Plush and prizes: the bubble hasn’t popped

Plush and prizes: the bubble hasn’t popped

The trends in toys and rewards coming out of the lockdown can provide a myriad of useful information for the amusement industry.

by Steven Carson, InterGame

World events have made the moving of goods around the globe challenging to say the least. For the plush and prize industry, this is particularly difficult, as most of the manufacturing of the products happens in China and the Far East. In addition, this fashion-led business, which requires stockists to predict trends several seasons ahead, has been thrown out of kilter as the pandemic closed customers’ sites for long stretches of time. InterGame caught up with some of the major players in the plush and prize market to see how they are bouncing back, the continuing frustrations and what the current most popular products are in arcades around the world

What can we learn from the trends in toys and prizes as we emerge from our lockdowns? A surprising amount, it seems. Plush and prizes are the fuel that power arcades around the world but unfortunately, the fuel and the trucks and containers to supply the prizes have not been easy to come by as the world gets back to work.  Supply chain, as we emerge from the pandemic, remains the biggest challenge, but for those companies based in the UK there are also extra complications as the country steadies itself following its exit from the Eu. Lauren Shipman from leading supplier Whitehouse Leisure says: “We have all been affected by the pandemic and the knock-on effects that this has had; we are all faced with increased costs from freight and delays to goods arriving in the UK. 

“We are fortunate to have a good team of people that have worked tirelessly both in the UK and the Far East to get products into us and out to customers in the most efficient manner possible. 

We know these rising costs and delays aren’t going to go away any time soon and therefore ahead of 2022 we have worked to get orders placed sooner than ever to ensure we are in a good place to support our customers with the very best products in 2022.”

David Cope from UK-based Huggables agrees. “Over 95 per cent of our products are sourced in the Far East from our well-established manufacturing base. As you would expect, the current shipping and HGV driver issues have extended lead times considerably. However, we continue to produce products and have bolstered our range with domestic purchases. This has, and continues to, maintain our stock at reasonable levels.”

Michael Tipton from North American Redemption Plus reports that recovery is good in his region, although the reduced workforce is proving a challenge. “Redemption Plus shut down when the pandemic hit the US and Canada, like most if not all of our customers. Our customers began opening as early as July 2020, but we saw significant increases in customer openings this past spring of 2021. With that, we have been able to bring back some employees and hire new ones, which is a great feeling and sign of our growth. 

“We are busy re-educating customers who are struggling with a reduced workforce and are handling redemption themselves, often for the first time ever. We have had to build out new tools and develop new technology to make redemption easier for the ‘newbie’ customers. But being innovative and listening to our customer base is what the core of Redemption Plus is, so it has been an amazing challenge to tackle.”

Michael Novak of Rhode Island Novelty has also noticed that the world appears to have got smaller when it comes to trends. “We are seeing similar trends across the globe. What is popular in the United States for the most part is popular in, say, the UAE. Years ago, we never sold any Halloween items into the UAE; however, this year it’s been very popular with the UAE as we approach Halloween. We have noticed that North America FEC operators as a majority put more importance on their prize counter or prize room than, say, the MENA region. As such they make up the strongest market for both plush and prizes. The prizes drive game play, so if you have a good selection of games and a good merchandise programme you’ll do well.”

Finally, perhaps, there is something to take from the fact that the most popular toy craze of this past year has been a stress-buster, as Michael Tipton concludes. “Fidget toys (which Pop Its are categorised as) will continue to trend and surprise us. There is a lot of unrest in the world and toys that help people of all ages deal with stress and anxiety are healthy and fun, so I think the biggest trends of 2022 will somehow relate to fidgeting.”

This article was published in the December 2021 issue of Gioconews magazine.