London calling…it’s the Toy Fair Blog!

Published on: 26th January 2018

Lap two of Toy Fair season is over, and the London Toy Fair continued to benefit from the positive vibe that had characterised Hong Kong. Whether that was simply down to the inherent optimism of the toy community, enhanced by the inevitable Toy Fair bubble, or whether it was helped by retailers emerging relatively clean from the Christmas period, largely due to a late surge in weeks 51 and 52 (or which more later), just about everyone I spoke to seemed happy with the show.

Visitor-wise, I’m always reluctant to get dragged into debates about whether numbers were up or down. The major buyers were all present and correct, while indie numbers may have been slightly down, but were there or thereabouts (Toymaster had around 87 members present, slightly less than usual – I suspect some of the smaller members didn’t make the trip, which is a shame, as the deals on offer from companies like Hasbro could have covered the cost of the trip). The rest is just hoop-la.

The retailer and supplier of the year awards gave us an enjoyable evening, and most people seemed to broadly agree with the winners. There was some debate over whether the right retailers won the wrong awards (if you get my drift), but that can often be the case given the judging process. The winners of the toy of the year awards were less controversial; MGA and Spin Master cleaned up as expected, with MGA winning overall Toy of the Year for the phenomenally successful L.O.L Surprise!. Character Options, Asmodee and Jazwares were also delighted with the recognition they received from the judges. The comment I made in my Hong Kong Blog about the pendulum swinging slightly away from licensing this year was borne out by the results. By and large, the recipients won for innovation and originality; only two awards were won by licensed product (plus Nickelodeon for licensor of the year), with only Paw Patrol and Pokémon victorious and a nomination for PJ Masks.

There was nothing for the ‘big three’ this year, but speaking to representatives from a couple of those companies afterwards, they felt that was the right result. I’m paraphrasing here, but they want to win awards when they deserve them, not get something out of habit or sympathy – which is entirely correct. It was also nice to see Playmobil recognised with the Special Recognition Award, not just for the company’s stellar performance last year, but also as a gesture to mark the tragic passing of Uffe Kloster before Christmas. Colin Rossiter picked up a very well-deserved Golden Teddy award to round off a tremendous evening, also providing the best comedy moment of the night; Colin thanked “all those people who nominated me”, to which Jon Diver replied: “It was two actually!”

NPD’s presentation detailing how 2017 ended up was fascinating. Top-line, the market ended up 2.8% down, with Q4 being the main culprit – the market was flat to the end of September, but took a £65m dive in the last three months of the year. Only three weeks in Q4 grew – the first week of October and the last two weeks of the year.

Weeks 48 and 49 saw the biggest losses, while Black Friday week also saw a large decline. Plenty to ponder. Indeed, I’m hearing from suppliers that the traditional launch calendar is coming under the microscope; why limit yourself to two weeks of the year when a large catalogue is launched. Any and every week is a launch opportunity if you have the right product and the correct strategy in place.

Product-wise, I saw plenty of strong new introductions (too many to mention here for fear of missing someone out). I believe I may have gone on one stand which didn’t have a unicorn product, but I can’t be certain. And there was a lot of poo…so much poo! Slime is still everywhere, as were new collectible ranges…some retailers may wish to start planning to extend their counter display area if they’re going to fit even a small percentage of the new introductions into their stores.

Toys R Us continues to be a major talking point; the closing down sale in 26 UK stores is in full swing, and going so well that- irony alert – the retailer is having to buy new clearance merchandise in to keep the stores stocked until their closing dates. The buying team remains upbeat – as it should and as it must if it is to engender confidence amongst suppliers – although suppliers inevitably remain cautious and are keeping a very close eye on proceedings. It is very much a ‘head versus heart’ situation. Elsewhere, both Tesco and Sainsbury’s have announced huge job losses within their in-store store management teams, as retailers continue to grapple with the new realities of the 21st century retail landscape.

So that’s two shows down, and on to Nuremberg next week. I’m hearing reports that a number of major UK buyers won’t be heading to Germany this year, but I’m not going to quote specific names, as it is possible that some of those retailers mentioned to me may yet turn out to have some sort of presence there. We’ll see what happens when we get there.

We’re off to have a nice rest before we go again, especially our sales director Mark – thanks to the stand opposite for the temporary resting place at the end of a long, hard but very fruitful week.