20 Feb 2018
Retail Attendees Soar at German Toy Show While Distributors Dwindle
With many retailers now looking to go direct and miss out the middle man, fewer distributors were in evidence at this year's Nuremberg International Toy Fair, the penultimate instalment in our round-up of 2018's must-visit toy events.
Nuremberg likes to refer to itself as Toy City. Anyone who has ever visited this small, but delightful, Bavarian location while the Spielwarenmesse (Toy Fair) is in full flow will understand why. Come the end of January, this unassuming German city is where the international toy community gathers.
From every corner of the globe and from every part of the toy trade, more than 70,000 visitors descend upon the Nuremberg International Toy Fair (to give it its English title), all keen to view the 100,000 new products unveiled there each year. In all, some one million toys are typically on show, which can make for a fascinating – if somewhat overwhelming – experience.
Even before the 2018 event opened its doors, the show had already set a new record. With 2,902 exhibitors signed up – 31 more than in 2017 – it was the city's biggest ever toy fair.
While, on one level, 31 might not sound like a huge increase, this incremental growth goes to the heart of one of the event's key problems. No doubt, the organisers had many other companies waiting in the wings, all keen to make their Nuremberg debut. At the same time, however, many of the existing exhibitors will have been pushing to increase their space allocation. This modest growth, then, reflects the organisers' commitment to keeping both parties happy wherever possible.
This year, the exhibitors came from 68 countries and occupied 170,000 sq m of stand space across 15 halls. The proportion of international exhibitors stood at an impressive 75.1%, emphasising the truly global nature of the event. The fair also housed 16 national pavilions, with Georgia, Russia and Spain all making their debuts. In the case of the Best of China stand – always the biggest national pavilion at the event – it boasted a completely new look for 2018.
While many at the fair seemed to believe footfall was slightly down this year, with the show spread out across such a huge area, it was difficult to get a true feel for visitor numbers. In this instance, however, the gut feeling was borne out by the official statistics with the number of attendees confirmed at 71,000, slightly down on 2017's 73,000. Despite this, the overall number of international visitors increased, perhaps confirming that Nuremberg becomes more of a global event – and less domestically-focused – with every passing year.
In terms of visitors, this year they came from 129 countries, with the international contingent comprising 63%. In terms of growth, the number of visitors from Asia, Eastern Europe and South America all increased.
In addition to shifting visitor demographics, 2018 also saw the event undergo a few modest changes, most notably a reduction in duration from six days to five days. For the first time, this led to the fair closing on a Sunday – a development many saw as long overdue.
Previously, the weekend had long been seen as the province of domestic retailers, while no one had ever been entirely sure what the Monday added to the mix. As if to vindicate the decision, even though the show was cut by a day, the amount of actual time attendees spent at the fair remained unchanged, with international attendees still clocking up an average 2.8 days at the event.
Apart from opening hours and footfall, another issue that seemed to preoccupy exhibitors was visitor profile. Indeed, more than one stallholder insisted there were fewer distributors in attendance this year, while the number of overseas retailers had increased, a development that seemed to please most exhibitors.
Overall, such a change would seem, more than anything, to reflect a fundamental shift in the structure of the toy market. Of late, retailers have been more inclined to directly seek out new suppliers and fresh products for their stores and websites. With many now negotiating directly with manufacturers, the middle-man role once played by distributors has been effectively eliminated. With the distributors' cut removed from the equation, retailers have been able to either increase their own margins or offer customers a better price – in some instances, both.
While distributor numbers may have dwindled, few of the major global toy companies were absent. Despite the tough trading challenges many of them had to weather last year, their stands, almost without exception, remained hugely impressive.
In the case of Mattel, its 2018 product line-up reflected a number of the California-headquartered company's strategic changes. Overall, its range was tighter, its prices more competitive and its margins wider. The company was clearly more focused this year and ready to present a – hopefully – stronger trading case to its retail partners.
Among the other major players, Lego showcased the incorporation of its teach-yourself-robotics Boost technology into several additional ranges, including its City and Ninjago lines. It also teased its new deal with Bugatti Chiron, which will allow youngsters (and, maybe, the not so young) to build their own scaled-down super car.
Hasbro, meanwhile, was keen to hype its Laser Ops Nerf range, an interesting addition to this classic brand's portfolio. MGA Entertainments, meanwhile, was still on a high after its stellar success with LOL Surprise! in 2017. Clearly not one to rest on its laurels, the Los Angeles-based company launched more new ranges than any of the other major players during the event.
It would be wrong, however, to suggest that the event is now solely given over to the global players. Indeed, many of the more successful German companies – notably Schleich, Bruder, Playmobil and Simba Smoby – all had a substantial presence, not to mention massive stands. As did a number of the other key European players, with Italy's Giochi Preziosi and Chicco clearly seeing Nuremberg as their primary show-case.
Looking to the future, the 2019 event is expected to see several changes will be merged into one sector. At the same time, a new electronic toys zone will be introduced, bringing together a host of radio-controlled vehicles, drones and robots, as well as a range of multimedia products.
Regardless of the changes – or, perhaps, because of them – Nuremberg is clearly set to remain the world's largest toy show. It is, however, more than that. With more manufacturers, retailers and distributors making an annual pilgrimage to its expanding number of halls than to any other event, it can convincingly lay claim to be the very heart of the global toy community.
The 2018 edition of Spielwarenmesse (the Nuremberg International Toy Fair) took place from 31 January-4 February at the Messezentrum Nuremberg.
John Baulch is the Publisher of Toy World, the UK's leading toys and games trade publication.
His reviews of other International Toy Fairs can be accessed by clicking the links below: