The stage is set … it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 3rd November 2023

Posting on LinkedIn this week while on holiday in the US, Midco’s Dave Middleton observed that the day after Halloween, “someone flicked a switch and today it’s Christmas!” And I thought…didn’t it always used to be like this? With bonfire night arguably not quite the major event that it used to be, Halloween now seems to mark the tipping point after which Christmas really kicks into gear.

Of course, suppliers would prefer things to ramp up earlier, and I completely understand why – but I suspect most consumers are perfectly happy to wait until now to start thinking about Christmas in earnest. Perhaps we were spoiled in the post-Covid period, when Gary Grant popped up on just about every TV and radio channel going to warn consumers that if they didn’t go out and buy their toys NOW, they would miss out due to stock shortages. Realistically, that isn’t going to be the case this year, and it would be disingenuous to claim otherwise.

So perhaps we have settled back into the traditional pre-pandemic pattern: get Halloween (and bonfire night) out of the way, then press the button marked ‘Christmas is coming’. Festive TV ads have just started to appear on our screens, including a rather irreverent M&S ad which I suspect may not go down too well with board game suppliers and the Elf on the Shelf / Elves Behaving Badly brigade. Far better – and infinitely more supportive of the toy market – is the new Smyths TV ad, which was unveiled yesterday, and certainly put me in a festive mood.

Christmas Top 10 toy lists also continue to come thick and fast – this past week it has been the turn of Tesco and ITV’s This Morning programme to put forward their suggestions. and we have DreamToys next week, which will hopefully result in plenty of media coverage. We certainly need to be nudging consumers to start thinking about their festive purchases soon, even though many of them are potentially waiting for Black Friday to see if they can save a few quid.

With preview season now in full swing, suppliers we have been speaking to have also confirmed that retailers’ plans are set to ratchet up in the next week or two, so the stage is very much set. Now all we need is for consumers to respond. Despite the obvious economic challenges, I genuinely believe they will – yesterday’s announcement that interest rates will remain unchanged certainly won’t have hurt…the last thing we needed was any more collective fiscal punishment right now.

Talking of previews, we’re getting around as many as we can, but we have to be mindful that we have an absolute beast of a January issue to wrestle into shape over the next seven weeks (and that’s on top of our December issue), so we need to make sure we get the balance right between being on the road and being in the office. You can help us massively: if you haven’t been in touch to book your slot for the January edition, please accept a gentle nudge to do that asap – we are already over 60% full (and tracking ahead of last year), so it will be great to hear from you whenever you are ready.

For those companies that we don’t manage to see during previews, we’ll make sure to catch up in Hong Kong, London or Nuremberg in January. We’re already receiving details of some great new ranges that will be unveiled at the shows, so we are all looking forward to seeing them in the flesh at the forthcoming trade fairs.

In the meantime, we have started to showcase new launches for next year, as you will see from the November issue of Toy World, which has been hitting desks this week. Extensive features in this edition on Q1 ranges and Outdoor toys show that toy companies are only too aware that ‘newness’ (urgh, I still hate that word) is more important than ever to encourage consumers to part with their cash, and we are delighted to share details of all the latest introductions from the widest possible selection of toy companies over the coming months.

I was sad to hear last Friday that Richard Gottlieb has passed away. A long-term contributor to Toy World and someone I counted as a good friend over many years, I loved Richard’s sense of humour and his quirky way of looking at things through a completely different lens to the rest of us. The ‘four amigos’ podcasts with Richard, Christopher Byrne, James Zahn and myself have always been a joy to record. He bore his recent health issues with incredible fortitude and courage – he actually looked at peace with his condition when I saw him in New York only a few weeks ago. A very sad loss and our deepest condolences to his wife Wendy and to all who knew and worked with Richard over the years. The huge amount of warm comments about him on the various LinkedIn posts announcing the sad news show just how much he was loved and respected by the toy community.

Finally, as the big retail guns start blazing with festive TV ads and promotions, don’t forget the impact that the indies can have on spreading the word about new launches on social media. Golden Bear’s Barry Hughes sent me a recent TikTok post from Fagan Toys in Ireland, which showed their staff playing Smart Ball Soccer Bot on the shop floor. Within a matter of days, the post had already accrued a whopping 3.2m views, which just goes to show what can be achieved by any retailer these days, regardless of their size and marketing budget. Sure, we all love the high profile, high budget Christmas ads, but there is more than one way to skin the proverbial cat. Over the next month, we can all do what we can to spread the word about all the great toys on offer this Christmas – because as one supermarket says, ‘every little helps’.