Like it had never been away… it’s the Nuremblog!

Published on: 6th February 2023

It’s been an intense fortnight. After the whirlwind of London Toy Fair the previous week, last week saw the toy community congregate en masse in Nuremberg for Spielwarenmesse. It was the first Nuremberg Toy Fair in three years, but it quickly felt like we had never been away. The buzz we’d felt at London Toy Fair in 2022 when the show returned after a Covid hiatus was very much replicated in Nuremberg – everyone was delighted to be back amongst friends and colleagues, seeing products in the flesh and discussing the year just gone and ruminating on what might lie ahead in 2023. In short, it was just like we remembered it – and exactly how we wanted it to be.

There were some subtle changes – for starters, around 700 fewer exhibitors made the trip this time round. However, all of the names you would have expected to be showing were present and correct, so apart from the show organisers’ bank balance, I am not sure their absence had much impact. My guess is that many of the absentees were either open market far east vendors, or possibly companies that didn’t survive the pandemic (it really has been a case of ‘survival of the fittest’).

Like most visitors, I can probably squeeze in around 40 official appointments across the three days, not counting the numerous quick chats in the aisles and in the bars of an evening. So whether there are 2800 or 2000 exhibitors makes little difference. If you had tried to get a train from the Hauptbahnhof on the Wednesday and Thursday morning (or even a seat at breakfast), I am not sure thousands of extra people would have helped proceedings.

According to official attendance figures, a total of 58,000 visitors from 128 countries attended the show. This represents a drop of 8%, due largely to the absence of guests from China and Russia. That seems about right: overall, it felt slightly quieter, especially on the Friday. However, visitors still came from every corner of the globe, and I suspect that the major retailers and distributors were all there. One of the first people I saw at the show was Toys R Us Asia’s Jo Hall and her entire team, and where else could you find yourself talking to a retailer from Guatemala about the toy business in their country or chatting to someone from Lebanon attending his 50th Nuremberg Toy Fair, as I did last week.

Perhaps the most noticeable increase in visitors came from North America, Canada and South America. Just as last year’s London Toy Fair saw more European visitors after Nuremberg was called off, Nuremberg’s attendance appears to have been boosted by the decision to move the New York Toy Fair to September. Not only did we see more toy suppliers make the trip, but many of the larger retailers too – Walmart, Target, Costco, Sam’s Club, Amazon. But wait…. didn’t the New York Toy Fair move from February to September because it was deemed too late for these guys? I doubt they made the trip just for the weather and an abiding love of sausages & beer, so I am guessing they see a tangible benefit to some form of Q1 show. Maybe they were looking at spring summer ‘24 lines, or filling gaps in their autumn winter plans; but either way, they clearly decided it was worth the time and cost to attend.

Another interesting knock-on effect from New York’s move is that large US companies no longer need to hold back new product reveals – or media announcements about major new launches – until the middle of February. I see both London and Nuremberg benefiting from this development going forward; previously, it was often the case that visitors to the European shows wouldn’t see the whole picture from some of the US big boys, but that shouldn’t happen anymore.

From a UK perspective, there were a couple of notable absentees from the major retail account base, but the specialist toy retailers – major and independent – were out in force, as was the licensing community. And there was plenty to see; if there was a sense that the last few years have seen some companies holding back slightly on new product development, that certainly didn’t seem the case this year. I have also sensed that some people believe that the major toy companies have been especially cautious and conservative: I participated in a podcast just before Christmas with some of my good US media friends, and this view was put forward by one of the four amigos. I have to say that I fundamentally disagree: Mattel’s doll range for ’23 looks incredible; I think I may have seen the game of the year on the Hasbro stand; chatter in the bars suggested that Spin Master’s range is “the one to beat”, while MGA has very much rediscovered its mojo (I loved the ‘MGA’s got balls’ presentation on Monday, complete with drummers and dancers). Just as we need all the major retailers firing on all cylinders, I believe that the toy market is a stronger place if the big guns come out blazing….and it felt like that was very much the case in Nuremberg.

Indeed, following on from London Toy Fair, the overall mood at the show was once again positive and upbeat, and the show had a palpable energy that no amount of zoom meetings can ever replicate. It is incredibly hard work: I racked up 46,000 steps in three days, and with no carpet in the aisles (whether for sustainability or economic reasons), it took its toll by the end of the show. But those aches disappear within a day; more importantly, it is enormous fun, and the meetings we had will be invaluable in helping to set up the year ahead. Those people who suggested that the pandemic had changed the world forever and that we wouldn’t need trade shows any more must be feeling a bit daft right now.

Without doubt, we’ll be back next year – indeed, I heard of at least one major UK retailer setting meetings for next year’s show already. So, for them and everyone else, I just wanted to point out a line at the end of the press release we received from the show organisers at the weekend, which stated: “The next edition of the fair takes place at the end of January 2024. Precise dates will be announced at the end of February.”

I’m still not quite sure how to read it – this could mean absolutely nothing, and the dates could easily remain the same, although if that was the case, why the mystery and delay in confirming the date (which is usually done at the end of the show)? Could it mean they are considering a change of configuration (Tuesday-Saturday?), or even a move forward in the calendar? We’ll keep you posted, but maybe best not to book your hotel and flight for 2024 just yet.