Sky-high container prices and physical store closures add to the challenges for the independent toy retail channel.
Following the government’s announcement of a new lockdown for the UK, toy retailers have been reassessing their plans for the coming weeks. Understandably, there is frustration, but also a sense of inevitability about the latest turn of events. Speaking to Toymaster’s Paul Reader, he admitted: “The announcement wasn’t unexpected, but it is still frustrating for our members that other retailers which sell toys can stay open and continue to trade. Once again, we have lost that level playing field which is so important to the specialist channel.”
Asked how his members would be addressing this latest situation, Paul felt that they would be watching closely to see how consumers react: “Store owners need to work out where to spend their budget – will games and puzzles be huge sellers again, or will other categories emerge this time round? And how will new launches fare now that stores are closed? I’m sure that those retailers who don’t currently have a website or a strong social media presence will be looking to sort that out as soon as possible. It’s important to look ahead – we still plan to launch the spring summer catalogue on March 15th as scheduled. Specialists will need all the energy and enthusiasm they can muster in the coming weeks, but they have showed during previous lockdowns that they can react and be flexible and I am sure we’ll see that again this time round. Home delivery and click or ring and collect services will be crucial to help keep stock ticking over and money coming in.”
Over at The Entertainer, Gary Grant was in a similarly stoic mood: “Over the past few months, long-term planning has been impossible. We would often find ourselves ripping up plans the very next day, so we gave up trying to look too far ahead. The lockdown will provide some major challenges: we can still trade online, but that can’t replace the store closures. Also, different products will sell online compared to when the stores are open – we just have to get the balance of product right. Cash flow will become critical again, as it was during the initial lockdown last year. I just hope we can be fully open again by Easter – that is a huge period for us.”
While store closures in the immediate run-up to Christmas mean that there is likely to be some stock left to tide retailers over the coming weeks, complemented by judicious top-up orders, recent steep hikes in container prices are also having an impact on short-term retail decisions, as Gary explained: “Shipping costs are astronomical at the moment. Hopefully, this is just a short-term issue. Otherwise it is definitely going to have an impact on pricing, especially on the high cube, low value lines. That said, we know that if we raise the price too much to reflect the current costs, there is a risk it could kill sales on certain items. We just have sit and watch and react accordingly.”