One Night In…Hamleys airs this Christmas Eve

One Night In…Hamleys stars comedians Romesh Ranganathan, Rob Beckett, Tom Allen and Sarah Millican.

One Night In...Hamleys

As reported by Toy World in October, One Night In…Hamleys is hitting TV screens this Christmas. The air date has been announced for Thursday 24th December (Christmas Eve) and Channel 4 has now confirmed that the show will see comedians Romesh Ranganathan, Rob Beckett and Tom Allen locked overnight in the world-famous toy shop on London’s Regent Street. With no security guards or grown-ups there to hamper the fun, the three friends can run wild for the night and do all the things they dreamed of doing in a toy shop when they were kids.

The show airs just after Hamleys announced the launch of its first eBay shop, as part of the company’s plans to expand its online presence.

Narrated by comedian, Sarah Millican, the three comics raid the shelves, chat about Christmas, invent games to play and reminisce with festive stories, as they hang out after hours and unsupervised in the fun emporium.

Set rules are; sleeping’s cheating, leave it how you found it, and if they break it, they pay for it. Otherwise, the trio can do anything they like as long as they’re out of the store before the cleaners arrive and the shutters go up the next morning.

One Night In…Hamleys can be watched on Thursday 24th December 2020, on Channel 4 at 9pm.

Don’t look back in anger…it’s the Friday Blog!

In case you missed it, here’s the very last blog of 2020.

We’ve almost reached the end of the most unusual and challenging year I imagine any of us have ever experienced, either personally or professionally. Although this will be my final Blog of 2020, we still have a few days’ hard graft ahead of us here at Toy World Towers: once we have finally managed to send the January issue to press, I suspect we will all be heading off to lay down in a darkened room for a while to reboot. After the year we’ve all had, I bet we won’t be the only ones.

On the plus side, just as the toy industry has bucked the prevailing retail trend by having nothing short of a remarkable year (+6% YTD), so our January issue has managed to achieve something I would never have thought possible – we have a bigger issue than last year, when there was still a London Toy Fair to preview!

It’s yet another example of how 2020 has often proved to be wholly counter-intuitive: time and time again, preconceptions have been well and truly challenged and, individually and collectively, many of us fortunate enough to ply our trade in the toy market have somehow managed to triumph over extreme adversity. It’s been a tough slog, but we got there in the end.

People and companies across the toy community have done extraordinary things this year: in many respects, staying in business has been an extraordinary feat in itself. But I have heard so many uplifting stories this year, of companies and individuals going the extra mile and really stepping up.

Despite trading challenges, established toy industry charities The Fence Club and The Toy Trust have continued to raise valuable funds for great causes, while new kid on the block ToyAid made a marvellous contribution from a standing start. And respect to those retailers and suppliers which have made grand (or even small gestures) to their staff and customers this year: it’s been a year where the value of a supportive team has shone through, as I can personally attest – this year would have been very different without the help, support and flexibility of the fantastic Toy World team.

So, whether it is retailers like The Entertainer, Asda or Home Bargains giving staff Boxing Day Off (seriously – this year of all years, surely all shops should be shut on Boxing Day…) or Tesco returning the business rate relief it received, setting a chain in motion that saw each of its competitors follow suit, we’ve seen a generosity of spirit that is fitting for these times.

Sadly, not all retailers have been feeling quite as philanthropic – it was disappointing to hear that one very large retailer has been unfathomably slow in paying suppliers in recent weeks. They’re certainly not struggling from a sales point of view, which leaves either incompetence or a bizarre form of corporate manipulation: either way, it’s highly unethical and smacks of a degree of arrogance. What happened to that ‘we’re all in it together’ spirit? Not good to go at all.

I know what you’re all thinking – “I bet he’s going to take a pop at Amazon next.” Well, yes, but…in keeping with the ‘turning preconceptions on their head’ theme, I am going to hedge my bets. On the positive side, Amazon – and other online platforms such as eBay and On Buy – have been a lifeline for many retailers and other small businesses this year. We have two great articles running in our January issue, both addressing this very subject: never let it be said that we don’t believe in airing all points of view. Interestingly, neither contributor is a rose-tinted devotee of Amazon’s business practices, but both have weighed up the many pros and cons and reached the conclusion that they need to find a way to co-exist – which is completely understandable if you have seen the NPD presentation on the growth of online sales this year.

That said, we have a third article on Amazon in January which also underlines the importance of working with Amazon – but simultaneously warns that next year’s terms negotiations could be the most brutal ever, with Amazon expected to leverage its 2020 performance for all it’s worth and then some. If this perception is correct, old timers will be yearning for the good old days of fiery negotiations with the likes of Woolworths and Toys R Us. You could be longing for Phil Shayer banging the desk – at least you were negotiating with a real person. I won’t give away too many spoilers, but unless you have an Amazon vendor manager, it sounds like you may find yourselves disappearing down a frustrating ‘computer says no’ wormhole.

If you don’t believe me, feast your eyes on this particular gem of a response from Amazon to a toy company, which had been complaining that someone had hijacked its listing and replaced the toy with a headphone jack. Open and shut case, right? This is what Amazon had to say – verbatim – wording, typography, errant punctuation and all: “We understand that the title and brand name on website are incorrect and you would like us to update the correct details. Irrespective of the fact that details are incorrect, we would not have any option to make corrections requested by you on website. This is because, Contributions.”

Clearly no human being would actually type those words and think “Yes, sure, that makes total sense – I’ll tell them that and the problem will just go away.” So, is this an AI-generated response? Have we really arrived at a John Connor / Rise of the Machines moment? Or is this all a clever ruse to make people give up? Now imagine this level of debate being replicated in terms negotiations… I don’t envy you – at least I still negotiate with sentient human beings (well, mostly…). To paraphrase a popular idiom: Amazon…can’t live with them, can’t live without them.

On that bombshell, all that remains for me to say is an absolutely massive thank you to all of our readers, contributors and advertisers for your unwavering help and support this year. The Toy World team won’t forget those who have been there for us this year. Have a merry little Christmas (I’d rather emphasise the ‘merry’ than the ‘little’ myself) and here’s to a happy and prosperous new year. We’ll be sending out email news alerts until 23rd – and then we’ll return on 4th January, shortly before our January issue arrives with you, wherever you may be. At which point, who knows, we may hopefully have struck a deal with the EU. 1635 days since referendum, 1357 since Article 50 was triggered, 3 Prime Ministers, 3 Parliaments, 18 Parliamentary votes, £200b cost…and still no-one has managed to explain a single benefit of Brexit to me, other than some nonsense about fish and a blue passport (pointless to me, as I am partially colour blind). But, in the end, we got through this year, and we’ll get through next year too, whatever it throws at us. Happy New Year everyone.

Communities work together to provide toys for struggling families this Christmas

Local communities have turned to social media to help those who have not been able to buy presents themselves, while toyshops and suppliers have organised appeals and donations.

Communities work together to get toys for struggling families this Christmas

Throughout the British Isles, toy appeals and collections take place every Christmas, to provide toys for less fortunate children. This year, more than ever, such efforts have proved vitally important and, despite the challenges they have faced themselves, toyshops large and small, toy suppliers and many other organisations have been busy collecting and donating stock to help ensure that no child needs to go without at Christmas time.

One of the most high profile initiatives is The Entertainer’s Big Toy Appeal, run in conjunction with the Salvation Army, which encourages customers to donate a toy to a family less fortunate than themselves.

But in most towns, there have been appeals that have been well supported by communities, local toy outlets and toy manufacturers.

The BBC reports that struggling parents in Wales who have been unable to buy Christmas presents for their children this year are being offered help by their local communities, which are reaching out via social media to offer support.

Since Saturday, all non-essential shops in Wales closed once again and aisles in supermarkets with items such as toys have been blocked off. As a result, people turned to social media to offer toys to those who had not been able to buy Christmas presents or do not get paid until later this week.

“It means so much that someone was prepared to help others,” commented one man, who saw the offer to help on social media. “At the beginning of February I was diagnosed with a heart condition and haven’t been able to work since then. I had managed to pick up some books and things for the boys, but the build-up to Christmas was terrifying. You want your children to be able to open their presents on Christmas morning. They see an advert on the TV and they want it – it’s heartbreaking.”

He added that despite benefits payments being brought forward to Christmas Eve, it would come too late. The Facebook posts made him feel as though a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. The toys have been donated by a woman whose sons decided to give away the extra toys they don’t need.

In Cardiff, a group has been set up where people can create wish lists online for people to buy on their behalf. Creator of the Facebook group, Liam Schewitz, said by Monday morning more than 50 wish lists had been created and in excess of 600 presents bought. “When the announcement came through on Saturday that shops were being closed it occurred to me that people haven’t got a lot of money at the moment,” he explained. “The majority of people in the country live month to month. A lot of people’s pay is coming in today or the 23rd. It was about making sure these families who are in that position would not have their Christmas totally ruined.”

New cast members announced for Sing 2

Bono, Letitia Wright and Pharrell Williams are joining the voicing characters in Universal and Illumination’s animated comedy Sing 2.

Sing 2

Universal and Illumination’s upcoming sequel, Sing 2, set to be released on 22nd December 2021, will include the voice talents of Bono, Letitia Wright and Pharrell Williams. The sequel also introduces new characters voiced by Bobby Cannavale, Chelsea Peretti, Halsey and Eric Andre. They join the returning voice cast of Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson, Taron Egerton and Nick Kroll.

“Sing 2 transcends the animation genre, immersing audiences in a fully realised world populated by complex characters, each with bold aspirations and relatable challenges,” said Illumination founder and CEO, Chris Meledandri. “We are thrilled that the Sing franchise attracts such exceptional talent, and we are delighted to announce this extraordinary cast.”

The first Sing film followed a group of animals in a singing competition. The sequel sees koala, Buster Moon, and his cast of underdogs push their talents beyond local theatre with the hopes of performing at the most prestigious venue in the entertainment world.

Bono, in his animated film debut, portrays lion Clay Calloway, who became the world’s most reclusive rock legend after the death of his wife. Before Buster Moon and crew can impress an intimidating music mogul, wolf Jimmy Crystal (Bobby Canavale), enough to grace the biggest stage, they must persuade Clay Calloway to perform in the show.

Among new voice cast members, Pharrell is playing Alfonso, an elephant ice cream truck owner who becomes a love interest of the shy elephant Meena (Tori Kelly). Halsey voices Jimmy Crystal’s teen daughter Porsche. Letitia Wright will portray a streetwise feline dancer who helps gorilla Johnny regain his confidence while learning his choreography. Eric Andre is playing a self-important yak who is cast in the stage production opposite Meena in a romantic duet, whilst Chelsea Peretti voices Jimmy Crystal’s haughty canine assistant and talent scout.

“The film is a musical celebration of the unrelenting pursuit of one’s dreams, no matter how large the challenges that stand in your way,” added Chris. “At its core, this movie speaks to the power of optimism and belief.”

Illumination is the studio behind Despicable Me, Minions and The Secret Life of Pets franchises.

Petron Sports appoints The Source as exclusive distribution partner for the UK/Eire

The Source will distribute Petron’s Sureshot and Stealth brands from 1st January 2021. 

The Source

Petron has agreed to an exclusive distribution partnership with The Source Wholesale, for the Sureshot and Stealth brands, in the UK and Eire, which takes effect on the 1st January 2021.

The Stealth range is suitable for ages 14 and above, while the Sureshot range is aimed at younger children, meaning there is something for all with this new partnership. Sureshot features a range of outdoor toys such as targets, archery and crossbows.

“This is a great opportunity,” commented Martin Saunders, MD for Petron Sports. “We have had an association with The Source’s parent company for over a decade now. The timing was right for us to have a partner in the UK, that we can trust in order for us to grow our international business”

“We are delighted to be working with these two brands,” added Stacy Guest, MD for The Source. “Over the past 10 years we have sold these items in our stores under Red5 or Stryker branding and we are looking forward to helping them achieve their full potential.”

For more information, please contact stacy.guest@thesource.co.uk.

Argos details first wave of shops set to close

Any stand alone Argos store that has not reopened since March will remain closed for good, the high street chain’s owners have revealed. 

Sainsburys has given further details on which Argos shops will be the first to shut amid plans to close a total of 420 standalone stores. Sainsbury’s, which owns the high street chain, revealed that “any standalone Argos store which has not reopened since March will remain closed permanently.”

120 standalone Argos stores have not opened their doors since the first national coronavirus lockdown, which saw all non-essential retail forced to close in March, including standalone Argos stores. These 120 stores are part of a first wave of shop closures planned by the company.

A Sainsbury’s spokeswoman said: “While these stores have remained closed, many Argos colleagues have redeployed to help in other Argos stores and Sainsbury’s supermarkets. They will continue to do this during the consultation process, and we will do everything possible to find them alternative roles within the business by the time this concludes in the New Year.”

Sainsbury’s also plans to axe another 300 Argos standalone Argos stores by March 2024 as the company reviews its estate. However, J Sainsbury chief executive, Simon Roberts, has confirmed that 350 new Argos stores will be opening within the organisation’s supermarkets.

In a statement, Simon said: “Argos sales have been strong over the past six months and we have gained almost two million new customers as people have re-connected with Argos. Over the next three years, we will make Argos a simpler, more efficient and more profitable business while still offering customers great convenience and value and improving availability.”

He added: “We will work really hard to find alternative roles for as many of these colleagues as possible and expect to be able to offer alternative roles for the majority of impacted colleagues. Given the unprecedented circumstances of this year and the challenges facing our colleagues, including the changes we are announcing today, I have informed the board that if a bonus is payable, I will waive any bonus entitlement for this financial year.”

OnBuy on track for unicorn status following booming year for eCommerce

With a sales run rate that has rocketed from £24m to over £170m in one year, OnBuy has quadrupled its workforce and put plans in place for expansion in 2021.

OnBuy

Cas Paton

OnBuy.com has set its sights on achieving unicorn status as it announces a 605% year to date growth, rounding off a list of 2020 successes for the company.

OnBuy is on a mission to revolutionise the eCommerce sector by providing a fair, transparent and ethical marketplace that benefits both buyers and sellers. The UK-based online marketplace has now set its sights on unicorn status, which is awarded to privately held start-up firms valued at over $1b (£750m), within the next two years.

The company is already valued at an estimated £180m after launching only four years ago and, having achieved its third consecutive year of over 600% growth in 2020, the eCommerce business is quickly gaining market share.

OnBuy’s founder and CEO, Cas Paton, commented: “Securing unicorn status is not an easy feat, but our success so far proves it’s well within our grasp. This year alone, we have seen sales on OnBuy soar from a run rate of £24m to over £170m. We’ve accomplished so much in the UK that I am entirely confident that unicorn status is within reach, especially as we are already underway with our global scale up that’ll take OnBuy into over 140 countries before year-end 2023.”

In the past 12 months OnBuy has: Beta-tested territory specific sites in 42 countries for expansion of the OnBuy platform before the end of 2020; secured £5m in its Series A funding round in June; Increased its seller base by 10% for three consecutive months; achieved £2.5m in sales for its sellers on Black Friday alone; scaled the OnBuy team by over 40%, to over 60 staff members; won the UK Business Tech Awards’ eCommerce Company of the Year award and Retail Without Borders’ Marketplace 2020 award; and partnered with an array of leading eCommerce integrations and solutions providers.

OnBuy’s 2020 accomplishments have been supported by a £5m investment raised through a Series A funding round earlier this year, from Fuel Ventures and other experienced investors.

Following this year’s investment, OnBuy has started an aggressive global expansion plan into more than 140 countries by year-end 2023.

OnBuy also launched its first-ever major national TV advertising campaign with ITV to coincide with Black Friday and the busy Christmas period, supporting its sellers during 2020’s key trading period.

A successful November, helped by a recording-breaking Black Friday with £2.5m in sales, boosted the company’s year-on-year sales revenue by 870% in one month alone. This was achieved in part by OnBuy’s price drop on every single product across the marketplace, at no cost to its sellers. OnBuy’s fees were reduced for sellers over Black Friday and Cyber Monday to offer over £50m in savings.

To accommodate such rapid growth, the eCommerce business has quadrupled its workforce to over 60 full-time staff members. OnBuy has also announced plans to expand its offices in Manchester in the new year, creating at least another 100 jobs over the next two years to accommodate its worldwide expansion.

Lego to double store presence across China

With more than two-thirds of the world’s 2b children expected to be living in East Asia by 2032, the company is cementing its physical presence in the region.

Lego China

Despite the double threat of the coronavirus pandemic and online competition impacting toy stores in 2020, the Lego Group is investing heavily in brick-and-mortar retailing in China and expanding its store presence across the region. With more than two-thirds of the world’s 2b children expected to be living in East Asia by 2032, the company says it must be physically present in the region. Over the two years ending in December 2021, Lego plans to more than double the number of stores it has in China, to 300 in 85 cities. China is already one of the best performing markets for the group, reporting double-digit growth as the company’s global sales last year rose 6%, to a record $6.3b.

Stores are needed to address the particular challenges of China, says Cindy Chiu, who oversees the company’s retail operations in Asia. Since Lego is a relative newcomer to the region, few Chinese parents played with the bricks as children. Stores give families a chance to experience Lego directly, building a connection with the brand.

Lego is also aggressively expanding online to make it easier for parents to buy the products they see in stores. This year, the company has introduced web initiatives such as extra discounts, a membership programme and special promotions for holidays. In May, the livestreamed launch of a Lego set based on the classic tale, Journey to the West, featuring the mythical Monkey King, drew more than 10m viewers. Lego has 3.9m followers on Tmall, the shopping site owned by Alibaba Group Holding.

To enhance brand recognition, a Legoland theme park is planned in Sichuan province in southwestern China. Merlin Entertainments, the operator of Lego’s parks, started construction at a 24-hectare (59-acre) site with a local partner in June. The park, Lego’s first in the country, will have two new rides exclusive to this location, as well as a Lego-brick depiction of the Great Wall of China and other Chinese landmarks, along with global icons like the Eiffel Tower or Statue of Liberty. The company has an agreement to build a park near Shanghai and says it is also in talks with other partners across China.

Brands such as Gudi, Jiego, and Lepin, all of which feature white-on-red logos with script almost identical to Lego’s, have proved a hurdle and forced the company to take actions in Chinese intellectual-property courts to win damages and apologies from imitators. The legal push has dovetailed with growing concern among consumers about fakes.

However, the company is benefiting from the concerns of families worried about China’s education system, which has been criticised by parents for not fostering creativity and providing children with the skills needed to prosper in the modern economy. Mark Tanner, managing director of China Skinny, a marketing agency in Shanghai, added: “Lego really plays to Chinese parents’ desire to invest in toys and activities to prepare their children for the competitive world.”

Brainstorm readies launch of KlikBot Kreatures

The new range offers more collectability and play possibilities, with blind assortments and rare gold KlikBot Kreatures available in CDUs of 12.

KlikBot Kreatures

Brainstorm has enjoyed another successful year with StikBots and KlikBots, proving ever popular despite difficult trading times. The 2020 pandemic has boosted visitors to the StikBot Central YouTube channel which has now been viewed half a billion times with new content added from creators Zing and StikBot fans daily.

KlikBots were available from August this year, exceeding all expectations and selling out in record time. The new range, KlikBot Kreatures, will land in the UK from the end of December, with January availability. The new range will not only have more collectability, with blind assortments and rare gold KlikBot Kreatures available in CDUs of 12, but there are even more play possibilities. The KlikBot Kreatures have articulated limbs that can be clicked together to form different characters with eight to collect. Each capsule comes with a QR code to access to instructional videos that teach kids how to combine two Kreatures to create Mega Kreatures. There are also tutorial videos available on StikBot Central. The successful Zanimation Studio relaunches in 2021 as a KlikBot Zanimation Studio, and will be available from summer. The kit includes a tripod stand, exclusive KlikBot, a KlikBot vehicle and a green screen, so kids can create stop-frame animations using the free StikBot app.

Debra Tiffany, marketing manager at Brainstorm, commented: “StikBot continues to amaze us in terms of its popularity, that has increased year on year since we introduced the brand back in 2016. That is testament to the creative minds at Zing who continue to refresh and innovate the brand appealing to fans old and new. Early presentations of the new range have been really well received amongst the trade with orders already in place for our first wave which lands pre-Christmas. This commitment to the brand from our customers will be supported by ongoing marketing kicking off in January with a TV ad campaign from 23rd – 31st January and continued bursts throughout 2021.”

For more information about the new KlikBot Kreatures and other lines in the range visit: www.brainstormltd.co.uk.

Clementoni reports significant growth in 2020

Putting success down to the dramatic rise in sales of puzzles and innovation across the Baby Clementoni range, the company expects to see in excess of 25% growth by year end.

Clementoni reports significant growth in 2020

Despite being an unsettled and uncertain year, Clementoni, the educational toy and puzzle brand, has seen significant growth year on year with further growth expected over the key Christmas period.

Clementoni had a positive start to 2020, launching brand new innovation at Toy Fair with the Play for Future range. The range is made from 100% recycled plastic and is 100% paint free; products include core and licensed puzzles, plus the Baby Clementoni My First Ride On and Workbench which were all extremely well received.

Putting success down to the dramatic rise in sales of puzzles and innovation across the Baby Clementoni range, the Italian brand is expecting to see in excess of 25% growth by year end.

The company has built a solid presence across three main categories – infant, science/construction and adult puzzles – translating into strong performance for puzzles in particular. There has been heavy investment in product development and licences such as Peppa Pig, Harry Potter, Disney and Science Museum, with hero products being the Peppa Pig Clemmy Bus from the Baby Clementoni Soft Clemmy range, the Harry Potter and Disney Panorama Puzzles and the Science Museum Construction range.

As well as supporting new and key lines with additional TV spend and consumer marketing, the company’s commitment to retail is paramount and strategic partnerships with core retailers have seen strong support during the pandemic.

2020 has not been without its challenges though. With unprecedented demand comes the need to be both reactive and proactive with supply, however Clementoni has remained as flexible as possible, increasing operating hours at manufacture and warehousing to ensure a seven day working week, as well as investing in new machinery which will increase capacity for 2021.

As 2021 approaches, Clementoni is hopeful and ready for the year ahead. With new product development launches from January and new licences coming through such as Pink Fong’s Baby Shark, the company is showing no signs of slowing down and will continue to deliver high quality product for consumers to enjoy.

For more information on the full Clementoni range or to discuss 2021 catalogues, please contact Shahbaz.khan@clementoni.com.