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What could possibly go wrong… it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: July 13th, 2018

Alas, it wasn’t to be. The only thing coming home this time round is the England team – without its good friend ‘football’, unfortunately – and the Baulch family after a lovely break in the sun. So, it’s ‘back to reality’ with a bump on a number of levels. Thankfully the beautiful weather is still with us, which I am sure continues to exert a positive impact on toy sales.

Coming in just too late for inclusion in last week’s Blog was the news that Brian McLaughlin has joined Toymaster as retail manager, with a remit to support Toymaster members and help them to trade more profitably. I’ve known about the appointment for a while, so it’s nice that it is now officially out in the open and Brian can start to get to grips with the role. His extensive toy knowledge and retail experience will stand him in good stead, and it’s another positive step for Toymaster. Having started the year exceptionally well – group purchases are up 4.4% in the first half of the year, bucking the industry trend – it’s nice to see Toymaster in upbeat mood for the second half of the year. Long may it continue.

B&M is another retailer posting strong revenue growth, with UK sales increasing by 8% to £648m between April and the end of June. Impressive numbers, and with another 45 stores set to open by the end of the year, B&M’s progress looks all set to continue. We have a very interesting exclusive piece lined up with the retailer this autumn, as part of a series of in-depth articles that aim to illustrate that the UK retail scene is in far healthier shape than you might think, especially if you take some of the more portentous media coverage at face value. The series kicks off next month with an exclusive interview with John Hext, head of buying for toys and nursery at Tesco – another retailer which unveiled a rather healthy set of results recently.

Sadly, the Mothercare situation is not looking quite so rosy. The announcement that its Childrens World subsidiary has been placed into administration will apparently lead to the closure of an additional nine large stores, bringing the total number of stores closing to 60 – almost half the UK store estate. A further 22 Childrens World leases have been transferred to Mothercare, while landlords of two branches – Brixton and Bedford – have served notice on the company; these branches were due to close within 12 months under the terms of the CVA, but the retailer wanted to reduce rent payments for the remainder of the contract – an offer which was not accepted. So where does this leave Mothercare? I have always maintained that the company will be able to ride out its challenges, but some observers are beginning to question whether the CVA is going to be enough to save them. On one level, you can see their point: a 50% cull doesn’t exactly breathe confidence in the brand. However, suppliers will hope that it is better to take drastic action now, in order to preserve Mothercare’s existence for the long-term.

Coinciding with the visit to these shores of the delightful and not at all divisive President Chump, the US trade department has issued a further list of $200b in Chinese imports which could be subject to a 10% tariff. Thankfully, toys remain off the list, though raw materials which impact the toy sector – such as textiles and metals – are featured. Scary times for US toy suppliers.

This week’s biggest retail faux pas came courtesy of Build-a-Bear Workshop, which launched a ‘pay your age’ promotional offer, allowing consumers to buy a bear for the price of the age of their child – so a three-year-old could get one for £3. Given the usual cost can exceed £50, what could possibly go wrong? Everything, naturally. By late morning, amid reports of mile long queues, huge waiting times, fights breaking out and even the police being called in a couple of locations, Build-A-Bear announced that it was “no longer accepting additional guests” for the deal. Another stunning example of a marketing stunt going horribly wrong and a brand name tarnished unnecessarily; you do have to wonder why no-one put their hand up when the idea was first proposed to point out the potential pitfalls. With social media rife with angry customers who had travelled for hours and weren’t even allowed to join the queues outside stores, the backlash will surely cost the geniuses at Build-a-Bear far more than any publicity they may have accrued. Muppets.

Finally, with the World Cup almost over, attention turns to the impending domestic football season, and with it the return of the Toy World Masters Fantasy Football League. Obsessive or casual, veteran or newbie, all are welcome – this is your chance to pit your footballing and statistical knowledge against your toy trade peers and colleagues. You can register for free at fantasy.premierleague.com and the code to join the league is 114891 – 37891. Good luck.

Have a lovely weekend, I’m off to stand in front of the wind machine which is making our office just about bearable.

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