I’ve been away in beautiful Seville this week, celebrating our wedding anniversary – and I still managed to bump into an old friend from the UK toy community in a rooftop bar one evening. It’s a small world and wherever you go, there’s a fighting chance someone from the toy trade will be there. As a result of my travels, this week’s Blog is once again being penned mid-air – a Mile High Blog if you will.
John Lewis has been in the news this week after revealing its first-half profits had plunged by a whopping 99% – which is a pretty spectacular reversal of fortune, whichever way you look at it. Of course, John Lewis is far from alone in its tribulations; rival Debenhams took the unusual step of issuing a denial to media reports that it was considering a CVA, whilst at the same time admitting that it would be closing an unspecified number of stores. I also hear on the grapevine that Hamleys has had issues with credit insurance being withdrawn. However, I do wonder whether the time has come for the John Lewis ‘Never knowingly undersold’ mantra to be consigned to the annals of history. The sobering set of results surely suggests that this philosophy may no longer be viable in the current retail climate. Indeed, as a business owner, I have always aimed for the polar opposite – ‘Never knowingly oversold’. Personally, I’ve never been a huge fan of the ‘race to the bottom’ mentality, and I struggle to see how John Lewis can deliver the level of in-store experience and customer service it strives for whilst also price-matching all and sundry.
I wrote in last week’s Blog that there are often things going on behind the headlines, and the closure of Kids Stuffs’ Ashford store is another case in point. While the local press was quick to blame competition from a new branch of The Entertainer and a nearby Smyths for the closure, it turns out that there is more to the story; owner Stephen Hartfield got in touch to let us know that not only had the store’s lease expired, but also that there were ongoing issues with the shopping centre in which the store was located – specifically its inability to fill the lower half of the building. Kids Stuff had already been approached by another centre and decided that relocation would be the best option – the new lease is in the process of being signed and, all being well, the new branch could open as early as October half-term week. Make no mistake, the growth of The Entertainer and Smyths may well result in some indies closing, but not on this occasion.
Having been away, I missed Gary Grant’s surprise 60th birthday lunch, organised by his wife Catherine and their children in London. The lunch at the Emin Room was attended by the Grant family and 37 members of the toy industry, including Alan Hassenfeld, who flew in from the States to attend and gave a very poignant speech about the importance of family businesses and values. Gary also gave a speech, addressing every attendee with a personal story. It sounds like a wonderful occasion and I would love to have accepted my invitation to join – but as Alan so rightly points out, family (and wedding anniversaries) are important.
I also missed the latest Fence Club event, which saw the introduction of four new members; Mary Wood, Nicola Bergot, Andrea Gornall and Jacqueline Taylor-Foo. The eagle-eyed amongst you will have spotted that the Fence Club has finally joined the 21st century – and about time too some might say. When the Club was first inaugurated over sixty years ago, its ‘men-only’ ethos reflected the toy trade of its time. Fast forward six decades and that is simply no longer the case. Life moves on and I’m glad the Fence Club has too. Some people may see this as a big deal, but I just see it as the most obvious and normal thing to happen – not changing would have been a big deal (and not in a good way).
There’s just time to congratulate a host of companies which are bucking the (perceived) trend- Character Options, whose UK operation delivered record sales during the second half of its financial year, which ended on 31st August; The Entertainer, which has launched a brand new, improved website; Jazwares, which has been appointed as master toy partner for Angry Birds; John Adams, which has launched its Strictly Board Game (another event I unfortunately missed) and Hasbro, which has signed a deal to produce Fortnite Nerf and Monopoly ranges – I can particularly see the Nerf range dovetailing perfectly with the licence and being a real winner.
Finally, a few months ago I mentioned a scam which was being perpetrated by fraudsters masquerading as Asda buyers. This week, I heard that one European toy company has regrettably been taken in by the scam; if only they had been avid Blog readers, they could have saved themselves a small fortune – forewarned really is forearmed. These dolls I saw in a shop in Seville were rather shocked by the whole sorry affair – look out Nuremberg dolls, you have competition!