What do you think of it so far…it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 8th June 2020

This Blog was published on Friday 5th June. Here it is again in case you missed it:

When we finally make it to the end of 2020, those TV programmes which look back at the year are going to be interesting, aren’t they? Who could possibly have foreseen how things would pan out when we congregated for Toy Fair season? It has been an incredibly challenging six months for the whole world – and yet, despite all the trials and tribulations, the toy market has fared surprisingly well, all things considered.

As the exclusive NPD article in the June edition of Toy World illustrates, while volume sales of toys are down in the UK, value sales are up – surely, we must be one of the few non-essential consumer markets to be in that position? While we are not out of the woods yet by any means, I do feel that the past few months have gone far better than we could ever have realistically anticipated.

It’s more than just commercial success too; toys have unquestionably played a pivotal role in helping parents get through the past few months. Most memes circulating at the start of lockdown suggested that copious quantities of alcohol would be parents’ key support mechanism – in practice, it turns out that toys were just as important (if not more so). Big ticket items have sold well – not just outdoor products, but many other toys too – as kids have enjoyed more free time to play, instead of their days being taken up by school and after-school clubs. Parents have been able to see first-hand just how long a good toy can keep children occupied for. And, for once, the sales increase hasn’t been driven by heavy retail discounting – toys have been selling close to full price across the board, while many other retail sectors have seen prices fall. In the main, sales haven’t been driven by heavyweight marketing campaigns either. We’ve seen the benefits of play appreciated by parents, which will hopefully stay with them long after lockdown is a thing of the past.

I don’t know about you, but May felt like a very long month. Now we’ve hit June, we do seem to have turned a bit of a corner. With stores due to re-open in just over a week, the general mood in the toy community appears to be improving. Our June edition arrived earlier this week – you can read the digital version of the issue here. Interestingly, as many people have read the June digital issue this week as read the May issue in a whole month (and the May readership was the highest since the Toy Fair edition). I get the sense that people are finally starting to look forward and plan for the second half of the year with greater enthusiasm and confidence.

The start of a new month has also led to a flurry of news stories: Geoff Sheffield has joined The Entertainer as buying director, with Stuart Grant moving over to a new position as sourcing director and John Driscoll leaving the business. It’s a great move for Geoff and we wish him all the best in his new role. Meanwhile, Argos is the latest retailer to announce that it will be re-opening a sizeable chunk of its store estate, albeit just for collections and returns at first. As I understand it, Argos is one of the big lockdown winners, so this move will hopefully give a further boost to toy sales.

Of course, there are still hurdles to overcome and not everything is returning to normal just yet. The BTHA has announced that its AGM and Industry Day will be held virtually this year: more details on that event here. Meanwhile, Spielwarenmesse has announced that Kids India has been cancelled: the show, which was due to take place in Mumbai in October, won’t be happening at all in 2020. And the news that Hong Kong has extended its ban on international visitors for a further three months surely places a huge question mark over the traditional October trip. While the travel ban will now be in force until the end of September, a further extension has not been ruled out; I would have thought that it would take a brave person to book flights for October under those circumstances. Or am I wrong – are you still planning to go if it is physically possible for travellers to enter Hong Kong by then? All feedback gratefully received, as I have been asked by quite a few people from the international toy community whether the trip is likely to take place, so it would be interesting to gauge the general consensus.

I was sad to hear that Michael Seres passed away last weekend. Known and loved by all the people who met him when he worked in the toy and licensing community, the numerous comments we’ve received since we announced the news show just how well-liked and respected Michael was. Our thoughts are with his family at this sad time, but through his ground-breaking work in the health sector, which he had focused on in recent years, his legacy will undoubtedly live on.

A quick reminder that there’s still time to be part of our special rebranded July ‘2020 reboot edition’ of Toy World – providing you get your metaphorical skates on, as deadlines are rapidly approaching. The all-important second half of the year is almost upon us, and this is your chance to let retailers know about your key new introductions, so they know which lines to support and invest in as we move towards the festive season.

Because, despite everything that has happened so far, as we know well in the toy community, Christmas always comes. Although maybe not in Vietnam – an industry friend based out in Hong Kong sent me this marketing message from a new toy show, which claims to be “the most professional baby products & toy expo in North ASEAN.” Although if that was the case, they would presumably have checked that there wasn’t anything major happening on the dates the show is due to take place…