All change for BTHA Toy Retailer of the Year Awards 2020

Entries for the Toy Retailer of the Year Awards are open from now until Friday 27th November, as new categories are introduced to represent the unique circumstances of 2020.

Toy Retailer of the Year Awards

In what has been an unprecedented year, the BTHA recognises that retailers have faced huge challenges and have gone above and beyond to keep business going through a tough climate.

In light of this remarkable year, Special Recognition is the theme for the 2020 Toy Retailer of the Year Awards and recognition will be given to retailers that have done extraordinary things during this challenging year and whose actions distinguish them from others.

The awards will be different from the normal retailer award categories of previous years. This year, the BTHA is looking for toy retailers to tell them their story; judges are looking for stories from retailers that demonstrate altruism and innovation.

When considering entries, attention will be given to things like: charitable work, special initiatives in the local community and innovative ways of toy retailing and special measures to help struggling suppliers during the Covid-19 pandemic. Retailers may also have provided help for employees or remodelled their business to meet the changing retail landscape that Covid-19 has presented this year. There may also be other initiatives or projects that retailers have undertaken which have helped others or their businesses to succeed during 2020.

The BTHA is also keen to hear from retailers who have employees or team members that have undertaken heroic actions for their company. This may be an employee or team member or perhaps even a whole team that has gone the extra mile for customers or local community in some way.

To enter, retailers will need to complete a short and simple online entry form which will provide the opportunity to tell their story in full. They should also include media to help enhance their entry where applicable.

The deadline for entries is 3pm on Friday 27th November.

Exclusive: Toy retailers react to latest Covid measures in Wales and Ireland

A number of retailers have spoken to Toy World about how the restrictions will affect their businesses as we continue the countdown to Christmas. 

Retailers in Ireland will enter one of the strictest lockdowns – Level 5 – seen in Europe for six weeks from midnight tonight (Wednesday 21st October), while Wales will trigger a two week ‘Firebreak’ from Friday, as part of the latest measures to curb rising numbers of coronavirus infections in the UK.

While few are quibbling the need for a lockdown from a health point of view, the timing could certainly be better. Christmas shopping is underway earlier than ever this year, thanks to campaigns by the likes of the British Retail Consortium and The Entertainer, and while non-essential retailers currently under Tier 1, 2 or 3 regulations can carry on trading as normal, those in Firebreak (AKA Circuitbreak) lockdowns or Level 5 measures will be forced to temporarily shutter for the duration, as they did during the nationwide lockdown that started on 23rd March. So what does this mean for toy retailers during what is peak Christmas shopping season?

Smyths Toys Superstores, Ireland’s biggest toy retailer, told Toy World that its stores are ‘ready and prepared’ for the Level 5 lockdown. Customers will be able to order online for free same-day delivery on orders placed before 3pm, while home delivery will also be available. A spokesperson commented: “We can’t have shoppers in-store, but we have changed the stores so we can have a till collection point at the door and have also upweighted our delivery capacity. Our Taoiseach has a heart for Santa after all.”

Toytown will have to close one store in Wales during the two week Firebreak, and doesn’t have any in Southern Ireland, though managing director Alan Simpson says the Level 5 lockdown there will still have an affect on its other stores due to limited cross-border traffic to its stores in NI. He adds: “My main concern is that this situation evolves in the UK, and NI or Scotland follow a similar route. At that point, it’s ‘when’ and not ‘if’, lockdowns will have an impact – I feel that Boris will come under pressure to follow suit if those areas trigger lockdowns too. If this is to be an inevitability, I’d rather see it sooner than later, and for a definitive period. If it buys some time until January, while not ideal, so be it.”

Elsewhere, supermarkets – which are deemed essential retailers and are therefore allowed to remain open throughout – are taking steps to address potential toy panic-buying. The discount retailer Aldi has imposed a strict limit of one of each toy per purchase, and is assigning marshals to each store, ticketing customers and managing queues to ensure social distancing is adhered to and stock is fairly distributed. While a crackdown on panic buying will be welcomed by those who remember the March lockdown (flour, flour, my kingdom for some flour!), limits on toys may prove unpopular by parents with more than one child to shop for. Aldi Group Managing Director, Niall O’Connor, said: “The provision of a ticketing system will ensure as many shoppers as possible will get to avail of the offers and do so while shopping in a safe environment. The safety of our staff and customers while in our stores is our number one priority and we continue to have in place several safety measures across our 144 stores.”

While the lockdown themselves are one concern, trepidation remains about how the period after they end will be for toy and game retailers. The nationwide lockdown we all went through in March was a novel experience, with government furlough and loan schemes in place to lessen the blow to businesses, employers and their staff. Since that lockdown ended – larger Irish shops reopened on 8th June, while English shops reopened on the 15th, Welsh stores on the 22nd and Scottish ones from the 29th – various areas in both Wales and Ireland, as well as England and Scotland, have been subject to local lockdown restrictions, creating a challenging environment for stores to operate in.

“It’s very hard to part-run your business,” says Ian Davis at Rules of Play, which has a store in Cardiff and another in Bristol. “Either you’re open, or you’re not. And if the doors are open, you have to offer in full the facilities and services you usually would, from staffing to stock and everything in-between. This means you’re running at full-steam, ensuring the Christmas best-sellers are in stock, that social media is up to date and so forth – yet local lockdowns mean no-one can travel to the city centre and actually visit the store. We’ve been seeing only 15-20% footfall for a number of weeks now; as a retailer there are pros and cons to the Firebreak.”

He explains: “If the Firebreak can end the local lockdowns, meaning people can travel into the city centres again, then great – we can start planning for that peak Christmas period properly, with a view to seeing some sense of normality. However, if it just dampens things down a bit, and doesn’t end the local lockdowns, then we’ll once again find ourselves running the store at 100%, but only seeing a fraction of the footfall. That is where the problem lies.”

Similar to the latter end of 2019, back when it was the B-word making headline news each day, rather than the C-word, it’s the uncertainty and indecisiveness from leadership that is causing the most angst for retailers, especially those in areas where strict lockdowns such as those in Wales and Ireland haven’t (yet) been imposed. Scheduled lockdowns, ideally announced far enough in advance, will allow retailers to plan their response accordingly, manage stock levels, release statements on social media addressing their local communities and beef up their click & collect, home delivery and kerbside drop services, where necessary. With the lockdown guillotine hanging above our heads for an indeterminate amount of time, putting contingencies into place is much harder.

“We have not had a lot of time to prepare for a six week lockdown, especially in what is normally the run up to Christmas,” notes Tony Duffy of Duffy’s Toyworld. “However, we have been in preparation mode; the critical number of Covid-19 cases were increasing weekly and we started planning early to ensure stocks were made available to us. We also have had plenty of hints from the trade; reading between the lines in your excellent magazine of possible shortages meant we bought on a continuous basis over the late summer and early autumn. Because our customers were fearful of another lockdown they were buying early, but so far we have been able to meet demand as we continue to buy various stock ranges.”

To help it get through the period, Duffys is also employing a raft of different communication systems, has built an impressive new website, and continues to use Facebook, Instagram and social media to stay in touch with its customers. Adds Tony: “We have built up a nationwide circle of customers who are very enthusiastic about our range of quality toys. During lockdown we’ll be using a top rate courier service for deliveries all over Ireland, and we’ll also be using Click & Collect to make it easier for our customers. Hopefully, we will be able to report after the six weeks that business has been successful.”

As it stands, no one, be they in Wales or Ireland or anywhere else, knows if the short, sharp lockdowns now being announced will result in a clear run to Christmas – and higher consumer confidence in the physical shopping experience. Only time will tell. Warnings have already been issued by retail bodies about the possibility of online services being swamped by a Christmas rush, so allowing bricks & mortar retailers to reassume their vital services this festive season will be imperative in heading off disruption, stock issues and long delivery delays – provided the government decides it is safe to do so.

As we’ve previously reported, the toy industry is in a good place at the moment, and Christmas 2020, despite the ongoing pandemic, should be a positive period for many. Buying groups are also on hand to support retailers at this time, as Brian McLaughlin, retail manager at Toymaster, told Toy World. “Our members adapted well to the original lockdown back in March, and we are able to share the successes with the rest of our members, particularly how they used social media to communicate with their local communities. Having a support network offers reassurance during uncertain times like these; the Toymaster team, as well as its members, will keep lines of communication open throughout this period, to share ideas and help each other.”

Obituary: Ian Cuthbert

The much-loved and respected industry veteran passed away this week at the age of 61, after a very short illness. 

Ian spent many years in the toy industry, where he occupied key roles on both the retail and supply side of the industry. Born and bred in Lancashire, Ian spent much of his career in the North West, including stints at HTI and Sambro. He was widely recognised as being an astute judge of toy product – a toy man through and through. Ian also worked with the Toymaster team in Northampton as product selector, before moving back to the North West to join HTI.

HTI chairman John Hutt had this to say about him: “The whole team at HTI are so sorry to hear the news of Ian, he was part of the HTI family for over a decade. I had the pleasure of first meeting Ian when I was 18 years old, calling on him as a rep at Boydells of Bolton. Many years later, our paths crossed again in 2000 when Ian joined us as a buyer. On a professional level, he played a pivotal part in driving the business, starting our global partner business with Hasbro & Mattel along with working on other key distribution lines. Their success was all testament to the hard work and commitment Ian showed in his work as a buyer.”

“Not just a colleague, but a friend to many, he will forever be remembered for his way with words, being the go-to person for all poems and verses on special occasions including an ode to Christmas at HTI which we still have; it certainly made us smile. His words will live on in all of those he created poems for. A true mentor for those he worked with over the years, he will not be forgotten for the kindness and support he showed those fresh-faced colleagues starting out on their journey with HTI.”

Former HTI colleague Andrew Copplestone also spoke warmly about Ian: “I’ve known Ian 25 years, both selling directly to him when I was at Halsall’s and working with him when he came to join us in Fleetwood. Ian loved the toy industry, he loved the people and had a million stories about the behind the scenes activities that make the toy industry what it is. What struck me about Ian was his generosity. He had a fantastic knowledge of the industry from both retail and supply perspective. He was always happy to share his knowledge and mentor many of the younger members of the team to get them up to speed as quickly as possible. It was his generosity of his time that impressed me most. He was fantastically organised, he always had time for everybody. Don’t get me wrong- he had an opinion and would defend it, but he never left a job for somebody else to pick up and complete, he would do it or be there with them to help do it.

He was a fantastic ‘fluffer’ for our showroom, he knew how to display product and he was indispensable during show times, as we had a lot of product that needed fluffing! I remember Ian with lots of laughter, lots of fun times and one of the most connected guys I know. It’s ridiculous that he has gone so soon and so quickly.”

Many other toy industry figures also got in touch to pay their respects to Ian. Fellow buyer Andrea Gornall said: “I’m shocked to hear the very sad news about Ian. He was always a lovely person to work with and he will be missed,” while Nikki Samuels said: “ I’m completely in shock and devastated to hear the sad news of Ian’s sudden passing. I’m so happy to have had the opportunity to work with him closely – everybody who met Ian really loved spending time with him.”

Toymaster’s Paul Reader owes much to Ian: “Ian was the Toymaster toy selector in the late 90s. He called me to say that he was moving back North and thought I would be perfect for the role, so asked me if I was interested in taking over from him. If it hadn’t been for his recommendation, I may never have joined Toymaster.”

Another former HTI colleague, James Clayton, commented: “I worked with Ian for eight years, when I was fresh out of school. He taught me everything I know. At Toy Fair, you wouldn’t be able to get anywhere in a hurry – everyone wanted to stop and talk to Ian,” while Julie Pittilla called him “a bloody lovely bloke.”

Our thoughts are with his wife Mandy and his three sons at this sad time. As John Hutt perfectly summed up: “A truly memorable person, he most certainly won’t be forgotten.”

Rubie’s opens Virtual Showroom for its customers

Rubie’s 365 dedicated digital Nuremberg Virtual Showroom features exclusive virtual tours and live appointments with Brand Specialists.

Rubies Virtual Showroom

Following announcements in recent weeks regarding the cancellation and postponement of Toy Fairs in early 2021, costume giants Rubie’s opened the digital doors to its 365 dedicated Nuremberg showroom with exclusive virtual tours and live appointments with brand specialists.

The new Virtual Showroom will be streamed through private viewings providing buyers with an experiential approach to remotely research, interact and place orders from their expansive portfolio of global licensed brands.

Graham Gardiner, general manager EMEA, commented: “Online retail and remote selling is one of the big growth areas for our sector. With the Virtual Showroom, we are bringing the same tailored personal showroom experience our customers are used to when they visit our Nuremberg venue, from the comfort of their home or office. At Rubie’s we’re keen to position ourselves at the forefront of digital excellence through our ecommerce website, HUB platform and now our Virtual Showroom. We are adapting the way our business operates to respond not only to the current crisis but also to be at the forefront of long-term trends and adapt to the shifts in consumer behaviours.”

He added: “Increasingly, digital viewing platforms are on the rise by becoming key tools to accommodate for growing expectations in the current climate and continue promoting all our incredible licensed brands to the marketplace. Last weekend over 40 Key Customers from around the world were treated to a one-on-one interactive experience by using a live broadcast demonstrations of all the new products from Marvel, Disney, Lucas, Sony, DC, Harry Potter, Looney Tunes, Power Rangers, Universal and many others major licences. By using our Nuremberg Showroom, we were able to meet and present with our key partners. Customers have appreciated the personal approach and effort we have made in bringing our inspirational showroom to their desks.”

Rubie’s is looking to repeat the event early next year in the absence of physical trade shows and will be expanding these events in order to accommodate access for more customers throughout the UK and rest of the world.

Rubies Virtual Showroom

Selfridges announces its top toys for Christmas 2020

Selfridges is the latest retailer to release a top toys list, featuring a wide range of toy categories as well as top players in the licensing sector.

Selfridges Top Toys for Christmas 2020

Selfridges’ predictions for this year’s best-selling toys include a range of classic, creative and sustainable gifts designed to keep little ones engaged and entertained this Christmas and long after the festive holidays.

This year’s list is as follows:

Barbie’s Dream House (Mattel) – The latest version of the iconic playset includes lighting, music and a working lift.

Present Pets (Spin Master) – Present Pets are animatronic puppies and kittens that unbox themselves. Each pet has over 100 sounds and reactions.

KidiZoom Studio (VTech) – The Vtech KidiZoom Studio comes with a camera and green screen back drop so young vloggers can capture fun videos with friends and family and edit to add backgrounds, special effects and sounds.

Adventures with Mario Starter Set (Lego) – Builders big and small can create a course for Mario who gives instant expressive responses via the LCD screen and speaker. By downloading the free Lego Super Mario app, players can earn virtual coins as they move across the course and collect mystery items from the ‘?’ blocks. Once the first mission is completed, rearrange the bricks to create new levels.

Lamborghini Sián FKP 37 (Lego) – This set comprises 3,696 pieces to create a gloriously detailed replica, featuring the classic scissor doors and 8-speed working gearbox.

L.O.L. Surprise! Doll Remix (MGA Entertainment) – A collection of four dolls each with a different identity inspired by pop icons. Each doll comes with a second outfit and the innovative packaging turns into a vinyl player.

Little Live Pets ‘Gotta Go’ Flamingo (Character Options)  – Sherbet the Flamingo eats his favourite magic food then his neck wiggles and wobbles as he gobbles it down. When placed on the toilet, he starts singing his catchy “Uh Oh, Gotta Go!” song. Sherbert will also repeat what children say, they can record and listen as he repeats funny phrases.

Laser Battle Hunters interactive toy set (Character Options) – Comes with two electronic vehicles and two remotes.

Paw Patrol Dino Patroller (Spin Master) – Featuring room for all six pup heroes, oversized wheels, a projectile launcher and an exclusive T-Rex dinosaur action figure.

Peppa’s Shopping Centre (Character Options) – Features six different areas across two floors with a working lift to go between them.

Eco Snow Leopard soft toy 45cm (Keel Toys) – from a new sustainable range of classic Christmas characters made from 100% recycled plastic.

All products are available online and in Selfridges’ stores.

Tomy and Universal partner on Sing 2 toy line

The product line will comprise innovative toys including collectible figures, feature plush and a role-play game. 

Tomy International has announced a collaboration with Illumination and Universal Brand Development to introduce a line of toys based on characters from Illumination’s upcoming animated motion picture, Sing 2, currently set for release on 22nd December 2021.

The product line will comprise innovative toys including collectible figures, feature plush and a role-play game.

“Audiences everywhere have already fallen in love with the relatable characters of Sing, and we’re looking forward to bringing them to life and into playrooms,” said Tomy’s Morgan Weyl, director of global toys. “The Sing films are about overcoming obstacles and pursuing dreams, so we’ve created a musically-infused toy line that will help inspire the next generation to shoot for the stars – no matter what challenges they may face along the way.”

“Our filmmaking partners at Illumination continue to deliver dynamic characters and storylines that bring joy and smiles to audiences across the globe, and we’re excited for the worldwide debut of Sing 2,” said Joe Lawandus, senior vice president and general manager, global toys and hardlines, Universal Brand Development. “We look forward to collaborating with Tomy on an all-new toy line that will bring the franchise’s signature comedy and hit music into the hearts and homes of fans worldwide.”

Great Ormond Street Hospital enjoys exclusive storytelling with Tonies

A collection of stories and poems, delivered by a whole host of actors, was uploaded and locked onto Superhero Creative-Tonies. 

A group of Britain’s most celebrated actors have pooled their storytelling skills during lockdown to entertain the children at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) with the help of Tonies, the children’s storytelling audio device.

Award-winning talent including Olivia Colman, Katherine Parkinson and Keira Knightley recorded readings of their favourite children’s stories to entertain young patients staying on the wards at GOSH, as they receive vital treatment for rare and complex conditions.

The stars worked with Tonies to help bring this Magical Audio Experience to the children in the hospital. The collection of stories and poems, delivered by a variety of actors, was uploaded and locked onto Superhero Creative-Tonies for the children to listen to in the wards as often as they liked.

Stories recorded include: Dr Doolittle, In the Night Kitchen, Mr Sneeze and The Sulky Vulture, plus a series of poems from A. A. Milne. The readings from actors of both stage and screen were uploaded onto 50 Creative-Tonies for 50 Tonieboxes and donated to Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity (GOSH Charity). They were distributed by members of the hospital’s dedicated play team, filling the wards with the sounds of captivating readings.

Joel Keating, heading up this project from United Agents, office of Lindy King, commented: “Sharing positive stories during a challenging few months felt like a way we could truly make a difference to the children receiving treatment at Great Ormond Street Hospital. We hope that this project has brought some comfort, entertainment and smiles to them.”

Manon Sel, UK GM and Pinky Laing, UK Partnerships at Tonies, added: “We are thrilled to have been able to bring this wonderful idea to life and play our part in helping to offer a welcome distraction to those children currently in Great Ormond Street Hospital by producing this compilation of stories by these amazing actors. Our main goal at Tonies is to entertain and inspire young minds through the magical world of storytelling. When the request came in, we knew straight away that we wanted to help. Tonies is proud to support Great Ormond Street Hospital.”

Welsh and Irish non-essential retailers to close under new Covid measures

Wales will enter a two week 'Firebreak' lockdown on Friday, while Ireland enters Level 5 restrictions. 

Non-essential retailers in Wales and Ireland will be forced to once again temporarily shutter under strict new measures to try and control the increasing spread of Covid-19.

On Friday, Wales will enter a two week 'Firebreak' lockdown, under which shops, schools, pubs and hotels will close, and households told to stay home. Businesses will remain closed until 9th November, and people will not be allowed to attend Halloween or Bonfire Night celebrations or travel around/to Wales for the half-term holiday.

Ireland, meanwhile, has announced that it will be moving to Level 5 restrictions for six weeks starting from midnight tomorrow (Wednesday 21st October) until 2nd December. Non-essential retail will close along with barbers’ shops, beauty salons, gyms, leisure centres and cultural amenities, while restaurants and pubs will only be allowed to serve takeaway meals. A strict 3 mile (5km) travel limit has also been imposed, with exceptions only allowed for work and other essential services.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin, said: "If we pull together over the next six weeks, we will be able to celebrate Christmas in a meaningful way … the journey will not be easy but the future is in our hands. We must each dig deep and persevere.”

The news has caused consternation across the retail sector in these regions, with data showing that many families had already begun their Christmas shopping. In Ireland, the six week lockdown will see toy shops reopen after 2nd December, leaving just over three weeks to complete festive purchases. As a result, it's likely that shoppers will once again take to online shopping in a bid to get everything ordered in time.

Smyths Toy Superstores has confirmed to Toy World that it will be offering a free same-day Click & Collect service as well as home delivery during the period, as per government guidelines. A spokesperson for the retailer said: "The latest government announcement is a positive outcome for us - our stores are ready and prepared."

Are you a toy and game retailer in a region about to enter strict lockdowns? Let us know how the measures will affect your business and how you'll be adjusting your Christmas plans - email rachael@toyworldmag.co.uk.

Was Amazon Prime Day 2020 a disappointment?

The 2-day shopping event may have been been the first since 2015 to not return growth. 

Reports indicate that Amazon Prime Day 2020 has been a decidedly more lacklustre affair than analysts had predicted, with website traffic data and muted language surrounding the event indicating the retailer’s disappointment.

It has been suggested that sales may have been affected by Amazon’s decision to move Prime Day, which usually takes place in July, to October 13th and 14th, which some experts warned may cannibalise Christmas sales. Elsewhere, the ‘shop local’ message put forth by some campaign and industry groups may have had an impact. Web traffic, according to SimilarWeb, also remained flat this year; last year traffic increased 8% for Prime Day.

While Amazon does not release detailed figures of its Prime Day events, it has celebrated the “biggest day ever” or “largest shopping event in Amazon history” every year since the event first launched in 2015. This year however, Amazon has instead focused on the performance of its third-party sellers, which it says generated more than $3.5b in sales this year.

“Based on the language of Amazon’s press releases and SimilarWeb data, it appears that Prime Day 2020 was not the ‘biggest day ever,’” Citi analysts said.

Amazon has come under continued fire this year for a host of reasons, including perceived tax avoidance, the hiking of fees to cover the government’s new digital tax initiative, worker safety during the pandemic, and the continued sale of unsafe toys via its third-party marketplace.

Tomy acquires Fat Brain Toys

The acquisition will expand Tomy's presence in the direct-to-consumer space. 

Tomy International has announced that it has completed the acquisition of Fat Brain Holdings. Fat Brain, located in Elkhorn, Nebraska, is a privately-held developer, marketer and seller of innovative, quality children’s toys, games and gifts.

As a vertically integrated company, Fat Brain operates a state-of-the-art D2C platform and also designs its own line of award-winning toys and games. Fat Brain Toys' products are available at leading retailers around the world and on its website, www.fatbraintoys.com.

“We are delighted to welcome Fat Brain to the Tomy family,” said Pete Henseler, president of Tomy. "The Fat Brain team has done a fantastic job of developing wonderful toys and games that fit with the Tomy mission to 'Make the World Smile'. Since its launch as a direct-to-consumer brand over 17 years ago, Fat Brain has continued to grow by staying focused on developing and selling innovative children toy and game products through a multi-channel distribution network, while always keeping consumers at the centre of everything it does. We look forward to working with the team at Fat Brain to continue to bring even more great Fat Brain-branded products to families around the world.”

"It's truly gratifying to join forces with Tomy and its nearly 100-year heritage of toy innovation," said Mark Carson, president and cofounder of Fat Brain Toys. "We can't wait to welcome a new wave of families to our unique toys and Smarter Way to Play.”