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World's Biggest Toy Trade Show Weighs up Future Expansion Options

While the Nuremberg Toy Fair remains comfortably the world's largest annual event for toy and game professionals, its organisers are ever more keen to ensure it retains its distinctive role at the very heart of this dynamic industry.

Photo: Far from a dinosaur:Nuremberg continues to be a key event for the toy industry. (© Spielwarenmesse eG)
Far from a dinosaur: Nuremberg continues to be a key event for the toy industry.
Photo: Far from a dinosaur:Nuremberg continues to be a key event for the toy industry. (© Spielwarenmesse eG)
Far from a dinosaur: Nuremberg continues to be a key event for the toy industry.

Held annually since 1949, the Spielwarenmesse – or Nuremberg Toy Fair as it is more widely known – is always a phenomenally well-attended event. The statistics unveiled after this year's show reinforce just how successful this particular event remains. A total of 70,714 people from 125 countries visited the show, a modest increase on last year's figure of 70,084. Overall, some 58% of those visitors come from the international market, with the remaining 42% made up of German attendees. Significantly, the show organisers believe that almost a third of the total number of attendees – around 20,000 people – do not visit any other toy show.

This year saw an increase in the number of visitors from Asia, the US and Africa, although many European countries, including the UK, Italy and the Netherlands, were also well represented. The length of stay of foreign visitors remained constant at an average of 2.5 days, while the number of German attendees also matched previous years. To illustrate the international nature of the Nuremberg clientele, one major exhibitor said his Saturday appointment schedule included retailers from Hungary, Belarus, Iceland, Mauritius, India and Madagascar.

A total of 2,851 companies representing 66 countries exhibited at this year's show, with some 800 of them apparently not exhibiting at any other global toy fair. In total, 72.6% of those exhibitors come from the international market, underlining the event's role as an essential meeting place for the global toy community. Understandably, German companies make up the largest number of exhibitors from an individual territory (781), followed by China (319), the UK (184), the US (153) and Hong Kong (143). With the show floor comprising a total of 170,000 square metres of exhibition space, the Spielwarenmesse is the largest dedicated toy show in the world.

Up to one million products were estimated to be on display, while around 75,000 brand new products were unveiled at this year's event. The 12 national pavilions featured more than 250 exhibitors, offering visitors the opportunity to view and compare toys from every major global production hub. Inevitably, the Best of China pavilion showcased the largest international offering, with the exhibition space having been increased to 1,502 square metres in 2016. The UK and Hong Kong pavilions followed in second and third places.

Photo: The Best of China: The largest international pavilion. (© Spielwarenmesse eG)
The Best of China: The largest international pavilion.
Photo: The Best of China: The largest international pavilion. (© Spielwarenmesse eG)
The Best of China: The largest international pavilion.
Photo: Germany-bound: 143 Hong Kong businesses. (© Spielwarenmesse eG)
Germany-bound: 143 Hong Kong businesses.
Photo: Germany-bound: 143 Hong Kong businesses. (© Spielwarenmesse eG)
Germany-bound: 143 Hong Kong businesses.

According to the organisers, exhibitors also received a record number of orders during the show. They also maintained that 78.8% of visitors and 83.1% of exhibitors said they were extremely satisfied with the event, while 91% of exhibitors and 81.2% of buyers confirmed that they were planning to return next year.

These impressive statistics reflect the meticulous planning of the show organiser, a process that begins as soon as the previous show finishes. This sees the 60-strong Spielwarenmesse team meet to assess the event and look at what worked well and what could be improved.

It is an approach that has seen the show continually seek to reinvent itself. It has also resulted in such successful initiatives as the Trend Gallery, the Toy Award and the Toy Business Forum.

The Trend Gallery has developed into a particularly popular area, with this year's key trends identified as:

1. Train Your Brain
These are toys that not only prioritise the acquisition of cognitive skills, but also promote thinking outside of the box and unstructured play.

2. Everyday Hero
These are products that encourage children to leave a positive mark on society and vary from social projects through to bringing a business idea to life.

3. Design to Play
This focusses on recognising the toy as a design object. Taking its inspiration from the art world, it is said to open up new dimensions in colour and shape.

With 90% of existing exhibitors rebooking every year, the biggest challenge for the organisers is that there is not enough space at the venue to satisfy all of the potential exhibitors. Furthermore, Nuremberg is a relatively small town compared to the home cities of many of the other international toy shows – Hong Kong, London and New York. This means it has a smaller airport and one that is served by fewer direct international flights. There are also markedly fewer hotel rooms than can be found in the more truly global cities. Taken together, these factors present a significant challenge to any plans to expand the show.

Despite this, it is clear that the Spielwarenmesse team is keen to maintain its position as the number one international toy fair, but also to continue to reinvent the show. It is also exploring other opportunities to extend its global reach.

In line with this, the Spielwarenmesse now works with the Hong Kong Trade Development Council to co-ordinate the World of Toys Pavilion at the Hong Kong Toys & Games Fair in January. It has also launched shows in a number of other territories. These include Kids India, which takes place in Mumbai in September, and Kids Turkey, which will be held in Istanbul in October. Through these partnerships, the Spielwarenmesse is growing its influence in a number of emerging markets. It also signals a clear intent by the organisers to maintain its role at the heart of the global toy trade.

While Nuremberg continues to expand its international footprint, it does so from a position of domestic strength. The German toy market, in line with the other mature territories, posted significant growth in 2015. Unusually, though, the German market remains resistant to many of the more cutting-edge, entertainment-driven global trends, with consumers continuing to display a preference for traditional and domestically well-known brands. As such, its number of character licensed products remains more limited than in many other European territories, with Lego being one of the main exceptions to this rule, thanks to its Star Wars and other licensed product lines.

Whilst traditional stores remain the most important distribution channel for toys and games in Germany, internet retailing continues to gain in popularity. As German consumers continue to display a keen interest in visiting stores and testing products prior to purchase, pure internet retailers, though, have continued to experience challenges. By contrast, those so-called ‘bricks and clicks' retailers, who pursue a multi-channel strategy combining high street stores with an online presence, have tended to fare better.

Photo: The Nuremberg Toy Show: Still the biggest, but can it accommodate ever more exhibitors? (© Spielwarenmess eG)
The Nuremberg Toy Show: Still the biggest, but can it accommodate ever more exhibitors?
Photo: The Nuremberg Toy Show: Still the biggest, but can it accommodate ever more exhibitors? (© Spielwarenmess eG)
The Nuremberg Toy Show: Still the biggest, but can it accommodate ever more exhibitors?

The Nuremberg Toy Fair 2016 took place from 27 January-1 February at the Messezentrum Nürnberg.

John Baulch, Special Correspondent, Nuremberg

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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