Toy Fair – done….it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 23rd January 2015

Toy Fair has come to an end, and a hugely successful three days it was. My head is still spinning with thousands of new products, my follow up list doesn’t bear thinking about and I am on vocal rest for at least a day or two, all of which indicates that I had a highly productive show. As, I am sure, did most people.

Following on from Hong Kong, there was a positive mood from the start, undoubtedly aided by the announcement from NPD that the UK market grew by 4% in value last year. I don’t think I have ever attended a show where someone doesn’t say “I think the aisles are quieter this year,” sometimes within 30 minutes of the show opening (when half of the visitors are probably still in the cloakroom or coffee queue). Personally I don’t tend to judge a show by that particular yardstick: if the aisles are full of packaging reps, digital marketing agencies and students, it is of little significance to exhibitors. As far as I could tell, the retailers that exhibitors really wanted to see were present and correct, and I had remarkably few grumbles about the show – or indeed the toy market as a whole – from anyone I visited all week. Now that is a yardstick I am happy to go by.

The Toy of the Year awards event was well attended and hugely enjoyable: the addition of Toy Fair TV presenters Anna and Gavin put some welcome extra fizz into proceedings, helping it to move along at a lively pace. No less than five Golden Teddies were awarded: congratulations to Epoch’s Mark Beaman, Azure Media’s Jeff Taylor, Rodwin’s Josephine Royce and BTHA stalwarts Tracey Butcher and Chris Baxter. There was also an outstanding achievement award presented to the incomparable showman Marvin Berglas, whose excellent new I-Magic range continues to push the magic category into exciting new territory.

As a member of the judging panel, I would like to think that we got the retail awards about right: the response from the audience to each winner being announced suggests we didn’t do badly. Smyths won the overall toy retailer of the year award, with Toys n Tuck, Ken Black, Toy Barnhaus, Morleys Stores and The Entertainer all winning individual categories.

The 50th Toy of the Year awards were interesting on a number of levels: there was a high percentage of distributed ranges – Minecraft, Little Live Pets, Shopkins, My Friend Cayla, Loom Bands – showing the importance of strong connections with key toy producers across the globe and events such as Distoy. Character Options won no less than four awards (one shared with Grossman), the importance of the dress-up sector to the toy market was marked with a special recognition award to Rubies (about time too), while great lines such as VTech’s Toot Toot, the Lego Movie range and Spin Master’s Sew Cool were rightly rewarded. Toy of the Year deservedly went to Jakks Snow Glow Elsa, while Mattel also picked up an award for its Frozen Sparkle line, reflecting the impact Frozen had on last year’s trading. I also think it was good to see an absence of token awards for reasons of political expediency: everything that won an award deserved to do so. If some companies didn’t get one this year, there is always next year. And to top it all, attendees left with a replica of the Corgi Aston Martin which won the very first Toy of the Year Award in 1965 – a lovely way to end a great evening.

Product-wise, I don’t have the room here to do justice to the huge amount of exciting new lines I saw. The media inevitably picked up on the retro trend and tech items (Spin Master’s amazing Meccanoid robot in particular received fantastic coverage), while drones were also a major talking point. Minions, Frozen and Star Wars product were everywhere  – perhaps even a little too prevalent (a topic I will almost certainly return to in later blogs). But away from the tech and licensed areas, there was also plenty of exciting development in more traditional categories, and I felt that the strong sales which the industry enjoyed last year have led to greater confidence in new product development as a whole. More detail in our post-show review in March.

Of course the major talking point during the show was the potential clash of dates with Nuremberg Toy Fair next year. I can offer a little enlightenment on the subject, having spoken to Spielwarenmesse organiser Ernst Kick during my trip to Hong Kong: first of all, it is certainly not the fault of the BTHA. Nuremberg will not be moving back a week – as had been anticipated – due to the timing of Fasching, or Shrove Tuesday (also known as Karnevals in parts of Germany). In Bavaria they have Carnival Sunday before Fasching, which next year falls on 7th February: presumably the organisers felt this would impact domestic attendance over the weekend, hence the decision to leave the show in its current time slot. I know that the BTHA is working hard to find a solution to this unfortunate situation, and for all those people asking what is going to happen, the truth is that it all depends on the outcome of the discussions with Olympia. We will, of course, keep you posted as and when there are further developments.

For now, congratulations to the whole BTHA team on another superb show. I’ll be heading off to Nuremberg next week, so if anyone wants me to drop on to their stand, by all means let me know. In the meantime, have a relaxing weekend – I’m sure you’ve earned it.

And finally, it seems that some people will explore literally every avenue to find an order at Toy Fair…….

Graham Canning