The week in toys and licensing…it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 23rd May 2014

No prizes for guessing where I’ve been this week. The Toymaster show is in the process of winding down as I write this blog, so I can’t give a definitive perspective on how it ended up. But the two days that the Toy World team spent in Harrogate certainly suggest it was a lively and successful event.

In fairness, it needed to be. I’m given to understand that when it comes to business in the independent channel, April was underwhelming for many suppliers, while the first few weeks of May have apparently fared little better. Someone summed it up succinctly by saying that “business dropped off a cliff after Easter”. It will be interesting to see to what extent the NPD data backs up this anecdotal feedback in due course.

However, I’m pleased to hear that there have still been a number of bright spots. The loom craze has taken hold with a vengeance, and leading suppliers of looms and bands such as Grossman and Character Options are in full-on stock allocation mode. Frozen merchandise is also in huge demand: stock remains scarce, but new licensees are coming on board all the time and the next few months should see fresh stock arriving from established and new licensees – get ready to fight for your share.

If the feeling was that independent retailers were holding back on writing orders until the show, the good news is that they appear to have remembered to bring their order-writing pens with them. The Irish contingent were out in force as ever, and there was also a decent sprinkling of non-members to boost the numbers. Toymaster celebrated 25 years of holding the May show in Harrogate on the Wednesday evening, but sadly we had to return to the office, due to the fact it’s press week. I have no doubt we missed a thoroughly enjoyable night.

One of the main topics of conversation at the show revolved around Schleich, after it was announced that the company had been acquired by private investment company Ardian for a figure believed to be in the region of €200m. It also emerged that former UK territory head Gary Wilmot will be leaving Schleich to join Character Options as senior national accounts manager in the near future, with his replacement currently being sought. Once details of the package on offer leaked out, I’m sure a few people went back to their rooms to tidy up their CVs.

The other big news of the week was the official unveiling of former Toy Fair organiser Simon Pilling’s exciting new project, Toytopia. Along with partner Nigel Warway, the pair have announced the launch of a brand new consumer toy show, which will take place in Manchester in October half-term week next year. We’ll be bringing you more details on this fascinating new venture in Toy World over the coming months, explaining the opportunities which the project offers and explaining how toy and licensing companies can get involved. Our exclusive news story on Toytopia can be found here. I gather Simon and Nigel have already had a very enthusiastic reaction to the news, and we wish them all the best in establishing Toytopia as an important event in the toy calendar.

Tesco has announced this week that it will be removing sweets from the till area, which is presumably great news for toy companies which offer impulse purchases such as blind bag collectables, stickers and trading cards: there is a nice gap there that will need filling, and I’m sure people won’t be shy in suggesting they have just the product to do it.

I enjoyed last night’s LIMA Spring Fling event. There was a great turnout from the licensing community, with a nice mix of young blood and experienced licensing stalwarts networking late into the evening. The panel discussion was a lively affair too, with some interesting topics up for debate.

Finally, spare a thought for poor Jan Mann, who slipped and broke her ankle at Toymaster on Tuesday evening, and ended up gamely working the show from a wheelchair. Mind you, after husband Rob missed the Isle of Wight cycle ride last year after chopping the tops off three of his fingers, you have to wonder whether Jan just wanted to get out of the cycle ride this year?

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