Keeping it in perspective …it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 4th March 2022

There have been a few tricky Blogs to write over the past couple of years – but arguably none trickier than this week’s. It doesn’t feel right to be irreverent or poke fun at relatively trivial business foibles given the events in Ukraine. Neither does it feel appropriate to go into great detail about the impact of the war on the toy business around the world. Sure, plastic and fuel may rise in price as a result of escalating oil prices, while air freight from China to Europe is off the table for the foreseeable future – but so what? In the grand scheme of things, a few more supply chain challenges or another potential cost increase pales into insignificance against the unavoidable backdrop of daily horror stories we are currently faced with.

I will say it is nice to see toy companies stepping up and helping with relief efforts: here in the UK, the Toy Trust has pledged to donate £10,000 via one of its long-standing emergency relief charities, Samaritan’s Purse, while over in the US, legendary toy doyen Alan Hassenfeld is spearheading the Toy Foundation’s response to the crisis. In addition, numerous individual toy companies are also doing their bit – with major initiatives by the Lego Foundation, TY and MGA, as well as fantastic efforts by many other toy companies from all corners of the globe, it seems there are plenty who want to do what they can to alleviate the suffering of millions of Ukranian children.

Sanctions are being imposed on Russia on a daily basis – in our market, most of the major movie studios have postponed imminent movie releases, while Playmobil was the first toy company to announce it would stop shipments to the region. I am sure many more will follow; I doubt the court of public opinion will be forgiving of anyone who continues to work with – or even have close ties to – Russia. Apart from the moral issues of supplying a country that has instigated a war, there are practical issues; the rouble is collapsing, payment methods have nearly all been removed and many shipping companies have cancelled their services anyway. Russia is being cut off, its economy is being choked – yet having visited the country only a few years ago, I don’t believe the vast majority of Russian citizens support Putin’s actions any more than we do. The Russian government kindly checked all my social media feeds before granting my entry visa (even then), so I certainly won’t be going back any time soon.

It’s all a bit of a mess over in Hong Kong too. Daily Covid cases have topped 30,000 and there are strong rumours of a city-wide lockdown in a few weeks’ time, in order to test every citizen three times over the course of a week. I have seen pictures of facilities – I would loosely describe them as ‘Covid camps’, rows of tiny ‘container-like’ structures – which are being constructed, presumably to house those who test positive. It doesn’t look pleasant, and pretty much confirms that there is no imminent prospect of a return for international visitors any time soon. With Guangdong also said to be hit by a sharp rise in Covid cases, there are reports of factories closing and the likelihood of further supply chain disruption in the short term.

Thankfully there have been some more positive stories to focus on this week: Toymaster held the first of its regional events in Ireland, with one major toy company reporting “great buzz, great attendance and great new products.” With many Irish Toymaster members unable to make it over to London for Toy Fair this year, I gather they were delighted to be able to finally see many of the new launches in the flesh.

Elsewhere, Sarah Harding became the final piece in the Toys R Us UK jigsaw puzzle, joining the fledgling operation as senior buyer of toys. TRU has certainly built an experienced, knowledgeable team for the UK market – I’m looking forward to seeing what it has to offer when the website launches in a couple of months’ time. That said, it’s amazing how many media outlets have got it spectacularly wrong and reported that TRU will be “returning to High Streets soon” – not that it was ever on that many High Streets in the first place (being more of a retail park set-up), but I gather that any form of bricks and mortar presence remains some way off. It appears that the retailer’s return to the UK in 2022 will be within the competitive digital arena, with the hope that the name still resonates sufficiently with consumers to carve a niche for itself. To be fair, I suspect there is a decent level of residual goodwill for it to capitalize on – we’ll see how that translates to sales in the coming months.

I’d also like to congratulate Jez Robinson, who has been appointed as sales director UK & Norther Europe at Melissa & Doug, and Martyn Weaver, who has joined Eaglemoss as global brand marketing manager. If you – or someone you know – is looking for a new challenge, there are plenty of good opportunities on offer in our online recruitment section.

The March issue of Toy World has also landed on desks this week – you can read the digital version of the issue here. It’s another packed issue, with comprehensive features on Outdoor Toys, Action Vehicles and the Science & Nature category, plus a review of what happened at the London Toy Fair, all the latest news and HEAPS of new product. There is a lot to be excited about this year, even if that feels slightly uncomfortable right now.

I am just grateful to work in an industry that brings so much joy to kids across the world. As Wow Stuff’s Richard North said on LinkedIn this week: “We want the kids of Ukraine to feel safe and to enjoy play – and the dreams and escapism sometimes only toys can bring.” In the darkest of times, let’s cling on to the hope that those kids can return to being kids very soon.