I’m writing my final Hong Kong Blog on the harbour viewing deck in Kowloon, before settling down to watch the sun set over the iconic Hong Kong skyline while listening to David Bowie on my iPod (the inspiration for this week’s Blog title).
I’ve spent the past three days at the Hong Kong Toys & Games Fair, which was as busy and bustling as ever. Half a lifetime ago, when I used to DJ a couple of nights a week, one of my signature tunes was The Velvelettes’ ‘Needle in a Haystack.’ I think it’s a pretty accurate summary of the show: there are undoubtedly some great lines here, but you have to be thorough and commit to an awful lot of walking to find them. As someone pointed out, starting at the front of the halls is less effective; anyone with their eyes open will find those lines. It’s the gems tucked away at the back of halls or in obscure parts of the show that are the prize for the truly diligent – and there are definitely some very big retail buyers and suppliers who methodically trawl the aisles in search of nuggets that competitors are unlikely to have.
There is still a lot of generic, open market product on show, but the Brand Name Gallery and Tech Zone expand each year, while character merchandise appears to be gaining a wider foothold (assuming, of course, that it is all legitimate, officially sanctioned merchandise….). You couldn’t walk 10 feet without seeing a drone: it has undoubtedly been a successful category, but it does seem to be tipping into over-supply mode at the lower end of the market.
I heard very little talk of the volatility of the exchange rate, and in particular the RMB’s tribulations: it seems that the majority of Chinese factories still prefer to be paid in US dollars, which is how they pay for raw materials and settle the majority of their outgoings (apart from staff wages). There was some discussion of China’s two child policy, but it’s important to keep it in perspective: the most optimistic projection suggests a potential rise of around 15% in the birth rate, but some are querying this figure and most accept it will take at least a few years to fully take effect. Indeed, some people believe that opening up a few more big cities in China (there are apparently a lot more than most Westerners believe) to Western imports would be a lot more beneficial to the prospects of global toy brands.
Some concern was expressed at Donal Trump’s latest – frankly unhinged – outburst: this time he is proposing to levy a 45% tariff on Chinese imports in order to – in his words – “protect American jobs.” Except, of course, that anyone with a modicum of business acumen will realise it is likely to do the exact opposite, especially as the manufacturing base in the USA effectively disappeared years ago (how can you protect something that no longer exists?). Just one more reason to hope that Americans see sense and vote for someone else (anyone else in fact).
There are a few pieces of news to pass on: a reshuffle in the Hamleys buying team has seen the departure of Laura Olver, who has been replaced on an interim basis by Sarah Strangeway. I gather that Lee-Anne Neale has left Goldfish and Bison to join Learning Resources, while I also understand that the B & M Bargains / Pie Face saga is far from over. If what I am hearing is accurate, you aren’t likely to see any Hasbro product on B & M shelves in the foreseeable future, and even that may not be the end of the matter. Watch this space….
My final showroom visit of the week – to Worlds Apart – gave me another product to add to my list of favourite lines of the week: I absolutely love the new Selfie Mic, and speaking to some retailers at the airport on the way home, it seems I am far from alone.
I occasionally like to end the Blog with an amusing photo and I had a few options this week: ‘Girls holding signs’ was an early front runner (it will make no sense if you didn’t visit the show, but trust me, there were literally hundreds of them), as was ‘Man pushing a little trolley on a big trolley.’ But in the end I settled on this image tweeted by Bladez, which I think a lot of people will relate to after 10 days of early starts, late nights and general sleep deprivation. Goodbye Hong Kong, thanks for having us. Next stop: London, baby.