Trod Off… it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 22nd January 2016

This week has been a case of ‘the calm before the storm’, as pretty much the whole UK toy community has been gearing up for the unusual configuration of two back-to-back Toy Fairs in London and Nuremberg over the next week. In fairness, this scenario has occurred before, but not for quite a few years: however, we’ve had plenty of time to prepare, and I’m sure everyone is looking forward to getting down to Olympia now and getting things underway. I’ve been so busy getting ready that I haven’t even had time to look through the new Argos Spring Summer book, but on first glance it seems to be a case of ‘Honey I shrunk the catalogue.’

I’d prefer to wait until after London and Nuremberg to offer any in-depth comment on what impact the date reconfiguration will have on both shows, but I’m encouraged by what I’m hearing about major buyer turnout on Sunday: I have been told that the big names are booked in for appointments, which rather negates the oft-repeated theory about major buyers not working weekends. If the independents also turn out in force, the reservations that some suppliers had about facing a quiet Sunday may hopefully prove to be unfounded.

Away from the build-up to the shows, there has been plenty going on this week: the news that the second Star Wars movie has been postponed from May 2017 to December has received a less than enthusiastic – if resigned – reaction. Truth is that two years to make a movie of this scale was always ambitious, even for Disney. Now it has seen that the December launch of the first movie has hampered neither Box Office takings nor merchandise sales (albeit, perhaps not in quite the pattern it anticipated), Disney can move the second movie to December with confidence, with the added bonus that it is likely to be less of a threat to other mid-year Marvel or Pixar movies. I doubt retailers or licensees will be especially thrilled with another late window of opportunity, but clearly they won’t have any say in the matter. However, reverting to a December launch date will see Disney and its licensees face the same challenge they arguably failed to overcome this time round: how to release the right product into the market at the right time. An early release date for product conflicts massively with Disney’s desire to protect the plot line of the film: this time round, that dilemma has apparently resulted in product featuring characters that played little or no part in the movie clogging the pegs of toy stores around the world, while consumers bemoan the lack of product featuring lead female character Rey and, to a lesser degree, BB8. Maybe there will be a better balance second time around….

Elsewhere, Asda has been making headlines after announcing a major restructure involving a raft of redundancies at both head office and store level, a move it says is necessary to enable it to remain competitive in the cut-throat grocery sector. No news yet on any potential casualties from the toy buying team, but hopefully it will emerge unscathed – we’ll keep you posted on further developments.

Perhaps the most surprising story of the week is our lead story today: Daniel William Aston, the owner of Trod (Buy for Less) is facing extradition to America, where he could face a jail sentence and a fine of up to $100m, following FBI raids into price-fixing charges involving sales to American customers on the Amazon website. Admittedly the company is no stranger to controversy, but this turn of events does seem a little extreme. We’ll bring you more news as and when we can, but for anyone asking (and I would wager a few will), I’m reliably informed that Toymaster is completely unaffected by this development.

Finishing on a more positive note, I hear on the grapevine that NPD is going to announce some very healthy numbers for December and indeed 2015 as a whole at Toy Fair next week, mirroring the strong performance it confirmed for the US market earlier this week. So we enter Toy Fair week on a high, which is always a good thing. See you there!