For the first time in its history, Hornby will be attending Spring Fair when the show rolls around once again for its February stint in Birmingham’s NEC.
In fact, Hornby will be among a raft of upwards of 50 new exhibitors heading to the show this year that will include other first-timers such as the Australian outfit Flat Out Bear and a vast number of others to be occupying the Nursery and Early Years space at the show, too.
The growth of the show in this regards is indicative of a number of factors that are poised to be moulding whatever shape the retail space takes over the coming year ahead, by highlighting primarily the key role diversification will have to play.
Most of you will know by now that Spring Fair prides itself on its variation. It’s not just toys that deck the halls - of which there are now 20 - but gifts of all varieties from homewares to gadgets and beyond. And as such, the show attracts a rather eclectic mix of UK retailers who - more and more - are expanding their own store offerings into the exciting world of toys.
“Spring Fair’s unique selling point is that we offer a very broad audience,” Rob Hayes, key account director at Spring Fair tells ToyNews.
“If you are at somewhere like Toy Fair in London for example - which I love - they are a core toy event. The strength of Spring Fair is that you have your toy buyers, but also your gift buyers as well.
“And what we know from the work that we have been doing is that retailers are looking for newness, diversification and the new thing that will drive footfall into their stores or traffic onto their websites.”
Since early last year, there’s been a gap to plug following the collapse of Toy R Us, and Spring Fair is certainly a place to be seeing this in action. The show attracts some 56,000 buyers and retailers making it a “huge, huge show,” with a diversification that is increasingly, getting wider and wider.
“The broad overview is, you are looking at the big High Street retailer to the one shop independent retailer and everything in between,” continues Hayes.
“But the other thing that is there are the likes of visitor attractions or anything that has a gift shop attached to it.
“So if we are talking ‘what are the big names that come to the show, then we are talking brands like Argos, Centre Parks, English Heritage, Hamleys, John Lewis, Merlin Entertainment, The National Trust - there is a really broad spread of not just the obvious toy retailers, but those who stock toys as part of their wider offering.”
It’s Hayes’ job to grow what Spring Fair calls its tier one business. These are the thousands of visitors that have sole or joint buying responsibility for their stores. Over the past few years, Hayes and the team have seen a steady increase.
“Diversification is the true attraction here,” he says. “My job is to try and make the selection more interesting so that visitors can find what is going to help them grow their business.
“Toys are a classic impulse purchase… I am a victim of that myself… and I think a lot of retailers are picking up on that. Those little add-ons that can increase turnover for retailers, and toys fits that bill beautifully.”
There’s actually a lot of love for the toy business by the bods in charge of Spring Fair. It was at Autumn Fair last year that the team introduced a new concept called Toys First, a chance for fledgling companies and start-ups to showcase the next steps in innovation for the toy industry at the show. It’s an area that will now be growing for Spring Fair and will be coupled by a Nursery First zone in the Younger Years section of the show.
“There is a lot of innovation going on in the toy space at the moment,” explains Hayes.
“When we operate in challenging times, it’s often that necessity is the mother of invention and I think actually it is forcing people to think harder and innovate better and tap into the idea that our businesses want newness so they are working hard to accommodate that.
“The main thing everyone is talking about is newness. We want Toy First to be a destination area with new suppliers to the industry. For me, that is my next generation of exhibitors, people that we want to help get their first foot on that retail ladder.”
Hayes has a keen eye on the trends in the toy space, too, noting that he expects to see not only plenty of collectables lining Hall 5 at this year’s show running February 3rd to 7th, but also plenty of ethically sourced wooden toys and bioplastics as well. It’s all part of keeping up with the changing demands of the consumer.
To that end, Spring Fair prides itself as a valuable source of information and insight into the retail scene, and while Hayes - in his role at Spring Fair- is more inline with the exhibitors than with the retailers themselves, the show is a font of knowledge on the retail scene via its extensive content programme.
“We have a a huge content programme at Spring Fair and this something that our owners ITE Events are committed to and investing heavily in,” he explains.
"This year, you have a full programme of content from online retailing right through to merchandising and everything in between.
“I would recommend coming anyway to learn about trends, future of retail, also practical things around merchandising and marketing online. Also… Brexit.
“There is plenty of content around that as well and keeping up to date with the latest trends and keeping up to date with what is going on in this space.”
So, from Hayes’ perspective, what will a successful 2019 look like, at both retail and for the toy industry? It’s a tough question, he admits, but an answer to which everyone is looking for in the same direction.
“Nobody wants to see another year like 2018, with Toys R Us going bust, others going bust,” he opines. “What people want to see is more footfall on the high street and more trade in general.
“For me, in my world, success looks like happy exhibitors and happy buyers. If people walk out of the show with the business they have done at the show, then I am happy with that. You want to see the retail sector pick back up again. We’d like to see more stability and more ability to forward plan and get back to a growth trajectory.
“Retail is a very challenging place to be in at the moment, so our main priority is to help exhibitors meet more of the right buyers so they can grow their business. We always want to grow this aspect.”