Toy co’s go to Hollywood …it’s the Friday Blog (on a Thursday)!

Published on: 6th April 2023

The Blog comes to you on a Thursday this week, as many of us in the toy community won’t be working on Easter Friday. Although, of course, stores will still be open, and retailers will be hoping for an Easter bonanza to get Q2 off to a strong start. I have definitely been detecting more encouraging vibes in recent weeks – sales seem to be picking up and, crucially, it could be argued that Q1 hasn’t been quite as tough as many had predicted.

I think many people had feared the worst for the early part of the year, and the media certainly played its part in causing some companies to (arguably) over-react and put a hold on activity. Thankfully, not everyone chose to batten down the hatches, and as we enter the Easter holidays, there is a feeling that while we are not yet completely out of the woods in terms of economic challenges, brighter days are most definitely ahead.

We’ve announced a raft of promotions and new starters across the UK toy market this week, which is usually a positive sign that companies are feeling optimistic. There have been too many to list everyone individually, but of note were the promotion of Guy Rooney to MD at Pat Avenue, where he succeeds Terry Crew (who will still be involved on a part-time basis), and the appointment of Simon Cartey to the role of commercial director at Toys R Us UK. The press release announcing his new position mentions that the retailer is “continuing to expand its digital footprint and looking to open physical stores in the coming months.” Whether that refers to the launch of concessions in WHSmith branches or standalone outlets isn’t made clear, so we’ll continue to watch that situation with interest.

And for all those asking, there is no further news on the Entertainer / Tesco arrangement, beyond the fact that the two retailers are continuing to work together on a trial partnership across a selection of stores. We should find out in the next few months whether that trial will be extended to include more stores in the second half of this year, or made more permanent (presumably from 2024, as I would imagine that plans are largely locked down now for the festive season).

Indeed, over in California, plans are already underway for spring summer ‘24, with the LA previews kicking off shortly. As I have mentioned before, I have never been to LA, so I rely on information from others as to what goes on there. Basic Fun’s Jay Foreman wrote an interesting Blog, which appeared on Richard Gottlieb’s Global Toy News website this week. Not only did it peel back the curtain to give a glimpse into the LA scene, but I thought it was also a fair and balanced overview. I have read some social media posts that have pretty much insinuated that all other events should pack up and go home (metaphorically), but Jay’s article seemed more measured in its assessment of the pros and cons.

One nugget in particular stood out for me: the LA event now stretches across no less than five weeks. Yes, you read that right – not five days, five weeks! Now, that is fine if you are permanently based in or near to LA, but for everyone else from across the US and especially international visitors, that is quite a significant time commitment. As Jay explains, the timeline is roughly as follows: Week 1 for Walmart (of course they get a whole week…). Week 2 is empty. Week 3 is for Target, Amazon, Costco and other large US retailers. Week 4 is empty again. Week 5 is for international distributors and retailers, as well as other US accounts.

So, for example, if you are a UK company targeting Walmart, Target, Costco and looking for international distribution, you could potentially be stuck in LA for five weeks – twice a year (once in April, then again in September). Do you fly home in the empty weeks or hang around? Either way it’s potentially a pain. All I will say is that LA clearly works for some – maybe many – people in the global toy community. And that’s great. But unlike some enthusiastic fans of the event, I am not convinced it will work for absolutely everyone. And that’s equally fine. There are other alternatives – Distoy, Hong Kong, New York Toy Fair, the new Direct Sourcing event in Amsterdam in October and others. I would be extremely wary of assuming every other event will eventually disappear to leave only LA standing.

For starters, although many buyers have pulled back on FOB commitments in recent years, conditions favouring FOB buying are improving; freight and raw material have returned to sensible, pre-pandemic levels, and for retailers looking for extra margin, FOB might start to make more financial sense again. And personally, I don’t see LA being the hub of FOB negotiations. Neither do I see it as an ideal location for many in the international community (European, Middle East, Asian etc), when compared to the likes of Distoy or Hong Kong. Especially if it takes up ten weeks in the calendar every year. But it’s not my job to tell people where they should or shouldn’t go (I’m not sure that’s anyone’s job to be fair) – just to give every event a fair hearing with an open mind.

Viewers of Dragon’s Den should keep an eye out for toy company Mood Bears in tonight’s episode – the company’s appearance was teased in a trailer at the end of last week’s show, which suggested that the range may have made quite an impression on the Dragons. I will be watching with interest to see if they succeed in getting any of them on board.

Finally, the latest trailer for the Barbie movie dropped this week, along with a host of social media activity to get consumers – and the trade – excited about the movie. It looks fantastic – both visually and conceptually. I must admit that a few years ago, when toy companies started talking about playing in the movie space, I had my reservations. A few of the early ‘toy company’ movies didn’t suggest I was too far wrong (Battleships, anyone?). But this year looks like being a game-changer: Hasbro’s Dungeons and Dragons film has been extremely well received (and rightly so), while the Barbie movie is shaping up to be huge fun and a massive success, both critically and commercially. Looks like toy companies and Hollywood might be a great mix after all. Happy Easter and I’ll sign off with my own homage to the Barbie campaign…