It’s all kicking off…it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 19th November 2021

I’ve spent most of this week at Excel for the BLE event – another successful step on the road to trade show recovery. The licensing community has always been a sociable bunch, favouring a face-to-face approach to doing business. So, it was no surprise that people enthusiastically embraced the opportunity to meet up in person once more, leading to a buoyant and convivial atmosphere. Just as we saw at other events in September, people were just delighted to be back together again.

There were a handful of big names missing – hopefully for one year only – which at least one licensor called out right at the start of its presentation. However, this meant the aisles were wider and there were plenty of places to sit and talk – this wasn’t the year for the show to feel ‘crammed in.’ UK attendance was strong, especially amongst licensees – and if international attendance was below traditional levels, that was only to be expected. That said, I had meetings with visitors from Germany, Italy, the USA and Israel amongst others, so there was still a highly respectable overseas presence.

Credit to Anna Knight and the Informa team for putting on such a successful BLE show; they did a sterling job in challenging times.

If you are one of those hyper-organised people (or someone with a 30th wedding anniversary trip to plan, whose wife would not be impressed with her surprise trip being three days in the Novotel at Excel), it’s worth noting that the dates for next year’s event move yet again – not back to the show’s traditional October timeslot, but 20th-22nd September.

Traditionally at this time of year, most conversations open with a question about how festive sales are faring – however, this time round there were two other hot topics everyone wanted to talk about at BLE: the supply chain and what might be happening with the Nuremberg Toy Fair. I’ll leave the supply chain for next week when we’ll have something to announce. So, let’s look at the Nuremberg situation. Most people will have seen the headline news coming out of Germany this week: Covid cases increasing rapidly (65,000 yesterday, and rising each day), low vaccination rates (only 63% of Germans are double jabbed) and Bavaria – home to Nuremberg – being the second worst-affected state. All of the evidence was pointing one way, and lots of people started to put two and two together. Fortuitously, one of the directors of the show was at BLE, so I was able to get some direct feedback on the situation.

Thankfully, it appears that things may not be as bad as they first look. The German government has proposed some measures which have yet to be approved, but at this stage, lockdown doesn’t appear to be on the cards. Nor are trade shows thought to be in danger; some mass events such as concerts and football matches could be temporarily banned, but trade events are being treated separately. There is talk of unvaccinated people not being allowed on public transport, and even a possibility that bars and nightclubs could have a curfew imposed (note to Bavarian officials: if the Irish bars are closed, we riot). But unless the situation deteriorates rapidly and the government is forced to consider even more draconian measures, the feeling is that the show will go on. There will be fewer visitors from some regions (chiefly Asia and the US, I would imagine), but the core German domestic, mainland European and UK audience will hopefully be fine to attend – as long as they have been double jabbed.

The other big story of the week was the news that the trial for The Entertainer to run Asda toy departments will soon be wound up, with Asda taking back control of the toy aisles across its whole estate. Some people will surmise that the trial didn’t work in practice, but I understand the reverse is true. I have it on good authority that the results exceeded all expectations, both in terms of sales performance and customer satisfaction. The news seems to have come as a surprise to store staff (and presumably the team at The Entertainer), as the general perception was that it was all going according to plan.

So why bring the arrangement to a close? This is a very good question, and the answer is likely to be quite complex, with our old friend ‘internal politics’ probably involved. It is, of course, entirely plausible that not everyone at Asda was fully on board with the idea in the first place; you could see why some people would have been uncomfortable. It is also plausible that by smashing every target, the trial has given Asda the confidence in its ability to shift toys in large volumes. But therein lies the conundrum: if it was that easy to deliver the numbers, why weren’t they doing it in the first place? (At least, presumably they weren’t, or the trial would never have happened. Someone, somewhere needed to be convinced of the scale of the opportunity).

Sure, Asda now has all the data from the past year, so maybe they think it will be straightforward to just take everything back in house and carry on hitting the numbers? Maybe it will. But if you tell your board you can do that, I guess you have nowhere to hide – you need to deliver on that promise. Let’s see what happens.

Finally, it has been fascinating watching the Amazon Visa confrontation this week. There have been all sorts of maverick theories about impending wars between large retailers and credit card companies, or how Amazon was attempting to disenfranchise Visa due to its relationship with Mastercard, but apparently our old friend Brexit is very much at the heart of the disagreement. It turns out that Amazon’s decision to run everything from Luxembourg gave Visa the opportunity to increase the interchange fee from 0.3% to 1.5%. The fact that Amazon has announced that it will not stop accepting Visa until 19th January presumably leaves the door open for last-minute negotiation to avert the partnership being severed, but on the basis that one of my contacts received an email this week from Amazon relating to a dispute originally opened in 2019 which is still unresolved, I wouldn’t hold your breath.