Unforeseen circumstances … it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 22nd September 2023

I mentioned last week that my holiday plans had changed due to unforeseen circumstances. I am not sure if I have offended any passing Romani or the Universe in general, but it happened yet again this week. On the eve of heading to Brussels to co-present the Play for Change Awards with TIE’s director general Catherine Van Reeth, I tested positive for Covid. Yes folks, although you don’t see it in the headlines or on the news anymore, I am afraid it is still very much out there. Thankfully I am ok and already well on the mend – it wasn’t particularly pleasant, and the listlessness and fatigue were more noticeable this time around. However, it was nothing like the images we saw when Covid first hit, for which I am eternally grateful.

Disappointed though I was to miss the Play for Change award ceremony, I am delighted that the event went well and hearty congratulations to all the winners. When Mattel’s Sanjay Luthra first came up with the idea of a set of industry awards predicated not on sales, but on rewarding companies that were driving change in the toy industry, I knew he was on to something. I notice that some other global toy awards have now integrated similar ideas into their own categories, which is usually a sign that someone is on the right track.

In addition to the awards, TIE has also been working tirelessly with the EU to put forward the toy community’s perspective as the EU Commission considers revisions to the Toy Safety Directive. For anyone in the global toy community who sells toys to EU countries, it is worth reading our interview with Catherine and Sanjay to get some insight into some of the potential challenges ahead. Decisions have yet to be locked down, meaning companies will probably have at least four years to comply. Nevertheless, if the EU pushes ahead with a proposed ban on a wide range of chemicals, the implications for the toy market – and especially smaller players – could be significant. Definitely a situation to keep an eye on.

To be fair, I wasn’t the only person blindsided by unforeseen circumstances this week. I feel for Anna Knight and the team behind BLE, after a tube strike was announced for 4th and 6th October – the first and last days of BLE. This is in addition to the National Rail strike already announced for 4th. Having had to contend with the Queen’s funeral last year and a fire at the venue the year before, Anna told me only a few weeks ago that she was just looking forward to this year being boring and uneventful for once. If only…

Nevertheless, I am sure that the licensing community isn’t going to let Mick Lynch spoil the party. The tube strike may yet be called off if negotiations move forward, although it might be worth looking at your travel arrangements to make sure you have a Plan B. The organisers are actively looking at how they can support attendees, and we’ll keep you posted on any new developments. Personally, I don’t think the strike will dissuade many people from coming, especially as the vast majority will have made appointments and booked hotels already. I guess it might impact a few of the evening events that were due to be held in central London, and possibly the final day – but the licensing community is a resourceful lot, and I am sure there are plenty of workarounds. And if anyone sees me thumbing a lift home by the side of ExCeL on the Friday, I promise I won’t take up much space in the back seat.

I still have a few gaps in my BLE diary if anyone wants to catch up during the show. Ditto New York, although my schedule is likely to be full fairly soon. Having spent the entire week getting jealous of all the people out in LA posting pictures on LinkedIn, it is going to be very interesting to see how the LA and New York events complement each other, and how they differ. This week has been the main international week in LA, with UK distributors and retailers (interestingly, not just buyers, but several heads of commercial / buying / category as well) joining contemporaries from Europe and other territories outside the US. If you were there, I’d love to hear what you made of it – especially if this was your first trip. The LinkedIn posts I saw had a distinct vibe of the good old days in Hong Kong about them – a ‘work hard, play hard’ feeling, but also the sense of an ‘exclusive club’ that you look at and think “I want to be part of that.”

Finally, with the festive season rapidly approaching, we’ve unveiled a couple of retailers’ top toys for Christmas lists this week – with both Argos and Hamleys revealing their selections. This is your regular reminder that there is no such thing as a definitive list of top or best toys, and that when it comes to specific retailers’ lists, there is an inevitable degree of self-interest that drives them. Basically, don’t get too worked up at which particular toys appear on an individual list, or whether they should be seen as a ‘fair representation’ of the best of what the toy industry has to offer. It’s a list of around 10-12 toys out of thousands of fantastic products – it can’t hope to be comprehensive, and of course there is a strong commercial element to the make-up of each list. Whether you love them or hate them, the concept of a Christmas top toys list works: the Argos story was comfortably our highest-read article of the week and the Hamleys one the second – people do genuinely want to know what has made the grade.

I did think it was interesting that both Argos and Hamleys lists featured a healthy presence of own-brand lines – four on the Argos list (almost 20% of the total) and three on Hamleys (33% of the list). It seems that achieving a healthy margin mix remains essential for all retailers – and in the current climate, getting the right balance is more important than ever.

A week from now, I will be taking off for New York…at least I very much hope I will! Given the events of the past couple of weeks, I am not taking anything for granted. See you there (Universe permitting).