I’ve recently arrived in Hong Kong and have hit the ground running, fitting in as many showroom visits as schedules (mine and suppliers) permit. I’ve already encountered a new hazard: as if it isn’t hard enough navigating the bustling streets with locals who show little regard for walking logically or courteously, an increasing number are now going about their haphazard perambulations whilst looking at their mobile phone. What could possibly go wrong?
Of course, many Brits have already been here for almost a week, and some have even headed back to the UK or will be doing so shortly. I’m here for next week’s Toy Fair as well as catching up with toy companies in their showrooms, so I’m straddling the two weeks and still have a fair while to go before I return.
There are certainly a few logistical challenges when the showrooms and the Toys and Games Fair don’t run concurrently. Indeed, from what I’ve been lead to believe, whilst most UK buyers fell into the early arrival camp, many overseas buyers are like me and have only just come into town, so it’s going to be a protracted trip for a lot of suppliers too.
On the plus side, the mood out here seems to be positive. Although the final numbers from 2014 are still to be ‘counted and verified’, the general consensus is that the UK market enjoyed the strong Christmas trading period which had been predicted, and there are no stories of excessive stock carry over by retailers, so most people appear to be starting the year in a positive frame of mind.
Hopefully the Tesco news won’t put too much of a damper on proceedings. The planned store closures won’t affect the toy sector, as they will mostly be smaller convenience outlets. The fact that 49 larger stores now won’t be opened as planned is a shame, not least for the job market: it’s been estimated that around 13,000 jobs would have been created within these scrapped stores. And for existing staff, there will be months of uncertainty over their future: combined with the scrapping off the final staff pension, I think it’s fair to say that staff morale is not likely to be high in the short term.
But for toy suppliers, the non-openings are arguably more a case of ‘you don’t miss what you never had.’ The closure of the Cheshunt HQ will have come as a surprise to some, but in some respects, perhaps it’s a way of drawing a line under the what has happened in recent years. And while some people are pointing to the fact that neither the group CEO nor the UK CEO have ever run a grocer, given the events of the past two years, maybe that’s no bad thing?
There are a few new appointments to announce: Paul Mabbs has joined John Adams as national accounts manager, while Jon Ward has taken up the same role at Trends. There’s also a significant new addition to the Rubie’s global sales team, but I’m sworn to secrecy for another 10 days.
I’ve already seen some great new lines, including one from Flair that I think is going to be huge: basically, it’s the Frozen version of the SpiderMan web blaster. I suspect that’s going to appear on an awful lot of birthday and Christmas lists in 2015. I’ll highlight a few more lines which have caught my eye in my next blog post.