A sense of perspective…it’s the Friday Blog!

As well as heralding the start of Toy Fair Season, January is also the time when many retailers unveil their festive trading results. I think it’s fair to say that there was some trepidation about this year’s announcements, but encouragingly there have been some very healthy performances, along with – inevitably – some less than stellar ones.

Let’s start with the winners: B&M reported record golden quarter sales (13 weeks to December 28th) of £1.19b, compared to £1.09b the year before. The Very Group also enjoyed a strong Christmas trading period, with toy sales increasing by 8%. The online retailer had certainly been aggressive in its promotional and pricing activity over the festive season, and combined with its “flexible ways to pay” offering, the strategy clearly appealed to consumers.

It wasn’t just the toy market where a strong value proposition resonated with the public; no-one will be surprised to hear that Primark’s sales increased, as did Aldi’s – by a very healthy 7.9% in December. But even that performance was eclipsed by Lidl, which was the fastest-growing grocer over Christmas, with sales 11% higher than the year before, taking £110m sales from its rivals in the process. I did notice that Lidl’s numbers were boosted by a 13% increase in alcohol sales: presumably people were either celebrating an election / Brexit victory or drowning their sorrows.

However, for every action, there is inevitably a reaction. After the Lidl announcement, Tesco’s shares fell by 1.5%, Sainsbury’s shares fell by 1.9% and Morrisons shares fell by 2.4%, wiping a combined £588m off their market value. Perhaps not entirely unrelated, it was also announced that more than 2800 Asda workers face the renewed threat of redundancy as the chain looks to further cut costs. We await further festive retail results with interest – I heard a few interesting rumours in Hong Kong, but best to wait for the official announcements before commenting.

Of course, it is not just here in the UK that retail numbers are spooking investors; over in the US, the markets seem to have gone into meltdown because Target announced that holiday toy sales were flat. Some of the reporting of the announcement has been a little on the scaremongering side too: apparently the fact that “Target didn’t have the strong holiday in the toy department that many expected” has caused “ringing alarm bells for the entire industry.” Has it though – has it really?

Target’s shares fell by 7% on the news, Hasbro’s dropped by 2.5% and Mattel’s by more than 6% – and all on the back of one retailer whose sales didn’t actually decline. Rather than the toy industry, it strikes me that it is the investors who may be the ones panicking here. And as for widespread media claims that there was no hot toy driving the market, try telling that to Isaac Larian…

There are legitimate questions arising from the Target numbers – in particular, relating to its tie-up with Toys R Us on its website. Did that initiative have negligible impact on sales, or would Target’s sales have declined without it? The same questions could be posed about Target’s Disney ‘store-in-store’ activations. However, I just wonder whether ‘flat’ is really so bad? I appreciate that with all of these new initiatives and TRU out of the market, Target expected more, but maybe we all have to think about pressing the reset button on expectation levels. In years gone by, companies would always announce at previews that they were anticipating double digit growth in the coming year. Regardless of the strength of their range, the health of the retail market or the abiding strength of the economy, a 10 % increase was the natural expectation (and UK subsidiaries of US companies were usually the worst culprits). Maybe it’s time to recalibrate? Perhaps the days of automatically posting a 10% increase every year without fail have gone (if indeed they ever existed in the first place, other than in the minds of US management driven by share price bonuses).

To be fair, it isn’t just Americans who may need to apply a little perspective; a headline in the usually reliable Retail Week claimed that – and I quote – “Shunning Toys was one of the trends which defined Christmas.” I’m sorry, but with all due respect, I think that is a bit of an exaggeration. Consumers didn’t “shun toys” by any discernible measure. Granted, fewer toys may have been sold, and maybe less higher price point items at that, but given that many people were either made poorer – or at least made to feel poorer, even if they weren’t – by all the Brexit shenanigans, a modest decline in sales is not the same as toys being shunned.

So, as we head into London Toy Fair next week, let’s hope that as a community we can put the challenges of last year behind us and look ahead to an improved trading year. This will be my fortieth London Toy Fair, and I still feel the same excitement heading into the show as I always did. As exhibitors will now know, there are some major changes coming next year, when the start of the long-awaited Olympia renovation project will lead to a new show layout, spanning different halls. I am sure the BTHA will do everything in its power to mitigate any disruption, especially to those of us who will need to relocate from stand positions we have become very attached to. But change is a constant, and on balance, I am sure most people would agree that staying at the venue through the estimated three years of transformation work is preferable to the alternatives. If you’ve seen the video which shows what Olympia will look like after the expansion work is complete, it looks set to be a truly world-class venue. We may have to put up with a little short-term inconvenience, but I am sure it will all be worth it in the end.

The whole Toy World team looks forward to seeing as many of you as possible at the show next week. Hopefully you’ve all prepared by painstakingly working your way through our largest-ever Toy Fair preview issue – but if you want to do some last-minute prep, you can get the full run down on what awaits you at the show by clicking here. See you there!

Asmodee to launch dedicated Family Games range at Toy Fair

The range will be heavily supported with sales and marketing initiatives.

Asmodee UK is to launch a new Family Games range at Toy Fair 2020, showcasing best-in-class products that excel at bringing all ages together around the tabletop for shared fun.

Games retailers have never had a wider range of options for quality board games, thanks in part to Asmodee’s comprehensive and varied portfolio. This collection – which will be heavily supported with sales and marketing initiatives – will highlight must-have titles in an easily recognisable way.

The Family Games range is led by Dobble 360, the 360° twist on the UK’s biggest-selling game of the last two years. Dobble brings players of any age onto a level playing field, and this exciting new version adds an element of memory to the game of speedy observation. Dobble 360 will benefit from comprehensive marketing support, including a huge TV and digital advertising campaign.

Also featured are Ticket to Ride London, the bite-sized edition of the millions-selling Modern Classic board game that lets players rush around the capital for points in just 15 minutes, and the popular BrainBox range of educational games, which deliver learning and memory challenges based on a variety of topics.

The collection is completed by the hilarious dexterity challenge Crazy Eggz, the shadow-puppetry creativity of Picture Show and the magnetised sailing adventure of Bermuda Pirates.

The creation of the Family Games range follows similar groupings of key products by Asmodee for clear marketing focus, including the Modern Classics, Party Games and newly rebranded Quick Play titles.

Visitors can find Asmodee at Toy Fair on Stand E109 but should also visit Stand E15, where some of Asmodee’s standout brands will be celebrated, including Dobble, Catan and BrainBox.

Generation Media strengthens its leadership team for 2020

Tamara Strange has been appointed as a director of the company, while Greta Bisetto-Donelan has been promoted to the position. 

Lisa Morgan, managing director, commented: “Increasing the strength of our leadership is a strategic move to secure the long term success of our business and the customers that we serve. We continue to build scale and expand our areas of expertise, and look forward to benefitting from the wealth of experience both Greta and Tamara bring.”

Greta Bisetto-Donelan joined Generation Media as associate director of Partnerships and Content Distribution in 2019. Greta was intrinsic to the launch of Generation Entertainment, the Generation Media division specialised in content, which is successfully supporting both existing and new customers with their evolving content needs. She said: “Our area of expertise is to identify, produce and bring engaging content to the right audience, wherever they are. We are proud to be working with top cinema exhibitors, broadcasters and content aggregators to roll out a portfolio of stellar content.”

Tamara brings a wealth of experience from her media owner and agency background.  She has worked with several clients in the family and entertainment space during her career, including Spin Master and Build A Bear. Tamara added: “I am thrilled to be joining the dynamic and ambitious Generation Media team, and excited about playing a part in the business’ future growth.”

Greta and Tamara will join existing leadership team including Dean Weller, chief executive officer, Lisa Morgan, managing director, Lauren Coombs, director of client services, Jonathan Chambers, director of AV Trading, and Alex Taylor Smith, director of Business Development.

Exclusive: Toy World catches up with Toymaster

Retail manager Brian McLaughlin outlined how 2019 was for the buying group’s members, and what its plans are for Toy Fair. 

Brian McLaughlin, Toymaster’s retail manager

Last year was challenging for retail, as we all know, with independent toy retailers facing their own particular set of challenges. Black Friday arrived a week later than in 2018, pushing sales closer to Christmas, but also landed on payday for many people, meaning there was more expendable income in the market. We asked Brian what the feedback was like from Toymaster members.

“Feedback has certainly been mixed,” he says. “Black Friday landed on payday for many this year, which was a positive compared to 2018, but we have seen varying degrees of success. Some of our members go all-in for Black Friday, from the advertising and signage to the in-store discounts, whereas others will simply make use of the heightened awareness to draw attention to any offers they may be running, pushing through existing deals. Our members can pick and choose their level of Black Friday activity according what suits their business each year.”

Toymaster membership continues to offer numerous benefits for retailers, as Brian explains. “Alongside the support and advice we offer, members working with us can enjoy much easier access to suppliers and special trading terms. Our central invoicing and payment systems mean retailers can spend more time focusing on their business, not their paperwork and invoices. We offer a great window display programme so indie retailers can promote key brands throughout the year, if they want to. Through Toymaster, members can also access FOB ranges which offer higher margins, which they couldn’t get hold of outside of the group. We’re helping our members the same way we always have – by offering unrivalled help and support, tailored to each and every individual retailer. All our members are distinctly different, unlike nationals, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. We work closely with all our members to ensure their customer profile is understood and catered to.”

To find out more, read the full interview with Brian, which was published in the January issue of Toy World magazine. Toymaster will be hosting its Toymaster Lounge at the London Toy Fair in the London Room; attendees interested in discussing membership are invited to make an appointment by emailing Brian on brian.mcLaughlin@toymaster.co.uk or calling 07887 844996.

Women in Toys Honourees announced

Pam Lifford will receive WIT’s Mentor of the Year Award, while Stephanie McMahon will receive the Changemaker Award.

Women in Toys, Licensing & Entertainment (WIT) announced the prestigious Honourees for its 16th Annual Wonder Women Awards are Pam Lifford, president of Warner Bros. Global Brands and Experiences, who will receive WIT’s Mentor of the Year Award, and Stephanie McMahon, WWE chief brand officer, who will receive the WIT Changemaker Award.

Pam Lifford

As president of Warner Bros. Global Brands and Experiences, Pam is responsible for strengthening consumer engagement across the company’s iconic characters and Global Franchise businesses, including, Warner Bros. Consumer Products, Themed Entertainment and fan-focused brands, DC, HBO and Cartoon Network properties. Her oversight also includes domestic and international licensing, worldwide marketing, business and legal affairs, finance, and retail business development related to some of the most highly regarded entertainment franchises in the world. In Pam’s first year at WBCP, she increased overall business by 47% and has continued a consistent growth trajectory ever since. She spent 12 years at Disney, rising through the ranks to become a member of the consumer products executive leadership team as executive vice president. Pam also served as EVP at Quiksilver, and earlier in her career held positions at Road Runner Sports and Nike. With more than 25 years of experience, Lifford is a widely respected industry veteran, who embraces the power of collaboration and mentorship and was recently installed in the LIMA Hall of Fame.

Stephanie McMahon

As WWE chief brand officer, Stephanie McMahon is responsible for the company’s Brand, Community Relations and Pop Culture strategies, and represents WWE as its global brand ambassador. Among her many contributions, she has been the driving force behind WWE’s women’s evolution, which has given female performers an equal share of the spotlight both in and out of the ring. Adweek has included Stephanie in its list of the Most Powerful Women in Sports for the past four years and recently recognised her as a 2019 Brand Genius. She was also recently named in Forbes’ Most Influential CMOs report. In 2014, Stephanie and her husband, Paul “Triple H” Levesque, established Connor’s Cure, a fund dedicated to fighting pediatric cancer, which has raised $3m to date and has helped more than 400 families.

“Pam Lifford and Stephanie McMahon are two extraordinary and exemplary women business leaders, and we are thrilled to honour them for their commitment and overall impact on advancing women both within and beyond their own organisations,” said Genna Rosenberg from GennComm and Jennifer Caveza, from ViacomCBS, Wonder Women Awards Co-Chairs.

The 16th Annual Wonder Women Awards, held on Sunday, February 23 at Pier Sixty, Chelsea Piers, coinciding with Toy Fair New York, honours top female executives, thought leaders, entrepreneurs and other changemakers for their extraordinary accomplishments and impact within the toy, licensing and the entertainment industries.

To purchase tickets/tables, or to sponsor the WIT Wonder Woman Awards or purchase a Digital Tribute Book ad, please visit www.WomenInToys.com.

Annual Toy Trust Media Auction opens for bids

The auction will close at 3pm on Thursday 23rd January, the last day of Toy Fair.

The annual Toy Trust Media Auction is now open. Advance bids are welcome ahead of the auction, which will take place during the Toy Industry Awards night on Tuesday 21st January 2020.

As the second largest fundraising activity for the Toy Trust each year, the annual Media Auction is a classic win, win scenario for all. Not only can members bag themselves a media bargain, but all funds raised go to help the chosen Toy Trust charities during the year. Last year more than £91,000 was raised and with many highly prized lots once again, it is hoped that this year will be just as successful.

Airtime and printed media spots have been donated from leading broadcast, online, print and trade journals, plus major retailers have also added valuable promotional slots in catalogues. The result is a colossal £150,000+ of media space to bid for. Lots have been received from Sky, Disney, Nickelodeon, Turner, CITV, Five (Milkshake), SuperAwesome, Venatus Media, Red Media, Pearl & Dean, Toy World, Toy News, Toys n Playthings, TNP.Media, The Entertainer, Sainsbury’s Argos and Redan Publishing. Details of each can be viewed on the Toy Trust Media Auction page, which will also be updated at intervals with the current highest bids.

Graham Canning, Toy Trust committee chairman, commented: “On behalf of the Toy Trust Committee I’d like to thank all our media partners for their generous donations.  Without them we would not be able to support so many causes that directly benefit children. This annual fundraising activity is a popular part of the Toy Industry Awards night and one that everyone benefits from; we are all looking forward to seeing the results. I’d also like to give special thanks to Arena Azure’s Jeff Taylor for his dedication in helping us creating another superb list to bid for.”

If you would like to make an advance bid for one or more of the Media Auction Lots, which include a sought after online ad on the Toy World website and daily email newsflash bulletin, email Matt@btha.co.uk or bid via the live auction page.

Beales department stores at risk of collapse

Beales, which has 22 stores up and down the country, confirmed that it may have to call in administrators.

One of Britain’s oldest department stores has warned that it could collapse into administration, according to a report by the BBC. Beales, which began trading in Bournemouth in 1881, said 22 stores and 1,000 jobs were at stake if it cannot find a buyer. The firm is negotiating with landlords to try and agree rent reductions. It is also in talks with two potential buyers – a rival retailer and a venture capital investor, the BBC understands.

Chief executive Tony Brown led a management buyout of the firm in 2018.

Beales has been around for almost 140 years, but poorer than expected trading over Christmas threatens its survival, according to Rob Young, BBC business correspondent. He writes: “Even if its immediate future can be assured, store closures aren’t being ruled out, with a risk to jobs. The British Retail Consortium said last year was the high street’s worst on record.”

In the year to March 2019, Beale Ltd posted a loss of £3.1m, up from £1.3m for the year earlier as costs swelled and sales dipped.

Beales has stores in the following towns and cities: Beccles, Bedford, Bournemouth, Chipping Norton, Diss, Fareham, Hexham, Keighley, Kendal, Lowestoft, Mansfield, Perth, Peterborough, Poole, Skegness, Southport, Spalding, St Neots, Tonbridge, Wisbech, Worthing and Yeovil.


Gibsons announces Quirk relaunch

Launched on Kickstarter in 2017, Quirk! has gained an impressive following.

Gibsons has announced that it is teaming up with Emma May, founder of Emmerse Studios, to license and develop the laugh-out-loud family card game, Quirk!

A simple card game for 2-6 players age 5+, Quirk! is a fun game of sounds, actions and mischief. The aim of the game is to collect the most ‘Quirks’, which are sets of three cards with matching characters. There are 26 Quirks to collect featuring wacky and wonderful characters such as ninjas, sloths, dragons and superheroes. Players need to embrace their silly side and do their best impression of a character in order to ask for it from an opponent’s hand.

Quirk! was designed and created by independent game inventor Emma May, creative director and CEO of Emmerse Studios. Launched on Kickstarter in 2017, Quirk! gained an impressive following for an indie game, with over 10,000 units sold around the world in just two years. Moreover, Quirk! was part of the Amazon top 100 best-selling travel games two years in a row and ranked Amazon’s 10th best-selling travel game in November 2019.

In spring, Gibsons will launch the ultimate version of Quirk!. The new version stays true to the original game, but will offer exciting new characters, new packaging, double the number of cards and brand-new Mischief Cards that mess up the gameplay whenever they appear.

Gibsons product development manager, Emily Charles, said: “We are delighted to add Quirk! to our family games offering for 2020. Quirk! is so much fun to play and fits perfectly with the Gibsons range. Working with Emma on developing the new version has been a pleasure and we can’t wait to show it to Quirk! fans old and new.”

Emma May of Emmerse Studios added: “Creating the new Quirk! game with Gibsons has been an enjoyable experience. There’s a real partnership here and a fair bit of our development has been spent laughing over which new characters to include. We’ve refreshed Quirk! so it feels like a brand-new game while keeping the charm of its origins. There’s a lovely blend between my character artwork and Gibsons’ graphics as well as our contributions to the gameplay itself. I’m very excited for its release this year!”

The release of Quirk! will coincide with UK Games Expo 2020 in Birmingham between the 29th-31st May. Gibsons will be hosting a Quirk! launch party and Emma will be on the stand for the duration of the show to meet fans and play the game.

Norton PR announces strategic alliance with ChizComm for US and Canada

Designed to offer clients a full marketing service on a global scale, Norton PR and ChizComm announce a new partnership for 2020 and beyond.

Leading UK kids, family and licensing PR Agency Norton PR and Marketing will be working with Toronto and New Jersey based agency ChizComm across new and existing clients, some of whom are already familiar to both agencies. The largest purchaser of children’s media across traditional and emerging platforms (TV, OTT, VOD, OLV and digital media) ChizComm is a fresh, dynamic and creative full-service marketing agency offering media purchasing as just one arm of its expanding skills portfolio. With clients across the world of toys, gaming, consumer tech, entertainment and more, ChizComm is well placed to enable Norton clients to expand influence and campaigns into other territories, whilst also presenting them with a wealth of additional marketing tools to drive awareness.

“Our working relationship with ChizComm has developed over the last year as we found clients were increasingly coming to us for a one stop shop comms solution to deliver PR and media buying across multiple territories “states Tony Norton, chief executive of Norton PR. “During 2019 we carried out a number of pan-European and US based PR campaigns, including in-store demo tours, which led us to explore this mutually beneficial partnership where our clients can hugely benefit from the expertise and skill base ChizComm has to offer.”

“We are thrilled to make our strategic alliance with Norton PR official and work collaboratively to bring clients added strength and opportunity on an international scale,” says Harold Chizick, founder and CEO, ChizComm. “We look forward to working with Tony and the team to expand reach and impact in new and exciting ways.”

With further announcements to follow regarding Norton PR’s developing partnership strategy across both Europe and the US, the alliance with ChizComm represents the agency’s move towards offering global PR campaign solutions within a world of shifting communication boundaries.

Toys help boost Christmas sales at Selfridges

Selfridges enjoyed a 5% growth in sales in the 24 days leading up to Christmas, fueled in part by increasing demand for toys.

As reported by CityAM, Selfridges has reported strong sales over the Christmas period with toys a standout performer.

Toy sales grew by 31% at the retailer, which opened a 22,000 square foot FAO Schwarz toy department in October at its London flagship store. The destination toy shop sells £800 life-size Nutcrackers and £450 child-size Mercedes-Benz cars.

The department store also saw growth of 96% in vegan confectionery sales, while a newly-launched vegan hamper sold out. The confectionery hall, which opened in October, proved a hit with customers and included a vegan counter and chocolatier.

Other areas with robust growth were beauty menswear, which had an increase of 10% and 11% in sales respectively. The Selfridges store in Manchester also unveiled a new Accessories Hall after a six-month redevelopment project, increasing the size of the destination by 30%.

“We always aim to offer a great selection of exclusive products and extraordinary customer experiences, and this year has been no exception,” said Simon Forster, managing director, Selfridges. “2020 marks the start of a vital new decade in the race to secure a sustainable future. As a business with sustainability at its heart, Selfridges will be gearing up towards a major new campaign that will set the direction for the next 10 years of our journey.”