Still keeping it real… it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 10th February 2017

Another week, another show: this time a shorter trip – to Birmingham – for Spring Fair. There is a range of clichés which magazines tend to fall back on when describing a show; I’m sure you could list them as well as I can. But I think it’s fair to say that Toy World has built a reputation for honesty and integrity, so I’m going to be brave and carry on with that philosophy. Truth be told, Spring Fair really wasn’t great. I arrived on Monday, traditionally a popular day for ‘serious’ buyers to arrive, yet the toy section seemed quiet (not to mention significantly smaller in area than it was last year). My team was there for the following two days and I understand that it didn’t get any busier. It wasn’t just the toy hall, either; exhibitors in some other halls reported a similar experience.

Of course, Spring Fair is a huge show, so it is entirely plausible that exhibitors in other product sectors had a more successful show – I can only comment on what we heard from companies across the kids’ retail categories. There are arguably mitigating circumstances: you can’t escape the fact that there are less independent retailers in business these days and less people looking to start up an online business, as they realise the scale of the task involved in competing with Amazon. A lower attendance could simply reflect the current retail landscape in the UK. Another theory put forward was that in trying to be all things to all people, the show lacks focus. I certainly know that, from a publishing perspective, industry-specific titles will always outperform cross-category publications, which try to appeal to everyone and invariably end up appealing to no-one.

Naturally, the Spring Fair organisers were pushing next year’s event hard, attempting to get people to sign up within hours of this year’s show opening. One of my favourite stories of the week came from an exhibitor who was being given the hard-sell to sign a piece of paper being waved in front of her: “But what exactly am I signing?” she enquired. Straight-faced, the sales person replied: “Your name.” Selling really is an art….

Anyway, it will be interesting to see if I receive a flurry of emails disagreeing with these observations or – if this does reflect the general mood – what steps the organisers will take to perk the show up in 2018.

Elsewhere, Jonny Kahn, the director of the company caught selling counterfeit toys to B&M Stores, Home Bargains and TJ Hughes, has been found guilty at Preston Crown Court and will be sentenced in April. Hopefully this will be a deterrent to other individuals operating in the shadier regions of the industry, not to mention putting retail buyers on their guard. Genuine clearance merchandise remains an invaluable resource for retailers, but this incident illustrates that it is too easy to get fake goods onto retail shelves. That really should not be the case, and I hope this proves to be a turning point in the fight against knock-offs, at least at a bricks and mortar level (knock-offs in the online world is a whole other ball-game…).

Retail pricing remains a much-discussed subject, with many suppliers and retailers wondering whether Tesco would continue last year’s aggressive pricing strategy. While I’ve heard conflicting comments on this question attributed to Tesco buyers themselves, one piece of tangible evidence that could be offered up is the fact that Tesco has priced its Lego Batman range at 5% below SRP, which would suggest that the ‘5% below Argos’ philosophy remains in place for the time being at least – otherwise why would you need to discount Lego Batman? On the subject of Lego Batman, is it wrong to say that as a man of advancing years, I’m really looking forward to seeing it (and not just on a professional level)? The movie trailers and Channel 4 idents have been hilarious – especially the ‘Spotted Dick’ one.

While I often mention people who have left their previous job or started a new one, I thought it would be nice to highlight someone who recently chalked up an impressive 25 years in their current role. So, on behalf of all the licensees and retailers she has worked with over the years, congratulations to BBC Worldwide’s Julie Kekwick, who I know is hugely well-respected throughout the toy and licensing community and has done a superb job supporting toy companies during her distinguished BBC career. Here’s to many more licensing successes in the coming years.

Finally, I’d also like to wish a belated happy 60th birthday to Character Option’s Kevin Belcher, which he celebrated in Nuremberg last week. The company hired out a restaurant and 50 industry friends and colleagues joined Kevin to mark the occasion in spirited fashion. Kevin will shortly be embarking on a trip across South America with Colin Fox, visiting Character’s distributors across the region. You’ll be pleased to know that Toy World have made a bid for the pair’s ‘tour diary’, which will no doubt be fascinating (and, in all likelihood, largely unprintable).