Trade show season is in full swing, and this week I had the opportunity to catch up with my senior network at the Toy Fair at London Olympia. This has to be one of my favourite exhibitions of the year, especially as I have an 18-month old son and there is still that Star Wars loving child that is part of me!
Despite all the negativity surrounding the business market at present, the toy sector is still thriving. The UK market is one of the largest in the world, worth an estimated £3.5bn and last year saw 6% growth.
What fascinates me the most about the toy industry is the variety of businesses and products in the sector. There are small traditional, family-owned businesses, often third or fourth generation ownership, through to the large 'super toy' companies, with pockets deep enough to pay for multiple licences.
However, the best part for me is the range of toys on offer. Yes, this is a market where technology plays its part in innovation, such as allowing your five-year-old to take selfies on a new camera watch! But it is also a market still dominated by traditional and heritage toys, games and puzzles, with development often through 'fun games' for all the family. This is evident with the puzzles and games category growing 15% last year, versus the 6% growth of the overall category. Just look at the success of the Pie Face game in 2016. A simple, but very clever idea. So what will be the Pie Face of 2017? I am sure this is an overused question that everyone was looking to answer at the Toy Fair! We will just have to wait and see which will come out on top.
The need for top talent in the toy sector is evident at the Toy Fair. Of course, creative talent is a top priority, especially when it comes to design, but just as important is the brand and marketing message which will attract the younger generation. However, the need for strong commercial teams is also required. With continued need for price negotiations, along with the fight to become category champions, the expertise of dealing with the leading retailers on a daily basis is a must. Finally, whilst its great to see the increase in traditional and heritage companies, are they able to keep up with the market requirements and demands, or are they stuck in their old ways? Can they improve internal processes and supply chain planning and forecasting, for example, all of which will see an improvement to their bottom line.
So what are my predictions for the Toy sector for 2017 based on my visit? Well with further new film releases in 2017, the new Cars film, Star Wars, along with the Lego Batman movie, licenced products will continue to play a big part. Learning through toys also seem to be gaining traction, with construction and modelling still having a strong presence.
As for my favourite, it would have to be Lego Star Wars, although I'm not sure I could justify the £410 price tag for a Lego Death Star to my wife!