Toy Fair reflections… it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 27th January 2017

My traditional Blog routine goes completely out of the window at this time of year. My usual Thursday afternoon writing slot wasn’t an option; I was still seeing the last few people at Toy Fair and enjoying a lively debate with Olympia security guards over car park and venue access. Instead, I’m up at the crack of dawn the morning after Toy Fair to pen a few words about the past three days. And a hugely enjoyable and productive three days they were too.

The UK toy community has once again enjoyed a very successful Toy Fair. I’ll not get dragged into the attendance debate; as I’ve said before, it’s all about seeing the right people. The major buying teams were out in force, while I saw plenty of independents over the course of the show. Toymaster’s Yogi Parmar told me that just shy of 100 members had turned up, which is apparently what they would normally expect. Some exhibitors suggested a regional bias, with more Southern retailers in evidence, but I certainly spoke to a number from Scotland, Ireland and the North who had made the trip. For all the other attendees who contribute to the atmosphere and the buzz of the show, it’s great to see them there, but it’s really the retail element on which the exhibitors will ultimately judge the event.

Not only were retailers there, but they were largely happy. The ‘pain’ of the initial pricing negotiations was probably felt most keenly in Hong Kong; by the time they arrived at Toy Fair, I suspect most retailers had settled into a pattern of accepting reasonable price increases and making their peace with the emergence of potential new price points, and were focusing more on the product side of the equation. Last year’s stellar UK toy market trading performance couldn’t have hurt their mood; the UK market reached £3.5 billion in 2016, the fourth largest in the world after the USA, China and Japan. An annual increase of 6.3% – or £200 million in monetary terms – represented the highest growth of the five largest European countries, with over 200 suppliers gaining value sales. There is still a debate to be had over profitability and margin issues, but the overall numbers were encouraging.

As for price increases, I sat in the bar with a group of independent retailers on the first night, and when I posed the question about whether they thought rising prices would have an adverse impact on sales, their answer was instant and emphatic – no. We will find out in months to come if they’re right, but these are people who know their customers personally, so I’m inclined to trust their instinct.

A few exhibitors suggested that the 6.00 finish time on the last day could perhaps have been brought forward, but a stand opposite us had a visit from a major retailer (“the one I’d been waiting for all week” he told us) twenty minutes before the show closed – and the poor guy had to attempt his best sales pitch with the sound of ripping Velcro and wobbling stand fittings all around him. I hope he was successful. It just goes to show that while the aisles are inevitably quieter in the final hours, a few diligent buyers are still working the show to the very end.

It was heartening to see so many people wearing the Toy Trust 25th anniversary pin badge, and fantastic to see the Media Auction once again raising a fine sum for the charity – I’m sure it will be a record fund raising year for the industry’s charity. Great, too, to hear that Roger Dyson will be receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award later this year; richly-deserved after such an illustrious toy career, not to mention the fact that Roger is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.

Printable gossip was not rife, but I did hear that Terry Crew will be retiring from his role at IMC later this year. Terry has done an incredible job since he took over the role, and he’ll undoubtedly be a hard act to follow, but what an opportunity for someone to take the helm of this hugely successful UK operation. Earlier in the week, we announced that Graham Brennan had taken over as commercial director for Hape, a move which clearly illustrates that the company has big plans for the UK market. I am sure there will be more developments to follow.

Elsewhere, there was a suggestion that Harrods is planning to move its toy department down to the fourth floor in 2018 (new fixtures all round!), while a number of retailers – specialists and department stores – appear to be aiming to cash in on the popularity of stationery and the ‘Squiggle boom’ by opening their own stationery departments. I’m also hearing grumbles about the increasing severity – and inflexibility – of fines applied by certain major retailers for late or missed deliveries, anything between three and ten times the order value on occasion. One supplier told me he is thinking of offering a large donation to the charity of one particular retailer’s choice for them NOT to place orders with him – and I don’t think he was joking!

There were too many great new products for me to mention here (I’ll only disappoint the ones I leave out), but I saw everything from great new tech developments to fantastic introductions in classic and traditional sectors – as well as more new games, collectibles and STEM lines than you can shake a proverbial stick at. On which note, the award for optimist of the week goes to the company that had emblazoned the ubiquitous phrase STEM TOY on a bag of sand!

And so another Toy Fair has drawn to a close. Enjoy a relaxing weekend, as for many of us it starts all over again in Nuremberg next week – and apparently with the temperatures in the region of minus six degrees to contend with too. The picture below sums up just how I look and feel right now, but I’m sure we’ll all be fighting fit again in time for the next leg of Toy Fair season.