The Greatest Show (man) …it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 21st January 2022

I’ve been keeping a low profile this week, doing all I can to avoid catching Covid before Toy Fair next week. After waiting so long, I certainly wouldn’t want to fall at the final hurdle, so ‘bring your own bottle’ work parties have been strictly off limits. The good news is that infection rates are falling rapidly in London and across much of the UK (apart from Derby, I gather), so visitors will hopefully feel comfortable attending the show. It is purely coincidental that the UK’s Plan B restrictions are due to end while the show is taking place, but in many ways it does vindicate the decision to press on with the fair.

This year will be my 41st Toy Fair, my first show being 1981 when it was held at Earls Court. Until last year, I have never missed a show, following the event on its journey from Earls Court to Olympia, then on to Excel and finally back to Olympia again. In contrast, many will be attending their first ever show next week – and I hope they will find the experience as exhilarating as I always do. Even after all these years, I still get excited as the show approaches, and perhaps even more so after the two-year hiatus we’ve had to endure.

Here at Toy World Towers, show preparation is almost complete and my diary is pretty much full for the whole three days. On that note, one supplier told me that he tried to make an appointment with a major customer, only to be told “Sorry, I’m back-to-back Tuesday and Wednesday.” When the supplier suggested he had some gaps on the Thursday, the retailer replied: “I am only there for two days, so I’m afraid don’t have time to see you.” If only there was an obvious solution to that situation…

Seriously, though, I know that while the major retailers are accustomed to making appointments ahead of the show, some independent retailers prefer to just turn up and try to get on stands ad hoc. I am not sure that approach was ever all that sensible, but this year of all years, I can pretty much guarantee it won’t work. Several large toy companies have come out this week encouraging (indeed, imploring) retailers to make appointments: many exhibitors are having to limit numbers on their stand to ensure a safe and comfortable experience for visitors, so people just turning up on spec are highly unlikely to get on.

Some indies have complained in previous years that they haven’t been allowed to wander onto a stand unaccompanied, but I’m afraid that just isn’t feasible in the current climate. I have heard of at least one company which is only offering 15-minute appointments, so it can allow as many as possible to look round. So, if you are a retailer who hasn’t yet made appointments, maybe it’s worth spending some time today setting a few meetings up?

The whole Toy World team will be at the show next week (our base will be Stand B23), so we look forward to seeing as many of you in person as time allows – without Hong Kong, Nuremberg and New York this year, we have to cram all of our meetings into one show, rather than spread them across three or four events. But let’s just be thankful that the show is able to go ahead; over in Hong Kong, the government has reached the stage of the pandemic where it is going door to door in an attempt to find and cull 2,000 hamsters which it believes are responsible for spreading Covid (I promise I am not making this up) – so to the person who told me this week that he expects to travel to Hong Kong in the Spring…I think my £5 is safe.

There is undoubtedly an enthusiasm here in the UK for shows to take place: Toymaster has announced that its May Show has already sold out, while registration is now open for the INDX Toys & Nursery Show in April (formerly the AIS show). With Spring Fair also running in a few weeks’ time, the UK toy community will have plenty of opportunities to see suppliers and new products in the flesh in the coming months.

Away from the shows, Toys R Us has appointed Diane Lee as director of Buying for its nascent UK operation. Diane previously worked for the previous incarnation of Toys R Us UK, as did Mike Coogan, who was recently announced as the director of Marketing and eCommerce. It looks like TRU is doing its best Blues Brothers impression – “Guys, we’re putting the band back together.” No word yet on whether Phil Shayer, David Rurka and Paul Weston will be joining on drums, bass and lead guitar. Diane and Mike will be at Toy Fair next week, although I gather Louis Mittoni isn’t able to make it – although he did tell me that he “desperately wanted to attend” and he hopes to come over to London soon.

Magic Box is another company assembling a new team and opening a new office here in the UK, with four new team members joining UK managing director Nicola Bergot in recent weeks, including experienced industry stalwarts Suzie Howes and Denise Carr.

Elsewhere, Tim Hall announced that he will be stepping down from his role as MD at Ravensburger, although he will stay with the company, working within the team that handles international licensing. We wish Tim all the best in his new role – and I am sure that there will be a huge number of people queuing up to register their interest in the MD role, which is undoubtedly a fantastic opportunity.

So, with just a couple of days to go, the stage is set and all that remains is for me to wish everyone a fantastic Toy Fair next week. I hope it proves to be both commercially successful and a wonderful, uplifting experience, whether it is your first or forty-first show.