Monday, January 07, 2008

Blogging From The Hong Kong Toy Fair

The 30th annual Hong Kong Toys and Games Fair opened here this morning, with slightly less fanfare than usual. That's because the convention center is undergoing another expansion. The building was officially opened 11 years ago for the handover of Hong Kong from the British to the Chinese. At that time, the Toy Fair filled the adjacent building, with exhibitors literally squeezed in under the escalators, and virtually pouring out into the hallways and even the streets.

At the 1996 Toy Fair, I got to go up in the as-yet unfinished building and stand where the handover was going to take place. It was impressive then, and the building is just as impressive today. If you look at the front, you can see that it was intended to represent a bird in flight, and the dramatic curves make a beautiful and light statement as it juts out into Hong Kong Harbour (As they spell it here. The British influence is still huge in many things here.) Yet as massive as the building is, the fair is outgrowing it, and the new addition will be done by 2009.

So what's this Toys & Games Fair all about? Well, this is the second largest toy fair in the world, and it really marks the beginning of the "toy year," if such a thing can be said to exist. More than 2,000 exhibitors from 36 countries and territories take booths here to try to interest retailers--and people like me--from all over the world in their products.

Across the harbour (Hey, we're in the spirit of the place.), many of the larger U.S. companies have their big showrooms, and many of the representatives and senior executives have been here since the day after New Year's, meeting with big retailers like Wal-Mart, Target, Kohl's, Toys "R" Us and others. You may feel as though you just finished with toys for the holidays, but believe it or not, Wal-Mart is going to be making decisions this week about many of the toys that you'll be seeing on the shelves for Holiday 2008. The toy cycle never stops!

Hong Kong is also overrun with people in the toy business. Everyone from senior executives, to designers, to people who work with the factories are all here, and they're all working pretty much 24/7 to get their lines ready to show. And to capitalize on the trends.

And what are those trends? Well, they vary, from a new emphasis on safety for everyone to new products. There's a lot to see, and only four days to do it in...and one's already gone.

Come back tomorrow for a look at some of the trends that are emerging in the first days of the fair.

-C. Byrne