Source: Joe Gill, Brand, Feb 24 2009.
Groundhog Day at the NEC

The toy and game sector is very seasonal. Early in the year there is a rush of trade fairs starting in London, moving through Birmingham, Nuremberg, New York and finally Hong Kong. In our first year we took a stand at London Toy Fair, and having found that slightly disappointing, in that buyers were about as common as genuine remorse from a banker, we changed tack this year and headed to the Spring Fair in Birmingham. If you are unfortunate enough to have to attend more than one of these events – and some people in the trade will go from one to another, building up and breaking down stands between airports and anonymous hotels – you are likely to fall ill, either mentally or physically. Then sometimes it is possible to pass through a metaphysical barrier and find yourself accepting and enjoying your new reality inside NEC world.

I spent three days at the NEC with my colleagues trying to drum up business for About Time, which was difficult because of the snow and the general lack of buyers prepared to walk the full length of the enormous hall and then to stop and talk. By all accounts this fair was the worst in years, thanks to the economic crisis. Still, we did get some interest. There are always some useful conversations to be had with independents like us, as well as with industry veterans kind enough to pass on their wisdom. Deals can begin in these places. The NEC is a huge monument to consumer capitalism, and it’s very hard to find anything healthy and real to eat, as of course all the franchises have that familiar corporate feel and taste. This kind of diet adds to your gradual sense of being trapped in a giant airport come shopping centre where everything is artificial and overpriced. An apple for 65p! It did feel like we were in a toy industry Groundhog Day and would soon forget that anything existed beyond it.

Outside the snow was falling and girls in high heels carrying balloons were slipping up on the ice and requiring assistance in order to arrive at their car in the giant car parks. Inevitably there was lots of Christmas stuff on display, because after all it was a gift fair although thankfully the snow did make it feel very Christmassy.

Birmingham city centre appears to be like the NEC only on a larger scale, dominated by giant shopping chains and corporate monuments to 1980s-style town planning where the car and the shopping mall are king. As ever, the curries are the best thing to be had, and I enjoyed one at a place called Lasan Eatery in Hall Green that really made me want to try everything on the menu and just keep eating till I exploded.

Myself and Iain, About Time co-inventor, also attended the Nuremberg Toy Fair, which is like the Spring Fair but only for toys. This year we seemed to have improved our pitch – and of course we had our first year of trade and all the experience we had gained to give us greater confidence. Iain is our company’s Terminator – he’s got the relentless drive, firm handshake and Nietzchian self-belief that helped get us through our interrogation on Dragon’s Den, and tie up all important meetings with the buyers. Once they have seen it with their own eyes our brand seems to click with major buyers – they like the look and they get the simple idea behind the game. But we still had to kick down quite a few doors to get them to give us a look. Just as well we have almost religious faith in what we do.