I hope you all had a splendid Easter. Judging by the number of emails I received in the run up to the Easter weekend from retailers advertising their seasonal toy promotions, they clearly see this period as a prime opportunity to boost sales. The Entertainer, Smyths, Argos and Tesco were among those promoting major price reductions on toys.
I’ll be interested to hear from anyone who has a view on whether Easter lived up to expectations this year. I saw one story earlier this week which suggested that Easter was – and I quote – “a wash-out”, referring presumably to both the prevailing weather conditions and retail footfall. But we basked in glorious sunshine around these parts, so I’m not sure what to make of the article. Maybe we’ll get some clues at next week’s Independent Toy and Gift Show – or the AIS Show as everyone still refers to it (just as everyone still calls it the New York Toy Fair or the Nuremberg Toy Fair, rather than using their ‘proper’ titles… ). If you’re an independent retailer and you’d like to attend – whether you’re as AIS member or not – there is still time to register here. As ever, the Toy World team will be heading to Solihull to check out proceedings, so we look forward to seeing you there.
It’s been a mixed week for the big retailers. Argos had a bit of a nightmare on Good Friday after a computer glitch meant shoppers could only pay with cash and had difficulty collecting online orders. Store phone lines were also affected, and some stores even closed temporarily. Thankfully normal service was restored by lunchtime, but given the fact that Argos is in the process of transitioning its stores to a digital playground, this latest hitch won’t fill consumers with total confidence.
It has been announced that Poundland’s proposed £55m takeover of rival 99p Stores will face an in-depth investigation by competition authorities. The Competition and Markets Authority has suggested that the deal threatens the “choice, value and service for shoppers”, although whether it will actually go so far as to block the move remains highly debatable.
Meanwhile Tesco has been forced to pay out a £9m settlement to two local councils after shelving plans for a new store in Bridgwater in Somerset. In January, new chief executive Dave Lewis announced plans to close 43 existing stores and pull out of building 49 new sites – including one planned for Bridgwater. Tesco has apparently declined to comment on whether it was negotiating compensation settlements with local authorities over the other 48 sites, but one would suspect a rather expensive precedent may well have been set.
Some encouragement for Toys R US this week with the news that a franchisee is planning to open up six stores in the Republic of Ireland this year. Apparently TRU looked at the Irish market a few years back, but decided against opening there. It has obviously had a change of heart, although the timing is certainly interesting, with the UK buying team in the process of being dismantled. Like many of you no doubt, I have had quite a few Linked-In requests from members – or are they now former members – of the TRU buying team. Still no official news from TRU on who stays and who goes (but plenty of rumours): I guess all will become clear soon enough.
It’s just been announced that Lego will be joining the ‘toys to life’ category this year, with the launch of Lego Dimensions confirmed for release on September 27th. More on that story here. It’s becoming an increasingly crowded market, but I can see Lego’s involvement in the sector having a far greater impact than Disney or Nintendo as far as mainstream toy channels are concerned, and it will definitely pose a major threat to Skylanders.
Finally, don’t forget that next week is the Toy Trust Big Bake Cake Week. Good luck to all those who’ll be donning an apron and going all ‘Mary Berry’ in the hope of winning one of the inaugural Cupcake Awards. It’s definitely worth holding back the post-Easter diet for one more week – it’s all for a great cause. And let’s hope no-one ends up with a soggy bottom – if you do, for goodness sake don’t tweet that with the #toytrustbigbakeoff.