by Christopher Byrne, The Toy Guy, president, Byrne Communications
Despite the recent social unrest in Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Toys and Games Fair — presented in conjunction with the Hong Kong Baby Products, Stationery, and International Licensing Fairs — went off without a hitch. Throughout the week of the show, the city was quiet, business was brisk, and buyers were excited about the opportunities presented.
Benjamin Chau, deputy executive director of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC), says attendance for the four events showed that the Sino-U.S. trade friction did not affect the sourcing sentiment of global buyers, and that those buyers continue to see Hong Kong as an important international exhibition and sourcing hub.
“For the Toys and Games Fair, the Baby Products Fair, and the Stationery Fair, we saw an increase in attendance of buyers from a number of different countries, including developed markets, such as Australia, Germany, and the U.S., as well as emerging markets, such as Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Poland, and Vietnam,” says Chau, who produces the shows. “The number of mainland Chinese buyers recorded double-digit growth.”
The 46th Toys and Games Fair had more than 2,100 exhibitors from 40 countries and regions and welcomed more than 51,000 buyers, according to the HKTDC. An additional 66,000 buyers attended the other three shows. According to representatives of the HKTDC, additional measures — including special airport desks and transportation — effectively assuaged the concerns of overseas exhibitors and buyers.
These efforts — combined with a collective sense of relief among U.S. representatives following the news that (at least for now) the administration will not impose additional tariffs — reduced some of the reticence about doing business in an uncertain economic environment. The unsettled issue of tariffs throughout last fall caused widespread uncertainty about pricing for early orders.
Indeed, the questions of who would be coming to the show and whether or not to attend at all were still in play during the weeks leading up to the show’s opening on Jan. 9. There was a sense among the manufacturers of having dodged a bullet, but also an awareness that the situation could change with just one tweet.
New Product Still Center Stage
As visitors walked into the convention center, a large sign with the words “level up” greeted them. Those two words were an apt description of the toys on display: The level of design and engineering continues to become more sophisticated every year. Nowhere was that more evident than in the level of product presented by many of the companies from mainland China. These companies are increasingly serious players on the world stage, from design and play value to an ability to deliver high-quality goods at highly competitive price points. It would be impossible to cover even a fraction of the products on display, but what follows are some of the intriguing toys found.
In terms of major product categories, STEM and STREAM (science, technology, robotics, engineering, art, and math) continue to be a driving force in the industry, particularly in Asia. Eastcolight continues to innovate with science kits enhanced by augmented reality, offering immersive play and the ability to update content.
STEM without screens continues to be a major trend this year. For example, the STEM Wall, from MasterKidz (pictured above), is a customizable, modular system with seemingly endless ways to expand and adapt as kids attach different pieces to create art, projects, or almost anything they can imagine. India-based Playshifu continued its successful Plugo product line, which debuted in the U.S. last year. Combining physical play with tablet play, the optical technology creates a classic, interactive experience enhanced by the tablet. As the integration of tech and traditional play patterns continues to become more seamless, companies and products such as these are likely to be strong players on the international stage, largely due to relatively easy adaptation for language.
Many manufacturers are still betting on games to be hot, with enties across a wide variety of game categories. First-time, Hong Kong-based exhibitor Catchup Toys Ltd. showed three games, including Spinning Spider, a skill-and-action game, and Looney Fish, a card game that comes with a light-up fish that reads the conductive ink on some of the cards. The gameplay requires luck, strategy, and twists and turns to entertain young players. Catchup Toys Ltd. CEO Nick Ying says that the show had been very successful for the company, with high traffic and lots of interest both from buyers and potential distribution partners.
Fandom and pop culture (or what are branded at the show as “kidult”) toys also attracted a lot of attention from buyers around the world. These products, designed to appeal to older kids or adults, focus largely on licenses. While the audiences for each property may not be overly broad, loyal fans are snapping up all kinds of collectibles. Strong price points and high margins make them attractive to specialty retailers as well. Soap Studio, which has made an international name for itself with its highly detailed models — notably a sophisticated Batmobile — showed collectibles based on Game of Thrones and the extended Harry Potter property, including figures from 2018’s Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. No category was too obscure for the fandom audience. Pyramid China’s storage boxes, inspired by different Harry Potter Hogwarts houses, were one of the more interesting introductions, and company representatives say they had strong interest from around the world.
As always at the Hong Kong show, R/C was a huge sector on display. One of the innovations this year was cars with the ability to move side to side, rather than just forward and back. Not all of the R/C offerings were terrestrial, however. One of the show’s hits was Go Go Bird, an easy-to-operate, flying R/C that looks like a parrot. It stopped visitors in their tracks as they walked the floor. Developed by Hanwang, this robotic bird flies amazingly. It is the company’s first toy, and it was its first time at the fair. CEO Yingjian Liu says, through an interpreter, that the company was interested in developing a toy product and originally planned to create a car. However, after researching the market, he realized that while there were a lot of vehicles, there were virtually no flying R/C toys other than drones. The result was Go Go Bird. Rumor has it that an American company picked up the toy for U.S. distribution; however, at print time, that’s still a closely guarded secret.
Professional Development and Education
The four shows are complemented by a comprehensive education program that includes speakers and panels on various topics, as well as a half-day toy conference. Designed to help attendees understand and capitalize on current trends and stay informed about the latest business conditions, the topics included discussion of product categories, the impact of Brexit, and the dynamic retailing environment. Presenters also covered changing safety standards in Europe — which will affect international business — and hot-button issues, such as privacy related to kids’ products. These sessions are invaluable for those looking for the latest information on these topics. Those who are interested can find summaries of these presentations at hktdc.com.
The View from TST
During the show at the Hong Kong Convention Center, many members of the international toy industry decamp to the East Tsim Tsha Tsui (TST) area. In December, it looked like many manufacturers and retailers would stay home, but that had changed by January. According to several manufacturers, Costco was the only major U.S. retailer that didn’t make the trip this year. Gary King, the new CEO of RedwoodVentures, noted that his company went from only a few confirmed appointments in December to a suddenly full agenda of retail presentations throughout the week.
The streets of TST definitely seemed a little emptier than in years past, but the emphasis was on the quality of meetings rather than the quantity.
Meanwhile, back on Wanchai (the area on Hong Kong island where the show takes place), excitement remained high despite reports near the end of the show that business was down last year. There was a constant reminder that this is a product-driven business, as many companies reported growth even in a challenging environment. As always at the Hong Kong Show, innovation, design, and fun were the main events.
This article originally appeared in the February 2020 issue of the Toy Book. Click here to read more!