Compare and contrast…it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 28th June 2019

The temperature in the UK has shot back up, which I could have comfortably predicted, as we are currently away on holiday – every time we leave the UK, this happens (you’re welcome, by the way). Retailers will be hoping that this latest burst of good weather has the same effect on outdoor toy sales as it did earlier this year. By the time suppliers arrived in Hong Kong for spring summer 2020 previews, retailers were apparently trading well up on the outdoor side – the largest toy retailer was said to be +70% at that stage! Of course, weather peaks and troughs at this time of year tend to produce major swings both ways, so I have no idea where the numbers currently sit. Hopefully the curve is heading upwards again now.

There are plenty of other reasons to be cheerful for a selection of UK toy retailers. The Entertainer continues to expand its store estate – with Antrim and Bromley the latest additions – while Toytown has now opened five new stores so far this year, the latest in Sheffield. And then there is Smyths, continuing to open new outlets in the U.K., while its German operation is really motoring now – new stores (Munich being the latest), extended outlets and a brand new 40m Euro logistics facility in the process of being built in northern Germany. The 50,000 sq m distribution centre is due for completion this autumn, and it will no doubt enhance Smyths’ German operation significantly. Our homegrown toy retailers really are killing it at the moment.

Compare and contrast those performances with poor old Toys R Us in the USA; some suppliers (although not all by any means) got rather excited when Richard Barry announced in February that the retailer would be aiming to rise like a phoenix from the ashes. Several months on, the reality looks a little more sobering; I believe the grand total of two stores (two!!) are being mooted, while there is talk of a ‘consignment inventory model’ being used. Or, in layman’s terms, the company will return any items not sold to suppliers. Two stores, sale or return…sounds like rather a damp squib to me. What a contrast to the former TRU operation now run by Smyths in Germany, or the current TRU Asian and Canadian operations. I might also suggest that the success of those businesses suggests that the TRU name has little or nothing to do with how well (or otherwise) the US operation fares.

Another reason to be cheerful is the general reception to Toy Story 4. I’m not inclined to listen to the naysayers who are claiming that the opening weekend somehow failed to live up to ‘expectations ‘, as has been reported in some quarters. Whose expectations, and how ‘they’ arrived at the arbitrary number, haven’t been made clear. So I prefer to look at the bigger picture: good box office numbers in the UK; positive reviews, both from critics and the general public, plus a film that seems to be ‘all about the toys’ can only be good for licensees and retailers. I’m certainly looking forward to seeing the movie.

I was delighted with the reaction from the UK toy community to the new BTHA campaign, which I highlighted in last week’s Blog. I was particularly pleased to see Toymaster getting behind the campaign; indeed, the more retailers who get involved the better. Indies, major accounts, legitimate online retailers…anyone and everyone from the toy community has a part to play here, not just BTHA members. The broader the support for the initiative, the better chance of success it has.

And if you needed any further proof as to why a change in the law is needed, compare and contrast the reaction of Tobar to a minor safety issue this week to the way that Amazon in particular has handled recent safety scares. Tobar found there was a problem with a single batch of its Unicorn Magic Poo line, with tests revealing the batch contained too much boron. Tobar reacted swiftly and decisively, removing the entire range from sale, not just the offending batch. Credit to Tobar – that is exactly how it should be done. In theory, legislation shouldn’t need to be in place for this course of action to happen, but previous cases at certain online retailers sadly suggest otherwise.

Keep an eye out for the July issue of Toy World, which will be landing on desks any day now – at 100+ pages, it’s yet another cracker. Looking ahead to next month, thanks to all those who have completed our licensing survey – we have already had some fascinating feedback. If you haven’t sent your feedback yet, there is still time – it’s all completely confidential, so you can be as open and honest as you like. If you’re a licensee or toy retailer and you haven’t received the survey but would like to contribute your two pennorth, please drop either Rachael or myself a line and we’ll send the details over – the more that respond the merrier, we would love to make this as definitive a piece of work as we can.

Finally, I’d like to welcome the latest recruit to the Toy World team – our new assistant editor Lisa Currie. Two weeks in to her new role and she has already been invited to celebrate Playtime PR’s fifth birthday by joining a bunch of toy folk in a giant adult ball pit. She’s probably already wondering what on earth she’s let herself in for…

It’s time for me to sign off now – there is a Guaro Sour with my name on and it isn’t going to drink itself. Pura Vida!