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Here comes the sun…it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: May 11th, 2018

With all apologies to independent store owners and their staff, wasn’t it nice to have a bank holiday weekend where the sun shone gloriously (as opposed to it raining all weekend, then turning nice on the day you head back to the office)? As a consolation for those who had to work across the weekend, I gather trade was brisk, especially on outdoor items – if nothing else, that lovely burst of sun should have cleared much of last year’s left-over stock.

Next week’s Toymaster show will give us a good opportunity to assess the lie of the land as to how the year is panning out. The British Retail Consortium reported this week that April sales were down by 3%, the largest monthly drop since its survey launched in 1995, with spending on non-food items said to be particularly badly hit. But I am inclined not to read too much into this; like San Francisco, the toy sector almost has its own ‘micro-climate’. Indeed, several people have suggested to me recently that Q1 trading may even have been better than official NPD data suggests; their rationale being that many of the retailers doing well at the moment are not part of NPD’s data panel.

On the subject of Toymaster, there have been rumours of some significant omissions from this year’s Christmas catalogue. However, having spoken to Ian Edmunds, it seems that – as can sometimes happen in the toy trade – the truth has been exaggerated somewhat. For the record, it was one major company – rather than three – which took the decision not to be part of this year’s catalogue. More importantly, the withdrawal involved 12 items; as the catalogue features 280 items, this equates to 3%. Rather different than the “10 pages” which was being suggested by some people. Anyway, all will become clear at the show next week, when we see the finished catalogue in all its glory. Knowing how Toymaster members are traditionally drawn to catalogue items at the show (like proverbial moths to a flame), it will be interesting to see how busy the company in question’s stand is this year.

I’m looking forward to the show immensely, and not just because of the Ibiza-themed party night on the Tuesday evening. I can only imagine what fashion horrors are currently being packed into suitcases, and the bemused look on the faces of people’s other halves as their partner tries to explain that it really is a business trip, despite all sartorial evidence to the contrary. The Wednesday evening will see Bruno Gallone’s band grace the stage once again, although you have been saved from a guest vocal appearance by a certain Blog writer due to the fact we are heading back that afternoon. Maybe next year.

I was surprised to hear that John Langley has been informed by Tolo Toys this week that his services are no longer required after 23 years of service. John now finds himself on the hunt for new opportunities; with his extensive knowledge and experience, I am sure it won’t be too long before he finds something suitable. You can email him at john-langley2011@hotmail.com. In other employment news, Val Fry will be taking on a new role looking after the licensing portfolio of Centa IP in the UK, in addition to continuing to work with Coolabi on a consultancy basis, while Carl Raven has replaced Jonathan Busher as international sales director at Vivid.

Over in the USA, the ‘corporate funeral’ of Toys R Us gets more surreal by the day. The ‘augmented liquidation sale’ I mentioned a few weeks ago is in full swing; I’m told that toys have now been joined by a mountain of nursery clearance merchandise and, incredibly, housewares – described by one American source as “dollar-store level pots and pans and the like.” If that wasn’t bad enough, the administrators are coming up with ever-more leftfield ways to lure customers into store. Perhaps the most bizarre is the offer of having a picture taken with a picture of Geoffrey the Giraffe (which they call a ‘selfie banner’). A picture with a costume character of Geoffrey would, of course, have been an infinitely more enticing proposition – but unfortunately the administrator had already instructed stores to send back the costumes to be destroyed. So, in a feat of brilliance, they spent money printing the selfie banners instead! Mind you, as they’re selling millions of dollars of stock which they never paid for (and probably never will), maybe they can afford it.

However, there is good news for those who believed that the US toy market would collapse overnight. NPD has reported that US toy sales rose 13% in the first 14 weeks of the year, driven by the TRU liquidation sale to the tune of $180m (an impact that we certainly didn’t see in the UK numbers). According to a survey, 56% of the toys bought in the sale will be given to kids immediately; only 22% will be held back for Christmas. If true, this would allegedly have a net impact of less than 1% on future Christmas sales. This is potentially encouraging news, although it would be even better if suppliers knew they would be paid in full for the stock being sold, rather than at the projected rate of 20 cents in the dollar.

Back here in the UK, e-tailer Gameseek has gone into liquidation, following reports of financial difficulties which have been circulating for several weeks. While principally a video games site, the Gameseek website had a significant toy section, so I hope too many toy suppliers haven’t been affected by its demise. Although when the owner of the site was quoted last year as having said “We could easily sell at higher prices but why not create history?”, maybe there was a small clue as to how things might turn out…

Right, I’m off to find my glowsticks and face paint and practise singing ‘Woah, we’re going to Ibiza’ (disclaimer: I only know the Venagboys because they were around when my daughters were young. I have never been on a Vengabus and have no intention of ever doing so). See you in Harrogate.

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