Fall Toy Preview

Making Sense of Conflicting Economic Signals

To better understand all the conflicting economic indicators being reported, one needs to dig a little deeper than the headline numbers. Hiring has been strong for most of the year which has lead an increasing number of people who left the workforce to rejoin it. More jobs has meant higher consumer confidence and a greatly increased consumer spending. Some of the increased consumer spending has also been driven by banks.

Bank prmonthly-changeofits have been squeezed by long term, record low interest rates. To make up for it, they have been pumping credit cards out to more people and increasing credit card loan limits while at the same time increasingly loaning that money to riskier borrowers. Over the past year, US banks have added $54 billion in loans to consumers through loans on credit cards. After contracting during the financial crisis, credit card debt is not expanding at its fastest rate since 2007.

You would think that economy would be booming but GDP has only grown at a 1% rate thus far this year. The problem is that businesses have been holding back on spending on everything from computers to new equipment and factories. We need both consumer and business spending otherwise it’s as if the economy was trying to ride a bicycle with only one pedal.

If businesses are confident enough to hire, why aren’t they also putting money into expansion efforts? Oneexplanation is that workers are relatively cheap and also easy to get rid of should the economy slow. There is also plenty of spare production capacity, so companies don’t yet have much incentive to devote funds to new projects. Most companies will be conservatives with their balance sheets until they see signs of a growth rebound. They will also hold off investing until they have a better sense of the future tax and regulatory regimes that they are likely to us-subprime-ccface next year. Business spending should begin to pick up after the November elections, regardless of who is elected as businesses are better able to forecast.

The good news for the toy industry is that business is booming. Toy sales have been growing for the last year and a half at a 6 to 7% annualized rate. Strong sales have also mean that toy companies have been adding people. Toyjobs is having a bang-up year and is placing people at a level we haven’t seen since 2008. It is also heartening to see the return of hiring in the Marketing and Product Development sectors. Hiring in these areas has been extremely slow since the beginning of the financial crisis. I’m a little concerned that we haven’t seen the usual avalanche of toy Sales jobs that we usually see this August. Perhaps toy execs are all away on vacation. They better wake up! Fall Toy Previews are only four weeks away! I look forward to seeing everybody there.

All the best,
Tom Keoughan

By | August 22nd, 2016|ToyJobs Blog|Comments Off on Making Sense of Conflicting Economic Signals

Looking at Holiday Sales with Blurry Vision

Rosy forecasts but weak real world numbers make for uncertainty

Retail Projections

Early forecasts for Holiday Spending 2015 have been quite optimistic. Households have been enjoying fatter wallets, thanks to lower gasoline prices and cheaper imports, thanks to a stronger dollar. Retail sales reflected this by growing from January to July. NPD has reported that toy sales were up 6.5% in the first half and is projecting 6.2% growth for the year as a whole. The National Retail Federation is forecasting a holiday sales increase of 3.7%. That sounds good but less so when you consider last year’s 4.1% gain.

Retail Reality

Forecasts are fun and they can be helpful, but let’s not ignore what’s going on in the real world. A retail sales slowdown began in August and the Commerce Department recently revised the growth rate down to 0.0% for the month. September retail sales numbers were not perceptibly better with only a 0.1% growth rate. While low gas prices have been increasing disposable income and the strong dollar has led to some price deflation, consumers have been channeling additional spending toward services such as vacations and restaurant meals. Before we get pessimistic, let’s keep in mind that for economic data, some months counts less than others. August is rarely a good indicator – it’s summer! And September can often be a transitional month, especially when Labor Day arrives late, as it did this year.

Weak Jobs Reports

http://www.convexcm.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/nonfarm-payrolls.gifConcurrent to the slow-down in the retail sales is what we’re seeing in the job market. While job creation was strong in the first six months of the year, in September there were only 142,000 net new jobs. The numbers for July and August were also revised downward so that the third quarter monthly average for net new jobs was 167,000. That’s down from a monthly average of 198,000 for all of 2015 so far, which is down from 260,000 a month in 2014. While we should be concerned, again let’s not get overly pessimistic quite yet. Third quarter job gains have a historical tendency to run below average for the year and the deceleration often turns out to be temporary, rebounding in the October to December quarter. Again – it’s summer! …I’m going to wait for the October numbers before I really try to figure out what’s going on.

Wallowing Wal-Mart

The big news last week was Wal-Mart. The retail behemoth said that, while sales would be flat, earnings could fall as much as 12% next year. The lower margins will be the result of  “investments” in staffing at US stores and actual investments in ecommerce. When Wal-Mart experiences margin pressure – “Let the vendor beware!” – that can only mean bad news for its suppliers. Already they are asking all suppliers to pay fees to keep inventory in Wal-Mart warehouses and in some cases, they are strong arming vendors into accepting extended payment terms. One can only imagine that there will be more of this type of thing to come.

Strategically, changes needed to be made. Wal-Mart was falling behind in the retail wars. It’s difficult to compete with a company like Amazon, which is apparently comfortable not making any money for more than twenty years. From a timing standpoint, this makes perfect sense. New CEO Doug McMillon is a lifer who enjoys broad support. He is relatively young and will probably be in the CEO chair for another 10-15 years. He will be able to chart the new lows as his starting point as he goes about setting new strategy and rebuilding the retail juggernaut. He certainly has the time and resources to turn things around, but he has to get the strategy right. Not that he’ll notice, but we at Toyjobs wish him the best of luck.

Putting together a strategy to right the Wal-Mart ship is way above my pay grade, but I do have just one little question – we hear a lot about a “seamless customer strategy” and “click and collect” where a consumer can buy online and then stop by a store to pick up their purchases. My question is – why would I want to do that?? When I can simply purchase online and have my items delivered to my door. Just sayin’.

Dallas Fall Toy Preview

I found most people at the Dallas Fall Toy Preview to be very optimistic. The Frozen phenomenon seems to be fading fast butShopkins has been and Star Wars soon will be taking the world by storm. Wicked Cool had a very strong looking product line and over at the Auldey RC booth, people were busting through the doors.

Certainly there were the usual complaints – “Why are we here?” and “This place is empty.” But, when I asked manufacturers if their dance cards were full, they almost unanimously answered “yes.” In fact, in a completely new trend, instead of ambling in late, buyers were arriving for appointments early – even a day early. It seems that everyone wanted to get out of town as quickly as possible. I’m guessing that Thursday was completely dead, but can’t really tell you because I had already left for Austin to enjoy a much deserved long weekend of good food and good music.

October continues to be a crazy time in the toy industry with buyers and manufacturers pinballing between Dallas, LA, and Hong Kong at an accelerating rate and with even more disjointed schedules than ever. I know more than a few execs that will be in all three locations (simultaneously?) this month. The TIA still needs to figure this out. Things are getting messier, not better.

Navigating Conflicting Signals

What do we make of all of this conflicting noise? Should we try to make sense of things or just bury our heads in the sand? I feelhttp://www.canaltcm.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Larry-David.jpglike I’m crossing a deep river barefoot and just feeling around for smooth stones with my feet. Not that anyone listens to me but I am going to acknowledge, but not put much faith in, all of the conflictinghttp://spencersterlingfinancial.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/alan_greenspan_02_2010.jpgsignals until I see the October numbers. Historically, October is a solid bellwether month. I’m optimistic but am going to be conservative in planning and spending until things actually happen. I think that there’s going to be an absolute ton of Star Wars merchandise sold but I also think there will be an awful lot of it left on the shelves. What then? “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and don’t become “Irrationally Exuberant.” It’s likely to be a strong holiday shopping season, but at this point that is far from certain. Be prepared for the aftermath. I am filled with both optimism and uncertainty and I’d prefer to be surprised on the upside.

May the force be with us,
Tom Keoughan

By | October 21st, 2015|ToyJobs Blog|Comments Off on Looking at Holiday Sales with Blurry Vision

Strong Growth in Toy Jobs Projected

While the toy industry saw strong search starts in the first quarter, a lot of hiring decisions were postponed due to the uncertainty caused by the weak economic and retail environment. Starting in Q2, we were rocking and rolling again. Search starts continued at a good pace, but now previously delayed hiring decisions were being made.

In July, toy jobs continued to be filled, although, as usual, search starts slowed due to seasonal factors.  For the second straight year, search assignments restarted during the final week of July. I’ve been saying it for a long time, but it seems that toy companies have finally started to realize that if they want to add new members to their teams in time for the Fall Toy Preview, they have to start looking well before Labor Day.

From where I sit, toy industry hiring looks to be strong through the end of the year and beyond.  NPD has recently reported that toy sales improved by 6.5% in the first half. They also project an increase of 6.2% for the entire year. This will be the strongest growth in the toy industry has seen in decades. Several hot properties and product lines have been leading the charge, including:  Frozen, Shopkins, Minecrafts and Paw Patrol. Coming soon will be an all-out blitz by the Star Wars franchise.

Strong sales growth should create confidence in toy companies, which should in turn instigate their desire to grow. In particular, look for rivals to try to continue to bite off shelf space from still staggering Mattel. All of this growth will necessitate an increase in staff. I look for renewed toy industry confidence to spur hiring through the end of this year and into the next. May the force be with us.

All the best,
Tom Keoughan

By | August 12th, 2015|ToyJobs Blog|Comments Off on Strong Growth in Toy Jobs Projected

Fall Toy Preview: Success Without Crowds

Fall Toy Preview: Success Without Crowds

From an aesthetic point of view, the Fall Toy Preview was great. There was no clutter and lots of open space. At the heart of the show on the twelfth floor of the Dallas Market Center the corridors before, between, and behind the booths were as wide as boulevards. Unfortunately, the wide open spaces were the result of there being significantly fewer booths.

Attendance at this show is always tricky to evaluate because exhibitors and buyers are tucked away in closed booth cubby holes for much of the
Fall Toy Previewday. My favorite “metric” is to look over the edge at lunchtime and see how crowded things look around the food court. This year the traffic was sadly sparse. Even the Starbucks line was short (scientific inquiry at its best). If the show were to be judged by looking around and taking a head count, you would think that the show was a failure…but you’d be wrong.

All the exhibitors that I spoke with were in high spirits and had very full dance cards. Buyers were there en masse. Wal-Mart, Target, Toys ‘R’ Us, Amazon, Walgreens, CVS were all well represented. In all, about 350 retailers were in attendance. There was a bit of a kerfuffle when a lone Kohl’s buyer canceled at the last minute, citing Ebola fears, although I suspect it was really more of a babysitting issue. True, both retailers and exhibitors seemed to send smaller contingents than in years past. This certainly contributed to the lower headcount. That said, the teams were sufficient to get the job done. No one seemed to be absolutely scrambling. More troubling is that year after year, more manufacturers seem to be dropping out of the event.

I hear a lot of manufacturers complain about the Dallas Show as a waste of time and money. I have listened to it for years and when I hear it, what usually runs through my head is – “you have unreasonable expectations.” If you think you are going to have a big breakthrough with Wal-Mart or Target at the Fall Toy Preview – that just ain’t gonna happen. If, on the other hand, you work the show as it is intended, focus on getting retailer feedback on product, packaging, merchandising, product packs, and pricing, you will certainly get that. Also, if you can meet with twenty mid-tier retailers in one place over a three-day period, I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t go ahead and do that. My thought has always been, if you go into a trade show with the proper expectations, you will come away feeling successful. Of course, what do I know, I’m “just a headhunter.”

Toy Show

Obviously, the October Trade Show Season is a mess. We have buyers running to Los Angeles during the two weeks prior to Dallas and running back to LA or Hong Kong or both in the two weeks after. For good or ill, the toy industry today is overwhelmingly centered in Southern California. So let’s agree to try to find an appropriate venue in the Los Angeles area. That should be pretty simple.

The bigger problem is scheduling. The reality is that the larger companies like Mattel, Spin Master, MGA, and Jakks Pacific don’t want to show at the same time as the rest of the toy industry. I understand the big boys wanting to monopolize buyers’ time without having them “distracted” by their smaller and often more innovative competitors. Unfortunately, this situation hurts the toy industry as a whole. It’s probably a conflict of interest for the largest companies to sit on the TIA Board, while at the same time undermining TIA events and initiatives which are meant to support the industry as a whole. It’s pretty clear that if the TIA scheduled an October show in the Los Angeles, then the big boys would just move their events to before or after it. Since they’re not going to play ball with the rest of the industry, here’s a relatively simple solution which should serve everyone.

Let there be a two week Toy Trade Show located in the Los Angeles area in October. During the first week, the largest companies can use their current spaces and exhibit their wares in the same way that they are doing now. So as to not discriminate, any other manufacturer who feels that their product line and sales volume is strong enough to peel buyers away from the big boys are welcome to rent space and try to do so. Keep in mind that buyers are going to have to get into cars and drive in Los Angeles traffic just to see you so you may be disappointed.

During the second week, the TIA can identify and arrange for a venue for all the other exhibitors, which should be a convenient one stop shop. Since the toy industry is clearly unable to arrive at and adhere to a common sense solution like this, it is up to the buyers. It is the buyers who are being run around willy nilly. It is time for them to be the grown-ups in the room and play some hardball. The buying community should come together and go to the TIA and say, “Arrange this for us. This is where we will go and this is when we will be there. If a manufacturer wants to see us, this is where they should be – end of story.” That should get someone’s attention. Do I really expect Target to kick Mattel out for not being in attendance? No, but Mattel might find that three or four feet of their shelf space was given to somebody else. Be there or be square. As for me personally, I sorta like the idea of being in New York in October and Los Angeles in February.

Meanwhile back in the USA, the economy continues to improve. In September, the headline unemployment rate fell to 5.9%, the lowest level since July 2008. Wage growth has continued to lag but that is typical of an economic recovery. Overall wages won’t rise until the talent pool grows tighter. U-6, which includes consultants and part time workers who would prefer full time work remains stubbornly high. A possible explanation are the rules imposed by Obamacare, which require employers to provide health insurance to most full time workers but not to part timers. That is causing some employers to control schedules so that people don’t work enough hours to qualify as full time.

There are reasons to be optimistic about the upcoming holiday sales season. Retail sales rose broadly in August and consumer sentiment hit a 14 month high in September. According to NPD, US and European toy sales will be up 3 to 4 per cent this year. Even beleaguered Toys ‘R’ Us had its first half comparable store sales turn positive for the first time since 2010. We have hot products which will drive consumers to the stores. Anything Frozen is flying off the shelves. Minecraft has addicted a generation of 8 year olds. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are inexplicably back big time. Moose Toys has several hot lines with Shopkins, Little Live Pets, and Mutant Mania. Lastly, cheaper oil will lower gasoline prices, which should increase purchasing power for U.S. consumers in time for the holiday sales season.

Toy industry hiring continues to be strong but the mix of job openings continues to be abnormal. For our thirty plus year career, two-thirds of Toyjobs searches have been in Marketing and Product Development. Another 25% were Sales with the rest being “other” (QA, supply chain, etc.) Since last October, when toy hiring rebounded sharply, about 90% of searches have been for Sales Execs. That continues to this day. The toy industry being a seasonal business also tends to hire cyclically with August through December being the hiring season for Sales people. February through July tends toward Marketing and Product Development. I’m hoping that predictions of a strong holiday sales season prove true and that it stimulates a Marketing and Product Development hiring binge next Spring. We will have to wait and see.

All the best,
Tom Keoughan

 

By | October 20th, 2014|ToyJobs Blog|Comments Off on Fall Toy Preview: Success Without Crowds

Toy Industry Hiring Continues Robust Pace

The U.S. economy added jobs at a steady pace in July as job growth has had its strongest six-month stretch since 2006. Confusingly, the headline unemployment number (U-3) actually ticked up from 6.1 to 6.2%. This was largely because more people re-entered the workforce. Typically, a lot of people “leave the workforce” or stop looking for work during the summer months as well as during the holidays. This summer the hiring environment has been strong enough that a lot of people took themselves off the sidelines and got back into the job hunt.

A variety of talking heads have been spending a lot of time bemoaning the lack of solid wage gains. As someone who has spent three decades in the employment business, I can tell you that wage growth accelerates as the labor market tightens but there can be a considerable lag time. During the economic downturn employers held the upper hand in compensation negotiations. People were desperate to hold on to their jobs or to land a new one if they were unemployed. The perception (and fervent wishes) of employers is that this is still the case. There is a dialectic effect where perceived negotiation power swings between employers and employees and there is almost always a lag time of a year or two before the group holding that power realizes and admits that it is waning and even then they fight like hell to retain it. Today the process hasn’t even begun because while the employment picture is consistently strengthening we are nowhere near the tightened labor market.

There are two interesting asterisks of note in the U.S. employment story. The first is U-6 which includes part time workers who would prefer a full time job and workers who aren’t actually looking for work but would take a job if it was offered to them. U-6 has remained stubbornly above 12%. This reflects a lot of people engaged in consulting (there are certainly a lot of them in the toy business) as well as a lot of companies who need more pairs of hands but are not yet confident enough to commit to them as full time employees. Some of this also reflects the deleterious effect of Obamacare with businesses fighting to keep their employees under a thirty hour work week which would qualify them as “full time.”

The second asterisk is that it is widely unreported that the “white collar” population holding a college degree enjoys only a 3.1% unemployment rate while for those without a high school diploma the rate skyrockets to 9.6%.

BLS Chart

Focusing on the toy industry, hiring continues to be robust. For most of my thirty plus years, after an early summer slow down there would be an abrupt jump in search starts in late August. This coincided with goods being shipped to retailers’ warehouses. An order can change for almost any reason but once the pallet is on the retailers’ fork lift, manufacturers begin to feel like they’re on more solid ground. At the same time, senior execs returning from vacation would be jolted into the awareness that the following years sales season would begin in Dallas in about a month’s time. If they wanted to make adjustments to their sales staff they needed to begin looking at that immediately.

Last year … that didn’t happen. Retailers for the most part were a gloomy and pessimistic bunch. They were keeping inventories tight and bringing in goods as late as possible. The usual late August jump in search starts didn’t come. In fact, September was completely dead. Then, when goods finally did ship in very late September, all hell broke loose and manufacturers began hiring like crazy through the end of the year.

This year, like flipping a switch, Toyjobs phones started ringing off the hook with Sales searches during the last week of July and first week of August. Something had changed, but what? The retail environment certainly has not been all that good. Several of my clients have told me that this year retailers have planned to receive goods in a much more orderly fashion. After tracking the sales of small initial orders that arrived in June, they are bringing goods in stages rather than all at once. This allows the retailer to better control inventories and, in theory, allows the manufacturer to better control how much product they make. Of course, the lead times are still too short so that doesn’t really help manufacturers as much as advertised. In any event, this practice shortens the manufacturers sweat and fingernail biting period and they seem willing to start their sales searches soon enough to actually complete them by the Dallas Fall Toy Preview.

So, you may ask, “If there are so many sales searches why aren’t they posted on your job board?” That’s a good question and there are really two reasons. First, we like to get most of our candidate gathering work done before we post our searches. This is because part of our job is to evaluate search candidates against each other and focus our clients attention on those that we think fits their particular opportunity the best. This saves them time and effort. They like that. In order to facilitate this we like to have the bulk of our candidate selection done before everyone starts raising their hands. That way once people start contacting us about a posting we are better able to see where they fit in that searches candidate pool.

The second reason is for purely competitive purposes. There are a couple of recruiters out there who don’t have much in the way of a client base or repeat business. The reason for this is that they spend endless amounts of time and energy puffing on and on about how great they are but have a pretty poor track record when it comes to actually fulfilling searches. With a lot of time on their hands these recruiters continuously eyeball our job board and they try to worm their way into the search process. Since all of our searches are exclusive to Toyjobs, that rarely happens but it can be very disruptive to both our clients and candidates.

So there you have it. At the current time toy companies are aggressively looking for Sales Execs. Toyjobs is working on a large number of Sales searches. Look for them to pop up on our job board in the coming weeks. In the meantime, you very well might be hearing from us about a search that we haven’t posted yet.

Enjoy the rest of the summer!!
Tom Keoughan

By | August 13th, 2014|ToyJobs Blog|Comments Off on Toy Industry Hiring Continues Robust Pace

Toy Fair Has Upbeat Vibe – Toyjobs Has 3rd Best Month Ever

Toy Fair Has Upbeat Vibe – Toyjobs Has 3rd Best Month Ever

After the requisite snowstorm, New York Toy Fair opened up Saturday night with the annual TOTY Awards dinner. Shirley Price and her team did a fantastic job and this event was even more fun than usual. It was especially gratifying to see that six of the twelve category awards were won by companies that have been in existence for less than three years such as Goldieblox, Choons Design and blog1Just Play. Choons Design’s Rainbow Loom won three category awards as it cruised its way to the Toy of the Year. So much for the carpers and back benchers who say that only the big boys win awards.

There were several inductees into the Toy Hall of Fame including Jill Barad, who gave a rousing speech which graciously gave shout outs to numerous mentors. Jack Friedinan of LJN, THQ and Jakks Pacific; Horst Brandstatler, founder of Playmobil and Wham-O founders Richard Knerr and “Spud” Melin were honored as well.

Next on the event calendar was the annual Women in Toys Dinner. Somehow Genna Rosenberg, Ashley Mady and their team continue to make this event better every year. How do they do that? …and how will they keep it up? Amongst the Wonder Women Award winners were Rita Raiffe of Gund garnering a well deserved Lifetime Achievement Award and Debra Sterling of the runaway start up Goldieblox. I think the award for funniest acceptance speech of the evening probably goes to Michelle Litzky who pretty much cracked everybody up.blog2

The always elegant Joan Luks will be stepping down as President of Women in Toys. Joan is someone who always put way more in to the organization than she took out. I’ll not be surprised if she continues to do that in her post-presidential role. New President Ashley Mady will have a heavy torch to carry but she certainly has the talent and energy to do so.

Toy Fair itself was very positive and upbeat which was a surprise considering that October’s Dallas Toy Preview was a bit gloomy and toy sales didn’t exactly rocket to the moon this past holiday season. Despite the travel-snarling snow, foot traffic was up 14% on Sunday and 9% on Monday. Tuesday was up 3% and Wednesday? …I can’t really tell you because, as is always blog3the case, like a lot of people I went home. All the major toy retailers had buyers there and that includes Wal-Mart, Target, Toys ‘R’ Us, Amazon, and Costco.

What I heard from senior toy executives who were actually showing at the Toy Fair was very different than usual. What they repeatedly said went something like this: “While retailers have already decided on the core of their planograms, there has been a lot of indecision on the part of buyers. We were able to fill a few nooks and crannies simply because we were here.” Interestingly, I heard that from every single company with a booth that I spoke with – no exceptions. I only heard otherwise from several senior toy executives who weren’t showing but instead just walking the show, poking around, and taking a few meetings. From them I heard the usual: This show is so expensive and we’re “really all done anyway.” It seems to me that it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you’re not out there pitching at a place where you can meet twenty of your top customers in a period of four days – you may indeed be “really all done anyway.” I would encourage those people to talk to their friends who had full booths at the show and see what they have to say.blog4

Kudos, as always, goes to Carter Keithley, Stacy Leistner and the whole TIA crew for hosting an outstanding Toy Fair. They pretty much had their hands into most of the outside events as well. To paraphrase fast Eddie Felson – Toy Fair is Back!

 

Mirroring the regained enthusiasm at New York Toy Fair, Toyjobs has continued to knock it out of the park. After having out best month in thirty-two years in December, we quickly followed with our third best ever month in February. Toy companies are looking at new talent and they’re pulling the trigger. Best of all, companies are hiring senior people which means they’re not just doing patchwork. Toy companies are looking to do new things and they need senior people who can find and execute on new opportunities.

The increase in hiring is reflected in the economy at large as well, Non-farm payrolls grew by an encouraging 175,

blog5

000 (seasonally adjusted) in February despite severe weather challenges in much of the country. Even though Toys ‘R’ Us started rolling layoffs last Tuesday culminating in a “Pink Friday,” the economic picture is brightening. The point of inflection appears to have been at the beginning of last October. Let’s hope that the economy continues to improve and that hiring keeps on keepin’ on. It has every indication of doing so. Spring may at long last be at hand.

All the best,
Tom Keoughan

By | March 12th, 2014|ToyJobs Blog|Comments Off on Toy Fair Has Upbeat Vibe – Toyjobs Has 3rd Best Month Ever

August-September Toy Hiring Surge – Delayed

It seems to be an annual event: as children’s products ship to retailers in late August, companies start feeling more comfortable about meeting their sales goals. Timing coincides with the winding down of summer vacations and the realization that the next year’s annual sales season will begin in a few short weeks in Dallas at the Fall Toy Preview and in Los Angeles at various private toy company events. Almost every year this leads to a big surge in search starts and hiring in late August and September. A surge that this year did not come.

Up until late August, we at Toyjobs saw toy industry hiring as quite strong. In 2012, things turned the corner and 2013 was looking like a return to “not quite normalcy.” Toy industry hiring in early summer was even better than the average during good times, but when late August arrived, not only was there no surge, but activity fell off the table. During late August and September – it was dead.

First off, spring and summer toy sales were extremely sluggish. Also, retailers were very cautious about inventory – ordering smaller numbers and bringing goods in later than ever before. This, in turn, made toy manufacturers nervous.

Coming into the Fall Toy Preview, I was, unfortunately, pretty well-rested and the paper piles in my office were beginning to look small. The good news was that, as I was arriving in Dallas, children’s products were beginning to arrive in bulk to the U.S. Toy companies have now begun to feel better about themselves and search starts have rocketed. Toyjobs is currently in talks with a wide array of companies about to begin new talent searches. Those searches haven’t hit our job board (Current Toy Jobs) yet but stay tuned, they’ll be posted in the coming weeks.

As for the show itself, it seemed noticeably less busy than last year. As always, Carter Keithley and his TIA team put on a superb event, but it just looked like there was quite a bit less traffic. I don’t have the official numbers, but my unscientific survey had three components. First, the Starbucks line was much shorter than last year. Second, the great opening party thrown by the TIA seemed less well-attended. Lastly, it is important to remember that foot traffic at this show can be much higher than it appears because so many people spend much of their day tucked away in little cubby holes. My favorite “metric” is to simply look over the railing down to the lobby floor at lunchtime. This, too, proved to be disappointing. Even when I went down to lunch myself, although the cafeteria was full, I never had any trouble finding a table.

I’m NOT privy to ANY official discussions, but in my gut – I give the show three years…and my guess is that in year four, the Fall Toy Preview constituted as it is now in Dallas will be no more. I certainly hope that is not the case. We all know the reasons that this show is faltering: large toy companies holding private events in LA during the following weeks, buyers making oddly timed trips to Hong Kong, high trade show costs, etc. I’m sure that the TIA and the TIA Board have talked about this until they’re blue in the face, but I would suggest giving a member of either of those groups your input – whatever that input may be. One thing that is glaringly obvious is that there is a disconnect when the TIA Board is largely made up of representatives of companies who do not support TIA events intended to strengthen the toy industry as a whole. With broad input, hopefully a solution can be found that works for everyone.

Just my two cents,
Tom Keoughan

By | October 14th, 2013|ToyJobs Blog|Comments Off on August-September Toy Hiring Surge – Delayed

Toy Industry Hiring Slowing but Steady

The headline unemployment number has ticked down to 7.5% but the number would be higher if so many people hadn’t left the labor force. “White collar” (who actually wears white collars these days?) unemployment continues to drift between 4 and 5%.

The US economy, while not good, continues to slowly and steadily improve. Employers have been adding around 200,000 jobs a month. That isn’t enough to bring the jobless rate sharply down, but it’s better than the average 140,000 per month that we saw last year.

Housing sales have greatly increased and home prices are up 10% from a year ago. Also auto sales have improved about 7%. The various stock indices are up about 15% since the beginning of the year and consumer confidence is concurrently at a five year high.

Although payroll tax increases and the sequester are depressing consumer spending, upward momentum should begin to grow retail sales after we get through the summer. Economic growth, while still slow, is beginning to build. I liken it to a train just leaving the station.

Toy industry hiring has slowed from the torrid pace set in the first four months of the year, but continues to be steady. I look for this to continue through June and then slow down in July and early August. Come mid-August, toy industry executives will suddenly wake from their beachside slumbers and realize that the 2014 sales season is only six weeks away. The annual sprint to add new sales talent before the Dallas Fall Toy Preview will begin. If the economy has followed through and is continuing to build momentum, then the job areas of the toy industry should follow suit.

That’s my call and, for now, I’m sticking with it. Of course, I’ve always been an optimist. It’s the only way to be.

All the best,
Tom Keoughan

By | June 5th, 2013|ToyJobs Blog|Comments Off on Toy Industry Hiring Slowing but Steady

Fall Toy Preview Stalls – Toy Jobs Soar

The Fall Toy Preview seemed a little…”off” this year. The mood seemed neither good nor bad, but somewhat flat. Traffic seemed to be down. I do understand that people were hidden away in showrooms and cubby holes and that there was what appeared to be a daily population surge around lunchtime. That said, the numbers did seem to be down a little. Some retailers, especially the larger ones, only sent partial teams and some buyers left early to head for Los Angeles.

Los Angeles was the source of many complaints. Most of the large, and now many second tier, toy manufacturers don’t support the Fall Toy Preview. Many, including Mattel, MGA, Jakks, Spin Master, Tomy and Funrise have their own October “show” in LA which means less retail buyers in Dallas as well as buyers leaving early. I understand the big boys wanting to monopolize buyers time without having them distracted by their smaller and often more innovative competitors. Unfortunately, the current situation hurts the toy industry as a whole.

In the last year or two the Toy Industry Association (TIA) has been able to twist the arms of the large companies into supporting New York Toy Fair in February. Now, it’s time to figure out a solution for the Fall Toy Preview. I am not going to be so presumptuous as to claim that I know what that solution is or where the show should be held if, indeed, it should be held at all. However, I think it’s a conflict of interest to sit on the TIA Board while at the same time passive aggressively undermining TIA initiatives which are meant to serve the toy industry as a whole. If a company is not going to support TIA/toy industry events let them be TIA members but not pretend to play a leadership role for the entire toy business.

September jobs data (nice segue, huh?) showed marginal improvement and the unemployment rate is now back to the same 7.8% that it was at when Obama took office. The details of the Bureau of Labor Statistics report were a little wonky showing that the US economy only created an anemic 114,000 jobs in September and that many of those were for part time workers.

I’m not going to go all Jack Welch on you here, but September jobs data is often a little funny. Every September, schools re-open and schools employ a large number of part time employees such as cafeteria workers, night cleaning crews, etc. So it should come as no surprise to see a spike in new part time hires for the month. Unfortunately these are not the types of jobs that are going to get our economy rolling again.

Anecdotally, the news is much better. Since mid august, Toyjobs has been providing our clients with top talent and our clients have been hiring them hand over fist (Toyjobs Success Stories). Also, the type of jobs that companies are looking for has started to shift from Sales, Sourcing and Safety (revenues, cost reduction, and regulation) toward the toy industry’s traditional focus on Marketing and Product Development (creativity and innovation). It seems as if companies have stopped just playing defense and are on the offensive once again.

We still face potential major problems in the European Economic crisis and the approaching fiscal cliff but if we can manage to avoid those, the US economy seems to finally be starting to pull out of its five year slump. While we can’t do much about Europe; it would be tremendously helpful if our politicians could get it together enough for a one year extension of the current taxation, spending and regulatory regime. This would give both business and consumers the confidence they need to start planning and spending and planning to spend. Maybe if our politicians can get their act together, European leadership will be able to pull it together over there, too…

Um, no I’m not holding my breath for either of these things to happen.

All the best,
Tom Keoughan

By | October 22nd, 2012|ToyJobs Blog|Comments Off on Fall Toy Preview Stalls – Toy Jobs Soar

PlayCon a Big Success – Toy Industry Adds Jobs!

In mid-May I attended my first PlayCon in Washington, DC, and I confess that I really didn’t know what to expect.  I must say that I was beyond pleasantly surprised.  The event was held at the Gaylord National Convention Center, a beautiful facility situated right on the Potomac.  It was self-contained, easy to navigate, and within easy walking distance of several outposts of well know Manhattan restaurants.

After we were jolted awake by a combination of caffeine and an opening bagpipe ceremony, we settled in for a very meaty schedule of speakers.  I’m not going to reveal here what they had to say (for that you would have to actually go) but I will give you a brief rundown of topics.

 

The first two speakers, Anita Frazier of NPD and Sean McGowan (who everyone already knows) provided hard data about trends in both the toy industry and some adjacent businesses.  It was valuable to be able to confirm some things that you mostly knew in your gut, but more importantly some of the data was counterintuitive; especially on the hot topic of apps (it’s not just about product without inventory).

Well known children’s product consultant Tom McGrath then spoke at length about both the art and the science of license selection.  Licensing can be very hit and/or miss, and Tom was very forthcoming about many of his wins and losses, why they occurred, and what he learned from them in hindsight.

Next up were Lego and Mattel.  Everyone was thankful to them for opening the kimono on the why’s and how’s of their consumer research programs and I think we were equally grateful to Messrs. Wann and Barbour for refraining from revealing exactly what was under their kilts!

After lunch, Brian Torney of Kunoichi led an interesting panel about how to think about marketing in the digital world which also featured Hasbro’s Chief Visionary Steve Drucker.  Steve peered into his crystal ball to prognosticate where technology might lead the children’s product business ten years in the future and beyond.

After breaking into workshop subgroups, everyone returned to see Bob Wann do a Q&A with senior Amazon executives Jon Witham and John Alteio.  They discussed how to best do business with the online retail giant and also drilled down into the detail of how to optimize your product pages in order to sell more goods.

Lastly on day one, Bob Wann interviewed Neil Friedman who brings a unique perspective from spending a lifetime in the toy business including senior positions with both Mattel and Toys R Us.  They talked about how manufacturers and retailers can work together more proactively and effectively.  It is all about managing expectations; doing what you say you are going to do and most of all communication.

Day two kicked off with LeapFrog President (and former TRU senior executive) John Barbour speaking with TRU SVP Merchandising Richard Barry. After that we dove back again into the world of consumer research.  First, with George Carey of brand strategy agency The Family Room who brought his unique perspective (backed by data, of course) on how families actually make decisions.  It made perfect sense but was not at all what I thought it would be going in.

Renee Weber, VP Consumer Research for The Marketing Store, then spoke on the really big picture about some of her groups’ findings and how they have translated into the design of McDonald’s Happy Meal toys.  Lastly, a lively panel on consumer research led by the very entertaining Paul Kurnit, toy advertising consultant at Kurnit Communications. (You can sign up for his RSS feed at psinsights.com)

Kudos go to Bob Wann and Shirley Price and the conference planning committee: Lourdes Arocho, Joel Berger, Mary Couzin, Richard Gill, Richard Gottlieb, Sharon Hartley, and Manuel Torres for putting together a program that was jam-packed with information.  I would also like to commend all of the speakers for the spirit of sharing which prevailed throughout the entire conference.  The content delivered at PlayCon was broad, deep, and thought-provoking.  While everyone may know parts of this stuff, I think I can safely say that everybody in attendance was able to bring home some immediately implementable takeaways.  If you weren’t there then you are just that much behind your competitors.

One thing I have learned over the last few years is that any event with Carter Kethley’s thumbprint on it is going to feature great food!  At PlayCon, he did not disappoint and as always was the perfect host.  Everything ran so smoothly that I realized that while the Toy Industry Association’s (TIA) Event Staff all appeared to be as serene as swans, they must have been paddling like hell underneath!  Shout outs go to:  Marian Bossard, Kimberly Carcone, Jackson Wong, Robyn Gibbs, and Kimberly Catucci.

PlayCon was a great place to network and meet new industry colleagues but more importantly for me a great place to solidify existing relationships away from the frenetic pace of trade shows where everyone is focused on selling – as they should be.

In other news (great segue, huh?) the U.S. had a pretty weak May jobs report.  Employers added a seasonally adjusted 69,000 jobs last month and the estimates for the two previous months were adjusted downward.  The unemployment rate moved up from 8.1% to 8.2%.  To be completely accurate there has been some discussion that the Labor Department’s seasonal adjustment equation has been thrown out of whack.  Read more here.

Factors contributing to the weak jobs report include the warm winter leading companies to hire seasonal workers earlier which boosted winter job growth while stealing from spring hiring.  Additionally, renewed concerns about Europe with Greece, Spain and Italy all having trouble borrowing to finance their government spending has been unsettling.  This could potentially lead to a domino effect amongst financial institutions.  More importantly, the European recession will be a drag on global economic growth especially now that Asia (which has Europe as its largest customer) is now starting to slow.  Lastly, there is the domestic political situation including the pending fiscal cliff which could drive the US into recession and may be causing businesses to hold off on hiring.

Anecdotally, here at Toyjobs we have seen toy companies continue to add to their staffs at a rapid clip.  Toy search starts have also continued to be strong.  That said, we are just about to enter the summer doldrums where for thirty years Toyjobs has seen certain regular patterns in both good economies and bad.  I expect search starts to slow in the next week or two as the annual summer slowdown begins. Jobs will continue to be filled through the first three weeks of July as searches that began in May and June are completed.  At that point things will be very slow until the last week or two of August when search starts begin to ramp up in response to the upcoming fall sales season. (Fall Toy Preview will be right around the corner.)

My concern is that due to either an implosion in Europe or continued brinksmanship and bipartisan idiocy in Washington, DC, employers may sit on their hands come late August and that the annual search start bounce will be muted.  Most pragmatic people realize that the current tax and spending regime should be extended through 2013.  We’re going to have an election in November to determine which ideological (idiot-logical?) path the country is going to take, but in the meantime let’s hope the politicians do not drive the bus off of a fiscal cliff.  Since an extension is likely to be what happens anyway, let’s root for it to happen now so that businesses can plan which will hopefully lead to hiring and business investment.  In the current political environment, however, I am not going to hold my breath.

Moving forward, we do have a few reasons to be optimistic.  The biggest job loser in May was construction, which shed 28,000 positions.  The industry lost hundreds of thousands of jobs as the residential housing market collapsed.  In May, heavy construction jobs also began to be cut as the money for “stimulus/roadwork everywhere” has begun to come to an end.  However, few other sectors actually cut jobs.  Most simply did not hire much.  One exception was the transportation and warehousing category, which added 35,000 jobs, mostly in railroads and trucking.  Transportation is generally considered to be a leading indicator of economic growth.  Secondly, Wal-Mart is growing again.  First quarter earnings rose 10% as the retailing behemoth saw US customer traffic and average purchases rise.

So, the US economy is still growing albeit not quickly enough and faces headwinds in European and Asian economic slowdowns and a few potential landmines from Europe and Washington DC. I’m moving forward but cautiously with the feeling that if we can just avoid the landmines everything will be alright although not as good as I would like it to be.

Overdue Updates

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been running so hard on the hamster wheel that a few things have popped up that I didn’t really have time to digest so I’ll share them with you here:

  • Toyjobs received a Constant Contact 2011 All Star Award for our newsletter which you are reading now.  I would like to thank all of our readers for taking the time out of their busy schedules to look us over every month or so.  I would also like to thank all of you who send in positive feedback after each publication.
  • Secondly, I have been elected to the Board of The Pinnacle Society as Treasurer.  The Pinnacle Society is a group limited to 75 of the top executive recruiters in North America and I would like to thank their membership for being in excellent long-term educational asset as well as for putting their faith and trust in me.

So that’s it.  Enjoy the summer slowdown.  I hope you all have a chance to step off of the daily hamster wheel and spend some time relaxing and recharging your batteries for the next go round.
Moving Ahead Cautiously,

Tom Keoughan

By | June 19th, 2012|ToyJobs Blog|Comments Off on PlayCon a Big Success – Toy Industry Adds Jobs!