Reality check …it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 3rd March 2023

Starting with the biggest news of the week – in the world of toys at least – the Nuremberg Toy Fair has officially announced its dates for 2024. As predicted in the Blog a month ago (good to see the old crystal ball is still working), there is a slight change in the date configuration for next year, with the show shifting to a new Tuesday-Saturday format. Personally, I think this will be viewed by the vast majority as an excellent move – it still gives German retailers a weekend day to visit the show, while international visitors will get an extra weekday to go about their business.

Some had argued for the weekend to be removed completely from the equation, and while that may yet happen a few years down the line, it wasn’t likely to be implemented straight away. Not only would that have sent the wrong message to the domestic German market about their importance to the show, but it would potentially have cost exhibitors more if the main set-up period fell across the whole weekend.

This way, most exhibitors will just have to fly out a day earlier than normal, which should thankfully have minimal impact on the London Toy Fair. Some visitors may choose to do likewise, although flying out on the same day as usual will work just as well for many. Either way, any potential disruption or impact on London has been kept to a minimum, which can only be a good thing. Indeed, the tighter turn-round time between the two shows may even encourage a few international (especially US) visitors to stop off in London before heading over to Nuremberg straight after Olympia finishes.

In other news that could affect international travel and the 2024 Toy Fair Season, 1133 days after it was first introduced, Hong Kong has finally scrapped its mask-wearing mandate. Of course, this being Hong Kong, I gather that the vast majority of locals have continued to wear their masks this week, despite the threat of huge fines no longer hanging over them. I am sure that will change over time, but nevertheless, it’s good to hear that one of the last remaining barriers to international travel (albeit a fairly flimsy one, in truth) has been removed. By next January, we will get to see whether the global toy community chooses to rekindle its long-term fondness for doing business in Hong Kong, or whether the world has moved on.

We also reported this week that Graham Gardiner has parted company with Rubies after a 16-year stint. He is not the only high calibre toy stalwart who is about to come onto the job market – I know of several other extremely knowledgeable, experienced people who will shortly be seeking new challenges. A great opportunity for companies to snap up some very capable individuals beckons…

Indeed, the times are changing on many fronts: Argos announced the closure of two major depots and the old Milton Keynes office this week. To some, it seems that Argos is being dismantled before our very eyes – I received several messages to that effect after the move was announced. Although I completely understand that perspective, maybe the toy community needs to let go of the past and accept that Argos is a very different account these days. Its turnover may be fraction of what it once was, but I am led to believe that it is actually making a profit now, which was apparently not always the case in its glory days. The old ‘turnover is vanity, profit is sanity’ mantra is hard to find fault with. And with some low level grumbling within the UK toy community about over-ambitious (some have even used the word ‘ludicrous’…) targets being set by certain international parent companies, maybe some people would do well to read the room and appreciate the bigger picture. There is absolutely nothing wrong with aspiration and wanting to maximise revenue, but I have always felt it’s important to make targets realistic and align them with prevailing economic conditions and, frankly, reality.

Taking everything into consideration, the toy industry performed remarkably well in the face of some challenging conditions last year. Of course, some did better than others. But setting impossible targets – especially if that’s in conjunction with slashing marketing budgets – is only to going to end one way. Maybe it’s time for a reality check for some boardroom warriors who are perhaps a little disconnected from what’s happening out on the front line in other territories…

On which note, it has been fascinating to listen to our Prime Minister selling the benefits of his new agreement for Northern Ireland this week, gushing: ‘Northern Ireland will have access to the UK market and to the European single market, and that’s an incredibly attractive proposition for investors.’ Which is great until you realise the whole of the UK used to have that – if it’s such a fantastic opportunity for Northern Ireland, why deny that same opportunity to the rest of the United Kingdom? As far as own goals go, that one is up there with the most embarrassing examples of lack of self-awareness I have ever seen. Because, right now, business needs all the support it can get – and as few barriers to trade as possible.

Finally, the March issue of Toy World Magazine is currently winging its way to you in the post, and you can read the digital issue online now. This edition rounds-up all the news from Toy Fair and puts the Outdoor Toys, Action Vehicles and Science & Nature categories in the spotlight. And next week, we’ll be issuing a ‘last call’ for our April issue, where we’ll be highlighting some of the toy market’s biggest categories – Pre-School, Collectibles and Games & Puzzles. If you have new launches in any of these areas, this issue will give you the perfect platform to showcase them to retail buyers as they start to lay their plans down for later in the year. Because we have to look beyond Q1 and not get too hung up on the short term – as everyone in the toy community knows, Christmas always comes. You can take my word for that – I’ve looked in my trusty crystal ball again. And those companies which prepare for that will probably fare better than those which stop doing all the things that made them successful in the first place.