Well, it’s been great to be here, I have to say.
It’s pretty exciting to see products in real life and talk to people face-to-face or, in this case, mask-to-mask. The mask mandates are being taken quite seriously, and Cathay even pulled a couple out of line when we were boarding when they objected to wearing a mask. I don’t know whether they ultimately did or not. The flight attendants were up and down the aisles throughout the flight, ensuring they were worn.
As you can imagine, the show was smaller than in past years, taking place in two halls, 1 and 3. According to the T.D.C., the ratio of buyers to exhibitors was as strong as it is in a pre-pandemic year, and they are pretty confident that this is a “transitional” year and that they’ll be moving ahead. There are big plans afoot for the 50th edition next year.
I have been extremely impressed with their Exhibition+ program. It is far more sophisticated than anything I’ve seen before. It got high marks—mostly—from the exhibitors I talked to. It was facilitated at-show meetings and virtual meetings. Their software is seamless and easy to use. I think it’s largely because they made a considerable investment in building the tech infrastructure, something that’s really required to build an effective, easy-to-use platform. (There may be some redundancies with Zoom and video conferencing programs, but there are also some enhanced features that could be very useful. As the T.D.C. is quick to point out, it’s a work in progress, but the hybrid model looks like it’s here to stay.)
Overall, the show organizers are mindful of the changes in trade shows, but the Hong Kong government is also putting together a variety of “schemes” to support the industry. How it will evolve remains to be seen, but I’m really impressed with the strategic thinking.
While there were few Americans here, one of the things that seemed significant is that at least three companies told me that the American companies, or their agents, were looking for O.E.M. goods. The companies said they were willing to explore that, but if you think back 20 years or so, when I first came here, there was much more of that as a rule, and in the intervening years, many Hong Kong companies have established their own brands. (Silverlit and Eastcolight come to mind.) In addition, representatives of some major retailers were stressing that they were looking for O.E.M. goods, too. I think there are still branding opportunities, but this is also significant in the contraction of the market.
Another observation while walking the show is that product design has taken a quantum leap forward. Many Chinese Mainland companies have upped their games significantly, and there is stuff that is easily ready to play on a world stage. This is most evident in the preschool sector, but certainly not exclusively. There is an understanding of consumer sensibility and a rethinking of what might be considered a commodity product that will stand out.
Licensing continues to come into its own here—at least with what’s on display. Both Hong Kong and China have been working on this, as we know, and it seems as if many companies finally get it—and have run with it. From Disney to C.A.T. to Barbie, Sanrio, and L.O.L., the words “officially licensed” are prominently featured on booths, and the product is done really well. This was particularly true in the collectibles and “Kidult” areas, where authenticity is all. A stroll through the Mong Kok market will still turn up products that can only be called “infringing,” but nowhere near as many as in past years, which was always the case in those markets.
Finally, birthrates are something that was top-of-mind for many here, and while there are no definitive answers, people are looking to what this means for the long-term evolution of the industry.
As always, it’s terrific to be here, and I’m looking forward to next year.