I hope you all had a splendid Easter. The decent weather over the bank holiday weekend hopefully helped toy retailers to finish the Easter holiday period strongly. As many schools broke up a full two weeks before the Easter weekend, several independent retailers suggested to me that the first week’s trading could have been better. The fact that school holidays fell at different times across the country didn’t make it easy for national retailers to co-ordinate their promotional activity either.
That said, NPD has just confirmed that the first week of April saw value growth back in the black at +3%, so that has to be an encouraging sign – fingers crossed that things are heading in the right direction.
It’s no great secret that the March numbers were down, as had widely been anticipated; there was a 6% drop in both volume and value terms. While that can be attributed in part to Easter falling in April this year, whether the figures across two months will end up balancing out, we’ll have to wait another few weeks to find out.
One prominent retailer summed current trading up thus: “The market is being driven by red hot toys and discounting.” It seems that having the right stock at the right price at the right time has never been more important. Several ranges have got off to a great start; PJ Masks, LOL Surprise, Fingerlings, Spinners and Fidget Cubes amongst others. Inevitably, there is already grumbling in certain quarters about the lack of stock of some of these brands, although I suspect that the suppliers concerned will see that as a marginally better class of problem to contend with.
Pricing challenges continue to come thick and fast on all sides, and I’m told some retailers are later than ever with orders (which may or may not be connected). I gather that a number of major retailers’ autumn winter FOB orders have still not been placed, which is surely cutting it a bit fine. There is a perception that certain retailers have elected to play it safe, focusing on tried and trusted brands rather than taking more of a risk on new ranges. I don’t foresee too many retailers being accused of over-ranging this year either. That said, fortune favours the brave and it’s important to strike a balance; although many of last year’s winners such as Paw Patrol show no signs of slowing down, all of the aforementioned ‘hot’ ranges are new to market this year.
Last year, many people were predicting that 2017 would be a huge movie year. Now I’m picking up slightly less bullish vibes. While it was a truly wonderful movie, the live action Beauty and the Beast didn’t appear to shift the volume of toys that an animated movie typically would – perhaps that would explain the half-price gondola end in Sainsbury’s the week the movie was released. I suspect that products targeted at a slightly older consumer – such as Make it Real’s excellent sketch book – probably fared a bit better. There is also a feeling that this year’s crop of Marvel films doesn’t necessarily lend itself to selling toys in quite the same way as an Iron Man or Captain America would. For now, all eyes are turning towards the battle of the movie heavyweights in the summer, when Cars 3, Transformers and Despicable Me 3 will be slugging it out for supremacy. That will be a fascinating skirmish. Product starts arriving in stores over the next couple of weeks, so it will be interesting to see how initial sales stack up.
Congratulations to Ray Hughes, who has joined up with former Vivid colleague Neil Bandtock at Epoch Toys as business development manager, and to Nicola Jenkins, who has joined Tomy as head of marketing. We wish them both all the best in their new roles.
Finally, I wonder if you can guess where the photo below was taken? No, it’s not London or one of the Northern powerhouses of Manchester or Leeds. It’s actually Nanjing, a ‘small’ city in China, near the Yangtze River, with a population of around 9m people. Both the House of Fraser and Hamleys are owned by Chinese retailers which are based in the city. At least ‘Brand Britain’ still has fans in some parts of the world. Just don’t let Liam Fox anywhere near the place….