Scottish dinosaurs rule at London Toy Fair

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A WALKING, breathing Triceratops from Ruth­erglen was the runaway hit of the 60th anniversary Toy Fair held in London this week.

The five-metre animatronic dinosaur, which retails for more than £9,000, made its UK debut at the annual fair, where manufacturers unveil their products for 2013.

Despite the economic downturn, toy buyers and sellers rep­orted business was booming in an industry which many are calling: “recession-proof”.

Martin Grossman, managing director of the Scottish company which designed and developed the Megasaur, said: “We have had quite a few orders. We think daddies who want to play and who have plenty of money and space will buy them as well as businesses like shopping malls and restaurants who will use them to attract customers.”

The Megasaur, which has a breathing mechanism, warm touchable realistic skin and can walk or shuffle two or three feet, had a specially created cave for its UK debut.

“It’s not fast but it is very eye- catching,” Grossman says. “I have been watching people, and whenever they walk away they always give it a pat.

“If you have something different you will always stand out from the crowd.”

H Grossman, which is Scotland’s biggest toy distributor, sell toys from 99p to more than £9,000. The MD, who has been in the business for 40 years, says the key to a good toy is: “whether you can do something with it”. “It’s about imagination and whether you can play with other kids with it. Creativity happens when you bring children together to play – the trouble with the computer stuff is often kids are alone, in their own room, talking to other kids by clicking buttons.”

Nonetheless, laptop and app based toys have been a definite trend at this year’s fair. Among the most talked-about launches at this year’s fair have been the HolograFX – which allows children to create animated holographic characters which can be given voices and watched in a mini-arena.

Another hit was Lego Mindstorms, a robotic Lego set to be launched in August with a retail price of £299.00 Lego, a fixture of the toy market since 1932, continues to be a major player, with the Danish company due to open its first dedicated Scottish store at the Buchanan Galleries in spring.

Also tipped to become a must-have toy this year is Teksta – a robotic puppy which can walk, dance, sing and do back flips and which can be controlled from a mobile phone. And a childsized Batmobile which will sell for £149.99 and a Batman bike for £119.99 were also among the products creating a buzz.

Majan Immink, senior communications manager for the British Toy and Hobby Association, said the industry remains upbeat and willing to invest.

According to the Cost of Raising a Child report released this week, Scottish parents spend an average of £8,106 a year on hobbies and toys for each child – with the price of kiddie computers one of the things driving costs upwards.

Last year 434 million toys were sold in the UK at a cost of £2.94bn, making it the largest toy market in Europe.

Immink said that the level of activity at the Toy Fair showed the health of the sector: “I think a lot of industries have struggled, but the toy industry has been quite resilient in the face of the current economic difficulties. It comes down to parents – they don’t want to forgo buying things for their children.

“We have seen a huge range of products launched here. There are a lot of high-tech products but also a lot of traditional products like Lego.

“I think we can look forward to a really exciting range of new products in 2013.”

In his briefing to delegates, BTHA chairman Frank Martin said the sector was one of the most vibrant areas of the UK economy: “The good news is that even in these difficult times, the resilience of the toy sector continues.

“Last year the overall entertainment industry declined in sales value by 12 per cent, by contrast the UK toy industry declined by 1 per cent.

“We have always believed that toys have a unique place within the household budget and these figures once again support this notion. In fact, in categories such as building sets and dolls there was a 10 per cent rise in both categories.”

Alan Simpson, chairman of the Toy Retailers Association, said invention and innovation were key to the industry’s success: “Imagination is the essence of toys and we have seen some stars deriving from strong licences, innovative design and timely reprises.”

Samantha Loveday, editor of trade monthly Toy News, said the development of tablet computers especially designed for children had been a big factor in the industry’s relatively healthy 2012 sales figures.

The biggest-selling toys of 2012 were both kiddie-friendly versions of touch screen computers – the Leappad Explorer Tablet and the Innotab Learning Tablet.

“Children’s tablets are one of the biggest trends we’ve seen as parents try to get their children off their very expensive iPads and onto something that is designed for them.”

“The good thing about the toy business is it is always looking for new trends and how they can be incorporated into the design of new products.

“Parents may be more savvy about spending money – and there is a lot of activity around the cheaper toys. But parents are still spending money on their children.”