JB Says Relax…it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 17th June 2022

I am not sure if this is all the fault of Stranger Things (I hear YuMe/KAP Toys’ capsules are flying at retail by the way), but it’s all been feeling a bit mid-1980s around here recently. Kate Bush back at the top of the charts, Top Gun the number one movie…at this rate, maybe it’s worth putting a few quid on Transformers to win Toy of the Year, as it did in 1985 & ‘86.

It seems that Top Gun Maverick has taken a few people by surprise; a movie which has been kicking around since the start of the pandemic with a modest merchandise programme to support it, the film really seems to have caught on with the public and has helped to reawaken enthusiasm for cinema-going in the process. Jurassic World Dominion has picked up the baton admirably this week, with initial box office takings exceeding £200m. Blockbusters are back baby!

And even more importantly, I have seen some tremendous retail activations around the release of Jurassic World Dominion: The Entertainer’s in-store augmented reality dinosaur hunt was a truly fantastic immersive experience, while Toymaster launched its first-ever digital flyer featuring a selection of the Jurassic World products available in many Toymaster stores. Smyths also released a fabulous piece of stop motion content to promote its range, which has had over half a million views already.

The toy retail channel has missed event movies like this – not only do they generate excitement with consumers, but crucially they give stores the opportunity to drive footfall at a time of the year when it is badly needed. It puts money in the tills, creates a buzz and instills confidence in retailers at a time when they could do with a lift, following the relentless stream of negative stories about the economy.

Indeed, according to NPD, licensed toys are having their best year since 2008 – representing 30% of all toy sales in the first half of the year. Even before the launch of the movie, Jurassic World sales were up by 63% YTD, and that figure will surely soar even higher once kids get to see the film. Critics may have been less than kind, but I really don’t think it matters – the movie will put bums on cinema seats and sell an awful lot of toys, and that will make a lot of people in the toy & entertainment category very happy. And with sales of licensed toys flying, what better time for the market-leading UK toy magazine to be taking stewardship of a well-established but neglected licensing website and injecting some fresh ideas and passion to rejuvenate it? They say timing in life is everything…

We ran a story last week which had been provided to us by ParcelHero, which speculated that a Walmart event shortly to be held in London could potentially herald the launch of Walmart marketplace in the UK. It turns out that the theory was complete nonsense; to be fair, I did say “colour me sceptical” when I posted the story on LinkedIn, as I really wasn’t sure it quite made sense. But it was fun to ruminate on the possibility, and nice to find out that some key people in the toy team at Walmart read our website – and this Blog! I’m glad that what we do resonates with people at the biggest toy retailer in the world, 5000 miles away in a completely different market.

While my excitement at the thought of Walmart coming to these shores was short-lived, I did hear some positive news on the Amazon front this week: I have it on very good authority that Amazon is now prepared to accept price increases from vendors without needing approval from a vendor manager. There are some caveats involving the RRP not being adversely affected which might yet prove tricky to navigate, but as I understand it, most increases under 15% should effectively be accepted inside vendor central. Huge, if true – this has been a major bone of contention for many suppliers, and anecdotally, I have heard of quite a few companies pulling back from Amazon in recent months. Indeed, my understanding is that Amazon has not had a great start to the year in the toy & nursery categories overall, even allowing for how difficult it would have been to anniversary two years of pandemic trading. If Amazon has realized that its intransigence and lack of flexibility was beginning to harm its sales, then it’s good news all round.

The other big news story of the week saw Lego announce that it will be investing more than $1b to build a new factory in the USA, which will operate as a carbon-neutral facility with solar panels capable of covering 100% of the site’s energy needs. Great news for both US jobs and Lego’s carbon footprint. Of course, few toy companies have Lego’s resources, and reshoring would be a difficult and costly process for the majority; but this bold, ambitious move paves the way for others who may be looking to mitigate supply chain risk and not put all their eggs in the China basket. After Russia’s complete meltdown this year, that seems a sensible strategy (especially if you look at what is going on with China and Taiwan). On that subject, can it really be true -as claimed by one Russian distributor to a friend of mine this week – that “most toys are still freely available to us.” It could be bravado, but if it is the case, it certainly goes against what many of the big toy & licensing companies have been saying publicly.

In other news, Graham Gardiner has received a well-deserved promotion to commercial director at Rubies, while I gather the Japanese Toy Fair saw the grand total of 27 international visitors attending this week – including three from the UK toy community. Well done to those three brave souls who made the effort – I hope the organisers rolled out the red carpet for you.

Finally, good luck to all those people taking place in the Toy Trust Big Challenge this weekend – I know a lot of people don’t carry cash anymore, but there are some great prizes on offer in a prize draw and tombola, with tickets for both competitions cash-only, so make sure you pop to the cash dispenser before you go, or even raid your kids’ piggy bank if necessary. It’s all for a fantastic cause.