Come in and see me, make me smile…. it’s the Friday Blog!

If any of you have ever seen the marvellous, edgy puppet musical Avenue Q, you will know what the sweary puppets think the internet is good for (and if you haven’t, you can always google it…). During lockdown, the toy industry has found another very good use for the internet – selling toys.

I appreciate that I have been harsh on some facets of the online sales channel before, and many of my long-term misgivings remain. However, over the past nine weeks it has been a literal lifesaver for the toy industry. It has allowed many independent stores to continue trading by taking online orders for delivery, while its contribution to UK toy sales during the pandemic has been nothing short of remarkable.

When we were told that all non-essential stores were being ordered to close for an indefinite length of time, I am sure that many in the toy community feared the worst. And yet, UK toy sales have actually risen over this period. If you subscribe to NPD, you will already know this. If you don’t, an exclusive article written for the June issue of Toy World (which you’ll be seeing in around a weeks’ time) will elaborate further: I won’t spoil it by revealing too much detail at this stage, but suffice to say that while volume sales have declined, all-important value sales are up. Incidentally, I am not sure whether this week’s ONS report got its wires crossed when it said that the price of toys and games has been rising in March: selling higher ticket toys is not quite the same as the price of all toys increasing.

But I digress – back to the NPD piece, which I won’t lie, I was quite taken aback by when I first read. I appreciate that April and May toy sales are not traditionally massive, but even so, the fact the market has increased while most physical stores have been closed seemed rather counter-intuitive. And those sales haven’t been driven by grocers, as many initially anticipated might happen; Asda announced this week that while sales have risen overall, general merchandise sales have fallen. This echoes a similar statement from Sainsbury’s a couple of weeks ago. No, it seems that the strong performance has been driven by two retailers, both beginning with the letter ‘A’. Thank heavens for that – unlike other consumer markets (the summer clothing business must be facing total carnage), it appears that the UK toy industry has dodged a massive bullet thus far.

And while no-one is pretending the next phase will be easy or straightforward, we are finally beginning to see some green shoots. Both The Entertainer and Smyths have re-opened a sizeable chunk of their store estates for click and collect orders this week, as a pre-cursor to a full re-opening over the coming weeks. I am sure that both operations will have taken full advantage of online trading opportunities during lockdown – indeed, The Entertainer has increased its online turnover five- fold versus the same period last year, one of many fascinating insights which emerged during an exclusive, in-depth interview with Gary Grant, which you can also read in our June issue (if you read anything to the contrary in a recent article in The Guardian, that’s because it got its wires badly crossed).

However, despite the vital lifeline which online sales has provided, I am sure that The Entertainer, Smyths and all other specialist toy retailers will welcome the opportunity to trade from stores once more – albeit in a rather different way than they are used to. This week, we’ve seen shopping centre owners announce the measures which are being put in place to facilitate re-opening, while it is anticipated that most high street toy stores will be open to the public within the next few weeks.

Now comes the next big challenge – how to entice shoppers back to stores when it is undeniably safer to continue to shop from the comfort of our front rooms. Someone forwarded me an email newsletter from Mary Portas’ organisation this week: Mary exhibits a genuine passion for the retail channel and has some interesting thoughts on how it can reinvent itself in a post-covid world. I tend to agree with Mary, if all you can put in the positive column of the new shopping experience is ‘health and safety, hygiene and practicality’, is that going to be enough to persuade people to venture out for non-essential purchases? None of us is that desperate to follow floor arrows around a store like some post-apocalyptic trail of disappointment.

I am sure some of Mary’s ideas would translate well to the toy retail environment: I particularly liked the suggestion of keeping the queue outside the store entertained and engaged – turning tedium and frustration into an experience and potentially even a sales and marketing opportunity. I’ve seen examples of this previously, when stores have sent staff out to ‘work the queue’ by demonstrating a selection of toys and novelties. Not only a chance to show off the latest products, but an opportunity to show those customers how welcome they are. To paraphrase Steve Harley, ‘Come in and seem me, make me smile’. It may even give stores the opportunity to boost impulse sales, something I am sure that many toy retailers are concerned about in the post-covid world.

Undoubtedly, experiential activities and retail theatre are going to be a lot harder to execute in the short term, and it is going to test the creativity of retailers to the max. But if retailers can find a way to turn a colder, more sterile environment into the fun-filled experience traditionally associated with toy stores, it is surely going to be a big plus. Atmosphere, personality and connection are going to be just as valuable as they ever were -retailers are just going to need to be a little more creative in how they deliver the magic (while wearing face masks and brandishing a disinfectant spray).

Let’s be positive – after nine weeks which has at times seemed like nine months, there is finally light at the end of the tunnel. Many categories have surpassed themselves over the past couple of months, taking on the task of ‘heavy lifting’ for the whole toy market. And toy companies can now emerge from their cocoons and start looking at how to support retailers and drive sales during the next phase. There is plenty of evidence of that in our June issue, and I’m sure there will be lots more to come in subsequent issues. Hopefully the second half of the year is going to carry on surprising us, just as the first half has.

Reading the room…it’s the Friday Blog!

Like all businesses, when lockdown started, we had some big decisions to take: should we mothball the business for an indefinite period, furlough all the staff and use the time to learn a new language, teach ourselves to play an instrument or read the complete works of Shakespeare? Equally, we could have just chosen to sit around all day in our boxers, watching Netflix and Disney +. Disturbing mental image aside, the decision for us was never in doubt: we were always going to carry on doing what we do, supporting the industry, keeping people up-to-date with all the latest news and developments and trying to make sense of the ever-evolving landscape. The practicalities weren’t an issue; we are fortunate enough to be able to operate our business remotely. My biggest concern was that there simply wouldn’t be enough news to report – the fear was that one day, our newsflash would essentially say “Sorry, there is no news today.” In practice, that has never even remotely been the case.

Just look at the past week: we’ve exclusively announced some major coming and goings at toy companies (Andrew Laughton announcing his resignation from MGA, former Shop Direct toy category manager Andrea Gornall joining 8th Wonder), the precarious position which European retailer Maxi Toys finds itself in, the cancellation of the postponed Las Vegas Licensing Expo and the revelation that Argos will not be printing its autumn winter catalogue this year. In addition to these major Breaking News stories, there have been many other important industry developments to report – in short, it’s been a huge week for news from the toy community, and we have been delighted to be there to help spread the word.

The Argos catalogue development certainly came as a surprise to many, although much of the feedback we received from insiders to the news suggests that those in the know realised this was going to happen sooner or later. Maybe the pandemic brought the decision forward by a couple of years, but it seems it was always on the cards. So, what now for the Argos brand under Sainsbury’s? Some believe the Argos name itself has a finite shelf life – former Argos mainstay Ian Chaplin has maintained for some while that it will disappear within the next few years. In the meantime, what impact will the loss of the catalogue have on consumers (especially kids, who have always loved going through the ‘laminated book of dreams’ to make their Christmas wish-lists) and also on Sainsbury’s marketing revenue stream – the cost to suppliers to have a strong presence in the catalogue never came cheap. I understand that Argos will still publish its popular pre-Christmas Gift Guide, but what will happen to the timing of its top 10 toys list (Argos is traditionally first out of the gate, to coincide with the catalogue launch)? It will be fascinating to see how it all pans out, and whether the catalogue will be missed more than the Sainsbury’s management assumes.

The cancellation of the Vegas show came as little surprise to most people: August was always an optimistic date to hold an event, given the ongoing virus situation, and organiser Informa has surely done the right thing in taking decisive action. All eyes now turn to domestic UK events scheduled for September and October – Autumn Fair, the rescheduled Toymaster and Play-Room shows and BLE – as well as international trips to LA in September and Hong Kong in October. There are a few encouraging signs emerging around the world: Hong Kong certainly appears to have the situation under a far greater degree of control than many countries, although on arrival, visitors must wait in a hall (which resembles a school exam room, with desks and chairs suitably spaced apart) for eight hours to receive the results of a covid-19 test administered as soon as they touch down. That’s an eight hour wait on top of a 12-13-hour flight (and not even a movie or drink and complimentary pretzels to sustain you) …. does that sound terribly appealing to you? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens over the coming weeks: hopefully some of these events can take place, even though they may bear little resemblance to the way we are used to experiencing them.

Despite questions remaining over the viability of mass gatherings, elsewhere some light is beginning to appear at the end of the (very long) tunnel: sales are holding up surprisingly well during lockdown (more on this in next week’s Blog), while it seems that that UK toy shops will begin opening after June 1st, when schools are also scheduled to start operating again. Of course, there are caveats: if schools can’t even get nits under control, I am not sure how they are expected to contain a virus. And re-opening the UK won’t happen instantly: like many of you, we have already started working on our health & safety assessments for our eventual return to the office, which will have to be conducted thoroughly. The announcement of the extension of the furlough scheme will give businesses further options to factor into the mix: some companies will choose an immediate return to full operation, but I suspect many will opt for a more gradual, phased re-opening, which can be scaled up according to developing conditions.

Although, in some ways, normal service is already being resumed in some quarters: Amazon recently described its workers as ‘heroes’, but apparently they are not quite heroic enough to justify being paid an extra $2 an hour ‘danger money’ after the end of May. Nice to see Amazon ‘reading the room’ so well – all that extra turnover generated in recent weeks is obviously going to be put to far better use swelling Jeff Bezos’ coffers rather than rewarding its staff for putting their lives on the line to deliver hair clippers and other ‘essential’ items. The phrase ‘Wuhan-kers’ has been coined to describe people or companies whose behaviour during the pandemic could be called into question. I’ll leave you to decide whether that description suits Amazon – or indeed those retailers asking for 30% discount to settle outstanding invoices.

But let’s not dwell too much on the ‘Wuhan-kers’, when toy companies, retailers and – in the wider world – NHS staff, key workers and so many other people are doing such amazing, inspirational things. Artist Banksy summed it up exquisitely in his latest work of art – a whole new breed of hero is emerging:

 

The elephant in the Zoom…. it’s the Friday Blog (on a Thursday)!

I took part in a webinar this week, which set out to explore how the toy industry is faring during the pandemic. Apart from complete failure on my part to load the appropriate Zoom background correctly (I will admit that I didn’t like it, but it wasn’t an act of sabotage on my part…honestly!), it was interesting to talk about where we are and, more importantly, where we might be heading – might being the operative word, as we are all like Elsa, heading ‘into the unknown’ right now.

The webinar started on a contentious point; the fact that certain recent headlines may have given some people the impression that the toy industry is sailing through the crisis with flying colours. As ever, context is everything: as has been widely reported, Q1 may have seen a slight upturn in toy sales across the globe, but it’s important to bear in mind that shops were open in the UK, US and other key territories until the final few weeks of that quarter.

Even with the reported increase in toy sales, there are some major caveats. Let’s look at some retailers which logic dictates are faring better than others. Take Amazon for example: it reported profits of over £7500 a SECOND in Q1. Pause for a minute to take in the enormity of that performance. Then pause again when you realise that despite this, Amazon’s results came with the warning that it would make its first quarterly loss in five years because of a spike in virus-related costs. As Amazon was given large tax credits by European governments last year as a result of trading ‘losses’, presumably this means even larger tax credits for the coming year…?

We all thought that grocers were going to be among the major winners through the crisis – yet Sainsbury’s recently warned of a potential £500m hit to its profits this year, with general merchandise sales down by 22%. It turns out that grocers don’t make their huge profits from tins of chopped tomatoes, value rice and flour…. who knew?!

So, the elephant in the Zoom is that Q1 was not quite all it has been painted to be in some quarters. And of course, what happens in Q2 is going to be a whole other ball game – we’ll find out just how much of a dip toy sales have taken in a few months’ time. The saving grace is that the first half of the year is not where the toy game is metaphorically won or lost – historically, everything can change in the second half of the year. Getting it right over the next six months will be more important than ever.

So, what will ‘getting it right’ entail? For retailers, it means yet more adaptation and flexibility. I have been so impressed with the way so many retailers have pivoted their businesses to react to prevailing conditions. We featured a selection of independent retailers talking about the changes they have made in our May issue, which you can read here – their spirit and resourcefulness is admirable. Our regular contributor Toy Barnhaus also wrote in the May edition about dipping a toe into online waters for the first time – a fascinating piece which you can read here. While it may seem surprising that such a switched-on retail operation hadn’t felt it necessary to join the online fray before, Toy Barnhaus was clearly successful enough to prosper without it. But everything has changed, and like many other indies, the Barnhaus boys have wasted no time reacting to prevailing conditions. This is a major advantage that smaller operators have over some larger players; they may not have their cash reserves, shareholders and loan facilities, but they are nimble and can turn on the proverbial dime. We are currently talking to more indies for our June issue, and one enterprising retailer has come to an arrangement with his neighbouring grocer to operate a small concession in his store. Now that’s what I call thinking ‘outside the box’.

To be fair, I guess we are all going to have to think outside the box for a while yet. For me personally, it feels like pressing the rewind button and going back to when we first started Toy World, just under nine years ago. In some respects, it’s like starting from scratch and building the business up all over again – although we’re grateful that we still have a healthy and viable business which can be rebuilt. Not everyone will be that fortunate. One thing is for sure; we are all learning a lot about our individual businesses, our customers (and our relationships with them) and even ourselves.

In the coming weeks, there will be some big decisions to take; as we report today, the Chancellor will be winding down the current furlough arrangements over the coming weeks. While it appears that he may yet yield to pressure not to make the end of June an abrupt cliff edge, it is inevitable that financial support needs to be scaled back. Credit where credit is due, the UK’s furlough arrangements have been incredibly generous and will have saved many companies from closing for good; but soon, companies will have to plan for life without them. In all, it is estimated that a quarter of UK employees have been furloughed; how many will be brought back immediately, how many will be integrated back into businesses over time and how many may never return? Like I say, big decisions…

Planning is far from straightforward: when will people feel happy going to the cinema again? What about attending a trade show? When will they feel comfortable flying or going on holiday? When will I next see Watford play? I don’t think anyone can answer these questions with any great degree of certainty. We have become accustomed to making decisions day-to-day, week-to-week, and in some cases month-by-month. Very soon we will have to start making decisions for the longer term: the key is to avoid 2020 becoming a gap year – fine for students, not so fine for a business.

Some calls will be easy, like not asking your employees to work when they are furloughed (as Sports Direct was caught doing this week). And it’s goodbye to hot desking, something I must confess I would have hated – I don’t even like it when someone parks in my usual parking space at work…and there are dozens of free parking spaces at our office! But some decisions will be far less clear cut. Right now, life is a ‘coronacoaster’ – as Ronan Keating once said, “you’ve just got to ride it.”

The new (ab)normal…it’s the Friday Blog!

As a teenager, I loved the Mel Brooks film Young Frankenstein. Arguably the movie’s best line is spoken by Professor Frankenstein’s assistant, played by the legendary British comedy actor Marty Feldman. When quizzed as to whose brain he had put in his master’s new creation, which had begun to behave erratically, he replies: “Abby something. Oh yes, abby normal.”

It reminds me of where we are now – very little about the situation we all find ourselves in is normal. Here and there, you can find little pockets of welcome familiarity. Our May issue landed on doormats and (home) desks this week: you can read the digital version of the issue here. The Toy World editorial team has worked exceptionally hard to bring you a snapshot of the toy market during this unique moment in time: a no-nonsense, unbiased reflection of the challenges and opportunities facing the toy industry. Featuring a wealth of exclusive content which has not previously appeared online, it is well worth diving into over the coming days.

Out in the market, traditionally, this is a planning time of year rather than a major trading period; despite the uncertainty, large retailers are still planning and starting to place their autumn winter orders, while the stores which are still trading are re-ordering lines which have sold well.

However, beyond the day-to-day transactional activity, beneath the surface, every business is planning for what comes next – and that will be no small task. Speaking to one major retail owner this week, he admitted that his team is making decisions based on what he described as “major assumptions”- literally, we are all entering ‘best guess’ territory.

So, on the balance of probability, what might the new (ab)normal hold in store for us all, whether out at retail or in our own offices and factories? Based on conversations, plus articles I have read and a healthy amount of blind guesswork, here are a few thoughts.

Emerging from lockdown will be gradual – the grand re-opening of the UK will take place in phases, rather than en masse. There will be no great ‘armistice’ moment where we rejoice in the streets at vanquishing our foe. A new Ipsos Mori poll suggests that the UK public remains cautious about lifting lockdown: 70% say they don’t want it lifted until the virus is fully contained, while 71% say they’d be nervous about leaving home even if it was. Interestingly, Brits were the most cautious of 14 countries polled. The US data paints a similar picture: more than 50% surveyed believe that movie theatres and concert venues should not open until there is a vaccine, while only 40% of ‘avid’ sports fans and movie-goers would attend events if they took place before a vaccine is available. So, it seems likely that online sales will remain crucial for retailers for a while yet.

The in-store experience itself is going to be very different. Out goes ‘experiential retailing’, for now at least– there will be precious little browsing, most people will be aiming to get in and out as quickly as possible. One-way routes around the store will cause much confusion, especially when you get halfway round and realise you’ve already passed the item you want. There won’t be as much hands on trying out of product – ‘you touched it, you buy it’ could become the new ‘break it and it’s yours.’ Indeed, try-me packs will become a lottery – but not in a good way.

Perspex shield manufacturers will be major winners: it will be like the dot.com boom – buy shares or even start up a company making them now. Every till will need them.

Getting into stores won’t be entirely straightforward, as numbers will need to be strictly controlled. Will some shop staff need to retrain as bouncers? That will make for some interesting team discussions…

When you finally make it inside, hopefully having avoided the queue from the neighbouring store (I wonder who decides which way the queues will go in a shopping centre?), some customers may be wearing social distancing buzzers that go off when anyone else gets too close to them. That won’t be at all annoying or cause any disagreements.

Expect many variations on click and collect, such as products being dropped to your car, or given to you outside or at the front of the store. Random ‘lucky’ bags made up to an agreed value with mystery items may yet prove to be victorious at next year’s Toy of the Year award. Who knows, maybe selling items at cost price (or less) to ‘drive footfall’ may finally be consigned to the metaphorical dump bin of history? And how will that final week leading up to Christmas work – the week when toy stores are traditionally jam-packed with last-minute shoppers. Will consumers wait until the last minute this year, as they have in recent years, and risk encountering huge crowds?

These new shopping conditions will almost certainly lead to some categories and products faring better than others. Doctors and nurses outfits will be big business, and not just for adults. Some new lines will almost certainly come to the fore: kids face masks anyone?

Indeed, whether out shopping or in the office, masks will be de rigeur: we will all look like a poor man’s Bane from Batman. Temperature checks will become commonplace: I feel for women of a certain age. At the office, we won’t need posters to guilt trip us into using the stairs: lifts simply won’t be as popular as they once were. We may end up talking about ‘hand sanitiser station moments’ rather than water cooler moments.

Production lead times will be longer; the measures which factories will be forced to introduce will inevitably have an impact on productivity. The same is true for online warehouses; I am sure retailers have found that consumers expect far quicker deliveries than are realistically achievable under the new working conditions.

Big companies will have fewer, shorter meetings: although to be fair, this can only be a good thing for all concerned. Facebook has banned all meetings of more than 50 people until June 2021 – make of that what you will.

Finally, could these rather fetching ‘one metre hats’ become a new fashion sensation? It’s certainly one way to avoid disagreements over whether someone is maintaining the correct distancing etiquette. I can just see us all wearing one at the trade shows next year…

D*ck or no d*ck…it’s the Friday Blog!

Literally everyone seems to be playing games at the moment (ker-ching!), so I thought that the Friday Blog would play one too this week. Like that chap from the Welsh Assembly who swore at the end of a Zoom call, I’m mindful that I’m running the risk of getting the metaphorical sack as the toy industry’s leading weekly blogger by using fruity language, so with a suitably-placed asterisk, let’s play ‘D*ck or no d*ck.’

The premise is simple and harks back to a popular Blog theme from a few weeks ago: we examine the behaviour of a selection of well-known companies and individuals during the current crisis, and you decide whether they are being a d*ck.

Let’s start with an easy one: the retailer who wrote to suppliers this week promising to pay all outstanding invoices. Straightforward answer, right? How about if the email contained a caveat: that the invoice would be paid, minus 20% – does that change your answer? Yep, not deducting an extra point or two for settlement, but an additional 20%. They really must need a lot of cash to invest in even greater supply of over-sized mugs with their logo emblazoned across them…

They’re certainly not the only retailer playing ‘games’ with suppliers: I heard about one major US retailer that owes a toy company $100k from stock shipped last year which is not responding to any requests to even discuss the situation, yet alone settle the outstanding payment. The buyer has passed on a generic ‘complaints’ email address and said there is nothing more that he can do. In this case, I’m not sure it is even worth asking the d*ck or no d*ck question of the buyer’s bosses (it’s certainly not the buyer’s fault).

Next up we have my old friends at Disney, which has furloughed 100,000 of its employees in the US, making them reliant on state benefits (bear in mind that the US furlough arrangements are nowhere near as generous as the UK’s system). At the same time, Disney is going ahead with eye-watering executive bonus schemes (Bob Iger took $47m last year, while his successor Bob Chapek could potentially earn an annual bonus “of not less than 300%” of salary, in addition to a long-term incentive award of “not less than $15m”). That’s not all – there is also the small matter of $1.5b dividend payments due in July, while Disney has $20b resources to draw on. So, is it fair and reasonable to ask ordinary US taxpayers to bail them out…. what is the $20b reserve for if not for situations like this? So, the Disney board, d*ck or no d*ck?

Next up, we arrive at my old friends Amazon…although with a twist (and not just because the Amazon legal team are avid readers of the Blog and probably have a bit of time on their hands right now). So rather than nominating Amazon, I am going to nominate the tax officials of EU countries for deciding that Amazon Europe is entitled to tax credits to the tune of 295m Euros because – and I quote – “Amazon made a loss last year because of the competitive retail environment.” Yes, that’s what they said – poor lambs, I do feel for them, really I do (even though revenues actually rose by 15% to 32b Euros last year). Following that logic, as Amazon’s turnover will clearly rise even further this year, does that mean they will lose even more money and require even bigger tax credits next year? To cap it all, last week, industry lobby group TechUK – which represents firms including Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google – helpfully suggested that the government should scrap the proposed 2% digital services tax for a year to give these firms some “breathing space”. So, European governments and tax officials, are you going to be d*cks or no d*cks?

Now it’s the turn of Richard Branson, who has reiterated his request for a £500m bailout from the UK government, despite having based his UK-based company’s tax affairs in the Virgin Islands for the past 14 years because of his love of sun and kitesurfing (his defence, not mine) and not at all because it has allowed him to pay no UK tax for the past 14 years. This week, France, Denmark and Poland have made all bailouts conditional on the companies not being based in tax havens, which seems entirely reasonable request – so how about it Mr Branson, deal or no deal? Please say yes – I have already booked my flight to Hong Kong next January with Virgin and would very much appreciate the opportunity to travel should conditions allow that to happen.

I appreciate that looking that far ahead isn’t particularly realistic – we’re all managing day to day, taking things as they come. We’ve seen San Diego Comic Con and Toy & Edu China cancelled this week, while the Tokyo Toy Fair will surely not take place – we’re now into the second wave of cancellations, which are impacting events planned for the early part of the summer. Organisers of events in August, September and beyond will be watching developments closely, as some will soon have to make calls as to whether they can go ahead as scheduled. I have spoken off the record to numerous event organisers, exhibitors and attendees, and let’s just say there are some optimists (nothing wrong with that), some realists and some who one might gently refer to as ‘somewhat disconnected from reality.’

One thing I can reassure you of – Toy World will continue to bring you all the latest news and developments as they happen. None of our staff have been furloughed; we are all still working to bring you the most interesting and relevant content to keep you informed and entertained for however long this thing takes to run its course. We are very much here for the long haul – we won’t be hibernating until it blows over, then miraculously reappear asking for your money. We’re right here with you, working through it, supporting the industry in the best way we can. Our May print issue will be coming through your doors at the end of next week – the team has worked incredibly hard to create a wealth of original content, the vast majority of which hasn’t previously appeared on our website.

I’d also like to thank all those fantastic toy and media companies which are continuing to support us in these challenging times by maintaining advertising commitments, or even just settling outstanding invoices, which allows us to carry on doing what we do.

So please keep us up to date with what you are doing to navigate these challenging times: we want to share your news and developments with the toy community as we all try to find a way through to the other side….together.

It’s the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine)…it’s the Friday Blog!

This Blog was published on Friday 17th April. Here it is again in case you missed it:

We’ve been in lockdown for the best part of a month now and it’s all fine. No, really: ignore the fact that I put a bottle of wine in each room last night and went bar hopping. I’m only joking, of course – it was a bottle of spirits.

Inevitably, thoughts are now beginning to turn to what happens when lockdown is lifted, whenever that might be. I asked Priti Patel if she had any idea and she said Augtober the 39th – although she was reading off an autocue, so don’t hold me to that.

Other European countries are beginning to get some tangible answers: France has been told to expect restrictions to be lifted on May 11th, while Germany is expected to be a few days ahead of them, with small shops expected to be open as early as next week.

For citizens of both countries, this is great news in as much as they now have clarity and can plan accordingly. Unfortunately, for the UK, we are still in the dark about the lockdown exit strategy (lexit?). Guesses range from early May to early June, with some believing it may even have to stretch beyond that.

When it comes, the likelihood is that any return to ‘normal’ will be gradual. While we would all love a sudden boom with consumers going de-mob happy and throwing money around like crazy, I fear that may be an optimistic scenario. Confidence is likely to take a little while to return. Jobs will be lost; fewer workers equals fewer customers. Firms and individuals will have built up debt that they will want to pay off. However, one factor strongly in our favour is that parents will want to keep their kids happy, so discretionary spend may be weighted more towards children in the short term, and Christmas could potentially be huge. I also suspect that many Brits will not travel abroad this year (hands up who fancies getting on a plane with its re-circulated air right now…): UK resorts should benefit, particularly if lockdown measures are lifted by the summer.

I have read a lot of articles pontificating on the major changes that this crisis will bring in our daily lives, all talking about the so-called ‘new normal’ that awaits us when it is over. If you take many of these think-pieces at face value, things will never be the same again. No-one will shop at bricks and mortar stores; we’ll all buy everything online. People will not want to meet up face-to-face, and if they do, handshakes will be as frowned upon as farting in a lift. International travel will become a thing of the past; we’ll all avoid it like the proverbial plague. Trade shows and meetings will be replaced by virtual meetings, where young people will audibly sigh as older people inadvertently ‘break’ the tech and randomly push buttons in an attempt to rectify their mistake.

Except…. personally, I don’t believe any of this. Yes, there will be changes, not least because there is a very real possibility that this crisis is not a one-off, and we could easily find ourselves back in lockdown in the future. Anyone not planning for this would be naïve. Talking to Toymaster recently, their strategy has already been adapted: previously, they had advised members that if they weren’t going to fully commit to having an online presence, they were best avoiding it altogether. Moving forward, the feeling is that the future of specialist retailing lies in bricks and mortar with the facility to supply online as and when required. Those indies which have been able to do this will come out of the crisis in far better shape than those which didn’t. Operations like eBay and Down Your High Street have been falling over themselves to help small shops to start trading online, and now is surely the time for even the most hardened bricks and mortar stores to at least get themselves set up and testing the water. However, this absolutely does not mean that the future of retailing will be online only: the channel has been a godsend in recent weeks, but I suspect many people are missing the in-store experience, just as we can eat and drink at home all we want, but that doesn’t mean we won’t ever visit a pub or restaurant again.

The same is true for our offices. I won’t lie, I have missed being with the Toy World gang every day; the WhatsApp group and twice-weekly Zoom meetings have kept us in touch, but it’s impossible to replicate the close-knit interaction of all working together in the same room. When it is safe to do so, I will be back to our office like a shot – even if I do have to put on a proper shirt and trousers again.

I’m also missing international travel: when it is safe to get on a plane, I shall have no qualms about returning to overseas holidays and events. Quite when that will be, I don’t know. I have been repeatedly asked whether I believe the October Hong Kong trip will happen this year. The truth is that it is impossible to call at this stage. I’d be keen to get feedback on that from people who would usually go. It will be particularly interesting to compare the views of company owners with those of employees. Either way, international events will continue to play a pivotal role; I am interested to hear more about the virtual shows being proposed by the US Toy Association and Licensing Expo organiser Informa, and as a stop-gap measure, they may well have a valuable role to play. But I don’t see them replacing shows and events for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that many people view them as an important perk of the job. However, whether this will focus people on the amount of overseas travel – the number of trips they make and the number of shows they attend – is another matter entirely. I expect rationalisation in this area, as I do in many other quarters.

I would simply add one caveat: the time it takes for things to return to ‘normal’ may be quite a bit longer than some people appear to believe.

More than any of these working practices, the one thing which concerns me is credit insurance: I am hearing rumours that some pretty big toy retail names are having cover removed. There will be many challenges in getting the industry back to full speed, including the capacity of Chinese factories which have had their own major challenges to contend with (more on that in a future Blog), but widespread withdrawal of credit insurance has the potential to derail the recovery more than most other factors. Let’s hope credit insurers are more generous in their approach than banks have been in recent weeks: as we highlighted earlier this week, less than 2% of applications made for emergency government-backed loans have been approved. As Liz Truss would say, “Now. That. Is. A. Disgrace.”

Going Nowhere… it’s the Bank Holiday Blog!

(This Blog was first published just before the Bank Holiday weekend, last week – but here it is again in case you missed it.)

It has been a strange week on so many levels; had coronavirus not intervened, I would have been walking my eldest daughter down the aisle today. Like so many other things, the big day has had to be put on hold – in her case, until September. At least it gives me more time to work on my speech. It certainly isn’t the easiest of times to write a wedding speech (or even a Blog for that matter) – getting the tone right is no mean feat.

Coming just too late for inclusion in last week’s Blog was the news that Toymaster has postponed its May Show, with proposed new dates of 2nd-4th September. Looks like I am going to have a busy September, what with the rearranged wedding and at least three UK trade shows to fit in to what is traditionally a busy month anyway.

A little bit of context about the Toymaster decision; it has been evident for weeks that the May Show wasn’t going to happen. Quite rightly, Toymaster wanted to ensure it had weighed up all the options before deciding on the best course of action. Having ascertained that the majority of its members and suppliers were broadly receptive to postponing rather than cancelling the show outright, a variety of different dates were apparently under consideration. It was eventually decided that August would be too early, with school holidays likely to restrict attendance. Relocating the May Show to October alongside the traditional FOB event was also considered but rejected for being too late. The first week of September does seem the most logical slot from a timing perspective, despite the resultant fixture congestion – the show will now finish a couple of days before Autumn Fair starts, while AIS’s Independent Toy & Gift Show has elected to choose a date towards the end of the month.

While it may force some retailers and suppliers to choose which of the shows to visit, I’m reliably informed that less than a couple of dozen Toymaster members traditionally visit Autumn Fair anyway. With Toymaster’s Autumn Winter FOB programme cancelled, members will be reliant on domestic stock to carry them through the key pre-Christmas trading period. There are reportedly still plans to publish an autumn winter catalogue, so if retailers can re-open and trade through the summer holidays, early September should see them relatively clean in terms of stock, ready and raring to place Christmas orders. Suppliers should have fully worked through their own stock holding issues by then, so should be able to offer immediate delivery on orders placed at the show. In theory, everyone is a winner.

We just have to hope that retailers – not just independents, but stores of all sizes – will make it safely through the lockdown period, however long it turns out to be. Somehow, I doubt that Debenhams and Cath Kidson will be the last retailers to go into administration to protect themselves from legal action from creditors. It’s not all doom and gloom: there are some encouraging signs, but it’s also important to keep a sense of perspective – unlike some international media reports over the past few weeks, which may have given the impression that sales of toys are at record levels and we will all be retiring to a desert island with Richard Branson on the proceeds of this amazing year. I spoke to NPD’s Melissa Symonds yesterday to get some clarity and up-to-date numbers, as I have become increasingly perplexed at the inherent contradictions and lack of context within some of these reports.

To start with, it is important to bear several things in mind: these stories generally refer to sales data from at least a couple of weeks ago – and in the current climate, two weeks is a very long time! Most of the numbers are coming from stock retailers already held, hence the apparent disparity between current trading trends and cancellation of outstanding orders. And, of course, March is traditionally a low sales period, so even modest increases can have a significant impact on percentage growth.

That said, the March numbers for the UK – reflecting three weeks when stores were open and a week of lockdown – were extremely positive, reaching the levels normally associated with Q4 in some categories. March saw a healthy value growth of 9%, bringing the UK market into modest growth for Q1 overall (+2%). The last two weeks of the month fared even better, with a massive 24% increase in value sales. However, at the same time, volume sales declined by 20% – essentially, fewer toys were sold, but at much higher prices. Winners included Lego Technic and outdoor items such as Swingball, trampolines, swings and so on.

Here is where the context comes in handy: this welcome trend is clearly unsustainable, for a variety of reasons. First, these are predominantly ‘one-off’ purchases; secondly, many of these purchases have been brought forward from Easter or even May Bank Holiday, as parents rushed to make early preparations for kids being at home. In France, Spain and Italy, there were significant drops in sales the longer lockdown continued – parental purchases there were ‘front-ended’ with parents planning for the coming weeks, making it unlikely that these numbers can be sustained across the remainder of the lockdown period. The April data will be fascinating….keep a look out for NPD’s exclusive article in the May issue of Toy World, which should hopefully be able to give us an updated picture based on several weeks of April trading.

In addition to a huge growth in the outdoor category, games & puzzles also saw a massive uplift in the UK in March, which matches what we are all hearing anecdotally. One saving grace for the UK is how sophisticated our online sales channel is – bear in mind that 38% of toy sales in 2019 were made online. Southern European countries are nowhere near as developed in this area, which has been reflected in a far greater decline in short-term sales as stores shut. If the UK figure for last year was 38%, one wonders what it will be at the end of this year…

And finally, isn’t it mildly amusing that suppliers are now complaining about some online retailers taking advantage by selling certain products at inflated prices, rather than bemoaning the fact that they are undercutting bricks and mortar retailers…how times have changed.

Happy Easter everyone – enjoy the long weekend and I hope you’re not going anywhere nice.

My best pandemic life…it’s the Friday Blog!

Week two of lockdown – or is it? I lose track of just about everything at the moment. Anyway, I hope you are all living your best pandemic lives. It’s all slightly surreal: we appear to have reached the part of the apocalypse where goats have taken over parts of North Wales – I hope our Welsh readers are enjoying their new goat overlords. Maybe Welsh mountain goats will be next year’s Llamas/ Unicorns?

April Fools’ Day was officially cancelled: few brands were brave enough to risk getting the tone wrong. We’re all learning new words every day; who understood what ‘furlough’ meant a month ago? An awful lot of people have suddenly become very familiar with the term. And who knew there was such a thing as a Bat Virologist? Certainly not me, until Goldieblox announced that it would be live-streaming a Q&A with one this week, to help kids understand the role that bats have played in the current situation.

Amazon delivery drivers are all in line for knighthoods; we are going to arrange a clap for them in our street next week, some time between 9.00 am and 6.00 pm. Numerous pop-up home schools have already been placed into Special Measures by Ofsted. Baby Shark has reworked its classic theme song, with new words which encourage kids to wash their hands (doo doo doo doo doo) – as if parents haven’t suffered enough over the past few weeks. And any Disney fans who have watched Tangled for the first time this week will be freaked out to learn that the ultimate lockdown heroine lived in the kingdom of Corona….what do you have to say about that, conspiracy theorists?!

Around us, the toy landscape is already changing – pandemic life comes at you fast. Jazwares has acquired plush supplier Kellytoy; Harper Collins has acquired the book division of Egmont and The Sales Partnership has been placed into administration, having failed in its search to find a buyer for the business. US indie trade show ASTRA has been cancelled – I loved the line in the statement which said that all monies, including (and I quote) “tickets for the Lip Sync Battle” will be refunded. Now that is one brilliant idea for the next Toymaster show, whenever it might take place; I would pay good money to see a Lip Sync Battle between Ian Edmunds, Steve Kerrison and Dave Middleton. It helps to have something to look forward to in these uncertain times.

The landscape will undoubtedly change a lot more over the coming weeks. A network of accountants has predicted that 20% of small and medium-sized UK businesses will run out of cash over the next four weeks. Or to put it another way, between 800,000 and 1 million companies are at risk. I’m sorry if that is stark, but I am not a politician; it’s not my job to sugar coat the reality of the situation.

Of course, there are mitigating factors; one indie toy retailer told me this week that he has been working harder than ever – 16 days straight – taking and delivering online orders. In his words, “the internet has gone crazy – it’s on a par with Christmas.” Dedicated online retailers are inevitably reaping the rewards, as are grocers – and crucially Argos, which rather fortuitously has outlets in Sainsbury’s stores, and thus can remain open for business when other general merchandise retailers have been forced to close. However, realistically, these accounts can’t shift the volume of product that a fully operational toy retail channel would be turning over, despite what some rather optimistic media articles have claimed this week (the Forbes story in particular made it sound as though we are in a golden era for toy sales, rather than the ‘making the best of a tricky situation’ reality).

There are well-documented bright spots; games & puzzles, art & craft, construction and some outdoor suppliers are enjoying a welcome sales boost. At the same time, many retailers across the globe are postponing or cancelling orders and deliveries, largely as a result of uncertainty and an inability to plan beyond the immediate future. Some are asking for (hugely) extended credit terms for gear which has already been delivered – and in many cases, presumably sold. As one supplier pointed out, retailers have the same grants and furlough opportunities as suppliers – and toy companies still have bills to pay, staff to look after and suppliers of their own which they owe money to (as do those suppliers….the chain is a long one). Some tense stand-offs are developing; shopping centres are threatening tenants with legal action over unpaid rents, while negotiations between retailers and suppliers are at a delicate stage.

Regardless of how these conversations ultimately play out, there is one key objective on all sides: to still be standing when we come through to the other side – to paraphrase our dear leader, “whatever it takes.” There are clearly some hugely resourceful people within the toy community; we’ve seen that in the way they have adapted their traditional business models to make the most of the business opportunities that exist. And we’ve seen it in the way toy companies have stepped up to help by providing medical equipment and supplies to front line workers.

Naturally, the epidemic is having a knock-on effect throughout the supply chain, all the way back to Chinese factories – just as they started to emerge from their own period of lockdown and get back up to speed, their revival has temporarily been halted in its tracks. We’ll have more on that story early next week, so keep a look out for it.

We’re doing our best to keep everyone up to date with all the key developments in this ever-evolving landscape. I won’t pretend it is easy, but like retailers, we are adapting as best we can. So it was nice to receive an email this week which said: “As a reader it is easy to be flippant and claim that most of the content of toy industry magazines consists of re-hashed press releases, but that is not a criticism that can be made of your publication in these unprecedented times. Toy World is keeping us abreast of the issues that matter to the toy industry with balanced and unbiased reporting.” I am sure that gave our editorial team a nice morale boost – it’s certainly not hurting that many people have a little more time on their hands than they normally would to read magazines and email newsletters.

Indeed, if you have a few minutes spare today, you can treat yourself to a read of our April issue – the digital version can be viewed here. It includes a timely feature on the games & puzzles sector, as well as articles on subjects as varied as how to get your social media strategy right and the growing kidult market. I bet a fair few of the toys being sold online right now are not just to keep kids amused during lockdown…adults need to be kept occupied too.

Finally, to help keep you amused during your next video conference session, here is a handy ‘Conference Call Bingo’ game:

 

Don’t be a d***…. it’s the Friday Blog!

As Blue, who have turned out to be the pop equivalent of Nostradamus, once said: “Got the city on lockdown.” It sure is (apart from a few covidiots). Across the UK, people are grappling with the big issues arising from our new WFH situation: which of the 73 (and growing) video conferencing sites should we be using? Is it ever acceptable to wear a ridiculous hat during these conferences, even in the name of keeping spirits and morale up? (The answer is no – absolutely not). Can I get away with only dressing ‘for work’ from the waist up (again, no – what is wrong with people?). Should teachers be paid £1m a year (yes, say all parents currently attempting to home school their offspring. And if that is you, no, you are not allowed to have an inset day for staff training already). Meanwhile, many have discovered that in the kingdom of isolation, Elsa really is the queen.

Frankly, we are all making things up as we go along. It is the only way – as the situation evolves and new information becomes available, changing your mind is perfectly ok. In fact, it is the only reasonable course of action; beware the intransigent who refuse to adapt either their views or behaviour. So maybe we shouldn’t be surprised to hear that AIS is exploring the option of running the Independent Toy & Gift Show in late September, rather than waiting until 2021 as had initially been announced. Will the show take place this year after all? Maybe there will be enough support from suppliers, maybe there won’t, but AIS is surely right to at least test the water. Everything we thought we knew a week ago has probably changed, so it’s best to caveat nearly every announcement and decision with “for now.”.

Meanwhile, the debate about whether to accept the government’s lockdown instructions without quibble or to push back on the grounds of ‘essential status’ remains a delicate balance. Are toys truly ‘essential’, as some in the global toy community are trying to claim? Hmmm. A hugely valuable and cherished resource – undoubtedly. But enough to risk lives for? Realistically, if we want to come out of this crisis as quickly as possible, perhaps we are all going to have to accept short-term restrictions we may find commercially unpalatable, but which are for the common good. Of course, I completely understand that people are worried for the future of their business: one retailer who messaged me over the weekend admitted: “I am scared that if I shut my shop, it will never re-open.” The decision was soon taken out of her hands.

Of course, one danger in fighting the government’s recommendations is that you just make yourself look a fool. This week has seen JD Wetherspoon owner Tim Martin and Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley going head-to-head in a ‘who can be a bigger d***’ contest. Social media rightly vilified both. Miraculously, it turns out it is not acceptable to refuse to pay your staff or your suppliers, or claim that you are an essential retailer because everyone needs a giant Sports Direct mug in their life, or to price gouge – who knew? Well, actually, everyone except those two gentlemen apparently. The Harvard Business Review recently wrote a balanced, erudite article entitled “A time to lead with purpose and humanity.” In keeping with the spirit of the Friday Blog, I am going to put it slightly less prosaically: “Don’t be a d***”!

The reputations made in this goldfish-bowl climate – good and bad – will stay around for a long time. When this is all over, people will remember which businesses behaved with morals and ethics and which didn’t. Choose to be one of the good guys, not one of the villains. Be like Playmobil, who made a fantastic animation which used their characters to explain the coronavirus to kids. It got a lot of love and traction on our social media feeds this week, and rightly so. Or like MGA’s Isaac Larian, who has instigated Operation Pacman, procuring and delivering 20,000 masks to doctors and hospitals in the US – bravo to him. Mattel and Hasbro have also doubled down on their charitable activity, which is going to be important – many charities will be struggling badly in the current climate and their support will be invaluable. Morrisons has been brilliant since the start of the crisis, from offering to pay small suppliers early to installing screens for checkout staff to protect them from the public. People will remember these companies and others like them making valuable contributions, and their brands will benefit in the long term.

People will also remember the d****, even those who quickly rowed back from their initial stances under the glare of the social media spotlight. Richard Branson, Stelios from Easyjet, Waterstones…they will all have suffered reputational damage this week which will take some while to rebuild. Of course, it is easy to be judgemental and we don’t know every individual company’s circumstances. Some people are going to have some very tough decisions to take, and I wouldn’t criticise anyone whose circumstances force them into drastic action (Although that excludes Stelios, who took a £60m dividend the day before asking the government for a bailout. Or Richard Branson, who did likewise despite spending billions of dollars on a vanity space project. Sell an island man. There are people out there who need that money a lot more than you.). Maybe some companies will genuinely have no choice but to put all of their employees into consultation.

But I would just say this: when the race starts again – and it will – those people who didn’t dismantle their cars in the meantime will have a head start over those that did. Those companies which burn bridges now will be at the back of the grid too. As a side note, I am slightly surprised that the licensing community appears to be attempting to bury its collective head in the sand over contractual obligations which have surely been rendered null and void by recent events – morally at least, if not legally. The world is a different place now. Just over a month ago, I was in the Javits building for Toy Fair New York – now it is being converted into a makeshift, temporary hospital. The same is happening at Excel, and the NEC apparently stands ready if called upon. We all need to be flexible and adaptable. Every aspect of the market is going to be completely reset by this situation – everything has changed.

And we are all going to need to constantly reappraise and revise our opinions over the coming weeks. Remember when people mocked me because my Nuremberg hotel gave me a bottle of handwash for my birthday? Who’s laughing now, eh? Maybe they knew something all along….

Anything can happen in the next half hour…. it’s the Friday Blog!

As a child, I loved all the Gerry Anderson TV shows – Thunderbirds, Joe 90 and Stingray. The latter programme had a particularly stirring opening sequence, featuring thrilling, breathless music punctuated by a booming voice proclaiming “Anything can happen in the next half hour.” I was reminded of it this week, because…. well, that’s exactly how it has felt at times. To say things have escalated quickly would be the understatement of the year.

UK consumers have moved to full-on panic buying mode, stripping shelves of toilet roll, hand sanitiser and pasta (except the brown pasta obviously…. we’re not that desperate just yet). US consumers have started panic-buying too, although in their case it is guns and ammunition (insert eye-rolling emoji here). Speaking of emojis, crossed fingers have moved to the front of my most-used emoji list, along with gritted teeth and the one with the monkey with his head in his hands.

Do you remember when we all used to start our emails with “I hope you are well” – now that phrase takes on a literal meaning rather than the platitude it had become. However, some things haven’t changed: Groupon is still sending me an email every hour, offering me a reasonably-priced Italian meal for two (wilfully going against the ‘advice’ of our dear leader to avoid social contact).

In amongst all the panic-buying of essentials, there has been some welcome short-term respite for toy retailers, as families stock up on games, puzzles, art & craft kits and anything else which will help them get through the weeks of isolation which lie ahead, especially now schools are closed indefinitely. Enterprising toy retailers are helping to support their customers in a variety of ways, including kerbside deliveries (‘drive-by toys available here’ is certainly a new service for many). One retailer told us that his online orders were running way beyond the levels he would expect at Christmas, while other online retailers are offering free deliveries – Bargain Max admitted that it was losing money in the process, but felt it was a nice gesture that would hopefully offer long-term benefits. I like that philosophy.

A few weeks ago, I suggested that stock was king – it seems that retailers are increasingly adopting a ‘cash is king’ mantra; The Entertainer ran its first-ever BOGOF deal this week. The offer was initially limited to stores only but was quickly extended to online customers after a bit of a social media backlash. Right now, we are all having to think on our feet and be reactive and flexible: one major retailer told me that he is having to take decisions in a matter of hours which would normally take weeks or even months to be agreed.

Many specialists have been in a fortunate position this week – aided no doubt by Amazon’s decision to suspend deliveries of all non- essential items into its warehouse until at least the first week of April, maybe longer. As toys aren’t classified as essential (although I am sure some parents would disagree), it gives a valuable window of opportunity to those retailers who are dedicated to the category. But how long can this situation last: realistically, it is surely a case of when – rather than if – non-essential stores are forced to close, as they have already in many European countries. Several have already shuttered here in the UK – including Hamleys, Selfridges and Disney Stores – while Toys R Us Canada has also closed its 82 stores. These retailers can’t maintain their business by switching to selling health and household items like Amazon and the grocers can. Many of our specialists live a hand-to-mouth existence and will struggle to cope with closure for any length of time. They will need all the support and forbearance they can get over the coming weeks. Major toy specialists are already pausing orders and stopping warehouse deliveries, and I understand that not all suppliers have been thrilled. I get that, but I hope they understand that the retailers are trying to protect their businesses as best they can. All of us business owners will have a massive balancing act as cash flows dissipate. Engaging with our customers to find mutually acceptable solutions will be key. Now is not the time to ‘go dark’; it’s the time to communicate as openly and honestly as possible.

Which is why, dear reader, Toy World will continue to operate a service to the best of our ability. Of course, it is not ‘business as usual’ – right now, nothing is ‘as usual’. But we can do our best to keep information flowing throughout the toy community. We can help and support everyone by keeping the channels of communication open. I appreciate that in the grand scheme of things that there are more important things on peoples’ minds: however, judging by the spike in this week’s online traffic, people still want to understand what is going on in the business world. Our readers are facing challenges bigger than they have ever faced before – our modest contribution will be to help make some sense of the chaos around us all.

The next few months are going to be tough. There will be business casualties – I have heard this week of at least one UK toy company and one US toy company on the verge of administration. Some companies will panic: can the rumours really be true that one of the industry’s most experienced and respected toy buyers has been made redundant, along with another senior colleague on the same buying team? If so, it strikes me as a very strange move indeed. Events will continue to be postponed or cancelled; this week has seen the cancellation of both the Independent Toy & Gift Show and Distoy, as well as the postponement of the Las Vegas Licensing Expo to August. As one toy retailer said to me: “Oh for the days of moaning about Brexit and complaining to Andrew Laughton about where my next LOL delivery was coming from.”

But Covid-19 will be defeated in time (by the way, thanks to Dave Collins for his great suggestion that it doesn’t sound so bad if you say Covid-19 to the tune of ‘Come on Eileen’ – I feel we will need more gallows humour before we’re through). It’s a cancelled marathon, not a sprint. Community spirit will be key to overcoming this crisis; a bit less of the ‘me’ mentality and a bit more ‘us’ will come in handy over the coming months. When all this is finished, the High Street is probably going to be a very different place. But I think we can all agree that we want to see as many toy stores still standing as possible. And hopefully the occasional toy trade media operation as well. So, let’s keep talking, sharing, engaging and supporting each other. Kids will be at home and parents will need to keep them occupied. Viewing numbers will rise exponentially, both on linear TV and SVOD. There will be opportunities along with the huge challenges. Let’s try to find the positives as well as accepting the new realities.

As BTHA chairman Andrew Laughton says in his address to the UK toy nation this week (puts on best Churchillian voice): “We will stand shoulder to shoulder in solidarity…” Although come to think of it, aren’t we meant to be three feet apart, rather than shoulder to shoulder? Don’t want anyone getting into trouble…