By Steve Reece, a brand management consultant in the toys and games industry.
Apparently we are in the middle of an ever-worsening economic climate in Europe, a eurozone crisis, and a downward spiral of economic recession. I didn’t get any impression of that from this year’s European toy fairs. In fact, it almost seemed the opposite! Rarely have I been to toy fairs with so much news, innovation, and newsworthy product launches.
For me, the season started with the UK show. In its third year back at London’s Olympia Exhibition Centre, this show was buzzing, with a packed out hall and mezzanine, plentiful foot traffic, and a generally vibrant atmosphere.
Then onto Nuremburg, where the temperature dropped as low as -17 C / 1 Fahrenheit. Despite the inhospitable weather, the show itself seemed as vibrant as ever. While the attendance figures were reportedly down, international visitors hit record levels, and it was notable that the majority of top-level industry people I expected to be there were indeed present.
Finally, back to England for the Spring Fair at Birmingham, which again seemed to hit new highs, with the toy and game companies in a new hall together. While I heard some grumbling about visitor numbers, most of the people I spoke to were happy with the foot traffic to their stands.
In product terms, while there has been the usual raft of A-level entertainment properties, movies, TV shows, etc., this toy fair season has been notable for two glaring, and seemingly contrary, trends in Europe:
1. Apps – the industry seems to be in gold rush mode again, where combining toys and games with mobile apps creates a seemingly compelling product proposition. As with all gold rushes, some will get rich quick, and some will find themselves counting the cost of the Fools Gold that is right category, but poor/un-engaging execution (i.e. just because you slap “app” on it, doesn’t mean you can forget everything else a good product needs!).
2. Construction – I don’t recall the construction toy category being this lively in years. Lego products have been absolutely flying in the UK and Europe, while Hasbro’s Kre-O is looking like a strong up and comer, having delivered with Transformers in 2011, and being set for more success with Battleship (the movie).
On a more sombre note, while there have been apparently vibrant areas of the industry, retailers in general are still having a tough time, and while toys is generally somewhere between recession proof and recession resistant, customers’ businesses are generally not, and thus trading conditions and negotiations appear to be increasingly tense.
And spare a thought for some of our Southern European brethren – aside from the much-popularised sovereign debt issues in Greece, Spain is now seeing unemployment around 21-22 percent, which does not bode well for the market.
Finally, on a brighter note, my conclusion from the 2012 European toy fairs is that while things may seem tough for us, there are people and industries out there having a much harder time, and we all expect there will still be presents bought across the world for kids this Christmas!