Alive and kicking…it’s the Friday Blog (on a Thursday)!

Published on: 29th March 2018

The impending Easter weekend means you get an extra treat; the Blog arrives a day early this week. Easter also neatly marks the end of Q1 – and what an eventful quarter it has been. It was nice to be able to finally report some positive news this week, with The Entertainer reporting a 37% profit increase in the last financial year and unveiling a newly-revamped flagship store at Westfield London. If you missed it, you can read my report on the new store here.

I was hugely impressed with what I saw – it is everything a great specialist toy shop should be, from both a child and parent’s perspective. The store incorporates the latest tech to great effect; animated screens in the window, interactive floor projections, augmented reality mirrors and a space where kids can play on tablets all combine to give the branch a thoroughly modern look and feel. But it’s certainly not an example of style over content, a trait some flagship stores and departments have arguably been guilty of in the past. Contrary to the lazy stereotype perpetuated by some within the toy community (mentioning no names…), the current ‘hot’ brands are all present and correct, situated prominently at the front of the store. Crazes – an area which The Entertainer has always been particularly good at – are also positioned front and centre. Throughout the store, product categories are clearly signed and well merchandised, while several in-store demonstration areas provide a perfect opportunity for interaction with customers, which will surely help to drive sales. It was a big investment, but well worth it; I’m sure we’ll see some elements replicated in other Entertainer stores as the year progresses.

Following the demise of Toys R Us, the Entertainer’s positive, pro-active approach not only proves that the specialist toy retailing continues to be commercially viable, but also that the High Street and shopping malls are very much alive and kicking. I’m not the only person who has been singing the praises of The Entertainer – and Smyths for that matter – this week; in an interview with Fox News in the US, MGA’s Isaac Larian singled out both retailers as examples of thriving specialist toy retail operations. It’s nice for the UK to receive international recognition in this way, and it shows that we lead the way in sustaining a vibrant, diverse toy retail landscape. It may not feel that way to some people sometimes, but when our leading protagonists are being held up as shining beacons of excellence on a global level, I think we should all be proud.

Meanwhile, it has been a quiet week on the Toys R Us front. Literally. The hash tag #whereisdavehiding has started trending, as TRU CEO ‘Dodgy’ Dave Brandon appears to have disappeared off the face of the earth. Presumably, as the old nursery rhyme says, “the king is in his counting house, counting out his money.” For while Dave got a huge retention bonus for basically doing his job (poorly one might argue…), more suppliers have come forward this week to complain that they had been encouraged to ship millions of dollars of goods only days before liquidation was announced. Indeed, the suggestion has been made in some quarters that TRU has used ‘free’ stock from unsecured creditors to pay secured creditors. Essentially, it is in the process of liquidating goods it never paid for. Truly shameful. I would stress, though, that I attribute no blame to individual TRU buyers; I have no doubt that they were being misled by their senior management team into believing everything would be ok. But Dodgy Dave must have known what was about to happen…

It is one of the many reasons why I would trust retailers who are run by passionate, committed, private owners over pirate equity / vulture capitalists any day of the week. Thank goodness we have plenty of the former and not so many of the latter in the UK toy community.

So, we are one quarter of the year down; one wonders what twists and turns lie ahead in the next quarter? This time last year, fidget spinners were about to explode, so the challenge of how to anniversary those sales looms large. One thing is for sure – it certainly isn’t going to be dull. Somehow, I doubt we will be short of things to write about. I wish you all a wonderful Easter – the Blog will return to its traditional Friday slot next week. For now, I’ll leave you with this lovely little video: I posted it on twitter a few weeks back and it received a lot of interaction and positive comments. The video shows children going into surgery at a French hospital driving to the operating room in electric cars, which apparently helps to reduce stress. Another great example of toys bringing joy and happiness to children. Amongst all the business machinations and occasional questionable behaviour, it’s good to remember that.