The UK Toy Fair – 60 Years Young

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John Baulch,
Publisher of leading UK toy trade magazine Toy World, rounds up events at the recent London Toy Fair
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The UK remains one of the few European territories to have its own dedicated toy trade show. The event went through a difficult phase a few years ago, after the show relocated to the unpopular ExCeL venue in the east end of London in 2001 (long before the Olympics rejuvenated the area).
Thankfully, four years ago, the organisers were able to move the show back to the venue which many consider to be its spiritual home, Olympia. Since the return, the show has been re-energised, and each year since has seen an increase in both visitors and exhibitors. This year’s the UK Toy Fair
celebrated its diamond anniversary – and let’s face it, 60 years is certainly no mean feat for a trade show in the current trading climate.

The general consensus was that this year’s UK Toy Fair was a very good show indeed. It’s an intense experience, as the show takes place over only three days. This means a packed schedule of back-to-back meetings, along with numerous snatched conversations in the aisles in between, plus of course
the essential post-show evening networking. The fact I ended up with a croak where a voice should be was hardly surprising. But, without a shadow of a doubt, it was all worth it.

 Continuing on from Hong Kong, the mood remained buoyant. The official confirmation from NPD at the start of the show that the UK toy market ended up only 1 % down in 2012 added to the air of positivity. Indeed, at the risk of courting controversy, if children’s tablets and Activision’s Skylanders figures had been included in the figures (as I personally believe they should, given that a significant percentage of the sales of both categories went through toy stores and departments, rather
than the consumer electronic channel), the market would actually have shown a very significant increase. Either way, the fact that many British parents did not rein in spending on their children has to be an encouraging sign for the year ahead.

As to the show itself, I thought it was an unqualified success. Ultimately, what do you want from a good trade show? You need buyers to turn up and for them to be in a positive frame of mind. Everything else – consumer media hoopla and all – is just the icing on the cake. On both of these
important counts, the show ticked all the right boxes. The major British accounts
all seemed to be present, and if some people questioned how many independent retailers had turned up, all I can say is that I saw the majority of what I perceive to be the go-ahead ones.

The Toy Retailer of the Year and Toy of the Year awards are presented at an evening gala event during the show. This year it was great to see some fresh names among the retail winners – including regular Toy World contributor Toy Barnhaus and Midco Toys, who both represent an emerging new
breed of independent retailer; young, enthusiastic, passionate and huge fans of toys. As for the Toy Awards themselves, I suspect few would argue with the majority of the choices. If they showed a bias towards the larger toy companies – Mattel, Hasbro, MGA, Vivid Imaginations, Leap Frog and V Tech were all triumphant – it was perhaps a reflection of last year’s trading patterns. And a couple of well-deserved special recognition awards – for IMC and John Adams – illustrated that it wasn’t just the corporate giants who had a monopoly on strong performance in 2012.

For those of us who make a living from the toy market, the Toy Fair remains indispensable – it offers the perfect opportunity to view all the new products which will drive the market in the year ahead, catch up with pretty much our entire customer base, swap opinion and gossip with people in the know and generally strengthen relationships with the people who will make a difference to our business going forward. I can’t think of a better way to spend 3 days.

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