For anyone heading to Birmingham’s NEC this September for your annual instalment of Autumn Fair antics, you can rest assured – things won’t be how they’ve ever been before.
2019 marks a year of sweeping changes to the show that has become a permanent and must-attend fixture in the industry calendar, with a relaunch that promises a new location within the NEC itself, new stages, new show sectors, new theatres, and a completely revamped content programme.
“We’ve done everything we can to help ensure that suppliers and visitors are able to stay ahead of the curve and continue to drive orders and sales into late 2019 and beyond,” Julie Driscoll, regional director for Spring Fair and Autumn Fair tells ToyNews.
The plans for the 2019 event are large, but not wholly unexpected. Autumn Fair is a show now well into its third decade, and one that over the course of a generation has maintained its position as the definitive show for all those operating in the home and giftware sectors. Keeping such a reputation is no accident, and, at a time when the retail sector ‘continues to change beyond all recognition,’ this is an event that realises the importance of evolution.
“More so than ever, retailers need to be looking beyond the UK’s borders for competitively priced and quality products,” continues Driscoll. “Meanwhile, the boom in e-commerce and the emergence of social media as a venue for product sourcing has left many retailers feeling like they’re struggling to keep up with trends.
“To reflect this, 2019’s show will be forward and outward looking. We have the must-know colour trends information for autumn/winter, as well as international sourcing and deal making opportunities with manufacturers and suppliers from all over the world.”
Alongside its line-up of exhibiting toy companies and the thousands of retailers – from the independent outlets, to the major retail chain brands – that walk the halls, Autumn Fair has long been championed for its curated educational track.
It comes as little surprise, then, that once again, the show’s organisers are placing a great emphasis on this aspect of the show.
Driscoll explains: “It’s more important than ever for retailers to listen to each other, and experts on the sector, at a forum such as Autumn Fair – drawing on the shared knowledge and expertise to ensure that we have the know-how to overcome and adapt.
“This year, the show will look at the sector’s innovators for their take on how we can make the most of digital disruption, the sustainability agenda, and Brexit.”
This year, visitors will find a “totally revamped content offering”, with an increased number of retailers speaking at the show, while there will be a track – held at a dedicated Sourcing Theatre – that will take a look at business beyond the UK’s borders. It’s teeing us up for Brexit.
“We want to help retailers move into the growing revenue sources that is private label, or offer something a little different, to bring the best of the world to our doorsteps,” adds Driscoll. “Speakers here will be well-versed in what it takes to find the best products from further afield and expand business horizons.”
Of course, amid the revamp and the changes to this year’s show, one of the constants will be Autumn Fair’s approach to the all-important toy sector. Throughout the show’s history, the toy sector has played an integral role to the success of Autumn Fair, and when it comes to 2019’s offering, Driscoll insists the plan is to double-down on efforts.
“With cross buying opportunities aplenty, the biggest exhibitors on show and new product inspiration, Autumn Fair is a one-stop shop for buyers,” she says. “With the all-new Play and Tech area now housed adjacent to the ever-popular Gift showcase, visitors can expect a greater range of products and exhibitors than ever before.
“The show also has the potential to make retailers’ Christmas if they really go in wanting to make the most out of their Autumn Fair experience. Very soon we’ll also be announcing some new features to really help visitors get to grips with the show’s size and allow them to make the most out of their visit.”
On the topic of the evolving markets and retail space, none have seen such change as much as the toy industry these past few years, and it’s a point that the show’s organisers are only too aware of. Autumn Fair, according to Driscoll, is a show that “understands that what ignites and captures the imaginations of children and toy enthusiasts today, is not what grabbed their attention even a few years ago.”
To this end, the show’s re-edit intends to bring a new sector to its attending toy buyers; a “sector for sourcing the kinds of products that will excite children and toy enthusiasts well into 2020.”
“The new Play and Tech sector – housed in our gift showcases – will offer a greater focus on gadgets and interactive toys, while still retaining the all-important traditional suppliers that visitors have come to know and love.”
With so much change happening around the business of toys, Driscoll consigns to the narrative – subscribed to by the industry’s envelope pushers and most optimistic, that 2019 presents a time of opportunity for the independent toy shop, and that the future belongs to those who can keep up with present advancements.
“The next few years are going to be an exciting time for retail,” she says. “As a sector we’re now truly experiencing the effects of digital disruption and the emergence of new technologies. What we’re seeing is that young, innovative and diverse indies are absolutely thriving in this fast moving market and embracing tech as a way of boosting their place on the high street.
“I’d challenge anyone coming to Autumn Fair to look beyond the headlines and see for themselves how positive and upbeat the show’s visitors are. The people we talk to on the ground – particularly the independent suppliers – are always very encouraged by the receptiveness and enthusiasm of buyers from even the biggest multis and department shops.
“For independent retailers, Autumn Fair truly remains the best venue for discovering the trends and products that will drive sales for the upcoming year. Its variety and the breadth of sectors it spans means there will be something for you.”
As for what the future holds for this Birmingham show, Driscoll has a clear plan to kickstart a whole new look for the show with the 2019 event.
“Our commitment to newness is why we’re still relied upon as a key trade event and going forward, this will be no different,” she explains.
“The 2019 re-edit is just the start of our commitment to continue to bring retailers the newest and freshest sourcing opportunities and trends.
“We’re going to continue to focus on ensuring that retailers are getting the most up to date and relevant trend information, whether that be through partners like Colour Hive or via our diverse speaker lineups. We’re also going to review our content and ensure that visitors always have the chance to make the most of their show.
“This means constantly challenging ourselves and by implication our visitors too, to expand their own horizons,” Driscoll concludes.