Olympia London’s first trade show of 2022, the Toy Fair saw thousands of buyers, hundreds of exhibitors and the launch of countless new products. With all other global toy exhibitions cancelled this year, the British Toy and Hobby Association told Exhibition News they were delighted to be first off the starting line
The global toy industry saw an unexpected surge in 2020 as families were forced to stay indoors and entertain themselves. But that didn’t mean the sector wasn’t desperate to get back out to making business deals face to face.
The very first Toy Fair was held in 1954 – across a string of locations in Brighton. Since then the fair has moved homes to the NEC, ExCeL, back to Brighton and has now been at Olympia London for more than a decade.
With just days before the three-day exhibition opened on 25 January, it became clear the London show would be the only international toy trade show taking place this year after the Nuremberg Speilwarenmesse was cancelled. New York and Hong Kong events had already announced plans not to go head in 2022.
Undeterred, and with a raft of extra Covid-19 safety measures in place, the Toy Fair welcomed some 260 toy companies, who between them will launch thousands of new toy lines this year.
Public relations and events manager Rebecca Deeming says: “After a year away it feels great to be back. It seems to be buzzing and we’re so excited to be back.
“From an organiser’s perspective we feel so much sympathy for the other organisers who have had to cancel because you know how stressful it can be to make sure you can go ahead. In the UK we have different set of circumstances and restrictions. Every country situation is difficult. But we just want to give people the opportunity to exhibit safely.
“Whilst we are so happy we are able to hold a show, the safety of all or exhibitors and visitors is our number one priority by making sure all our visitors and exhibitors feel safe, by showing a Covid-pass, mandatory mask wearing, extra hand sanitiser stations and opening a second entrance to prevent crowding.
“Our exhibitors are keen to do business.”
The January 2020 fair was unaffected by the pandemic, but after cancelling in 2021, the toy sellers where buzzing to be back.
“We have had really great support,” says Deeming. “Up until show opening we were getting daily enquiries for stands at the show. We have been very lucky with the willingness of everybody to attend and we’ve had lots of new exhibitors
Whilst the toys and games industries saw a boost from lockdown, many of the individual businesses have suffered during the pandemic, says Deeming.
“In 2020 we had a bumper year – up 5% on 2019. With people being at home during Covid-19 lockdowns and people spending more family time time at home and spending less money on experiences and holidays. Boardgames, jigsaws, construction sets all saw a boost, that was a huge year for the toy industry – but it doesn’t replicate the hardships the toy industries faced businesswise.
“They suffered from supply problems and Brexit. For 2021 we are down 3% on 2020 but up 2% on pre-pandemic. Comparing with 2019, a more normal year, it shows the toy industry is resilient and the demand for toys and games is there. We are a £3.2m UK market.
“Buyers, retailers and licensors were really pleased to be back, in person and get their hands on products. It’s things you can’t do over Zoom.
“It’s also really important for the toy industry because 80% of the market is made up of SME companies, a show like this is such a good platform to build new relationships they possibly wouldn’t have been able to do online.”
For buyers especially, being able to play with product for real is crucial to gauging the functions and durability. For that, only face-to-face exhibitions will do, says Deeming.
“There are so many different toys and different functions – you can’t get a really good grasp of what that toy does as well as in person.
“We didn’t do a virtual exhibition, but in 2021 we did an extended online exhibitor list, so people could upload more information and photos, videos, product catalogues and videos. We wanted to do as much as we could to support the industry a bit more. We have kept that for this year as well.
“There are some excellent virtual technologies out there but having an in-person show is so special. In the toy industry everyone knows each other and its nice for everyone to catch up in person. The show floor has been really busy. It has been so nice to see so many people.”
The Toy Fair has become the toy industry’s showcase for new product launches and the barometer of the hottest toys of the year. This year’s Hero Toys – tipped to become the most sought after playthings of 2022 – spanned all age brackets – with Tamagochi, Peaky Blinders and Hey Dugee all joining the mix.
BTHA said that although UK toy sales declined by 3% in 2021 to £3.2bn, some toy categories grew last year including plush, up 9%, and vehicles, up 7% year on year and classics like Star Wars and Barbie still amongst the fastest growing properties.
Roland Earl, director general at the BTHA says there is reason to be hopeful.
“The UK toy market has held relatively firm compared to pre-pandemic figures and there are signs to be optimistic about the year ahead with some categories showing growth and a strong line up of new releases for 2022.”