Friday, April 28, 2006

57th International Toy Fair

57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg Like most boys growing up in the United States my first train set was from Lionel. Who actually got the set, my brother or myself is a mystery lost in time. What is known is that I was the one that caught the lifetime addiction. It lay dormant for then next few decades but re awoke while I was stationed in Germany. Not able to purchase anything during that time on a soldier's income I saved the impulse till my finances had sufficiently improved. What did occur was that I developed a love for all things German and I vowed that if I ever were to build a layout it would run German trains.
 
My first real layout used Kato track and was built in the bottom part of a trundle bed. Needless to say since it wasn't my own bed operating sessions had to be arranged! After my last move the layout went into storage until my attention shifted from slot cars back to model railroads. It might never happen except for two things. When rooms were allocated in our new room I was given one of the bedrooms and the washroom. The washroom is still waiting to be fitted into a darkroom but the bedroom was built into a library with dark cherry wood floors and built in bookcases. The built in bookcases were soon supplemented with modular bookcases also dark cherry. This would form the foundation for my new layout. 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg
57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg
57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg

 
My work takes me all over the world but the majority of my contracts are in North America. It just so happened that my last major contract was in Vancouver, Canada. I mention this because one of the leading retailers of European (German) model railroad equipment is located in Langley, BC. Which was approximately 45 minutes and $500 dollars from my apartment downtown. I don't think that I ever left his store with less than a half century debit on my check card! It all started with a DCC starter set from Fleischmann and degenerated into additional locomotives from Minitrix. Soon I had a halfway decent roster looking for a permanent layout to run on. The trundle bed was no longer an option but my library offered an answer to my dilemma. I would build my empire on top of a set of bookcase that I have along one side. Designing what I am sure is an over-complicated track plan I vow to have everything up and running before I add scenery but unlike my fried Doug, scenery they'll be, since that's one of the areas I enjoy best. This weekend I will begin the installation of my yard which includes a turntable, a six-seven stall roundhouse and various service tracks. I will build the layout as a set of modules and wire each one before progressing to the next. I will also eventually have working catenary on DC.
 

I was staying outside of Nurnberg in a small Gasthof and Monday would be my first day at the Fair. After a few beers I was able to was the "taste" of English food from my mouth as well as my memory. I rented a minivan, or at least that's what they gave me and I was on my way bright and early. I was able to score a press pass thanks to the last minute efforts of the afore mentioned expat South African, I had a vendor pass tucked away just in case. The exhibition hall is quite large and is used for several international as well as national trade fairs. This was the 57th Toy Fair and is used by many toy manufacturers as a stage to announce their new toys. The other main purpose of the fair is for manufacturers and distributors to meet with their clients, toy stores as well as hobby shops.  At the beginning of year train shops must order their inventory for the rest of the year with regards to new items. There's quite a rush on and it must be nerve wracking for the shops to have to guess what they will sell regarding inventory that is brand new. There is a quota system with some manufacturers I think including LGB and Marklin where you are judged on what you sold the previous year. How well you did will move you up the line in getting the new stuff. Obviously you'll still be ordering later in the year but availability on exclusive items will be at a premium and to stay in the good graces of your more demanding customers they'll expect their new toys or go somewhere else. 

It's hard to describe the Toy Fair as anything but huge. There must have been close to a dozen halls. I would concentrate on the model railway and hobby construction areas. All the major brands were here of course, their displays running into the millions. In fact despite the dire reports regarding the hobby in Germany this seemed where the fanciest displays were led by LGB. This year one hall was devoted entirely to official 2006 World Cup toys launched on the market by soccer's world governing body FIFA, which is expected to earn some two billion euros ($2.4 billion). I didn't want to visit this hall as I'm trying to ignore the Cup until the semi-finals so I won't get disappointed by the perennially under-achieving Dutch team. So I'll have to take their word for it. I did of course visit the halls display Model Construction / Hobbies, Model Railways & Accessories, and Mechanical & Electronic Toys. That was enough to walk myself lame after only 2 days. According to the organizers there are two product groups at the International Toy Fair in Nürnberg that are visited by almost every (male) buyer, even though he has nothing to do with them professionally: Model Railways and Model Construction.  With development costs of around 1 million euros for a new locomotive this means the manufacturers are faced with enormous investment costs every year. A share of some 60 % for manual work is a burden on the production costs and leads to the situation today where even large manufacturers have an increasing number of parts or whole models produced in Asia or Eastern Europe. It also means that these people take their toys seriously. One thing I noticed was that there is a thriving market at the museum quality end of the train hobby spectrum. Manufacturers such as KISS Micro-Metakit Dingler Regner displayed models that were breathtaking. It's a good thing none of them model in N or I would have left my wallet in Germany.

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