Toy Fair Season – completed it mate…. It’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 10th February 2023

As I am now back at my desk after a whirlwind couple of weeks, the Blog returns to its traditional Friday slot. Toy Fair Season is now officially over – or at least, the Q1 part of it is. What was once four shows in six or seven weeks has become two shows back to back, with a quick trip to Birmingham Spring Fair to round it off for a few of us (more on that later).

I’ve covered London and Nuremberg individually in my previous two Blogs, but collectively, I felt that Toy Fair Season was a success. I get the impression that most people saw who they wanted to see, and the majority came away with renewed enthusiasm and plenty to follow up on. I am not sure you can ask much more of the season than that.

On a personal level, we were delighted with the response we received – for every meeting that didn’t quite go according to plan (there will always be a few of those), there were dozens more that were extremely encouraging. Suppliers are quick to use the tongue-in-cheek ‘promises are up’ aphorism, and I always say that if half of what we are promised at an event materializes, it’s been a successful show – but it does feel like most companies have plenty of good things coming through that they want to shout about, and surely no-one is in any doubt now about where the best place to do that is…

All of the print copies we took to Toy Fair were snapped up by the morning of the last day, despite our concerns that our January issue would be too heavy for some to carry. Quite the contrary, it turns out – so many people told us that they loved how comprehensive it was, and how they would be keeping it as a reference for the year ahead. The person in charge of magazine distribution at Olympia told me that he hadn’t seen a single copy discarded in a bin – and he admitted that was almost never the case at other trade shows. That was certainly the fate of a huge percentage of daily papers that used to be given out at the show – a good decision by the BTHA to dispense with a relic that belongs to a bygone age, long before email newsflashes were a thing. Other exhibition organisers might like to take note…

Away from the commercial element of the shows, there were some happy moments: Julie Pittilla and Michele Norton receiving Golden Teddies – well-deserved recognition for the role that good PRs play in helping toy companies to sell toys – along with some fantastic coverage of the London Toy Fair on ITV’s This Morning last week. The press office at London Toy Fair was a completely different place this year, a far cry from recent years, so well done to everyone concerned.

Sadly, there were also some very sad moments – over the past few weeks, we have lost Julian Page, Anthony Nunn and my long-term HKTDC contact Martin Evans. And the current situation in Southern Turkey and Northern Syria is heartbreaking; our thoughts are with our many toy community friends and readers in that region.

I think we were all hoping for a more normal year this time round. But over the past week, the ramifications of a tricky Q4 in certain parts of the world have started to make themselves felt: Amazon is apparently shedding warehouse space in the UK almost as fast as it had previously been acquiring it; Mattel has become the latest supplier to announce a dip in sales towards the end of 2022 and Disney is cutting 7000 jobs – 3.6% of its global workforce – despite overall company sales and profits rising in Q4 last year (I hate to think what would have happened if the company had made a loss.) The common denominator is that they are all large, multi-national corporations with headquarters in the US; it is generally accepted that last year’s trading figures were more brutal in the US than around the globe, and much of that was not that sales were necessarily terrible per se, but more that they didn’t match up to expectations (largely over-ambitious analysts’ predictions). I guess we have to be thankful that analysts have far less sway around these parts. The UK market was 3% down and everyone at Toy Fair was pretty much treating that as a victory – I do love the British mindset in that respect. Maybe US analysts should employ a few more Brits?

Anyway, as I mentioned before, I finished Toy Fair season in Birmingham at Spring Fair this week. It’s not quite as glamorous as finishing in New York, but these are the times we live in, and the NEC complex has developed  hugely since I last stayed onsite. The show remains what it is; principally a gift show with a dedicated toy section which attracts a mixture of buyers – some smaller toy indies who find it easier to get to Birmingham and back in a day; multiple accounts where there is some crossover with toys but perhaps not enough to visit a mainstream Toy Fair and, of course, garden centres. A LOT of garden centres. If I had £10 for everyone who mentioned how many garden centres they had seen / opened an account with, I could probably buy another competitor’s magazine (for those asking at Toy Fair – I can assure you we won’t be doing that). For those toy suppliers who do exhibit at Spring Fair, it is very much an opportunity to put themselves in front of buyers they may not see at other shows, and it sounds like many felt that was worth doing.

So, with Birmingham in the rear view mirror, that’s it: Toy Fair Season – completed it mate! (For our international readers, that’s a reference from the popular Inbetweeners TV show, and mainly there because Nico Blauw has officially banned the use of the phrase ‘that’s a wrap’ on LinkedIn, tagging me in despite the fact I have never uttered those words in my life…). For those of you who have missed out on the delights of The Inbetweeners, here’s an idea of what it would look like if we made a toy trade version of it…