2019 UK Toy Fair Review – The Times They Are A Changing


As the sun finally set (at last!) on a tough 2018, the UK toy trade gathered at Olympia Exhibition Centre in London this week for the BTHA UK toy fair. In my opinion, this is one of the best organised trade shows of all the 12-15 I visit each year, and hats off to the BTHA & the industry as a whole for putting on such a great show year after year.

As we entered the show the BTHA & NPD announced a 7% decline in the toy market year on year, which is obviously bad news. Although to put that in context they did highlight an overall market size of a still fairly hefty £3.3 billion, or $4.3billion USD at the time of writing. Online share of market grew (again), to represent 34% of all sales, which is both a stunning statistic and a major ongoing challenge to bricks and mortar retail.

Understandably then, the overall mood was one of ‘battening down the hatches’ against a number of major headwinds: an even tougher and less predictable usual retail environment than usual; an ever imminent and still hard to predict ‘Brexit’; and a fast accelerating transition in marketing models from the traditional reliance on TV advertising to more digital and content based marketing.

The feeling I got from across the UK toy trade was one of uncertain times and of an industry coming to terms with significant challenges to the long established traditional ways of doing things. For some companies these circumstances seemed like a threat, but to some changing times are clearly offering lots of opportunities.

On the product side, I would say that there was no shortage of new product or innovation. Uncertainty does not seem to have lead to slashing of new product development overall. There was a point in summer 2018 when we wondered if 2019 would be a year of austerity for the UK toy business…but that was not reflected in the product on offer. From that perspective as someone who did laps of the hall (upstairs and downstairs) most of the day, I saw so many new items that I was left feeling like 2019 has all the new product needed to return the market to growth.

I have heard much talk about traditonal licensed toys being less of a surefire bet than in the past, and there is no doubt that kids are viewing media very differently versus previous generations and that seems to suggest a move away from the traditional blockbuster movie model for toys, but nevertheless with a strong 2019 toyetic movie slate – Toy Story, Lion King etc., it’s hard to see how movie related toys won’t be up year on year come the end of 2019.

These are interesting and challenging times for sure, but there will be plenty of winners in 2019, and come December 25th, children across this ancient and venerable island won’t be disappointed by what the UK trade is delivering this year.

On we roll to Nuremberg, see you there next week – safe travels!

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