Start spreading the news, I’m leaving today….it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 13th February 2015

Half-term must be approaching – I have received an email advertising the latest Argos 50% off sale, which features an extensive selection of toys, including a number of prominent brands. I’m sure there will be a lot more promotional activity which comes to light over the next few days, although I would imagine some toy retailers will prefer to keep their powder dry until Easter.

Hornby has reported a 5% increase in revenue for the Christmas quarter, further evidence that the company continues to make positive progress. The company has also suggested that full-year sales and profits will be in line with investors’ expectations, which is encouraging. With a couple of sure-fire winners in the range this year – including the return of the iconic James Bond Aston Martin DB5 to the Corgi portfolio – it should give headline writers plenty of scope to wheel out the ‘Hornby back on track’ headline that they clearly love so much (don’t we all).

Hasbro also unveiled a very healthy set of results this week: the company’s shares jumped after fourth-quarter profit topped analysts’ estimates. Boys’ brands were once again the stars, rising 21% to over $420m, more than compensating for a 10% reduction in revenue from the girls’ portfolio.

The SpongeBob movie has got off to a roaring start in the States, accruing an impressive $56m in its first week at the box office, which one observer compared to “Lego Movie territory.” High praise indeed, and it augurs well for the movie’s imminent UK launch. The Lego Movie returned to the news this week, having triumphed at last weekend’s Baftas: the directors took the opportunity to poke fun at the movie’s omission from the Oscars nomination list, but I don’t think anyone connected with the toy trade is losing too much sleep over that. I’ve been getting feedback from retailers that Lego has got off to another phenomenal start to the year: so the people who felt that it would be a challenge for the company to anniversary last year’s first quarter numbers would appear to have been proved quite wrong.

I was sad to hear that industry stalwart Dave Harrison passed away this week. Dave was genuinely well-loved and respected by those who worked with him over the years he spent in the trade, both as a retailer – with his Toy World outlet – and later as a distributor with Cada Toys. Dave was also a former director of the Youngsters buying group, playing a key role in the group’s success for many years. I am sure he will be greatly missed by his friends and colleagues in the industry.

As I mentioned in last week’s Blog, I’m heading to New York tomorrow for my first visit to the New York Toy Fair for over a decade. The last time I attended, the city was ravaged by heavy blizzards and guess what – my app suggests that conditions are almost arctic again this time round. I guess some things never change. However, I have no doubt that the show has evolved significantly since I last visited: apart from anything, the closure of the Toy Buildings at 200 5th Avenue and 1107 Broadway have seen the focus shift to the Javits Centre, a destination which was historically not a high priority for most international visitors. In the heady days of the nineties and noughties, America ruled the toy world: the majority of the key technological developments, movies and brands that drove the global toy market came out of the States. In recent years, Europe and the UK, Asia and even Australia have all made major inroads, challenging the USA’s dominance of the global toy market. Nevertheless, America still boasts some heavy hitters and a number of big names have already made pre-show announcements: Mattel has teased a partnership with Google which sounds highly intriguing, while Anki will be unveiling the next generation of its revolutionary artificial intelligence-driven battle racing system, Anki Overdrive. I’ve also received press releases talking about cutting edge interactive toys and even toy-friendly 3D printers, so I’m looking forward immensely to seeing some of these new innovations in the flesh. So it’s on with the thermals and a ridiculous hat and New York here I come. Read all about it in next week’s New York Blog……