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Come on England…it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 28th March 2013

Judging by the number of out-of-office auto-replies I’ve received in the past 24 hours, it appears that the ‘great Easter getaway’ is already in full swing. I guess the temptation to extend the four-day break into a meaningful amount of time away from work was just too good to resist for a lot of people (various members of the Toy World team included). But at least the sun is shining gloriously here, so I hope it is wherever you are too.

For those left in the office, I can officially confirm that Mark Goodall has moved on from his role as outdoor toy buyer at Toys R Us, which several suppliers seem to feel is a bit of a shame.

Hornby has also just confirmed that Frank Martin will be stepping down from his role as Chief Executive on or before 30 June 2014, and that the search for his successor is already underway. See today’s lead news story for more details.

The Toy Trust has generously donated £10,000 to support refugee children in Syria, once again demonstrating its ability to respond swiftly to support children’s charities in desperate need around the world, which is to be warmly applauded.

Another news story which caught my eye this week involved the US Senate passing an amendment on internet sales tax. The amendment, a rare bipartisan-supported measure formally called the Marketplace Fairness Act and nicknamed the ‘Amazon tax’, passed by 75 votes to 24, signalling strong support should the act come up for a vote as a stand-alone law. If such a law is passed, it will be a big win for brick-and-mortar merchants, who have long complained that the current arrangement gives online merchants an unfair advantage, because they can avoid having their customers pay state sales tax if they don’t have a business location in that state. It strikes me that there is a growing political will to close some of the loopholes that certain online retailers have previously exploited, which might in some small part start to create a more level playing field for other retailers. Hopefully the UK government will also play its part by ensuring that Amazon pays its fair share of tax in this country (as someone who has just settled his first ever corporation tax bill, it seems only reasonable to expect Amazon, Starbucks and their ilk to do the same).

You have probably noticed that it hasn’t been a great month to be an English sports fan. First, our rugby team took a severe battering from Wales. Next, our cricket team just about scraped the most meagre of draws to avoid an embarrassing series defeat against New Zealand. Now our football team has failed once again to see off lower-ranked opposition, putting our qualification for next year’s World Cup in jeopardy.

“But what has all this got to do with the toy industry”, I hear some of you cry. Am I just wittering on about sport because little else of note has happened this week? Well, to a degree, yes (although it makes a change from moaning about the weather). But there is a serious point: football World Cup years do have a significant impact on the toy trade. There will presumably be some mildly concerned folks at Topps and Panini right now, not to mention the many other companies with England-related figures and assorted merchandise. Even suppliers of generic football product (balls, goals, training accessories etc) will be hoping that England turn their fortunes around, or next year may not be as profitable as they are currently hoping it will turn out to be.

The simple fact is that 21st Century football tournaments represent a huge business opportunity for many retailers, multi-channel and industry specific alike. And don’t underestimate the effect of the ‘feel-good factor’ on the country as a whole; as we saw with the Olympics last year, it certainly doesn’t hurt consumer sales if the public is in a positive mood (until our inglorious but inevitable exit in the Quarter Finals at least…).

So regardless of the extent to which you follow football, England’s qualification–or otherwise–for next year’s tournament in Rio has commercial implications for many people in the toy trade. We will know more in the Autumn, when the England team has the chance to redeem itself. There will be an awful lot of people hoping they succeed.

Happy Easter one and all; the blog will return to its traditional Friday slot next week.

You can follow John on Twitter here: @Baulchtweet.