You traditionally have to be on your guard in April Fools week, lest you are inadvertently taken in by one of the many hilarious ‘spoofs’ that marketing teams have spent weeks and months dreaming up. That said, the news in the UK has been so surreal recently that another day of weird and ridiculous news stories is just par for the course. Indeed, one might even say that the idea of Hasbro replacing Mr Potato Head with Mr Avocado Head is significantly less crazy than MPs insisting that a No Deal Brexit would be a good thing for the country (Spoiler Alert: it wouldn’t).
Hasbro’s rather clever April Fools story actually received a lot of traction on the Toy World website and social media channels this week, proving that people still like to enter into the spirit of things. We also ran stories about Barbie’s boyfriend Ken being appointed as an ambassador by shaving brand Wilkinsons Sword, and how Little Tikes would be changing its name to Big Tikes in honour of its 50th birthday. This was obviously seen as eminently plausible by some people; I had to explain to several individuals on LinkedIn why I couldn’t actually send them details of this new brand, while others suggested that Big Tikes would actually make a cracking brand extension and that they would happily buy a Mr Avocado Head. A fledgling licensing website even got in on the act by claiming that it would be charging a fortune for Instagram and LinkedIn posts. Wait, what….that wasn’t an April Fools joke?! (Spoiler alert: I’m not sure toy and licensing companies are going to fall for that – hardly Kim Kardashian now, is it?).
In contrast, this week’s retail developments have been nothing if not predictable, so no risk of being hoodwinked there. The Mothercare results – essentially a case of “we’re still losing money, but we’re losing a little less money than we were” – were to be expected. Equally, the announcement that Boots US owner Walgreens is considering closing stores in the UK will have come as no great surprise, after the retailer claimed it had suffered its “most difficult quarter since the firm’s foundation.” Reading that statement, you had to wonder just how disastrous the sales collapse had been. So, imagine my surprise that said quarter saw a like-for-like decline of a mere 2.3%. I’m pretty sure there are some retailers who might view that performance as not too shabby under the circumstances. Nevertheless, Walgreens has vowed to “optimise its store footprint” (21st century speak for “close some stores”) and increase its planned annual cost savings from $1b to $1.5b. Finally, you’ll be as surprised as I am (i.e. not at all) to hear that the Debenhams saga is still rolling inexorably on – a £200m funding package has been agreed in principle, although this does require the support of our old friend Mike Ashley, who has several options to mull over. Like Brexit, the Debenhams saga clearly isn’t a quick fix and we’ll probably still be talking about it for ages yet. (Spoiler alert: next year they’ll probably send out an April Fools story saying “Guess what, we’ve finally sorted everything out amicably with Mike Ashley.”)
There have been a few significant comings and goings to report. Robert Mann has been appointed as export sales manager for Orchard Toys, as he continues his quest to make more comebacks than Frank Sinatra – and quite right too, he was far too young to retire in the first place. I gather that Warwick Brenner and Hasbro have parted company – clearly some things are just not meant to be, although with his extensive knowledge and impeccable connections, I’m sure Warwick will find a new role in the licensing field soon enough. Another development which I suspect will come as a surprise to people in the licensing community is the departure of Andrew Carley from eOne. Andrew has been involved since the very start, and he leaves a fantastic legacy – after 12 years of growing Peppa Pig, PJ Masks and the company as a whole into huge global powerhouses, Andrew can feel rightly proud of his tenure. He can be contacted on 07734 066113 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Like Warwick, Andrew will be a great asset to the right company and I fully expect to see them both returning to the licensing fold sooner rather than later.
I am also hearing strong rumours from credible sources about a massive licensing acquisition that may be about to take place – but as they are only rumours at his stage, definitely no spoilers I’m afraid.
The April issue of Toy World landed on desks last weekend – you can catch up with the digital version of the issue here. At a very healthy 140 pages, it offers ample proof that the UK toy market is determined to keep calm and carry on, despite the parliamentary chaos that is dominating the headlines. The issue contains a number of exclusive articles, including a look at the re-emergence of FAO Schwarz via an interview with Jan-Eric Kloth, the COO of its parent company ThreeSixty group; MGA’s Andrew Laughton talks exclusively about the rise and rise of L.O.L. Surprise! ; we hear from Alan Simpson about Toytown’s expansion plans for 2019 and we also speak with AIS’s Miles Penhallow ahead of this month’s Independent Toy & Gift Show. Throw in three massive category features on the Collectibles, Games & Puzzles and Pre-School sectors, together with the best contributors in the business bar none, and you have one extremely packed, content-rich issue.
Finally, over in the US, Trump has announced measures aimed at cracking down on the sale of counterfeit goods online. Described as a “shot across the bow of Amazon, Alibaba and eBay”, the message is fairly unambiguous: “If you don’t clean it up yourselves, the government will.” There is no doubt that trade policy is where Trump is at his best (and is most comfortable). I have long believed that global government support is needed to truly galvanise e-tailers to deal with the counterfeit problem – if Trump’s threat is genuine and he actually carries it through, it can only help trade associations and suppliers in the ongoing fight against fakes. Spoiler alert: this is not an April Fools. I am genuinely saying something positive about Trump. After my positive comment about Amazon a few weeks ago, there is the genuine possibility that I am mellowing (Spoiler alert: I’m not really).