All the fun of the fair…it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 13th May 2022

I suggested in last week’s Blog that the recruitment merry-go-round was in full swing, and that there would be some big appointments to announce imminently. And lo it came to pass – it’s almost like I knew.

So, in the interest of helping everyone keep up, here is a brief summary of what’s been made public over the course of this week: former Spin Master general manager Sara Taylor has been unveiled as the new MD UK & Ireland at MGA, while it has also been confirmed that Phil Hooper left the Spin Master business at the end of February and after a well-earned break, is now looking for a new challenge. There have also been some significant changes on the retail buying side, with the news that Neil Mitchell will be leaving Studio Retail to join the buying team at Home Bargains, while Steve Pearson has left his role as head of buying at Hamleys to join The Entertainer.

I also gather that big changes are afoot at the top of the Paramount EMEA operation, with Mark Kingston set to depart towards the end of the year for pastures new, after serving the longest garden leave period I’ve come across in a while. I am sure Mark will share more about his plans in Vegas the week after next.

There will also be a change at the top of PMS soon, after founder Paul Beverley sadly passed away recently. Paul and I have had our occasional professional differences in the past, but you have to admire his focus and dedication to take the business from its humble ‘seaside wholesaler’ roots and build it into the company it is today.

Elsewhere, Paul Fogarty has been appointed as country manager at Clementoni UK, while Ravensburger has named Richard Collins as its new managing director. Richard’s name won’t be familiar to many of you, as his experience to date has been gleaned outside the toy market, but he did admit that it had been a long-held ambition of his to join the toy industry. Richard’s first taste of a toy trade event will be next week’s Toymaster show in Harrogate, which strikes me as a great induction into the toy community.

There will doubtless be many others experiencing their first-ever Toymaster show next week, including two special visitors from the US indie retail chain Learning Express, as the two retail operations continue to develop a close working relationship. The ‘American Exchange’ programme is due to expand later this summer, when representatives from Toymaster will visit the Learning Express show in the States. Reciprocal support and collaboration like this can only be a good thing – specialist toy retailers on both sides of the pond face many of the same challenges and opportunities, and sharing information and forging close co-operation can only help to move both businesses forward.

As well as new people visiting the show for the first time, Harrogate will see a host of new products being showcased, as well as several interesting new distribution partnerships being unveiled. It was announced this week that Orchard Toys has appointed Kayes of Cardiff as its exclusive distribution partner for the independent sector, and there is another big deal for Kayes which has been kept under wraps that will shortly be revealed. I am delighted to see toy companies taking a close look at how best they can service the indies and coming up with real-world solutions, rather than paying lip service but offering little practical support, as has sometimes been the case with certain toy companies in the past. It’s undoubtedly a win-win-win for everyone concerned: the indies get access to the widest possible selection of products at prices which doesn’t disadvantage them; the supplier maintains sales and a strong presence in a channel which is dedicated to toys 365 days a year, and the distributor strengthens its portfolio, giving retailers even more compelling reasons to order from them.

And make no mistake, the independent sector in the UK is thriving: Toymaster unveiled its latest set of results this week, with revenue increasing by 20% and profits almost doubling over the past year – a massively impressive performance, whichever way you look at it. As was the case with the Character Group’s half-year results, with turnover increasing by 22% and strong momentum building as the company enters the second half of the year.

There are so many positive sets of results being reported by toy companies, it is easy to forget that these excellent performances are being delivered against a very uncertain economic backdrop. While there is vague talk of the government ‘doing something’ to ease the financial burden on many families later in the year, the devil will very much be in the detail. If action takes the form of patronizing suggestions about buying more value food brands, learning to cook ‘properly’ or wearing a jumper, I am not sure how effective that will be against spiralling energy costs and rising inflation.

Some retailers are already feeling the pinch, re-igniting the age-old debate about whether it is acceptable to impose surcharges mid-year, long after terms have been agreed, and what’s more, to make the charges retrospective. This week has seen The Hut Group (Zavvi) inform suppliers that it will be deducting 3% from all invoices on a quarterly basis, back-dated to January – and that is on top of 90-day payment terms in some cases. It’s certainly a bold move to impose such conditions on suppliers which are grappling with their own financial challenges, and it will be interesting to see the reaction from those toy companies that trade with Zavvi. It will be even more interesting to see whether other retailers with a larger presence in toys follow suit.

A move like this certainly isn’t unprecedented – I mentioned a few weeks ago that we are now paying a 7% surcharge on every invoice from our printer, to contribute towards their astronomical new energy bill. It’s not nice, but I understand they wouldn’t be doing it if it wasn’t essential in allowing them to continue to deliver the excellent service we expect. However, every action has a potential reaction, and those reactions won’t always go the way it is hoped they will go. Sometimes, doing nothing and biting the bullet doesn’t put customers in a position where they are forced to re-evaluate the partnership and ongoing commitments. Zavvi has rolled the dice – let’s see if others choose to do likewise.

Have a great weekend, and for those of you heading to the Toymaster and Distoy events next week, the Toy World team hopes to see as many of you as possible in the time we’ll have at both shows.