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What a week….it’s the Friday (Toy Fair round-up) Blog!

Published on: 24th January 2014

Well that was an intense week. But what a fantastic week it has been. I have always said that Toy Fair constitutes three of the most productive days of the year for myself and the whole Toy World team, and that was most certainly the case again this year. I saw a bewildering amount of exciting new product and talked so much that my voice appears to have dropped an octave this morning.

Taking up where Hong Kong left off, the mood was upbeat: even the NPD announcement that the market shrank by 1% last year didn’t derail that (perhaps because some of the November numbers had lead people to believe that the final figure would be further down than it turned out to be). One visiting American business owner told me that the economy only came up in one conversation all week: it seems we’re finally focusing on the things we can control rather than the things we can’t. And the buzz-phrase of the week was “Promises are up,” which even manages to mix some smart self-deprecation in with the optimism (something the toy trade has always been adept at doing).

By the end of the show, I heard more people suggesting it should be a four-day event than I have for many years (and I for one would certainly be in that camp), but somehow I suspect we’re still a way off that being a viable proposition. Turning up late for a meeting, one major buyer was complaining about their ridiculously hectic schedule of back-to-back half hour slots, and the struggle not to run so late that they had to miss a few. The person they were speaking to suggested he’d be happy to postpone the meeting to the Thursday afternoon, when he had a number of openings, but the buyer said that that wouldn’t be feasible because the whole team was going home that night (Wednesday). I guess while that sort of thing happens (presumably a ‘hotel budget’ issue?), a fourth day remains unlikely.

The venue for this year’s Toy of the Year awards was a distinct improvement on last year’s, and despite the not inconsiderable challenges of juggling food and drink while attempting to hold a conversation, I think everyone was happy with the change. The media auction raised a fantastic sum for the Toy Trust, and the awards themselves included a few surprises along the way. Notable victors included Character Options, who were delighted to win the overall ‘Toy of the Year’ for Teksta, and John Adams, who were thrilled to win ‘Supplier of the Year’. Lego once again dominated the Construction category (which may have to be renamed the Lego category if it carries on like this), while Joe Kissane stole the show (if you were there, you know why…).

Product-wise, I don’t have the room here to detail all the great stuff I saw. Yes, there were a number of old favourites coming back, and lots of ‘refreshed’ ideas, but when a blast from the past wins Toy of the Year, it offers concrete evidence that a great toy is always a great toy. Two stands down from Toy World’s home for the week, a brand new company was effectively relaunching one of the treasured Christmas presents from my own youth, Pro-Shot Golf (although it’s now called MiniMaster Golf), winning the ‘best small stand’ in the process. The fact is that the past is full of great ideas to plunder. But that doesn’t mean there was no new innovation and fresh thinking. There is a whole new wave of augmented reality products and lines which interact with the online world which will thrill 21st Century, tech savvy kids. And there were also some strong developments from companies who occupy a more traditional part of the toy market. In short, there really was plenty for everyone to get excited about over the coming months, no matter what part of the market they operate in.

Gossip-wise, the main titbits seemed to come from the licensing community: I gather that Turner’s Alan Fenwick will be moving on at the end of the month, while Zodiak Kids has parted company with a number of people including Jennifer Lawlor. Former Tesco buyer Nick Cooke is also joining the Dreamworks ‘revolution’, while Andrea Abbis has moved to a new role in Argos, to be replaced as trading manager by Linzi Walker, who comes from the consumer electronics team. Ray Hughes is looking for a new senior sales opportunity after having to leave Bandai for personal reasons (we wish him well in his search). It was also nice to hear that Graham Spark and his wife Clare are the proud parents of a new baby boy, born on Graham’s birthday just before the show.

I also had to admire the initiative shown by a group of teenage girls, who (successfully) registered as major retail buyers in order to get into the show on the first day in the hope of catching a glimpse of Union J, who were visiting the Vivid stand to help launch their doll range.

Finally I’d like to thank all those people who took time out of their busy schedules to stop by our stand to say hello, and to all of you for the very kind comments about what we’re doing here at Toy World. I’m now off to make a tiny dent in the mountain of follow-up emails before I head to Nuremberg next week, where more excitement no doubt lies in store. Bring it on….

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