That seemed to be the phrase on most buyers’ lips at last week’s trade show.  Certainly, the show was well attended by retailers and most manufacturers’ dance cards were full but was anything really accomplished?  It’s difficult to make even preliminary buying decisions about Christmas ’04 when we haven’t even seen Christmas ’03 sell through yet and seasonal TV advertising is only just beginning.

On the upside, most manufacturers seemed genuinely upbeat and not just making the usual trade show happy talk.  Of course, it’s easy to be upbeat when you’re not really expecting any orders outside of Target.  Also, on the positive side of the ledger, is the ability to take retailer feedback and tweak product packaging or try to squeeze that extra nickel out of costs.  If you have a real dog you can just drop it without having to worry about cutting steel.  At the end of the day, the big question is will this “early look” speed up retail buying decisions, which have been coming later and later.  Most toy executives that I spoke with remained skeptical, although everyone seemed to be a little more relaxed and having a nice time.

There was a lot of scuttle but in the halls about having an alternative January trade show in New York in case of a SARS outbreak in Hong Kong.  I can only suggest that you contact either the TIA or your New York sales reps to ask questions or weigh in with opinions.

Toy industry hiring is continuing to accelerate.  We are up to our neck in search assignments, and with the upbeat nature of the show, the water is still rising.  Fortunately we are fast and experienced bailers.  I see this trend continuing into the New Year.  Many companies are sticking to their ’03 budgets which were formulated in dark days of November/December 2002.  The combination of looser ’04 budgets (can we breathe yet?) and way too much work to do should mean that the acceleration in hiring will continue.

See ya’ in January

Tom Keoughan