It’s been two years since the last toy industry trade show, and we were all looking forward to finally getting together in New York. Unfortunately, the Toy Association decided to cancel. I, for one, (not that anyone cares) think they have made the right decision. The Omicron variant will be peaking in the U.S. over the next few weeks and holding an international trade show in the midst of that is a recipe for bad outcomes. Pre-emptive push back to objections: the word “peak” doesn’t mean “over” and the phrase “just past the peak” doesn’t mean “over” either.

Several major and mid-tier toy manufacturer’s had already pulled out of the show. More importantly major retailers like Wal-Mart, Target and Amazon had pulled out as well. A game of chicken was beginning to develop between toy manufacturers and the Toy Association of “who keeps the money-who will cancel first.” Pulling the plug kept the Toy Association aligned with its membership, which is as it should be. Ultimately, if the buyers weren’t going, there was little reason for manufacturers to go. Whatever was left would have been both expensive AND unfruitful.

The one thing I heard over and over again was that the February timing really isn’t right for doing business. Most people seem to think that a larger and more cohesive October show would be better. Rather than a mad scramble from LA to Dallas to Hong Kong, let’s focus everybody’s energies on one location. Hong Kong has largely imploded so that’s one less whistle stop we have to worry about. There has always been the danger that, if a big October Toy Show was scheduled for LA that the large Southern California toy manufactures would simply change their dates. They don’t want buyers to be “distracted” by their smaller, nimbler competitors. Perhaps a two week show could be set up to accommodate everyone. Two weeks in one location is certainly better than three or four weeks in three locations. Retailers could be called on to pressure their suppliers into condensing their calendar as tightly as possible. Everybody is willing to kowtow to the wishes of the buyers. Right?

We have always heard the excuse that there is no possible venue in all of Southern California in which to hold a trade show. That has always been more than a little bit hard to believe. But- good news- the weather in October is good, pretty much everywhere. So, if it’s two weeks- two locations that should be very doable. I suggest somewhere in the middle of the country in order to make it equally accessible for everybody- Dallas? Chicago? Kansas City? There should be plenty of places.

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On the employment front the craziness continues. It has even earned a name- The Great Resignation. What is this Resignation and why is it happening? There are always a certain percentage of people willing to change jobs and that remains constant. After two years of Covid a lot of the stable workforce is looking inward. These are people who weren’t really that unhappy but weren’t exactly overjoyed with their jobs or their workplaces. A job was a job and work was work and they just got on with it. They weren’t overjoyed with their jobs, but they didn’t expect to be, and they weren’t unhappy enough to leave. Two years of Covid has led them to wonder “is this really what I want to do with the rest of my life?” Many of them are deciding to change jobs and some of them are deciding to change their careers radically. And let us remember that with a lot of people working from home, it has become easy to change jobs without even leaving the house. As people change jobs there is a multiplier effect as their jobs need to be filled by people whose jobs need to be refilled in turn…. and on and on and on. Add the normal amount of job changes to the (for the lack of a better term) newly enlightened to the multiplier effect and suddenly there are a whole lot of job openings out there.

What’s a company to do? Shorten your hiring process. I’m not saying don’t be as diligent but rather tighten up the calendar. Stop hemming and hawing. Stop foot dragging. Make hiring a priority that doesn’t keep falling to the bottom of the hot list. Yes, I understand that you may have more urgent problems today but the person you hire will solve twenty problems tomorrow. Be aware that all of your competitors are also looking to hire and that the best candidates have more than one job offer. Beat competitors to the punch. Git-R-Done.

I’m seeing mistakes made on the candidate side too. The abundance of jobs has led to sloppy thinking. An example of one type of mistake I see is upon receiving a job offer, this currently unemployed candidate asked for $40,000 dollars more than they knew the company had in their budget. The company immediately pulled the job offer and wouldn’t even speak to the candidate when she offered to take less. If she asked for the top of the range or even 10% more than the budget, she would have gotten it, but she was perfect for this hard to fill job and decided to hold a gun to the employer’s head. Six months later she is still unemployed. A job offer is not a winning lottery ticket. Candidates currently have a stronger negotiating position but be reasonable. Nobody likes to be ripped off.

The other candidate mistake I see is one of recency bias and coming to believe that everyone is going to work from home forever. I know the TV and the radio tell you so but the business of the media is to gather the largest possible audience so they can sell more advertising and at a higher rate. They do this by pandering to chosen demographics. There are a lot more employees than employers out there. While many employees may want to work from home- employees aren’t going to be making that decision- employers are. So, before you decide to move to Charleston (where the only jobs are waiting tables), please realize, that employers will do what they have to do for as long as they have to do it. In about two years after Covid most people are going to be heading back to the office. Big changes may have taken place during the pandemic, but when it’s all over the changes that stick will be incremental. I do foresee more 4-day work weeks in the office and more one day from home. Look back to the financial crisis and use that as your guide.

As far as the toy industry goes, hiring was gangbusters for the second half of 2021 and that has continued thus far into 2022. Holiday sales were growing quickly in the fourth quarter with bricks and mortar even adding 8.1% compared to 2020. However, there was a sharp drop about a week before Christmas. This was largely due to the Omicron surge but also people got the message and shopped early due to the supply chain woes. By the last week of holiday shopping, the cupboards were pretty bare. It’s hard to make sales when you have nothing to sell.

It’s looking like the pandemic will peter out and become endemic beginning in May or June but there’s no telling what kind of wild card Covid may throw at us. I’m hearing widely divergent opinions about when the supply chain will straighten out. Estimates range from this summer to two years from now. I’m not smart enough to know the answer. My plan is to forge ahead with cautious optimism. I hope that everyone will stay safe.

All The Best,

Tom Keoughan