We just got back from Asia, visiting with a few factories and attending both the Hong Kong Gift Show and the Canton Sourcing Fair. Our hosts were gracious, the food was fantastic, and the products we found were… boring.
Sure, there were a few interesting new electronic toys, as factories continue to bake their existing IP into more and more products. So in addition to a sea of RC micro-copters, there was a "flying Santa" figure. The "Twilight Turtle" concept has expanded to ladybugs and lambs. And the ubiquitous "weasel ball" has been upgraded to include a noisy potato chip bag prop. But other than that, not much jumped out at us.
There was one product that was so ridiculously funny (stupid) that it could wind up being the next big thing in the US. I won't ruin the surprise, but think cute little kitty cats, wearing victorian dresses, in a mosh pit. 'Nuf said.
In looking at row after row of circa-2008 products, it dawned on me: 2010 was the year the money ran out.
Innovation takes capital, and in the US last year, capital all but went away. Banks stopped lending, angels held their money in CD's, and the big manufacturers played it conservative with licenses and the "sure things". We all know the story, but it's even more powerful when you see it played out on a global scale.
In talking with a few industry vets who attend the EU shows, they held similar sentiments. Great products, as one would expect from European manufacturers – just nothing earth shattering. One said it was derivative after derivative of Settlers of Cataan. Good, but not "Wow".
All of which makes me look forward to New York Toy Fair in 2011. After a year of belt-tightening, companies may hit the scene with guns blazing, packing two years' worth of innovation into one show. If not, it's disappointing to think that we'd have to wait another full year to see what's next.
In the interim, the dancing kitty thing really is pretty darn funny… Wait 'till you see it.