The Blog resumes normal service this week, as I’m now back in the UK after a marvellous family holiday to Cuba – a fascinating, vibrant country, but one whose economic tribulations put our own fiscal challenges into perspective. We managed to find what I assume is the only dedicated toy shop in Havana, which seemed busy, although I’m not sure how many actual transactions were taking place, given the fact that the average monthly wage for a state worker is $30 and toy prices are not much lower (and in some cases higher) than they are in the UK. Next time someone says toys are expensive here, I’ll know what to say. We also took a few small toys with us, as we had heard that a lot of parents can’t afford to buy toys, and that kids often queue up in playgrounds to play with a single toy. The look on the kids’ faces when we gave them a very small toy made us feel like Father Xmas – it reminds you of the genuine joy that even the simplest toy can bring to a child.
Back in the real world, it’s been a busy week, as a number of suppliers and retailers have been holding media launch events for new products and Christmas ranges. Character Options really pushed the boat out for the launch of its cool new wearable-tech craze item, SoundMoovz. A well-drilled dance troupe put the gadget through its paces in front of retail buyers, media and celebrities at the swanky Oxo Tower restaurant. I haven’t been to such a glitzy launch in a long while: it took me back to ‘the good old days’, when no expense was spared and entertainment was suitably lavish – I wonder how many people know that Trivial Pursuit was launched at Stringfellows (then an upmarket night club, not the lap-dancing monstrosity it is today), while for the launch of Care Bears, Kenner parker flew a gaggle of retailers and press to Amsterdam for a two-day junket. SoundMoovz is the perfect line to be driven by social media activity (have a look at Strictly star Katja Jones’ Twitter footage from the event), so it may well prove to be a highly successful launch strategy.
Tesco also ran its Christmas in July event, which I’ve covered in a separate story today. I found two things particularly interesting: the first was the significant expansion of Tesco’s own-brand Carousel range, which has added vehicles, nurturing dolls and plush to last year’s core infant and pre-school ranges. You’ll see a far greater own-brand presence in-store come October. The other interesting thing was the selection of the top toys list; I noticed a significant number of lines that are exclusive to Tesco in the list, a strategy that I believe Argos employed last year. It’s canny: we all know that the lines which feature in these lists are the ones most likely to be subject to fierce price-cutting, so at least that can’t happen if no-one else has the line.
I missed Argos’ Christmas show while away last week: I have seen several media reports covering the event, but instead of the burning question everyone wanted answered, the articles talked about paddling pools selling in hot weather and kids being quite interested in tech items. However, I can now bring you that answer: the much-feared culling / merging of the Argos and Sainsbury’s toy buying teams isn’t going to happen – for now at least. The only merging of the department has apparently come at the higher echelons (directorial level), so I’m sure suppliers – not to mention the respective buying teams – will be hugely relieved.
There has been plenty of gossip over the past couple of weeks: Will Abigail has left Toymaster (and for all the people that phoned or emailed to ask if I know what happened, the answer is no, it’s all a bit of a mystery), while Michael Vesterlund has left Funrise to join Bullyland. Also, a couple of months ago, we reported that Blokker Toys was looking to sell-off its Intertoys toy retail division: if my sources are correct, a couple of UK and Irish based retailers have certainly had a good look in recent weeks, but it seems that a venture capitalist may be a more likely purchaser.
Finally, as Brexit negotiations start, there has been a suggestion from the EU’s chief negotiator that many UK people don’t fully understand what’s going on. I have a suggestion for him: point, speak very sloooowly, much LOUDER and in broken English, missing out a few extraneous words. After all, that’s what British people tend to do when we’re struggling to make ourselves understood abroad.