The Sainsbury’s half-price toy sale has achieved near-legendary status among the more ardent bargain hunters. It arrived early this year, launching this week, well ahead of half-term. The sale takes place in-store only – meaning that frantically refreshing the website at three seconds past midnight to secure the prime stock is not an option – and as a quarter of the entire toy range is available at the full 50% headline discount, it always attracts what might be termed a lively crowd. Amongst tales of trolleys piled high, blocking the aisles (and even entrances of smaller stores), causing food shoppers to give up and go elsewhere to avoid the carnage, one report stood out: Essex Live highlighted the apocalyptic scenes in Chelmsford, which epitomised the madness. Described as a “bun fight”, one woman was quoted as saying: “Someone nearly broke the shoelace on my Converse in a scuffle to get to the Barbie section.” It really is all kicking off in Chelmsford!
Joking apart, with news this week that retail spending dipped in September as rising inflation eats into disposable income, it is inevitable that consumers are going to be aggressively seeking the best possible deals (literally), and heaven help the person in Converse who gets in their way. Against that backdrop, there is good news from the Far East this week, as reports filter back from those in Hong Kong that vendors are dropping their prices next year. Only joking, of course they’re not – factory prices are going up again. Sorry if I got your hopes up there. I suppose it was inevitable: raw materials, paper and board prices and wages all continue to rise, while the RMB has been going the wrong way against the dollar recently. While more robust, stable currencies (and indeed economies) may be in a slightly better to position to weather these increases, the fragility in the UK economy makes the news even less welcome. More challenges for the toy community to grapple with next year.
However, in the short-term, there have been some good news stories; Toy Fair has announced that it is fully sold out for 2018, while Paul Lamond has been acquired by University Games. The two companies will continue to operate separately, and you can certainly see that their respective business models are complementary in many respects. There is even good news on the Star Wars front; finally, a product from the movies is actually red hot. Although hands up who thought that the breakout product would be a weird looking creature that looks like the result of an experiment to mate a penguin with a guinea pig. Nevertheless, Porgs (careful how you google that) do seem to be in huge demand – those licensees who are struggling to make the minimum guarantee are no doubt frantically trying to work out if they can salvage things with the addition of a Porg or two.
Finally, I’m sure plenty of you saw this week’s episode of The Apprentice, which had a strong toy presence. Tasked with selling robots, the teams were presented with a number of options, including WowWee’s Coder Mip and Alpha Animation’s Angler Attack drone. Having secured temporary distribution rights, they headed off to The Entertainer, where they were met by a friendly face who was happy to place an order there and then, with no lively, protracted negotiations over terms or margins. No doubt there are a few toy sales people who would love to know the secret to achieving that result. And I don’t know who the new, fresh-faced Entertainer buyer was, but he seemed a jolly reasonable chap, he should go far.