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Exclusive: Mattel’s Sanjay Luthra reaffirms commitment to toy retail partners

Published on: 6th November 2020

Sanjay told Toy World that Mattel is doing everything it can to support retailers during the all-important festive season. 

Sanjay Luthra

When Boris Johnson announced last weekend that England was to return to lockdown from 5th November to 2nd December, commentators were quick predict major challenges for the retail channel. However, the toy retail market has bucked the general trend so far this year. Speaking to toy retailers this week, many remain confident that they are well-prepared to weather the latest storm and continue to trade over the next four weeks before lockdown is due to be lifted for the final run-up to the big day. Toy suppliers are also gearing up to support their retail partners during this crucial period: Toy World caught up with Sanjay Luthra, managing director EMEA at Mattel, to find out how the company is doing all it can to help its customers through the coming weeks.

Sanjay noted that this year has been a learning curve: “Every day you find new ways to live your life – personally and professionally. Of course there have been challenges, but the toy industry has coped admirably with everything that has been thrown at it this year.” The same could be said of Mattel: the EMEA operation headed up by Sanjay posted an 18% increase in gross sales during the last quarter, growing at twice the rate of the broader toy market. These figures are all the more impressive when you consider that Europe has been hit harder by covid than many other global regions, while the fact that this growth came on top of a 10% increase during the same period last year only underlines the strength of the performance.

Sanjay believes that getting closer to its customers has been key to Mattel’s success: “ We have said to all of our customers, whether you have a problem or you have an opportunity, please make us your first call. This year, it has been more important than ever to have strong relationships, and to work together closely to get accurate numbers: joint forecasting is important, we’re all in this together.”

As well as enabling the company to accurately predict sales numbers to help manage its stock-holding situation, the close working partnerships with retail partners have extended to helping them to – in Sanjay’s words – “keep the magic alive, boosting the customer experience, both at retail and on digital channels.” Online channels have really come into their own this year: across the top 5 European markets, 55% of toy sales in Q2 2020 were online according to NPD, compared to 32% in Q2 2019. This represents the highest ever share of online sales in the toy market in EMEA. Furthermore, 75% of customers using digital channels for the first time during covid. said they will continue using them when things return to normal.

Sanjay is very much a ‘digital native’, with an innate understanding of the online channel and a passion for what it can bring to the overall toy market. So it is no surprise that Mattel’s digital presence has been strengthened considerably since Sanjay took the reins. According to Mattel’s latest consumer research, parents’ attitudes to toys and shopping have inevitably been impacted by the covid situation: “In previous years, they used words like ‘excited ‘ and ‘inspired’. This year, the key words are ‘safety’ and ‘well-informed’ – they want to spend as little time in store as possible, so they need to be well-informed before purchasing. It’s the biggest shift in consumer mindset we’ve seen in years.” However, there is also a consumer perception that online shopping should ‘do more’ and deliver aspects of the offline experience that parents still crave – a topic Sanjay is keen to address with toy retailers moving forward, to help them become stronger in the digital arena, whether it’s click & collect, future bookings instore or the whole omnichannel experience.

With consumer attitudes changing, this year has vividly illustrated the importance of companies remaining flexible and nimble – not words that might have been associated with the global giants of the toy market in years gone by, but a philosophy that every toy company – large and small – now needs to embrace. Sanjay admits: “We have been continuously re-evaluating what may happen between now and Christmas. We’re well-stocked and we’ve invested heavily for Christmas to make sure our customers continue to enjoy strong sales over the coming weeks.”

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