Beyond all expectations…it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 16th April 2021

It’s been a good week. The sun is shining, stores have re-opened, along with bars and restaurants, and I can finally look forward to getting my hair cut again. I will no longer look like my teenage self / a Justin Hayward tribute act – frankly, the relief is palpable. Even better, the toy retailers we have spoken to over the past few days have given re-opening week a resounding thumbs up. Of course, there was never any guarantee that this would prove to be the case: indeed, some retailers were anticipating a modest return to trading, while others seemed genuinely nervous.

But according to those who have managed to carve out the time to speak to us, there was no need to be worried: one retailer held the phone away from him so we could hear the hubbub in his store. “Do you hear that…kids, back in the store. What a great sound.” He was clearly thrilled. Another succinctly summed up the week’s proceedings in just three words: “Beyond all expectations.” All the retailers spoke of being busy, and of a positive atmosphere in-store. They told us that customers were not just browsing or window-shopping (or worse, showrooming), but spending decent sums of money on high ticket items – there does appear to be a healthy amount of cash floating around. Parents have also been happy to bring kids into stores with them, rather than shopping alone with a list – I always feel it’s better for toy shops when the family shops together. Retailers have also mentioned the support they’ve been receiving from suppliers to help with displays and generally freshening up the store, with Playmobil and Asmodee being singled out for particular praise by several happy retailers. And consumers are clearly delighted that toy stores have opened their doors once more– one retailer told us that on opening morning, some customers even turned up with flowers and chocolates to welcome them back. I bet they didn’t get that at Debenhams or Primark…

While we can’t speak to every single shop owner, I do hope other retailers have experienced a similar response. We’ve had reports of children spending pocket money which they’ve been saving up for months, as well as Christmas, birthday and Easter money and vouchers, so it’s reassuring to hear that the idea of pent-up demand was real and not just something we wanted to be true. One 3-year-old apparently turned up with a money pouch containing £40 – I bet he had fun choosing what to spend it on. You’ll be able to read more feedback from specialist toy retailers about their experience of re-opening week in the Talking Shop section of our May issue, which we’ll be putting the finishing touches to over the next couple of days. Trust me, it’s another humdinger.

A Kantar forecast suggested that almost £4b would be spent in high street stores this week, and it’s a massive relief that toy retailers have managed to get their share – I’m glad it wasn’t all spent at Primark and the Debenhams closing down sale. I’m sure the fact that many kids are still on school holiday, coupled with good weather, has helped. I recently encountered the phrase ‘backyard envy’ for the first time, but I completely understand where it comes from: although the word ‘staycation’ has evolved to refer to people taking holidays in the UK rather than simply staying at home, the reality is that plenty of kids will be spending a lot of time in their garden this year, and that could offer a nice boost to the outdoor sector. True, a lot of big outdoor items were sold last year, and you don’t buy a new trampoline or climbing frame every year – but that is hopefully where ‘backyard envy’ comes in. Kids going to play in their friends’ gardens, or just the sight of the neighbours’ kids bouncing above your garden fence every few seconds, might lead to a bit of pester power (the good kind) to encourage new customers to invest in outdoor equipment.

With physical stores now open once more, the battle with online sellers for consumer spend can begin again in earnest. In the interests of ‘know thy enemy’, physical stores may want to make a note that Amazon Prime Day looks likely to be held in June this year. While there has been no official confirmation as yet, news has leaked that 23rd April is the last day to submit deals and 6th June is the last day for shipments, leading those in the know to assume a June date is the most plausible outcome.

With normal service gradually being resumed, the job merry-go-round is also whirling back into life: I heard a few weeks ago that MGA sales director Karen Athill will be moving on, and although we can’t announce her new role until the summer, that leaves a prime position which needs to be filled, which in turn could lead to opportunities elsewhere. I also gather that Tomy’s sales director on games, Dave Howard, will be retiring at the end of the month after 34 years in the toy trade. Dave has had a long and distinguished career in the games channel, with stints at both Hasbro and Drumond Park, before joining Tomy. I am sure his customers and industry peers and colleagues will join us in wishing Dave all the best for his retirement.

I’d also like to welcome the newest member of the Toy World team – Sam Giltrow, who has joined as our new assistant editor. Sam previously edited a shipping magazine, so she must have felt at home reading about the latest developments with the stricken Suez Canal vessel Ever Given. The saga took another – almost surreal – twist this week, when Egyptian authorities impounded the vessel and said it wouldn’t be released unless the shop owner paid the eye-watering sum of $916m. Part of this sum was to cover the salvage operation, but part was apparently for ‘damage to reputation’…. yes folks, it is 2021 and canals now have reputations! I just feel for toy companies with containers on board, who may now be forced to choose between contributing to the ridiculous compensation claim, or just denying the goods are theirs and walking away from the whole fiasco. If you see a bunch of Egyptians walking round in Harry Potter Sorting Hats rather than a Fez in a few weeks’ time, you will know that has happened…