From Harrogate to Hong Kong via New York

Posted by Kelvyn Gardner on January 07, 2011

During my early years in licensing the first week of January meant one thing and one thing only: getting ready for Harrogate. This esteemed and historic UK toy fair was seemingly an institution, with all the major toy companies, British and international, exhibiting in this genteel spa town in Yorkshire.

The Harrogate fair still continues to this day, but toy fair it is not. In an admirable display of willingness to adapt, the fair now concentrates on the Christmas market, decorations, gadgets, gifts, paper goods, anything connected to our annual festive focus. The BTHA fair in London gradually stole Harrogate’s toy thunder through the 80s and 90s, and left them nowhere to go. In microcosm, this is the way of trade fairs: they need to adapt and update, as the world changes around them. Relocation can sometimes be part of this, too. Indeed, although  modern communications lead some to question the need for trade fairs at all, increasing visitor numbers and booked exhibitor space at major events indicates a continuing desire to congregate, show, tell and discuss in person. You can watch the cup final on TV, but it’s not like being there.

In the toy world New York was once king. There may be few things that New York and Harrogate have in common, but losing their absolute and unchallenged pre-eminence in the toy world is one of them. The international toy world now sets up shop predominantly in Nuremberg and Hong Kong. The New York – Hong Kong switch is the most remarkable, especially from a licensing point of view. Whilst there never was an ‘official’ presence for licensing at the New York show, veterans will tell you that in the 1990s there was almost as much licensing activity in a New York February as there was during the LIMA show in June each year. Launches, presentations, breakfasts, cocktail parties, screenings, this was the diurnal round. However, Hong Kong has gone one step further, with the LIMA-sponsored Hong Kong Licensing Show now establishing itself as an annual hub for licensing discussion in the region. Toys and licensing are never very far apart, of course, but they are not the same, so it takes time for the show-within-a show to build its ‘must-attend’ rep. LIMA now has an office in the city of course, charged with developing licensing in the whole South East Asia region, and that in itself will help the show to grow.

I personally haven’t been to Hong Kong for more than ten years but I think that it will be a must for me next year. Meanwhile I’ll follow the blogs of those who are flying the flag for the UK. At least I got to see the end of the cricket!