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No kidding around
- report from the Toy Fair 2012, London

  Cast of characters at the fair.
  Cast of characters at the fair.
Market statistics released at the London Toy Fair this year underlined the UK toy industry's resilience in 2011, despite a continuing economic downturn.

Sales increased by 3%, said retail tracking group NPD, with over 384 million toys shifted last year.

Building sets such as Lego and Mega Bloks led the way, with 12% growth, followed by outdoor toys and games (up 12%) and dolls (up 8%).  "These figures are a clear indication of the importance of toys to families," commented Roland Earl, Director General of the British Toy and Hobby Association (BTHA), organiser of the event.

"Although we're entering 2012 with caution, we nevertheless believe it will be a good year for the toy industry," Earl predicted.

Earl: importance of toys to the family.   Lego sets the pace.
Earl: importance of toys to the family.   Lego sets the pace.
As Europe's biggest toy market, British parents are reported to buy an average of 41 toys each year.

With children targeted by sophisticated marketing channels, the UK toy industry continues to be a massive market place worth some US$4.6 billion, and one which has become increasingly dominated by licensed products.

Today, licensed TV and film properties can be found in all major toy departments and leading supermarkets.

Bladez Toyz' inflatable range.  
Bladez Toyz's inflatable range.  

The toy trade is constantly driven by TV and social media, making it vital for multiple retailers to offer big brands, although often at very small margins.

In the 12 weeks leading up to Christmas (representing 50% of toy sales each year), supermarkets fiercely compete with each other through half price loss leaders, with multiples offering three-for-two deals.

"Our new Star Wars Pump and Play inflatable range is the future of remote-controlled toys and gadgets," commented Sales Executive Adam Little of award winning Bladez Toyz Plc.

Bladez is a leader in radio-controlled toys, which appeal to both children and adults.

"With the release of the 3D Star Wars movies, our Star Wars range will go crazy this year, and we know products will go out of stock," said Little.

"Retailers, including independents like The Entertainer, specialist shops such as Halfords, supermarkets such as Aldi and department stores such as Bentalls and Fenwick can't wait to stock them."

Traditional toys maintain market

  Huge number of character toys.
  Huge number of character toys.

Running parallel with licensed products is the traditional toys and games market place, which is seen as one of the biggest areas for innovation, with no shortage of ideas and demand.

However, classic book-based properties, such as The Gruffalo and The Very Hungry Caterpillar are more likely to be found in specialist toy shops, as well as independent gift and book shops, as non-multiples try to differentiate themselves from the high street big players.

These retailers tend to seek out traditional wooden puzzles, "pull along" toys, retro games and jigsaw puzzles, many of which were enjoyed by their parents and grandparents.

Jubilee game from Gibsons  
Jubilee game from Gibsons.  

"A huge number of arts and crafts toys are also being launched this year, with children enjoying creating something themselves," said Earl.

"Some products are licensed, while others are not. While technical toys, smart phones and screen toys are all about instant gratification, kids love making things for themselves and take a pride in what they've created."

Thousands of new toys and games were launched at Toy Fair 2012, from the biggest names in the industry such as Hasbro, Lego, Tomy and Golden Bear, to start-ups trying to break in.

With "Cool Britannia" taking the UK by storm in 2012 (across all product areas), many of the toys and games featured the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and Olympics 2012 themes.

Commemorative and tech opportunities

For chess players and collectors, Studio Anne Carlton (SAC) unveiled a commemorative 3D Diamond Jubilee chess set produced exclusively under license following an agreement between SAC, St George's Chapel at Windsor and the Lord Chamberlain's Office.

"We expect the Diamond Jubilee set to generate enormous interest and feel proud and privileged to have been allowed to produce it," said Managing Director, Michael Lee. "The chess set makes a perfect collectable for the Diamond Jubilee, with the Queen herself a part of the set."

'The Queen' makes an appearance.   Lee: perfect collectible.
"The Queen" makes an appearance.   Lee: perfect collectible.

Technology toys were a major feature at the show this year, with a brand new "apps" category added to the annual Best New Toy Awards 2012.

  Moshi Monsters app.
  Moshi Monsters app.
The winners were AppGear from Character Options, Vivid's Moshi App Monsters and Zeon's Tardis.

Thirty two winning toys from 25 different suppliers were unveiled, voted for by a panel of independent retailers and toy buying groups.

"I think 'apps' will be very strong moving forward," said Earl. "What you will be able to do with a smart phone will increase over the next year but there are also toys without an 'app'."

"For example, Vivid has two soft toys that stand alone, but when you put a smart phone in the face of the toy it enables the toy to take on a character. It therefore combines a traditional toy with a technical application," he explained.

"'Apps' have become another category of toy now, just like action figures or hobbies or modelling or craft toys, showing a lot of potential for growth. But this growth depends on whether kids want to play with them. The toy industry is like the fashion industry and children change their minds all the time, mainly influenced by their peers."

Physical game at the show.  
Physical game at the show.  

Earl added that it's impossible to predict children are going to want. "For example, Moshi Monsters is an Internet-based property, and an Internet property can change from day to day in the same way that a licensed property can. Toys that weren't predicted to become popular become hits, and vice-versa."

Earl says that the state of the economy is always a factor with regard to how well the toy sector performs but it's not the only factor. "When money is tight, people have to make choices, and toys are seen as a low-cost item."

In total, some 196 companies exhibited at Toy Fair this year (approximately the same as in 2011) from 24 to 26 January.

from special correspondent Sue Marks, London

Association/Contact Person
Bladez Toyz Plc
Adam Little, Sales Executive
Tel: (44) 23-9265-8255
Fax: (44) 23-9265-8256
Email: adam@bladeztoyz.co.uk
Web: http://www.bladeztoyz.co.uk
British Toy and Hobby Association (BTHA)
Roland Earl, Director General
Tel: (44) 20-7701-7127
Fax: (44) 20-7252-5925
Email: roland@btha.co.uk, toyfairqueries@btha.co.uk
Web: http://www.toyfair.co.uk, http://www.btha.co.uk
Studio Anne Carlton (SAC)
Michael Lee, Managing Director
Tel: (44) 14-8232-7019
Fax: (44) 14-8221-0490
Email: michaeljtlee@sac-games.com, info@sac-games.com
Web: http://www.sac-games.com

Content provided by Hong Kong Trade Development Council