toy company jobs

Toy Industry Walks Through the Fog of Uncertainty

Most toy industry executives are telling me that while they certainly would have preferred to still have Toys “R” Us as a viable entity, that they have mostly replaced the shelf space and think that the year will turn out alright. That said, they want to make sure that they are on firm footing before they start investing in additional staff. They would like to put behind them the uncertainty of whether new product placement equals new sell through.

The good news is that consumers still want toys. We just have to figure out how to best get those toys in front of them and make them take notice. From cell phones to video games to WhatsApp to Fortnite to over scheduling by parents: kids have a lot more things competing for and dividing their attention than the days when we would just go out and play. To complicate things further, the array of choices is changing at an increasingly rapid pace. The challenge for Marketers is how to get their wares noticed on a increasingly pixelated and changing pallete of potential diversions.

At the same time, the retail landscape is undergoing revolutionary change. E-commerce is booming but physical stores still do the bulk of consumer sales. Buy online and then get in the car and drive to the store to pick it up is also increasingly popular although for the life of me I can’t imagine why. Manufacturers have to figure out how to best operate in this changing environment. Complicating that further is that you can’t just change from A to B. The retail formula is changing constantly and more rapidly all the time. The only certainty is the ever-increasing velocity of change.

Thus far, the holiday shopping season appears to be off to a strong start. Foot traffic over the Thanksgiving weekend was down somewhat but retailers began offering deals earlier which pulled some sales forward. The Black Friday weekend is still a good indicator but consumers are broadening their shopping window so there is much less of a pronounced spike.

black friday

In the meantime, online sales have been exploding with approximate growth of 25% over the long Thanksgiving weekend plus Cyber Monday. We should expect a strong holiday sales season. The economy is humming, and the consumer is flush with lower unemployment, lower taxes, lower gas prices and as of the last few months higher wages. Event more importantly, the consumer is willing to spend. Top line numbers for retailers should be strong but profit margins for retailers of all stripes may be challenged by higher labor costs for brick and mortar locations and higher freight costs for items purchased online. Retailers may be willing to pass some of these cost increases on to consumers, but it is likely that for the larger portion they will be looking toward vendors.

While the overall holiday sales environment looks quite positive despite potential back end shearing by retailers, there is another big concern for toy manufacturers. That is a potential Trade War with China. As of now, it appears that Xi Jinping and the Trump Administration have made small concessions that permitted each other face saving gestures and agreed to a temporary cease fire.

trump xi pic

That allows toy manufacturers to breathe a little easier for now but kicking the can down the road doesn’t alleviate uncertainty. In ninety days, when a full agreement still hasn’t been reached, tariffs on the $200 Billion of goods now set at 10% will be increased to 25%. The good news is that toys, as it stands now, still will not be affected. Unknown is what happens next. How long will the next negotiating window be? What will the consequences be if a deal is still not reached? Most likely, the next step of tariff escalation will include the toy business. Will the toy industry be able to ship goods for the holiday season of 2019 by, let’s say, June 1st? Especially, when you realize that vendors and retailers may be at cross purposes. Manufacturers will be trying to ship products as early as possible to try to beat the clock while at the same time retailers tend to try to postpone commitments to buy as long as possible.

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If there is any kind of silver lining in this fog uncertainty, it is that the toy industry is more agile and better equipped to navigate uncertainty than most other manufacturers. After all, even in a year that is all blue skies and smooth sailing (and I can’t remember that ever happening) we are in a seasonal fashion business. Turbulence is our middle name. We are used to it.

My view is one of cautious optimism – but that’s pretty much my default setting. Things tend to work out… eventually. The worry is how long will it take.

Crossing the River by Feeling the Stones.

Tom Keoughan

 

By | December 4th, 2018|About Toy Jobs|0 Comments

Dallas Fall Toy Preview AND The Zombie Awakens

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Day one, morning at the Dallas Fall Toy Preview was mostly grumbling as exhibitors complained widely that: “This place is empty.”, and “There’s nobody here.” Indeed, the main floors on 12 and 13 looked like a ghost town. I found it much busier down at the 4th floor Diverse and McManemin showrooms. That’s likely because with twenty to thirty companies crowded into each space there was a much higher population density.

Activity had picked up by evening and interestingly there seemed to be more people at the Tuesday night cocktail party than there were in the building all day. This led me to quip: “if they want to increase attendance, maybe they should serve beer.”

By Wednesday afternoon, the sentiment had changed. Most exhibitors I spoke with were saying “We had really good meetings”. Several companies stated that while they could skip the show and just travel to all the different retailers, they like that fact that with the Dallas showroom space they could put their entire line of product offerings on display.

It was good to see several TIA Board members actively starting discussions and eliciting feedback about the future of the show. As usual, there was talk of moving the show to Los Angeles. There are two insurmountable problems with that. First, the large LA based companies don’t really want their nimbler competitors around trying to “distract” retailers with their often more creative wares. If the show was moved to Los Angeles in an attempt to consolidate what has turned into four October trade shows, then the big LA based companies would simply change their dates thus defeating the whole purpose.

Second, a lot of companies have opened showrooms in El Segundo but they can be anywhere from a couple of blocks to a couple of miles apart which necessitates leaving the building and often getting into a car and dealing with LA traffic. I seemed to be the only who thought that could be solved by running a continuous string of shuttle buses. Then the real answer came out. “Buyers don’t like it. They don’t want to travel from block to block and building to building.” That’s it. Retailers are the ones we want to attract and convenience. If we want to change the Dallas format in in such a way as to attract more buyers, we can’t do it in a way that they have already told us they don’t like. For the time being, at least, LA is out.

Company owners told me they like Dallas because it is convenient, it’s centrally located, and both travel and hotels are relatively inexpensive. They also like the ability to put their entire product line on display. Their complaints were: “More Buyers”, and that renting booth space was very expensive.

From where I stand, I like the show as it currently is. I can fly in and stay in an inexpensive hotel and spend two days meeting with fifty toy company owners and Presidents because they have a lot of free time on their hands. That’s great for me but I’m acutely aware that y’all aren’t having the show for my benefit. If the show doesn’t make financial sense for toy manufacturers, then it will cease to exist. So, here’s my two cents on possible ways to improve the show for my clients:

  1. More Buyers. It was great to have Wal-Mart, Wal-mart.com, Target and Target.com in attendance but booth space is expensive so if more mid-tier retailers are represented that helps to justify the costs. It would be particularly helpful if Sales Execs could use the show to avoid an additional schlep to Menomee Falls, Wisconsin or Grand Rapids, Michigan. What can we do to attract broader retailer participation?
  2. Condense the Show in Space and Time.  Most manufacturers had two or three appointments on Thursday morning but also had plenty of downtime on Tuesday and Wednesday. The show could easily be compressed into two days. I confess that I have no knowledge of how this would affect the T.I.A.’s financial considerations but my understanding is that this show isn’t a big money maker for them anyway. Also, the show could easily be fit on just the 12th and 13th floors. That would create a busier and buzzier environment. How could the showrooms on the 4th floor and what’s left of the 8th floor be motivated and compensated to move upstairs?
  3. Serve Beer. But maybe don’t start until lunch. 😊

The big buzz in Dallas was various announcements about the potential rebirth of Toys “R” Us. Phase one will be a shop within a shop launch of Toys “R” Us private label brands at “a prominent Midwest based retailer.” Meijers? Kohls? That sounds like a Hail Mary pass to me. I can’t imagine that the public is exactly riveted by brands like Fastlane or Animal Alley.

zombie

Much more interesting is the prospect of opening 200-300 stores in 2019 under the Toys “R” Us banner. At this point, plan specifics are preliminary and unsurprisingly very sketchy. That said, we should remember that Toys “R” Us was a viable business if it hadn’t been loaded with all that debt. Now that debt is gone, they are mostly off the hook to vendors for 2017 shipments, they have wriggled out of their leases and there is an awful lots of inexpensive retail space to let.

A lot of people had the immediate reaction, “Why would companies want to deal with them again?” Really? I can’t imagine a single toy manufacturer that wouldn’t happily line up for a retailer with 200-300 doors – provided that the terms were right. That said, the new owners of Toys “R” Us should come to realize that there is a lot of bad blood between vendors and a certain Sr. Merchandising Executive who actively chased in shipments that he had to have known weren’t going to be paid for. TRU’s owners may have needed him to hold things together thus far, but if they want to re-establish trust with their vendors, he will have to be jettisoned. All trust there is gone and is unlikely to be repaired. It may be time for the man in the Geoffrey mask to go.

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As I write this, Sears/Kmart is back on the ropes and wobbling badly like an aging prize fighter. They have announced they will close roughly 150 stores with an additional 250 stores put under review while about 300 stores that are considered more viable will remain open. Many toy companies continue to sell to Kmart while keeping receivables on a very tight leash, but I can’t help but think that I’ve seen this movie before… and I’ve seen it just recently.

Fortunately, other retailers are picking up the slack, Wal-Mart is increasing its toy department by 30% and Target is doubling its toy selection. Kohl’s and Penney, Five Below and Best Buy are all increasing toy sections for the holiday sales season and other retailers are following suit, Party City will open up to 50 pop-up stores for the holiday sales season and if successful, I would have to think that Spencer Gifts will follow suit with its Spirit Halloween division next year.

               U.S. unemployment rate, seasonally adjusted. Source: Labor Department

unemployment rateThis along with the lowest employment rate in fifty years, the highest consumer sentiment in 18 years and rip-roaring consumer spending should help toy manufacturers in 2018. The National Retail Federation expects that holiday sales-excluding autos, gas, and restaurants – should be up to 4.3 to 4.8 percent over 2017.

Most toy company executives are telling me: “though we would have done better without the demise of Toys “R” Us we think we will do okay.” They also say that they want to make sure that they are going to be okay before they start investing in additional staff. Toy industry hiring which was dead in the first half of 2018 picked up nicely in June but has not been as robust as it should be. I suspect that it will continue at the “better but not normal” rate until we make it through the holiday sales season and the January/February trade shows.

Steady as She Goes,

Tom Keoughan

By | October 17th, 2018|About Toy Jobs|0 Comments

Toy Hiring Gaining Traction

The sudden demise of Toys “R” Us has been very disruptive to the toy hiring market. It’s crazy out there. Many companies have laid people off but lots of companies are hiring as well. Oddly enough, many companies are doing both as they reorganize their rosters for the changes and challenges ahead.

Santa-Clarita-Toys-R-Us-Closure-

By the beginning of 2018, most toy manufacturers expected that Toys “R” Us was going to be a bit shaky moving forward and had instituted plans to limit any potential damage by shipping less, later and tightening payment terms. They were hedging their bets but remained confident that business would continue amongst constant reassurances by Toys “R” Us Execs to: “Remain calm. All is well.” Then shortly after the completion of the January and February Toy Shows, Toys “R” Us declared bankruptcy. While everyone knew that things were wobbly, nobody expected Toys “R” Us to fall so far and so fast. After all Kmart has been wobbly but still standing for over a decade.

In a typical year, very little toy industry hiring gets done in January and February as Toy Execs are overbooked and over busy crazily traveling the globe to attend anywhere from three to five shows. Not only are they too busy to hire they also would prefer to wait and see how retailers react to their wares before opening their wallets to add to staff.

WSJ store closing graph

Usually, about two weeks after the final trade show in New York, manufacturers put the finishing touches on plans and projections and the phones begin to ring here at Toyjobs World Headquarters. With the sudden and unexpected demise of Toys “R” Us, manufacturers had to reconfigure their expectations. Publicly there was a lot of finger pointing, magical thinking and gnashing of teeth. After about two months, forecasts were changed and plans were redrawn and search starts picked up in early May leading to increased but not overwhelming hiring in June, July and August.

Toy hiring follows toy sales and I would imagine that toy sales and will be somewhat lower in 2018 as  manufacturers search and battle for shelf space to replace their Toys “R” Us acreage. I would think that challenge will continue but to a lesser extent into 2019 as Toys “R” Us begins to fade into the rear-view mirror. I envision that toy sales and therefore toy hiring will remain disrupted but steadily gaining strength over the next year and a half.

I realize that is very much at odds with recently published NPD data. Toy industry grows its sales by 7 percent in the First Half!! Yeah, but … Consumers were lured into the Toys “R” Us stores by the trumpeting of huge markdowns which didn’t really look all that “yuge” once you were in the store. I know mothers who went to Toys “R” Us every couple of weeks in search of big bargains that barely existed. After all, if you’re going to lie to your employees and lie to your vendors why not lie to the public as well. Probably because traffic, even disappointed traffic, equals increased sales. Unfortunately, those sales didn’t help the toy industry all that much. They were sales of previously shipped and unpaid for merchandise. I would envisage that most of the proceeds went into the pockets of the bankruptcy attorneys rather than toy companies. So I see that 7% Toy Industry Sales Growth as a very flawed number in this period. Sales of toys off retailers shelves was indeed a very different things than sales by toy manufacturers.

That said they toy industry is reacting to and recovering from the Toys “R” Us debacle amongst a very bright backdrop. It’s better to face challenges in an increasingly robust economic environment. After all, this isn’t 2009 and the world isn’t going to end tomorrow. Rising employment, wages and tax cuts have consumer spending on a tear and US GDP rose to 4.1% in the second quarter, Wal-Mart just hit it out of the park. CEO, Doug McMillon was quoted last week as saying “Customers tell us that they feel better about the current health of the U.S. economy as well as their personal finances. They’re more confident about their employment opportunities.”

The evolving retail landscape toward online shopping continues but many brick and mortar retailers like Wal-mart, Home Depot, Nordstrom, and Coach have recently been reporting strong numbers while others (JCPenney, Bon-Ton, Claire’s) are either closing stores or going bankrupt. Weaker competitors are being weeded out and clearing some of the over capacity that has plagued retail. As a result, the remaining chains are growing even stronger.

The good news is that consumers still want to buy toys. Toy manufacturers will just have to be ever more nimble in getting their products in from of them.

Say what you will about Trump’s antics but the economy is humming. I’m still wary about Trumpian trade issues. I suspect, but can’t know for certain, that things will get worked out with Mexico, Canada, and Europe. That said, playing a game of chicken with China is a very different deal. Eventually, after much dickering, we will probably end up with face saving half measures (or more likely quarter measures) … eventually.

Free product idea for a Skill and Action Game:

The Game of Chicken: Trump, Trade and Tariff Edition

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“Crossing the River by Feeling the Stones”

Tom Keoughan

 

By | August 22nd, 2018|About Toy Jobs|0 Comments

Turbulence in Toyland – Same As It Ever Was

 

TRU 4-18-18

I think that it’s reasonable to say that there are two main causes for the recent demise of Toys ‘R’ Us. The first was the excessive debt burden put upon the company by owners KKR, Bain Capital and Vornado Realty. TRU’s heavy debt service came at a time of massive change in the world of retail and made it difficult for the company to invest in the changes needed to survive during this period of disruption. That said even if they didn’t have the debt burden, it is far from certain that TRU would have had the correct strategy or the ability to execute it. With their brand equity they should have been a leader in toy E-commerce but have botched that so many times that recently they haven’t even been one of the top five online sellers of toys. Additionally, their stores were a mess and there really wasn’t any compelling reason to visit them. If only TRU could have figured out how to attract as many people to its stores as attorneys to its legal hearings, things might have turned out differently. I think it’s reasonably to say that the business has been serially mismanaged since the recently deceased founder Charles Lazarus and his original team retired.

Corporate bankruptcies are always messy and the Toys ‘R’ Us case is no different. I am no big fan of US corporate bankruptcy laws having been burned by them a couple of times in my career. They seem a bit topsy turvy to me. Debt holders and financial institutions who are supposed to be professional evaluators of creditworthiness are first in line ahead of suppliers who are doing business with the company in good faith. Games almost always get played. I’m not privy to the details but it is pretty easy to imagine both product and service suppliers to Toys ‘R’ Us being lead on and lied to.

So, where does that leave us today? The patient is dead but there is still time for another attempt or two at resuscitation. To the Paddles! Toys ‘R’ Us is currently undergoing liquidation (even though the bargain prices don’t seem so low) but there are apparently still a few serious and non-serious attempts to revive the collapsing retailer.
There have been whispers of Toys ‘R’ Us trying to spin out or sell its house brands either with or without its internal product development team. However, those brands are not particularly strong, and I would imagine that the chances of this being successful are slim to nil even if they try it. The world will have to learn to survive without a brand called “Animal Alley”.

In better news, Toys ‘R’ Us attorneys have said in court that they have received multiple offers for a majority stake in its Asian subsidiary. Toys ‘R’ Us Canada has also been a viable business and there is talk of multiple offers in the works for the division.

Then we have the strange case of Isaac Larian. In what can only be described as a publicity stunt, Mr. Larian started a GoFundMe campaign purported to be an effort to buy Toys ‘R’ Us. The skinny is that if people donate enough money to buy Toys ‘R’ Us then Mr. Larian is willing to accept ownership of the company. In return, donors will receive not equity but rather bumper stickers and T-shirts which Mr. Larian imagines will be highly prized. I have to ask why such a scheme should be limited to the toy business. There are other troubled companies out there that Mr. Larian might like to own. Perhaps people will also donate money to buy General Electric for him. And why should we limit this to companies in trouble? I may consider asking donors to purchase Apple Inc. for me. It’s not surprising that this absurd effort only attracted $59,000.00 out of the billion dollars Mr. Larian has requested.

Isaac-Larian

Mr. Larian also purports to have made another more serious bid to purchase some Toys ‘R’ Us assets. While his GoFundMe shenanigans do make this plan less credible that does not mean that it is not credible at all. Mr. Larian has said that he has offered $675 million for the U.S. stores of Toys ‘R’ Us and another $215 million to purchase the Canadian operations. As the very least, the offer for the Canadian division appears to have some legs. Should either of these efforts come to pass, toy manufacturers will have to carefully consider whether to do business with a retailer owned by a major competitor. Mr. Larian has said that he will not be involved in day to day operations but people who know or have worked with Mr. Larian have never described him as being hands-off. One has to wonder if other toy manufacturers will be eager to “open their kimonos” on pricing, costs and early peeks at their product lines to a competitor in a secretive and often ruthless business. Time will tell.

Better news is coming out of the K.B. Toys camp. Strategic Marks which owns the brand has been in talks with Spirit Halloween, Party City and others to open up 1,000 pop-up stores to sell toys during the holiday sales season. This should help manufacturers in their search for more shelf space to replace that which they have lost at Toys ‘R’ Us even while fighting against their own unpaid for merchandise which is being sold at a discount during TRU’s liquidation.

Other potential turbulence in Toyland comes from the possibility of a trade war breaking out right at the beginning of the holiday shopping season. Thus far most of the tariff talk appears to be rhetoric rather than policy. Both the Trump Administration and China appear to be engaged in posturing ahead of what will likely be protracted negotiations rather than an all-out trade war. The two sides now have a period of about seven months during which they will seek to negotiate a new normal. Hopefully that will turn out to be the case because a game of chicken can end badly, especially when conducted in public by men with enormous egos. Sooner or later somebody is going to call your bluff.

What does this mean for toy industry hiring? So far, things are much better this year than last. Last year at this time, toy industry executives were telling me that they needed to add staff but were going to “hold off for now” due to uncertainty at Toys ‘R’ Us. Chapter 11 brought “certainty” but it wasn’t exactly helpful and left many companies wide-eyed and immobile like deer in the headlights. In 2018, toy manufacturers were expecting trouble at TRU and planned for it. Very few were expecting that trouble to hit as deep or as fast as it did, especially since Toys ‘R’ Us executives were leading them to believe otherwise. What I see in the toy employment now is total turmoil. Some companies are laying off. Some are hiring. Many are doing a little of each as they seek to realign their staff with their go forward strategies. Few companies are standing pat and most are making changes to meet the challenges of the shifting retail landscape. That means there will be winners and losers. There are few jobs right now for Sales Executives in the northeast, even as opportunities for people with sales experience calling on mid-tier and value channel retailers as well as E-commerce expand rapidly. Some will see new opportunities opening up while others will have to retool and learn new skill sets.

After a brief period of confusion, the toy industry is going to be alright. Consumers still want toys and five years from now manufacturers will have found new ways of getting their product to them. From the early eighties with the rapid succession of toy company shutdowns of – Mego, Lesney, Coleco and CBS Toys – the toy industry has been ever changing and always in turmoil. Same as it ever was.

“Crossing the River by Feeling the Stones”,
Tom Keoughan

By | April 17th, 2018|ToyJobs Blog|0 Comments

Toy Fair Revue and Prognostications

New York Toy Fair kicked off on Friday night with the 2018 Toy Of The Year Awards. Held at Ziegfeld Theatre, this was a fantastic event as always. The Toy Association staff led by Steve Pasierb has really got this down. I’d like to give a shout out to Marian Bossard, Kimberly Carcone, Robyn Gibbs, John Klein and the entire Toy Association staff for doing such a great job not only with the TOTY Awards but with New York Toy Fair as a whole.

Zuru WinnerTwo trends seemed to emerge among the award winners that night. First, collectibles continue to be a very hot category with WowWee’s Fingerlings and MGA’s L.O.L. Surprise! sharing top honors as “Toy of the Year.” In addition, Funko’s Mystery Minis won the “People’s Choice Award” which is chosen by tallying the votes of consumers.

The other big trend was that about half of the twenty awards were won by small and medium-sized companies. These companies have to run faster and jump higher with less resources (both human and financial) backing them up. They also have to be more inventive than the typical brand behemoth. I think this bodes well for the health of the industry which for a while in the early aughts seemed to be more about slapping licenses on sippy cups. Congratulations to the entire teams of all award winners for keeping kids smiling.

Sunday night was Ladies’ Night with the always wonderful WIT Wonder Women Awards Gala. As usual, it was held at The Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers. Please don’t move it. It’s a great venue. Event Co-Chairs Genna Rosenberg, Janice Ross, Jennifer Caveza and their entire Host Committee made it look easy despite what must have been an awful lot of work above and beyond their day jobs. Congratulations to all the Award Winners and to all the wonderful women of the toy industry.

WIT2018

New York Toy Fair as a whole seemed well attended and very upbeat. It also seemed that international attendance was quite high. The toy executives I spoke with exuded confidence and were bustling about their business. Now if we could just do something about those Javits Center floors.

TNT2018

Notable Toy Fair news included the election of Bob Wann of PlayMonster to Chairman of The Toy Association. Bob has toiled for both big industry players like Fisher-Price and Hasbro as well as smaller companies like Sababa Toys and now PlayMonster. He may be just the guy to balance the very different interests of those two groups. Maybe….. maybe he can even solve the annual October multiple location Toy Show mishegoss.

BobWannIn other news, Hasbro was named the global master toy licensee for Power Rangers. That might not impact the toy industry as much as Bandai losing what had been a long-time licensee. Lastly, Basic Fun announced that they had bought K’nex. K’nex has always been one of the most inventive and versatile construction toys in the pure product sense but never seemed to have been brought to market in the right way. Jay Foreman and his team should be able to change that.

Moving forward, with the exception of two monkey wrenches, both business and hiring trends look good. The toy industry only grew by 1% in 2017 but that was after three consecutive years of better than average 4-5% growth. The industry can afford to take a breather and still be able to move that trend line up and to the right. Buoying the economy is a strong labor market with unemployment holding at a 17-year low. Top-line wages are beginning to creep up AND, due to the new tax plan, take home pay is on the rise. Additionally, there is a growing wealth effect where consumers “feel” wealthier due to rapidly rising home prices and the stock market being near an all time high, despite February’s fluctuations. All this has led to skyrocketing consumer confidence, which indicates that consumers will open their wallets wider.

FeelingGoodChart

On the other hand, we have our two monkey wrenches. The first is Toys ‘R’ Us. During the New York Toy Fair, I asked everybody I spoke with about Toys ‘R’ Us. The venerable retailer had already announced that it would close 180 stores. That’s a lot of shelf space that won’t need to be filled. Most companies said that they had put Toys ‘R’ Us on a tighter payment schedule and had already forecast lower shipment levels to the retailer. Many said that they were done and weren’t going to sell to Toys ‘R’ Us anymore. I’m not sure that I believed all of them. Others cited that they would be moving to diversify their customer base. I’ve seen evidence of that. In the last year, Toyjobs has completed a lot of searches for Sales Execs specializing in mid-tier chains, E-commerce and the value channel.

ToysRUsClosing

Then on February 21st, the day after Toy Fair closed, The Wall Street Journal reported that Toys ‘R’ Us would be closing an additional 200 stores beyond the original 180. There were also rumors of laying off a quarter of the corporate staff. I’m sure that this news has sent toy executives scurrying back to their spreadsheets. Almost nobody had this baked in. Numbers will have to be crunched and decisions will have to be made. I’m guessing that many more companies will decide not to do business with Toys ‘R’ Us. Others will tighten the payment leash even further – cash on the barrelhead – a la Kmart. Competition for shelf space at other retailers will intensify. Bricks and mortar isn’t going away, just finding it more difficult to grow. Many heritage retailers had very strong 2017s. While E-commerce sales are skyrocketing, they are still less than 10% of total US retail sales. I also expect that toy manufacturers will start to really professionalize their E-commerce efforts.

The bottom line is that consumers still want toys but the way to get those toys in front of consumers is changing. It’s way above my paygrade but ultimately toy companies should think about banding together and creating their own mega E-commerce hub which will both attract consumers and keep manufacturers from getting sheared on their way to market. Think like a big media company. Content AND Distribution is far more powerful than Content or Distribution. The toy industry may be too small and fragmented for each company to do this on their own but banding together could turn out to be a “Grand Bargain.” Of course, the devil will be in the details. “Who pays for this? Who owns that?” but motivated people have a way of working things out.

ECommerceChart

As for the second monkey wrench, it goes by the name of Trump. On Thursday, March 2nd, Mr. Trump announced that he was going to institute a 25% tariff on steel and one of 10% on aluminum adding to his previously announced tariffs on solar panels and washing machines. The danger is that, if enacted, these will escalate into a full-blown trade war. Now that the economy is up and humming, this would be a very odd and counter-productive thing to do. Mr. Trump’s pronouncements aside (“trade wars are good, and easy to win”); a trade war is in nobody’s interest. It’s especially not in your interest to throw the economy into turmoil when it has been gaining strength while you have been President and you have mid-term elections quickly approaching.

TrumpThe only thing consistent about Mr. Trump is that his proclamations are much more extreme than his actual actions. I suspect that last week’s news burst was his way of opening negotiations since Chinese Trade Minister Liu He was just arriving in Washington. It is interesting to note that China doesn’t really export much steel, solar panels or washing machines into the United States. Steel exports have dropped rapidly over the last few years due to China’s own internal construction boom. They do ship a fair amount of aluminum here. That lends credence to the idea that these are really shots across the bow…. negotiating tactics. Would Donald Trump enjoy an international spectacle with him at the center? Surely he relishes the idea of global players rushing to him in order to curry favor. That said, the presence of Peter Navarro and Wilbur Ross in the Administration is troubling. So are we entering a trade war? Will he or won’t he? …..only his hairdresser knows for sure.

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SteelChart

Wrapping up, the overall terrain for business and hiring looks to be quite strong but we have two monkey wrenches coming at us fast. For Toys ‘R’ Us, toy companies can potentially ameliorate the crisis through planning, forecasting, tightening, diversifying and/or just deciding not to play. It will be a tricky navigation but presumably we should be able to come out the other side. As for Trump, there’s little to do but watch and wait to see if this is just negotiating bluster or if he has really decided to shoot himself in both feet. Hmm, I guess I’m cautiously ecstatic. Is that possible?

 

May you live in interesting times,

Tom Keoughan

By | March 5th, 2018|About Toy Jobs|1 Comment

2018 Optimism Once We Get Past TRU Mess

TRU
Every day we are pounded by headlines about retailers closing stores. Toys ‘R’ Us leads the charge and will be closing about 180 or 20% of its locations in the US. Walgreen, Brookstone and Hallmark have also announced closures.

Sears Kmart will be closing about 165 locations. Of course, if you are still selling to Kmart you already know that you’re sitting at the blackjack table deciding whether to draw another card when your hand stands at 15. Can I get 15 day payment terms? Can I get 10?

Wal-Mart will also be closing 63 of its Sam’s Club locations, although about a dozen of those will be converted into e-commerce distribution centers. Building out their e-commerce fulfillment network should help them deliver online orders to customers faster.

All of these store closings will mean less shelf space to fill but greater predictability for the year ahead.  No longer will toy manufacturers have to wonder: “Will they?”….They already have. Unfortunately, many manufacturers still have uncertainty on how much and when they will be paid by TRU for goods that they’ve already sold. That means that while the future looks brighter, many vendors still have uncertainty about their own current financial situation. It doesn’t help that Toys ‘R’ Us has secured a bankruptcy extension beyond April 6th. It is also unhelpful that throughout this whole bankruptcy process, TRU has been far from forthcoming and has not acted as a very upstanding citizen toward the toy industry community. “Not only are our payables way late but we will continue to nickel and dime you in the warehouse and any place else we can think of.”

There are, however, silver linings on the horizon. Holiday sales for 2017 posted strong gains. The National Retail Federation stated that overall sales when up 5.5% while according to data from MasterCard Spending Pulse they were up 4.9%. Target, Kohl’s and even J.C. Penney all hit it out of the park. Amazon continues to rocket forward. A study by One Click Retail said that the online juggernaut claimed 44% of all US e-commerce sales for 2017. Additionally, Amazon accounted for 4% of total retail sales for the year – approximately $200 billion.

Unfortunately, toy sales gains were much more muted. According to NPD they grew only 1% in the US and 1% globally in the 12 countries they track. Mexico and Russia were hot sales growth markets. Toys ‘R’ Us has to be one of the major causes of this. We have heard that TRU’s US sales dropped by 15% in 2017. And if those are the numbers we are hearing, the real numbers could be substantially worse.

Although we were coming off of our third best year ever, 2017 was a lousy year for Toyjobs. For the first nine months of the year our clients told us:  “We need additional people but we are going to wait and see what happens with Toys ‘R’ Us.” Once the bankruptcy was announced, toy manufacturers, for the most part, pulled in their horns. TRU is everybody’s second or third biggest customer and manufacturers big and small all took a hit to their overall profit margins.

Moving forward we are cautiously optimistic on toy industry hiring for 2018. Although there will be less shelf space to fill, there should be greater predictability on 2018 sales. In addition, tax relief should mean wider profit margins for toy manufacturers. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if retailers are unsatisfied with their own expanded profit margins and also want a piece of yours. Consumer spending was up 3.8% in the final quarter of 2017. That looks to continue due to strong employment, signs of wage gains, a galloping stock market and high consumer confidence. Spending should be boosted even further as consumers see their take home pay begin to rise. The media has 90% of the American people believing that their taxes will be going up. What a surprise it will be when 85% of them actually see their tax burdens drop and their paychecks increase. Add to that, the pent up demand when toy manufacturers who wanted to add people last year now feel comfortable enough to do so. All of this should come to pass if and when the toy industry can finally get past the Toys ‘R’ Us fiasco.

I look forward to seeing everyone in the New York February cold.

Tom Keoughan

By | January 30th, 2018|ToyJobs Blog|0 Comments

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!

Toy Jobs Hiring Surge Continues

Toy jobs hiring has continued to surge as companies continue to add people because “we just can’t get the work done.” The common refrain that I hear is that retailers continue to increase the number of hoops that a manufacturer must jump through in order to get their products placed. During The Great Recession, companies cut so many people that they no longer have enough hands on deck to push all the work through in a timely fashion. Search starts continue to be strong despite last month’s flat unemployment numbers. It will be interesting to see what Friday’s jobs report looks like

A week and a half ago, I returned from The Pinnacle Society’s Spring Conference. This is a group of seventy-five of the country’s top executive recruiters and they are truly “The Big Dogs of Recruiting.” As you might imagine, the years 2008-2011 were difficult ones for the recruiting business and approximately 40% of the recruiting firms that existed in 2007 are no longer with us. In speaking with fellow Pinnacle Society members in 2011, the mood was patchy with some recruiting specialties (notably IT, insurance and accounting) returning to a semblance of normalcy while others continue to flounder. At Toyjobs, 2011 saw great improvement over the depths of 2009 and 2010, but it was still nothing to write home about. Heading to 2012’s Spring Conference, I was feeling optimistic because since the end of Hong Kong Toy Show, toy industry hiring had been soaring. At the Conference, I soon learned that hiring was back close to normal across all industry specialties. Of course, these are the country’s top executive recruiters so their numbers are likely to be stronger than the economy’s as a whole, but I see this as a strong leading indicator of more good things to come in the US employment market. Let’s all hope it continues.

Cautiously breathing easier,
Tom Keoughan

 

P.S. What is it with these Wal-Mart Vice Chairmen? First, we had Tom Coughlin pocketing a cool half million in gift cards for his personal use and now The New York Times alleges that Vice Chairman Edward Castro Wright was involved in a regular program of bribing local officials to facilitate the granting of leases and building permits while he was running Wal-Mart de Mexico. To date, these allegations have not been proven and we should all remember that The New York Times has a record of being a little aggressive at grabbing headlines and a little lax in their fact checking (Does anyone remember Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction – not to mention yellowcake). That said, many of us are aware of the sometimes strange practices one has to engage in even here in the United States just to get a permit to add screens to a porch. As a Wal-Mart shareholder, I’m upset but have to admit that I consider this a much better use of company funds than nicking three 12 gauge shotguns, a few half gallons of vodka, a large polish sausage, and a lone Celine Dion CD and hailing them back to your private compound for what must have been some sort of unholy (or at least unwholesome) secret Ozark ritual. In any case, just don’t be caught trying to give a Wal-Mart buyer a soda.

By | May 2nd, 2012|ToyJobs Blog|Comments Off on Toy Jobs Hiring Surge Continues

Economic Uptick Spurs Stampeding Human Herds

Human herds were out in force during the four day long national disgrace presided over by Wal-Mart, Best Buy and their retail brethren. The long weekend “wilding” saw shopping devolve into a full contact sport replete with tramplings, taserings, shootings, various acts of police brutality and people robbing each other in the parking lots. Unfortunately, this seems to be the real “99%”.

At a Wal-Mart in Southern California a 10PM stampede turned ugly when a woman used pepper spray to “gain an upper hand” over her fellow creatures. Over twenty people suffered minor injuries as she attempted to clear a path to the electronics section. The woman has since turned herself in but, as of this moment, Toyjobs has been unable to determine whether she was indeed an active member of the Oakland police force – another national disgrace.

In Pennsylvania, it was reported that “girls(?)” AND their mothers were shoving and punching each other in a melee at a Victoria’s Secret outlet. We can only imagine that this will inspire the next big late-nite cable TV reality show. New Jersey officials were heartened by the fact that their cultural ambassador – Snooki – was not involved. Retailers were “pleased” with the strong start to the holiday shopping season, According to the National Retail Federation. Total sales over the four days grew 16.4% and individual consumers spent an average of $398.62 up 9% from last year. Online sales were extremely strong for the entire period as well as Cyber Monday.

Black Friday is a notoriously poor indicator of sales for the entire holiday shopping season and some analysts are warning that this could be only a temporary bright spot rather than a true revival of the consumer economy. This gloomier interpretation says that short-lived deep discounts merely pulled forward from December sales and that price slashing is the only thing that can encourage cash-strapped consumers to spend and that they will shut their wallets again now that the deals have gone. My gut tells me that those human herds aren’t exactly the types that are able to adhere to a budget. I think they will be ready to stampede Pamplona style whenever retailers wave their red capes.

On the bright side, retail sales have risen for six months in a row. Even Wal-Mart broke a two year stretch of same-store sales declines by growing 1.9% in the third quarter but this came at the cost of lower margins. More deep discounts mean lower profit margins for retailers who will, of course, pass that on to their suppliers through auctions and price beat downs. That is reflective of what I continuously hear from senior toy executives: “higher sales but lower margins.” Also, retailers brought in very lean inventories and that could limit upside potential if holiday demand continues to be strong. The scramble is now on to get more goods out of domestic manufacturers and those with domestically warehoused product.

After a June/July slowdown, since early August the US economy has been improving slowly but at an increasing rate.The November unemployment rate fell from 9% to 8.6% while payroll growth accelerated to 120,000. The difficulty with the jobs report is that it is actually two reports: the unemployment rate is based on a survey of 60,000 households while the jobs number comes from a different survey that covers the payroll records of about 140,000 businesses. The payroll number is less volatile and widely viewed as the more reliable of the two. The sharp drop in the unemployment rate was partly due to a shrinking labor force which suggests that some unemployed people have become discouraged and stopped looking for work. Once they start searching for a job again the unemployment rate could tick higher. Meanwhile, payroll growth of 120,000 remains well below the level that most economists consider consistent with a strong economic recovery. In addition, payroll numbers were lifted last month (as they will be for the next two) by temporary holiday retail hiring. Taken together the jobs report does signal improvement but not as much as headlines suggest.

As the US economy continues to slowly improve, the European debt crisis is the joker in the deck. The euro is now close enough to going off the rails that Angela Merkel and other European “leaders(?)” are now less focused on provincial politics and finally closing in on a solution. The Cliff Notes version is that Merkel supports European Union treaty revisions which would force debtor nations to fix their financial problems. This is, of course, the long term solution but ignores the crisis that it upon them right NOW. The rest of Europe is looking for a “backstop” or lender of last resort to guarantee all debts. That would likely be either a European Central Bank declaration or the issuance of Eurobonds for which all EU members would be liable.

In either case, the weight would fall heavily on Germany’s shoulders because they have the strongest economy and have behaved in a fiscally responsible manner. Bailing out the basket cases of Southern Europe doesn’t play well in domestic German politics. Think of it like the displeasure that responsible US households would have at being told to pay higher taxes in order to bail out people who took a flyer and “bought” a house that they couldn’t possibly afford. True, many American households are in trouble because someone lost a job or got sick or are underwater due to the housing market meltdown. Everyone seems to be able to get their minds around that sort of thing. Germans see a completely different type of situation in the irresponsible behavior of the Greeks not paying their taxes and then retiring to the government dole at age 50.

The truth is that Europe is like America. It needs both a long term fix AND short term crisis relief. In Europe’s case the clock is ticking down to a matter of weeks and with their backs to the wall, they finally seem to be looking at a two-pronged approach. Once the ticking time bomb is taken from the room, US markets should stabilize and the economy should continue to move forward. That said, in the US it appears as is nobody is prepared to act like a grown up until after the upcoming election. Fortunately that is less than a year away.

In the toy industry, search starts have remained strong and some companies have actually been hiring while others continue to play “hurry up and wait” even after they have selected a candidates. I suspect that decent holiday sales numbers will lead toy companies to have an increased sense of stability spurring somewhat larger budgets. This should lead to continued strength in search starts and companies feeling more confident in actually completing a hire. Things are getting better faster but…

Muddling through,
Tom Keoughan

By | December 7th, 2011|ToyJobs Blog|Comments Off on Economic Uptick Spurs Stampeding Human Herds

Fall Toy Preview: Upbeat and Productive

As I flew toward Dallas reading the Daily Doom & Gloom, I had a sense of trepidation about what the mood at the Fall Toy Preview might be. I’m happy to say that I was pleasantly surprised as everyone was pretty upbeat (it’s slinky, it’s slinky). That’s not to say that anyone was “irrationally exuberant” but I didn’t see all the slump shouldered long faces of a year ago.

At times the traffic seemed to be a little light until I realized (doh!) that this was a “by appointment only” show and that everyone was stuffed into their little cubicles having hopefully productive meetings (It’s slinky, It’s Slinky). There weren’t supposed to be a lot of people just milling around (like me). With the exception of Tuesday morning, most companies had full dance cards and all of the major retailers were well represented. The show was “player dense” with only serious toy companies showing and only serious customers showing up. In summation the Fall Toy Preview was upbeat and productive.

As the showed ended, I snuck off to Austin for a few days of good food and good music under the guise of awaiting the September jobs report. The report was better than expected as the US economy added 103,000 new jobs raising hope that a “double-dip” recession will be avoided. The alarming jobs data from July and August were also revised upward. It seems that instead of collapsing after the summer’s debt ceiling fiasco, the job market appears to have weakened slightly and is now beginning to rebound, albeit slowly.

There are 1.4 million more people on nonfarm payrolls than there were a year ago. That sounds good but it comes to an average of just little over 100,000 per month, which is nowhere near large enough to get the economy really growing again. In addition, Toyjobs favorite labor statistic, U6 (which includes people who have given up trying to find work as well as those working part time out of necessity rather than choice) has surged to 16.5% – its highest level this year and from a low of 15.7% in March. So, things are improving but at a very slow rate.

What’s holding us back?  In a word – uncertainty. We are having a slow and very fragile recovery but there are lots of icebergs around. The tricky thing about icebergs is that even if you can steer around what you can see, no one knows what’s under the surface. The press is pumping us daily doom and gloom about the European debt crisis. In reality this doesn’t affect the Main Street economy all that much. In fact, through the summer, retail sales have continued to slowly advance. It does affect the big money center banks who in their usual style – chased yield – and bought bonds from places like Greece(?) and Italy(?) in order to capture a few extra points of yield for their “safe” bond portfolios. In their Wall Street way they have done this in huge amounts with large amounts of leverage. Sound familiar? Needless to say the large European banks are up to their eyeballs in this junk. So, while this may not affect the Main Street US economy today… if it all falls apart then everything goes kerblooey!

The usually sober Senate led by the serial idiocy of Senator Charles Schumer has recently passed a currency bill aimed at China. The legislation was widely opposed by companies that do business with China. Small consumer goods companies, like toys and juvenile products, know that this sort of thing will make their manufacturing costs go up and their margins go down. Large companies selling to China (GE, Boeing, Bechtel) are afraid that even if it doesn’t start an all out trade war that: “They’re going to start f–king with us”. But the Senate was determined. Stated Schumer:  “We’ll shoot ourselves in the head if we have to!” Could it be? That it’s all electioneering? That the Chinese government rarely votes in US elections? That Senators are just beating their chests because they know the bill won’t pass the often less sober John Boehner and the usually less rational House?  And that nothing will really happen? No. That sort of thinking is just way too cynical.

Now hold on. There’s plenty of Senators stupider than me.”

 Uncertainty. Uncertainty has been the theme song (Joe Biden as the Skipper. Guess who plays Gilligan) of the Obama years (not that it’s all his fault). Businesses still don’t know what their taxes will look like or what their regulations will be. Just last week the Obama administration threw out part of their own probably never to be implemented health care bill (the long term care portion). Business cannot confidently make plans to invest in people or products without knowing what the playing field will look like. It is unlikely that things will noticeably improve until the next election. Of course if Michelle Bachmann is elected then all bets are off. That said, I do believe that there is reason for optimism.

Toy Industry search starts, which jumped ahead in August, have grown at an increasing rate. (IT’S SLINKY, IT’S SLINKY). Please follow our job board in the coming weeks as we expect lots of new postings (or sign up for our RSS feed to be alerted of all changes instantly). Companies seem to have realized that they need to plug some holes and add some talent, but there is a little hitch. Here at Toyjobs we are able to find our clients the people they need quickly and efficiently. That said, we have repeatedly been running into situations where companies quickly determine who it is that they want to hire, but then stall when it comes time to pull the trigger. Sometimes this goes on for months and I’ve seen it drag on for long as ten months. We have had a couple clients lose out on their chosen person because they waited while another company acted.

I’m guessing that many companies just don’t realize what goes on in a candidates head when they’re chosen but then made to wait…. They wonder. They wonder if there is some objection you have to their background that you are not telling them about. They wonder if you are “dating” other people and maybe they should just move on. They wonder if there is some financial problem at your company which constrains you from hiring them. They wonder what it would be like to work for your company if they need a quick decision in order to get something done. They wonder about all of these things and pretty soon they begin to have doubts and the romance is gone. The bloom is off the rose.

I am NOT advocating that companies rush into hiring anyone but many companies know very well that they are taking an inordinate amount of time between first interviewing a candidate and actually pulling the trigger and making them an offer. Remember that the best people are also being courted by your competitors and if they can be decisive and come across as a dynamic get it done organization, they are going to attract and return the best talent. Remember the old adage – Time Kills Hires.

Everyone knows it’s slinky

Everyone knows it’s slinky

Everyone knows it’s slinky

Tom Keoughan

By | October 19th, 2011|ToyJobs Blog|Comments Off on Fall Toy Preview: Upbeat and Productive