Playmobil reveals Back to the Future advent calendar

Launching on the 18th September, the calendar, based on the iconic movie franchise, is a must for any fan.

This year, the classic 1980s film Back to the Future celebrates its 35th anniversary. To commemorate the milestone, Playmobil has launched a brand-new, limited-edition Advent Calendar featuring scenes from the iconic film franchise.

Behind every door is a gift, from figures to vehicles to accessories, providing fans with 24-days’ worth of time travelling entertainment during the lead up to the big day. Once all the surprises have been discovered, the box folds open into a backdrop to complete the iconic town square scene.

The calendar lets kids recreate classic scenes from Back to the Future and Back to the Future II, including Marty McFly and Jennifer Parker having a chat, and Doc Brown and Marty in the Twin Pines Mall carpark from 1985. For fans that want to travel further back in time to the 1950s, Marty can meet (and escape from) Biff on his skateboard.

In addition, each calendar comes with a lenticular-effect picture, so fans can watch as the McFly family disappears before their eyes.

The advent calendar is available from 18th September, and joins the existing range of 2020 advent calendars that has just been released.

The range ofers something for everyone. Each 24-door calendar contains a range of figures, accessories and vehicles, while the box can then be folded out to create a scenic backdrop.

There are five different Christmas-themed calendars to choose from: Christmas in the Forest, Santa’s Workshop, Christmas Toy Store and Christmas Ball are all priced at sub-£25, while the sub-£50 jumbo Family Christmas advent calendar lets kids build a two-storey doll house complete with furnishings and stickers for decoration. After Christmas, the labels can be removed so that the house can also be used in neutral form all year round.

Senior appointments made at Toymaster following Ian Edmunds’ departure

Colin Farrow and Yogi Parmar have been appointed as interim joint managing directors, while Paul Reader has been promoted to marketing director. 

The Toymaster board has issued an update on its senior roles following the news yesterday that Ian Edmunds, managing director, was stepping down with immediate effect.

Colin Farrow and Yogi Parmar have been appointed as interim joint managing directors. Both have been with the buying group for over 30 years. Colin and Yogi will continue with their current roles, and – due to the above appointment – will take on additional responsibilities.

Paul Reader has been promoted to marketing director. Paul has been with the company for 20 years. He too will continue with his current role while taking on additional responsibilities.

In a statement, Chris Blatcher, chairman, said: “The Toymaster team is committed to Toymaster’s mission statement of ‘Helping Our Members Trade More Profitably’. With the appointment of Yogi and Colin as interim joint managing directors, and the promotion of Paul to the board as marketing director, we will be able to utilise their passion for our group, and Toymaster will continue to go from strength to strength. Going forward, Toymaster looks forward to working even more closely with suppliers and members to enhance the group even further. Please join me in wishing them every success in their new roles.”

Should old arrangements be forgot…it’s the Friday Blog!

This week has seen a combination of surprising news, tantalising rumour and further uncertainty – in many ways, a microcosm of the year so far.

A few weeks ago, I wrote that planning this year has been like building on quicksand. Well, the sands have shifted again this week – on multiple fronts. Here at home, gatherings of more than six people have been outlawed once again, with a suggestion that this edict could last either until Christmas or even as late as March. I watched the PM’s press conference live, and even then, I didn’t emerge with any feeling of clarity as to the timescale. Just a few short weeks ago, it was all “Get back out there. Enjoy yourself. Here’s a tenner – knock yourself out.” Now, it’s back to “Where do you think you’re going? Stop it now.” It’s like being a teenager all over again.

On the face of it, the ‘rule of six’ would appear to put many arrangements in jeopardy – Christmas parties and family gatherings, sporting events and of course trade fairs. The trade fair pilot trial originally scheduled for October – intended as a dry-run to see if shows could be held safely – has seemingly been put on the back burner, with no specified date for its return. Yet schools are back, while the message to workers appears to be ‘get back to the office if you can’, so maybe trade shows will fall in line with that edict rather than the headline-grabbing message?

However, I’m delighted to report that at least one major event has successfully taken place this year, as our eldest daughter was finally married in a small but beautiful ceremony yesterday. Yes, we too “pivoted”, and a further, larger celebration is planned for the future, which we hope can happen sooner rather than later.

Meanwhile, over in the ‘mother of all parliaments’ (never a truer word), a no-Deal Brexit is looking increasingly plausible – with all that potentially entails. On one level, I’m sure we’re all looking forward to New Year’s Eve this year, so we can kiss goodbye to 2020. On the other hand it looks like, this year, we may have to replace the traditional words of Auld Lang Syne with ‘Should old arrangements be forgot’, as we head into yet more uncharted territory.

But don’t take my word for it: Richard Burnett of Road Haulage Association told the Brexit select committee this week that he fears “significant disruption” at borders over Brexit, that they “still don’t know what lorry parks are for”, that he doubts the UK can recruit the 50,000 customs agents in time and there are not enough heat-treated pallets. That’s just for starters…and yet a press release accompanying the Internal Markets Bill contained this priceless quote from Business Secretary Alok Sharma: “Now is not the time to create uncertainty for business with new barriers and additional costs that would trash our chances of an economic recovery.” You think so, Alok? It looks like we may have to change the words of some other classic British tunes, maybe in a “specific and limited way” – ‘Land of hopeless Tories’ anyone? Or even ‘Rule Britannia, Britannia waives the rules’…

To be fair, it’s not just the UK business community which is being affected by factors way beyond our control; as of 15th September, US visitors arriving in China will now need to provide a negative virus test result taken within 72 hours of the flight to be allowed entry. Not being familiar with the US medical system, I don’t know how practical this requirement is, but I have my suspicions that it may put a considerable spanner in the works.

Even before the introduction of this measure, many international visitors have been avoiding Hong Kong and China, with the majority of buying trips and trade fairs cancelled or postponed so far this year. In turn, this is now apparently having an impact on the permanent showroom district: one of my Hong Kong-based contacts told me that “the number of TST toy showrooms that are now empty is amazing.” Interestingly, in his view, suppliers need the fairs to survive – ironic in some respects, given the number of international visitors who never make it beyond Mody Road over to the official show. In addition, my contact’s workload has gone through the roof, largely because – in his words – “many buyers have been paying fortunes for samples and not receiving what they had been shown on the video.” It seems that video footage isn’t entirely a viable and trustworthy replacement for personal contact and actually seeing ‘the genuine article’ in the flesh – who’d have thought it, eh?

All these curveballs just add an extra layer of complexity into what is already an unpredictable trading environment – we just need to be able to focus on the important stuff, without getting waylaid by unnecessary complications.

I mentioned surprising news at the start of the Blog – and it doesn’t come much more surprising than Ian Edmunds parting company with Toymaster after 20 years. I received a flurry of calls, emails and messages yesterday, asking me what had happened? I’m afraid I can’t shed any light beyond the official email announcing the parting of the ways. I’ve always found Ian a pleasure to work with, and I wish him all the best with whatever comes next.

The tantalising rumour I mentioned concerned Reliance Brands and the prospect that it could be selling a $20b stake in its retail arm to Amazon – now, wouldn’t that be a fascinating tie-up? Of course, like all rumours of this nature, who knows how much truth there is in it, or indeed whether a deal will come to fruition. But for Bloomberg to print it, they must believe the story is credible, and the move certainly make sense if you look at the Indian market. The intriguing by-product, of course, would presumably be that Amazon would potentially end up with a significant stake in Hamleys. As ever, more news if and when we have it.

Finally, with the football season starting tomorrow, a reminder that you can join the Toy World Fantasy League by using the code smaaxi. We’ve got almost 90 people on board already, so obviously the ‘rule of six’ there won’t be any opportunities to meet up face-to-face to discuss tactics, but we can still come together in a virtual sense – something we’ve all had to get used to this year.


John Lewis announces Top 10 Toys for Christmas

This year’s list includes products with an emphasis on sustainability and wellbeing, alongside best-selling brands such as Lego and Brio.

John Lewis has unveiled its official Top 10 toys for Christmas, as follows:

  1. Micro Recycled Scooter (Micro) – made from recycled fishing nets, this scooter features a height-adjustable handlebar, rubberised handles and footbrake as well as eco-friendly credentials.
  2. Brio Smart Tech Sound (Ravensburger) – interactive smart technology brings this train set to life, which comes complete with tunnels, a train a carriages, passengers and more.
  3. Botley 2.0 (Learning Resources) – tapping into the ongoing trend for educational STEM toys, this cute robot helps kids learn how to code.
  4. I Heard Your Feelings conversation cards (Eeboo) – A tool for emotional and empathic development, these cards teach young children to read emotional situations.
  5. Earth Heroes Children’s book (Nosy Crow) – featuring 20 stories of people trying to save the world, this book will help children understand climate change and what they can do about it.
  6. VTech Feathers & Feelings Peacock (VTech) – three modes of play encourage children to explore emotions and how those emotions can make them feel.
  7. Isabelle Collector’s Doll (John Lewis) – this 18″ doll wears a sequinned dress and matching headband; additional outfits can be purchased to enhance play.
  8. Lego Gingerbread House (Lego) – fun and festive, this 1,447-piece set comes with ‘gingerbread’ minifigures and other accessories. The perfect post-Christmas dinner activity.
  9. Wooden Walker (John Lewis) – this wooden baby walker helps kids master their first steps. Chunky, brightly coloured letter and number bricks are also included.
  10. Monopoly Mega Edition (John Lewis exclusive) – featuring more buildings, property and money than ever before, as well as two new game mechanics, this exclusive edition also includes a John Lewis van player piece.

“This year is driven by the importance of learning through play and enhancing communication skills through interaction with toys as children have adapted to playing in smaller groups and with siblings,” says the team at John Lewis. “We have already seen a 106% increase in sales of electronic toys this year and are introducing Botley 2.0, Brio Smart Tech Sound and VTech Feathers and Feelings Peacock in time for Christmas. All are expected to be among sought-after gifts this season as parents look for different ways to keep children entertained whilst also learning new skills and tools.”

Andrew Kerr and Irene Weibel to part ways with Sutikki

Andrew and Irene have announced that they will be leaving the business they co-founded in 2016. 

sutikkiThe co-founders of Sutikki, co-producer of the pre-school series Moon and Me and the Kuroba! toy-based brand, have announced that they will be parting company with the business, citing its new investors as the reason.

In a post on LinkedIn, Andrew Kerr said:

“A note to my friends and colleagues in the children’s entertainment industry…

Today Irene Weibel and I are confirming that we are no longer involved in the management and operations of Sutikki, the company we co-founded four years ago.

The arrival of new investors in Sutikki earlier this year, and the direction that the company has chosen to pursue since, has made this difficult decision a necessary one.

We thank the many partners all around the world who believed in us, and our vision for Sutikki, and for their efforts on our shared behalf.

Irene and I are excited about our future endeavors, both together and individually, and we look forward to connecting with our friends and colleagues about opportunities to work together in the days and weeks to come.

Excelsior until then!”

Sutikki was co-founded by Andrew and Irene in 2016, and opened its first European office in 2017. Stephen Gould remains head of territory, UK/EMEA, at the company’s UK office.

Ian Edmunds leaves Toymaster

Ian has left after more than 20 years with the buying group. 

Ian Edmunds ToymasterIn an email to members, Chris Blatcher, chairman of the buying group, said:

“I am writing to inform you that Ian Edmunds, managing director of Toymaster Ltd, has today left the company by mutual consent.

I am sure that Toymaster members, suppliers and staff will join me in thanking Ian for over 20 years of dedicated service to the group and the toy industry in general.

On a personal note, I should like to thank Ian for the support he has given me over many years as chairman of Toymaster’s marketing committee and as a director of Toymaster.

On behalf of Toymaster Ltd I should like to wish Ian every success in the future.

Chris Blatcher


Reliance Industries offers Amazon $20b stake in its retail arm

An insider with knowledge of the matter says Reliance will sell as much as a 40% stake in its subsidiary to the online retail giant. 

Reports indicate that Reliance Industries, owned by the Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani, is in talks with Amazon about selling a $20b stake in its retail arm, Reliance Retail Ventures.

Reliance bought Hamleys toy store in May last year , in a deal worth nearly £70m, and announced a partnership with The Entertainer in January to bring to India a selection of action toys & figures, soft toys, art & craft sets, games & jigsaws, outdoor toys, collectible toy items and more, including The Entertainer’s private label brand, Addo.

This latest deal could see Amazon acquire as much as a 40% stake in Reliance Industries’ retail subsidiary, which runs supermarkets, India’s largest consumer electronics chain store, a cash and carry wholesaler, fast-fashion outlets and an online grocery store called JioMart. Data compiled by Bloomberg suggest that, if successful, the deal would be the biggest ever in India as well as for Amazon.

The stake would give Amazon a physical presence in the Indian marketplace, which is worth around $1t a year, while boosting Mukesh Ambani’s ambition to create an eCommerce behemoth similar to China’s Alibaba Holdings Group.

Bloomberg notes that ‘Amazon hasn’t made any final decision on the size of its potential investment, and talks could still fall apart’, according to the anonymous source. A representative for Amazon has reportedly declined to comment.

In an email to Bloomberg, a Reliance spokesman said: “As a policy, we do not comment on media speculation and rumours. Our company evaluates various opportunities on an ongoing basis. We have made and will continue to make necessary disclosures in compliance with our obligations.”

Freemans rebrands as a ‘digital department store’

The retailer has also scrapped its catalogue, noting that “people carry the largest catalogue in the world in their pocket”.

Freemans, a British online and catalogue clothing retailer headquartered in Bradford, England, has moved away from its current model in an effort to rebrand as a ‘vibrant digital department store’.

The retailer, which is owned by Otto, offers a range of products, predominantly clothing, footwear and homewares. It also offers toys from companies including MGA Entertainment, VTech, Hasbro, Mattel and ABGee.

As well as scrapping its printed catalogue, a new marketing campaign with the strapline #bemorefree has been rolled out across TV and digital, including social media. The campaign will raise awareness of the rebrand and drive traffic to Freemans’ refreshed mobile app and website.

“We’re incredibly excited about relaunching Freemans into the market at pace – we think there’s never been a better time for launching a vibrant digital department store backed by new product offer and a refreshed credit proposition,” said chief customer officer Richard Cristofoli. “The reality is people carry the largest catalogue in the world in their pocket. It’s not about removing all paper but refocusing it on inspirational, magazine-like content and then letting the m-site and app do the catalogue and content role.”

Exclusive: Tristan Brooks on being proactive and reactive in the media space

Tristan is managing partner & head of client services at Azure Media, a leading youth and parent specialist media agency.

Tristan Brooks“Over the past decade,” writes Tristan, “advertisers have had to navigate a media landscape that’s shifted towards digital media with audiences becoming more fragmented and harder to reach. The past few months have accelerated this, with kids spending more time in the home with their media of choice. Set against this and in the context of this year, it’s worth picking out a few key themes for advertisers which will only grow in importance in the months ahead.”

Have greater control over your media investment

Disruption this year and the uncertainty it has caused has left advertisers in need of extra time to make investment decisions, and added flexibility over that investment. Media agencies need to cater to these needs. “This will become more important in the final quarter,” says Tristan.

Future proof your TV strategy

“The selling power of advertising toys and games products via the TV set is unquestionable,” Tristan explains. “It’s the leading awareness and sales generator. The growing challenge for the industry however has been how to maximise reach of campaigns on kids’ commercial channels. Disney will be removing their channels from both Sky and Virgin platforms this October, reducing the number of commercial channels available to advertisers. This should be the moment for advertisers to plan in earnest and strategise how to make the best out of their TV investment beyond kids’ commercial channels.”

YouTube is a TV platform

YouTube is the no.1 video platform for reach and engagement with kids by some way, according to Tristan, and advertisers should therefore be rethinking the role of YouTube as viewing grows on the TV set.

To read Tristan’s full article, which was published in the September issue of Toy World, click here.

US credit insurers cause concern for suppliers and retailers

Uncertainty caused by Covid-19 has caused some credit insurers to pull back on cover. 

Reports from the USA indicate that the impact of coronavirus has caused some credit insurers to step back from offering cover to suppliers, leaving both them and their retailers in the lurch.

Credit insurance, which covers supplier losses if shipments cannot be paid for by the stores that receive them, is increasingly only being offered to big-box retailers more likely to ride out the pandemic than smaller, independent or family-owned ‘mom and pop’ stores. As a result, numerous small and medium enterprises have been left in a precarious position, shipping goods to stores that may be unable to settle their invoices.

According to Robert Litan, an economist and attorney who published a report in early July on the issue, trade credit insurance provides cover on some $600b in US sales. As a result of insurers’ shifting loyalties, Robert says smaller suppliers (60% of which have revenues of less than $20m) are now faced with tough decisions on whether or not to cut back on their production levels to minimise risk, and estimates that insurers have cut back their coverage by 14% across all industries this year.

As reported by Insurance Journal, James Daly, CEO of credit insurer Euler Hermes North American, said his company has had to scale back coverage across all industries by 15%, including retail. He noted the retail industry is in the “eye of the storm,” though he wouldn’t name companies he’s declined coverage. He says his company will stay cautious for at least six to nine months.

In response to the news, some American trade associations have reached out to the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve to ask for credit insurers to receive more support.