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A procession of buffoons…it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 10th June 2016

A mixed set of retail results have made headlines this week. Argos was arguably the pick of the bunch, posting what it claimed was its best quarterly set of results for two years – evidence that the impending takeover by Sainsbury’s hasn’t been too much of a distraction. Sainsbury’s own results were satisfactory if unspectacular, while Asda’s continuing slump, along with very public criticism of its performance from parent company Walmart, has led to the imminent departure of Asda chief executive Andy Clarke. Walmart International’s chief executive Dave Cheesewright (great name) has spoken of further price cuts to protect its market share in the UK: it will be interesting to see if that approach purely affects grocery lines, or whether they’ll extend it to non-food.

But frankly all of this pales into insignificance when placed against the ridiculous sideshow that has been taking place in the House of Commons this week, as a procession of buffoons have attempted to outdo each other to prove they made the worse decisions in the BHS debacle. If you thought Sports Direct’s Mike Ashley’s appearance the day before was embarrassing, Sir (not for much longer?) Philip Green, Dominic Chappell and various other BHS cohorts took things to a whole new level of preposterousness. There isn’t room here to detail the hilarious but chilling accusations which flew from all sides, but if you didn’t read the transcripts, I promise you that it’s worth it. Apart from the fact that literally no-one emerges with a shred of credit, the sad thing – and the real point of interest to a Blog about the toy market – is that all this nonsense will do no favours to the retail community as a whole: shareholders, investors, bankers, credit insurers and everyone else whose support is essential to retailers will surely be more cautious than ever after what has happened at BHS.

Closer to home, there have been a couple of significant changes within toy buying teams to highlight. I gather that the Toy Store’s Geoff Sheffield has left his role at RM Retail in Dubai and will be returning to the UK with his family this summer to pursue new challenges. My understanding is that he’s already in talks with a number of interested parties, and I’m sure his experience will see him snapped up in no time. I also hear that things are changing at John Lewis: former toy buyer Ian Ellis has moved over to Haberdashery (sounds thrilling), and the suggestion is that the toy buying will be linked in or merged with sports going forward, although that hasn’t been officially confirmed by John Lewis (albeit I have it from a good source). Moves like this can sometimes arise when someone in management (or worse, a consultant) looks at the sales graph, sees a huge spike in Q4 and wonders what the buying team are doing for the rest of the year. Of course, this completely misses the point: it is precisely all the work put in across the year that leads to success in Q4. I’m not suggesting this is what’s happened in this particular case: perhaps John Lewis is just going to focus less on toys moving forward? I just know that in our own field, publishing only one title – and thus being the undisputed toy market specialist – gives us a huge advantage over our competitors, and I perceive that level of focus as being equally important to the success of a retail buying team.

Finally, speaking of competitors, I thought that another toy website perhaps knew something I didn’t (highly unlikely I know) when it quoted “Character Options MD Stuart Grant” in a story last Friday. The funny thing is that the mistake is still online a week later – I can’t believe that one of their 60,000 readers (yeah, right!) hasn’t pointed it out to them. When we make a mistake (it happens, we’re all human), I get emails, texts and phone calls within minutes pointing out the faux pas, laughing or, most frequently, both. I guess that’s the difference between real readers who are genuinely engaged and dubious vanity metrics. Either that or The Entertainer’s Stuart Grant really has got fed up of working for his father and the joke’s on me….