s portfolio. It’s very close to a branch of The Entertainer, but I’m pleased to see that didn’t deter them – there is plenty of room on the High Street for good quality toy specialists. I’d also like to congratulate Character Options duo Mark Hunt and John Elliot, who have been promoted to marketing director and R&D commercial director respectively.

Elsewhere, Pre-Show Noël has been taking place in Deauville this week, while preview season is very much in full swing here in the UK. It has been great to visit showrooms again: zoom previews were all very well and good when we couldn’t meet in person, but they were never a substitute for the real thing – and I am sure the vast majority of retail buyers would agree with me.

Finally, I couldn’t finish the Blog without a passing reference to the most talked-about individual in the kid’s market this week…Peppa Pig. Given it takes a donation of around £3m to secure a peerage these days (allegedly), I can’t imagine what incentives were forthcoming to make Peppa Pig World the centre of our Prime Minister’s keynote speech to the CBI. Mind you, a free family entry ticket, a couple of fast passes to avoid the queues and an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet and I reckon he was putty in their hands. Although it was a completely bizarre speech (and slightly worrying – it’s not like we’re trusting this buffoon to get us through a crisis or anything), on one level he was absolutely right – Peppa Pig is indeed a fantastic success story that started in Britain, and we should rightfully be proud of what the team behind the brand has achieved. And in fairness, if anyone has needed a lift this week, looking at Boris / Peppa memes on social media is guaranteed to put a smile on your face. De Pfeffel Pig is my personal favourite – well worth googling.

(Made it to the end and didn’t mention Black Friday once…if there is any fallout or anything worth mentioning, I’ll come back to it next week).