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Plan ‘A’ all the way …it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 20th September 2021

In case you were busy on Friday and missed it, here is the latest bog.

Traditionally, I write the Friday Blog on a Thursday. This gives me the necessary ‘wriggle room’ should I decide that perhaps I need to rephrase – or even omit – one of the more contentious sections. However, this week, I am writing the Blog on Wednesday, as our eldest daughter gets married on Thursday, so rather than concentrating on the Blog, I need to concentrate on my Father of the Bride speech. I just hope that the toy community has done me the courtesy of not doing or announcing anything major in the past few days – apologies if there are any glaring omissions, I’ll rectify it next week.

On the plus side, plenty has already happened this week, so I am not short of material. Following last week’s trip to Autumn Fair, we visited the Independent Toy & Gift Show on Tuesday. A lot of people still call it the AIS show, so they are going to be even more confused when it changes its name to the INDX Toys & Nursery show next year. It’s more about semantics rather than a fundamental change in the event, bringing it into line with the branding adopted by other shows at Cranmore Park. However, as the new name hints, there is expected to be a stronger nursery presence to the ’22 event, which will revert to its traditional April time slot. The new moniker also seems to be an explicit nod to a trend that has been developing in recent years – namely the broadening of the visitor base from purely AIS members to a wider specialist retail audience.

That was certainly the case this year. There were fewer exhibitors, as might have been expected – with the big corporate players conspicuous by their absence (with the exception of Spin Master). But those who did exhibit found themselves in a room with a broad selection of retailers, with Toymaster members and some key online players like Wicked Uncle and Bargain Max augmenting the traditional AIS attendee base. It was also good to catch up with Alan Simpson and hear that not only are SMF Toytown’s sales flying, but a new company management structure will very soon be in place, allowing Alan the flexibility to take a gentle step back (although I have heard a few toy people say that before now and found they stayed highly involved and engaged in the business, despite their best intentions).

Overall, just as we found last week, the mood in Solihull was buoyant – as the new joke goes, “It’s nice to be here. In fact, it’s nice to be anywhere right now.” Supply chain and stock issues notwithstanding (one person told me that what had hitherto been earmarked as ‘clearance stock’ is now just ‘stock’ again), the general feeling is that we should be heading towards another decent festive season…as long as the dreaded ‘Plan B’ is kept at bay. Yes, Plan B is no longer an angry, sweary rapper with one half decent song, or even a good track on an average Dexy’s album – it is now the metaphorical Sword of Damocles hanging over our collective heads. The return of face coverings is not the issue here – but a return to ‘lockdown lite’, especially anytime from late October to Christmas, would be a massive nuisance both for Christmas sales and also planning and preparation for Toy Fair Season. We must hope that it’s the last we hear of Plan B, both the rapper and the emergency Covid protocol.

Whisper it quietly, but some evidence has even emerged that container prices may finally have been contained…well, it seems that in some instances at least, they have been dropping ever-so-slightly, rather than increasing at the rate of knots as has been the case in recent months. It is important not to get too carried away: I was told weeks ago by shipping industry contacts that prices would only level off when demand softened, and as we get close to Christmas, with the concerns about retailers’ ability or inclination to take in stock that arrives late, it is perhaps no surprise to see a modest recalibration. However, this may be very much short-term respite: numerous sources have told me (and other people in the global toy community) that rates are likely to remain on the high side until at least the second half of ’22, if not ’23. And we certainly aren’t going back to $2000 containers any time soon –indeed, probably not ever, When the rates settle, they are likely to settle quite a way above the previous going rate– I have been told in no uncertain terms that those were loss-making prices, and there seems little prospect of shipping companies wanting or needing to accept below-cost rates again.

Elsewhere, I hear that Llyr Lewis will joining Spin Master to head up licensing for EMEA and APAC – a role Llyr describes as a “fantastic opportunity and the right company at the right time.” We also announced the arrival of a new player in the toy market this week – ToyTopic, which will be fronted by well-known licensing stalwart Ash Holman. Launching with a range of Peppa Pig products and the UK and Ireland distribution for WowWee is certainly a strong way to introduce yourself – and no doubt there will be a lot more to come from the new outfit.

On a personal note, I was also sad to hear that Diaframma’s Adele Alessi passed away recently. So many people got in touch to say how shocked they were to hear the news, and all had incredibly warm words to say about her – she certainly had many friends and made a great impression on all those in the toy community who knew and worked with her.

Finally, I have had so many people forward one particular viral video to me that I thought I would share it with you – it seems to have raised a smile and resonated with a lot of people, so if you have seen it yet, here’s your chance. It does mean that it will be the first Christmas song you hear this year (in September!), and you’ll be singing it all day – but there are worse things you could be singing (and we’re back to Plan B). Stop Press: I have just read that Michael Gove has ben appointed to “save Christmas” and sort out the supply chain issues. Now may be a good time to panic…