It’s London, baby! … it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 26th January 2024

It’s the morning after the (incredible) three days before. My challenge – as it is at this time every year – is to get up at the crack of dawn, sink a mountain coffee to fire up the synapses and come up with something different to say about Toy Fair that you won’t read in the ‘official’ post-show releases and haven’t already seen across your LinkedIn feeds all week (although you can find a great review here).

If you were there, you will know that this week’s London Toy Fair was a great success. There was a buzz from beginning to end – even the last day, traditionally something of an anti-climax, was perhaps the busiest Thursday I can remember. And it was certainly not just because it was influencers’ day – as I made my way around my appointments, I saw numerous buying teams still fully engaged. Indeed, I gather that one very senior figure from ‘the largest’ UK & Ireland toy retailer told a few people that she could do with a 4th day of the show to get round everyone she wanted to see. I have been saying this for years (and I appreciate no-one is going to be swayed by me), but it’s interesting to hear that some major buyers are beginning to come to the same conclusion.

Every retailer you would expect to be at Olympia was present and correct (even one who apparently had said they weren’t coming – perhaps they saw positive posts on social media and changed their mind?), and several people said they were pleased to meet with potential new accounts, including a few major retailers not currently massive in toys, who appear to be exploring options to increase their toy selection.

The mood was surprisingly positive, given the news announced by Circana that the UK market was down by -5% last year, in line with both France and Germany (with the US market even further down at -8%). You might have thought that would put a dampener on things, but last year is firmly in the rear-view mirror, and if you can’t be optimistic and excited about the year ahead at this stage of the year, with all the new products about to launch and a blank canvas to work with, you may need to rethink your career choices.

Yes, of course there are concerns: new post-Brexit food importation rules that have already been delayed five times are due to come into force any day, which could see the cost of food rising again. Who knows what is going to happen with the Huthi rebels and how that will affect shipping costs as the year unfolds (up from $1500 to $5000-6000 in January, making it tricky to set prices for autumn winter). And the Tesco/The Entertainer partnership continues to drive some passionate conversations. It is clear there will be winners and losers – and in some cases, some very large black holes to fill. I suspect we could potentially see some significant changes in the product mix in Tesco when stock starts arriving in the next 3-4 weeks. Gary Grant phoned me after last week’s Blog to suggest I shouldn’t think of the arrangement as The Entertainer taking over Tesco toy departments, but instead that The Entertainer will be opening 800 new branches in Tesco stores. When you look at it from that perspective, some of what is about to happen becomes a lot clearer.

Against this backdrop of uncertainty, the enduring UK toy community positivity still shone through magnificently. January trading has apparently been good for many people, and there even seems to be a new sense of realism creeping in, with several people wondering if “flat is the new up”. I have used the word ‘community’ quite a lot leading up to Toy Fair, as I really do believe that is one of the unique aspects of the show. So, it was nice to see that acknowledged by none other than the legendary Hasbro founder, Alan Hassenfeld, who dropped onto our stand and had a lovely 30-minute conversation with Anita. How I would love to share some of the things he told her, but much of it must stay off the record – although I can confirm that he did say that London has long been a favourite show of his, due to the special spirit of community it exudes (he actually used a wonderful Jewish word, but unfortunately google hasn’t helped me to work out what it was).

Alan wasn’t the only high profile American at the show, with Basic Fun’s Jay Foreman also making an appearance, while there were also numerous senior management representatives from key European and International toy companies who made the trip. The show remains predominantly focused on the UK market, but the UK remains an important territory, and it’s nice to see many global toy companies acknowleding that.

From Toy World’s perspective, we had three team members experiencing their first-ever Toy Fair, and it was wonderful to hear them enthusing about who they had met and what they had seen at dinner every evening. We gave out every single magazine we took to the show (with the people working both entrances confirming to us that it was the magazine everyone wanted), saw a host of fantastic new product and spent invaluable time talking to our customers and readers. I would say that is three days incredibly well-spent. Massive congratulations to the BTHA team and all of the other support organisations that have once again delivered such a successful event.

And so, after a tremendous week, we have a couple of days to lie down in a darkened room to get our breath back before we head to Nuremberg to do it all again next week. Isaac Larian and Nick Mowbray’s lively LinkedIn exchanges have shown that the toy trade remains as passionate and fiercely competitive as ever (they’re literally metres away from each other in the same hall this year, so a walk down that corridor each morning could prove interesting). An extra travel curveball has been thrown into the mix with a German train strike to contend with, making a ‘Trains, Planes and Automobiles’ adventure likely for some poor travellers who elected to fly to Munich or Frankfurt rather than direct to Nuremberg. Good luck to you all, and if you are driving down the Autobahn and see someone from the toy trade thumbing a lift, I am sure you’ll pick them up. (UPDATE: since the publication of this blog, train drivers across Germany have ended the strike early, in time for the start of the working week, and indeed Spielwarenmesse. Hurrah!)

Have a wonderful, relaxing weekend and the Toy World team looks forward to seeing you in Nuremberg next week.