Docklands developments

Tough times for the industry and a cramped trade event schedule mean that this year?s ExCeL Toy Fair has had to make a number of changes. But what is it that people are looking for from the show this year? Ronnie Dungan canvasses some opinion?
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This year has seen more questions than ever asked about the relevancy, value and future of the UK Toy Fair.

All trade shows, it seems, will at some time go through a process where their very existence is called into question. Visitors and exhibitors ask whether the show is a business forum or an expensive industry showcase. Some parts of the trade want one, some want the other, some want both.

This year, a number of factors have combined to bring such questions to the fore. The toy market is having another difficult year and toys are feeling the pinch as retailers use them to drive sales in other, more recession-affected, areas.

That, coupled with strong shows in Hong Kong, Nuremberg and Spring Fair (which starts the day after this year’s Toy Fair), have all combined to make it a very difficult environment for the 2009 event.

The departure of some notable attendees such as Tomy and Drumond Park and the compression of the show into the South Hall, with a shell scheme format, has brought yet more pressure to bear.

But the show still has a healthy commitment from the industry at large. There’s still Hasbro, there are still Vivid, Flair, Bandai, Character Options, Halsall, Lego, Leapfrog, RC2, Spin Master, Playmobil. The very heart of the UK industry is still at Toy Fair.

But there’s no doubt that questions are being asked about it. Some companies will be monitoring their
Toy Fair experience very closely.

Lego is one such company. UK chief Marko Ilnicic says: “We would like to have seen greater changes made to the show in 2009. However, we are willing to evaluate the response to 2009 and understand what initiatives will be implemented for 2010 to improve the format, location and timing before committing to 2010 attendance.”

Emma Sherski, marketing and licensing director at Vivid, is a supporter and the firm was a key advocate of the grand shell scheme experiment. “Vivid takes a stand at Toy Fair to give our retail partners the opportunity to see our portfolio of brands across the business,” she says. “Toy Fair attracts International inventors, licensors and press partners, so we also find the event valuable for sourcing new concepts.

“The challenge is to ensure it becomes a cost-effective show for suppliers and this is why Vivid are part of the trial moving to shell scheme to hopefully illustrate that you can still deliver a professional range presentation on a cost-efficient budget, which will be helped enormously by the show moving to a three-day event in 2010.”

And for others, who have already switched their plans to Nuremberg, the show is apparently no longer about the order book, which is so crucial to the small to medium-sized firms.

"For me, Toy Fair has not been a meaningful show for many years as it is not an order writing show, more a preview show which is held too late for that purpose. The shift is rightly moving to the buying group shows, such as Toymaster, where customers write orders,” says Kim Carter at Treasure Trove.

But, the show has never been purely about writing orders. It is a preview show, a showcase and a chance to compare all that the trade has to offer in one place. A chance to gauge where each player stands in the market.

Halsall has a huge showroom at its Fleetwood HQ and has just committed to a showroom at Nuremberg, too. But marketing director Andrew Coplestone feels the ExCeL show is still useful.

“Being based on the beautiful North West Fylde coast has many benefits, but being local to many UK retailers is not one of them,” he comments. “At ExCeL we can see all our customers, and follow up on previous meetings held in the UK and Hong Kong before the allimportant selection process begins. It also provides a fantastic opportunity to showcase all of Halsall’s exciting new product developments.

Toy Fair’s unique ability to offer a variety of solutions is both its greatest asset and its biggest liability because it means it is jack of all trades and master of none. There are other solutions for those who judge is purely on orders, or those who want to showcase product innovation. But no one show offers the same breadth of options that Toy Fair does.

This year’s event will be a different experience but if Toy Fair can make the shell scheme format work and find a happy medium that satisfies suppliers of all sizes, it can still be a vital part of the trade show
calendar.

It’s a tall order and there’s only one way to find out if this is the case, of course. Get along to ExCeL.

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