Where there’s a will…it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 21st February 2020

There is potentially some good news to start the Blog this week: there are tentative signs that the Chinese government is succeeding in bringing the coronavirus outbreak under control. It’s still early days, but there appears to be tangible evidence of containment. Nevertheless, the ramifications for the toy industry continue to reverberate. Apparently, some retailers have been contacting suppliers to ask about them about their plans to ensure delivery schedules are not affected. Realistically, given the severity of the situation and the speed with which it developed, I am not sure that suppliers had much time to put any genuine contingency plans into effect. And while hope is not a strategy, whether or not goods can be shipped on time does seem to be out of most people’s hands.

Factory workers are beginning to return, although more in dribs and drabs than en masse. The short term prognosis remains unpredictable; with a number of major movies being released over the next few months, any shipment delays would potentially impact those licensing programmes. The world is watching and waiting for further clarification.

In addition to disruption to the smooth flow of goods, many other businesses have been affected. Spare a thought for Chinese toy retailers, whose peak season – coinciding with Chinese New Year – was decimated by curfews and a population more concerned with tracking down masks or toilet roll than worrying about what toy to buy their kids. And then there are the trade exhibitions due to take place in the first half of the year in Asia, which are inevitably under threat. The Hong Kong Trade Development Council has either cancelled or postponed all events through to April (most have been moved back to July), while there are strong rumours that April’s Canton Fair, a popular sourcing event which traditionally attracts a large number of people from the international toy community, will be the latest event to be cancelled or postponed.

Looking even further ahead, I have heard of one major retailer which has told UK suppliers that it will not be travelling to Hong Kong in May for its planned spring summer 21 selection meetings. However, there is an interesting twist to this particular tale; the retailer in question has instructed suppliers that the meetings will still go ahead with its Hong Kong team. So, let me get this straight – the retailer isn’t prepared to lets its staff travel, yet still expects its suppliers to fly out? Hmm, that does seem a little disingenuous; one rule for its own team, another for its suppliers – so much for the concept of partnership. And if the UK buying team doesn’t need to be there for the meetings this year, does it really need to be there next year?

Of course, as we saw with the Hong Kong January trip, people can quickly reinstate their travel plans should the situation be fully under control come May. And if not, there are always other options; one person posting on my LinkedIn feed this week admitted he was being asked to arrange for bulk sample selections to be sent to clients across the globe for preview meetings, due to the fact they can’t currently travel to China. Where there’s a will, there’s a way…

And finally on the subject of the Far East, I hear that the Hong Kong Rugby 7’s tournament has been postponed, and will now take place around the same time as the traditional October trip. That is going to be one lively week!

A little closer to home, it was announced this week that Groupon is to stop selling goods by the end of this year. Moving forward, it will instead concentrate on the experiences market, which it considers more lucrative. In fact, CEO Rich Williams couldn’t have made it clearer – in a letter to shareholders, he pulled no punches: “Goods has outlived its role as a business driver and has become a significant drag on our business.” Well, that certainly told suppliers, didn’t it? My understanding is that the move came as something of a shock to the Groupon buying team who were expecting a scaled back operation rather than a complete exit. There are some good people there, so hopefully they will find new roles within the toy market as the year progresses.

Toy Fair season officially reaches its climax in New York this weekend. I will be heading to the show this year, so I look forward to catching up with some of our US and International readers and clients during the trip. From what I have heard, there is a sizeable contingent of major UK buyers travelling to the event this time around, possibly aided by the fact that MGA made it clear it would be holding back numerous new ranges for launch in New York. So maybe the US toy market owes Isaac a drink? Whether our old friend Covid-19 will have any impact on the show remains to be seen; the organisers have taken every sensible precaution and the fact that there are no reported cases in New York as yet should hopefully mean few people have been discouraged from attending.

Finally, The Entertainer has unveiled a new social media star….called Gary. No, not that one: this Gary is described as “a furry friend who loves to play with the latest toys.”  I can just imagine the meeting where the naming decision was made:

“Right, what about Stuart?”

“No thanks. Anyway, isn’t that a Minion?”

“Ok, how about Duncan?”

“I’d rather not, if it’s all the same to you.”

“Well, I guess it had better be Gary then.”

I challenge you to watch this and not think of the ‘other Gary’ whenever the presenter calls his name…