Why, it’s almost Christmas Day – the season of good cheer and goodwill to all men (except Jeremy Clarkson, obviously). A few hours from now, we’ll be heading off to celebrate with our loved ones, exhausted but happy. The Toy World team has worked long and hard throughout November and December to pull together a January issue to be proud of. We’ve done all we can – it’s now down to the printer and the Royal Mail to work their alchemy and turn our fine prose into the finished magazine which will drop through your letterbox with an almighty thud early in January.
At the Fence Club Christmas Ball, The Entertainer’s Geoff Sheffield introduced me to his wife as “the bloke responsible for that magazine which broke our letterbox.” I fear that we may break a few more this year, as our January issue is the single largest edition we have ever published in our eleven- year history. Please keep your pets well away from the mailbox when it arrives – I don’t mind having the odd damaged letterbox on my conscience, but I don’t want any rights groups condemning us for animal cruelty.
A couple of stories came in early last Friday, so there was no time to add any comment into last week’s Blog. First, the shortlist for the Toy Retailer of the Year awards was released. Congratulations to all of the nominees, and I look forward to finding out who has won on the eve of Toy Fair, when the winners will be announced. There were a few comments on my social media posts questioning some of the names listed, especially in the online retailer category. I can only reiterate what I have said before; it is nigh on impossible to come up with a definitive list which everyone will agree on, and the judging criteria will play a big part in the final decision. In this instance, it appears that sales and turnover may have been prioritized over other factors. In many respects, that is perfectly understandable. I was told recently that one of the category winners in this year’s Licensing Awards had sold a mere 300 pieces of the item that won. 300!!! I also saw pictures taken in a store which won in a different set of awards run by the same company, clearly showing ‘hooky’ unlicensed toys on display. There is no reason to suspect that the jury in either case was aware of these facts, but it shows how difficult it can be to evaluate candidates and reach a decision that is beyond reproach. Were there other online retailers who I feel deserved to be recognized? Yes, perhaps there were, but you can say the same for just about any award ceremony ever. All I know is that some exceptional retail performances are about to be rewarded, and some other exceptional performances will just have missed out by the finest of margins.
The other interesting story came from the organiser of the Deauville Pre-Show Noel, which will be launching a new event in 2023 for the FOB and own-label sector of the toy business. The inaugural Direct Sourcing Toys & Games show will take place at the Hilton Amsterdam, Schiphol, from 10th-12th October. The show is likely to be a relatively focused affair – the target is to attract around 50 suppliers and 150 retailers from across Europe. Fabienne Taylor told me that numerous suppliers had suggested the move earlier this year, when the opportunity for trips to Hong Kong was limited. It was decided that it would be better to create a separate event, rather than running it alongside the existing Deauville show; partly to avoid confusion by mixing domestic and FOB suppliers, and partly because an October timing was identified as preferable for the new event. The idea for the show was crystallised while few were physically in a position to visit Hong Kong, so it will be interesting to see how that situation develops over the next nine months. A one or two day trip to Amsterdam will certainly be more affordable for many European FOB buyers, although of course they will see far fewer suppliers than they could potentially visit in Hong Kong.
Then, of course, there is the ongoing Covid situation in the Far East. A few weeks ago, China relaxed its hitherto draconian zero-Covid policy, only to apparently find that case numbers have escalated wildly. Official figures infer the problem isn’t that bad, but compelling evidence is emerging from China which suggests it is far worse than is being admitted by the authorities. I have seen video footage on social media this week showing depots with thousands of parcels piled up, as infected employees have simply not turned up to work. This is precisely the scenario that many feared was likely: whether it’s down to the ineffectiveness of the Chinese-developed Sinovac vaccine compared to the western mRNA versions, or simply that the virus was being subdued by the restrictions that have been removed, the end result is not pretty. Who knows how long this will last, and what impact it will have on retailers’ travel plans – I certainly can’t see many of the corporate retailers being allowed to travel to China or the Far East until things improve.
That’s all from us from me – and the whole Toy World team – for 2023. We’re off to watch The Muppets Christmas Carol and Elf (other excellent Christmas movies are available). Today is officially our last day in the office until 3rd January, when we’ll be back fully refreshed and raring to go once again. The daily newsflash will also be taking a well-earned break, returning the same day. So, all that remains is for me to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a happy, peaceful and prosperous New Year. Have a wonderful break and we look forward to seeing you in London or Nuremberg next month.