The lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer…it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 23rd August 2019

When I first joined the toy industry back in the 1980s, I have fond memories of summer in the toy trade being noticeably quieter than the rest of the year. Major buyers had placed firm orders, with solid commitment for stock that would take them through to the end of the year. Production or shipping was well in hand, leaving most sales and management people free to hone their golf skills or work on their tans. A few years down the line, by which stage the arrival of the gargantuan Argos catalogue in July or August had changed the entire mid-year toy retail landscape, sales people still used to try to take as much summer holiday as they could – albeit largely to avoid an irate phone call from Phil Shayer or one of the other retail titans fuming at some or other Argos catalogue price.

Of course, those days are long gone (unless you happen to work in one of those Italian or Spanish companies which shuts down for a month in the summer). The Argos catalogue arrives with more of a whimper than a bang these days (and it certainly makes less of a thud on the desk), yet summer is no longer akin to those lazy, hazy days of yore. We’ve been flat out this week, making the final tweaks before sending our September issue and games supplement to press yesterday. In very much a ‘no rest for the wicked’ scenario, we’ve moved straight on to our bumper October issue (and trust me, it really is bumper), as it needs to arrive on desks long before BLE starts on October 1st.

In amongst the frenzy of press day, there have been a couple of major news stories of note this week, none bigger than the news which broke late last night that Hasbro has acquired Entertainment One in an eye-watering $4b deal. It has been no great secret that eOne has been on the market for some while, and the huge sum it took to finally get the deal over the line presumably explains why a sale has taken so long to come to fruition. It also presumably explains why certain other toy companies didn’t follow through on their interest in acquiring the company. You can read more about the deal here; suffice to say it’s a bold, brave move by Hasbro; the deal offers huge potential, while also raising many questions as to how things will pan out in a logistical sense, both for eOne employees and existing licensee partners. We’ll keep you posted as and when more details emerge.

Separately, Hasbro’s announcement this week that it will begin phasing out plastic packaging from its new toy and game packaging from next year is welcome news. The company’s ultimate – and entirely laudable – ambition is to eliminate virtually all plastic in packaging for new products by the end of 2022. As I suggested in a previous Blog, removing virgin plastic completely from the toy production process is going to be a complicated task, but removing it from packaging is a different matter entirely. Our contributor Ruth Clement wrote an excellent piece on this subject last month (which you can read here); as an industry, it’s important that we do what we can to minimise environmental impact. It’s not about paying lip service or virtue signalling, but about effecting real change and addressing the issue of plastic waste in a commercially viable way. So, huge kudos to Hasbro for being trail-blazers; hopefully many other toy companies will follow their example.

Contrast Hasbro’s positive stance with Amazon, which has been criticised by environmental groups and customers this week after introducing new packaging that can’t be recycled in the UK. The retailer has apparently started sending out smaller items in plastic envelopes, seemingly to allow more parcels on each delivery truck. In the absence of a human spokesperson, an Amazon computer generated this random statement addressing the concerns (it helps if you read it in your head with a robotic voice): “We work with manufacturers worldwide to continuously improve packaging design and introduce new, sustainable packaging that delights customers, eliminates waste, and ensures products arrive intact and undamaged for our customers.” If the packaging can’t actually be recycled, I am not entirely sure how this move can be “sustainable” or be said to “eliminate waste”? And I thought that computers were supposed to be good with logic…?

News also broke yesterday that Tobar has put its Hawkin’s Bazaar retail arm up for sale. The company has decided that it wants to focus on its wholesale business, which seems an eminently sensible move. With a turnover in excess of £15m generated from 23 permanent stores and a series of additional pop-up outlets in the festive season, there is definitely an opportunity for someone to take the Hawkin’s Bazaar brand forward.

If you’re heading to Hong Kong in January (assuming things haven’t spiralled completely out of control in the territory by then), a date for your diary: the bi-annual Fence Club charity football match has been confirmed for the evening of Tuesday January 7th. It’s always a great night that the whole UK toy fraternity looks forward to (not to mention probably the best networking opportunity of the week, outside of Saturday night in Lan Kwai Fong). It also raises valuable funds for one of the industry’s great charities, so it’s well worth coming along.

Have a great Bank Holiday weekend – it sounds like the weather is going to be great. I know this because we received a very helpful press release from Argos, telling us that they are expecting to sell a lot of outdoor toys this weekend. It’s reassuring that we have retailers prepared to share such valuable insight with us – whatever would we do without them sharing such fascinating inside knowledge? (And no, we didn’t use the press release – I think our readers are looking for a slightly different calibre of information from Argos’ buying team…).