As the trial begins, Toy World caught up with Gary Grant and key members of The Entertainer and Addo Play teams to view the new in-store toy area.
This week heralds the rollout of the six month trial which will see The Entertainer managing the toy aisles of five selected Asda stores. The initiative was first announced back in October, and the first trial store – Pudsey – opened on Tuesday, followed by Watford on Wednesday, Wolverhampton today and Roehampton and Darlston tomorrow. Pudsey and Watford are both larger stores, with the toy section comprising around 50 wall bays. Allowing for the fact there are no gondolas, each area represents around half the shelf space of the average Entertainer store.
Toy World visited the Watford Asda bright and early on opening morning to talk to Gary Grant and key members of The Entertainer and Addo Play teams about the venture. As Gary walked me through the aisles, his passion and enthusiasm for the project was immediately evident – although to be fair, standing in a physical toy aisle looking at toy ‘in the flesh’ would be exciting for anyone in the toy community at the moment. Ever since the announcement was made last October, The Entertainer has been working with the Asda toy team to curate a compelling range which works within the supermarket environment and fit out the space so that the toy aisles stand out and – in Gary’s words – “come to life”.
Now that the trial has started, all eyes are on results. Gary was delighted with the first day’s trading in Pudsey: “We doubled our target on opening day”, he admitted. The next six months will see The Entertainer constantly monitoring each store’s performance, a strategy Gary referred to as “Learn and Adapt.” Joining Gary for the opening of the Watford concession, Mark Whittle, head of buying & merchandising, told me that he would be watching sales data closely, assessing how to maximise shelf space and working out “how to do more of what works and how to switch out what doesn’t.”
Although height restrictions at the Watford store preclude the use of the Entertainer-branded welcome ‘arch’ that the Pudsey store is able to accommodate, the aisles still looked demonstrably more exciting and interactive than other aisles within the store. Floor decals, custom signage, strings of bunting over the top of the aisle and branded interactive displays combine to give the feel of a genuine toy store, rather than a typical supermarket aisle. Even the space at the top of the shelves which is traditionally used by supermarkets as storage has been turned into space to showcase merchandise.
The range itself feels familiar to anyone who is used to the Entertainer in-store experience, albeit with some key tweaks. The Entertainer toy areas in Asda stores will hold around 1200 products, a mixture of branded and licensed lines, together with a strong presence for Addo Play own-brand lines. Asda’s toy range has always included a broad own-brand offering, so it’s no surprise to see Addo’s brands featuring prominently in the mix. Elsewhere, Gary admits that “the restricted space has made us much more focused in terms of the range.” Taking into account the impulse nature of shopping for toys in a supermarket, there is understandably a greater percentage of low and mid-range price points, with a good selection of collectibles and sub £10 and £20 items.
One of the key elements which Gary believes will be crucial to the success of the trial is delivering The Entertainer-levels of merchandising within a supermarket: “We’re aiming to consistently have around double the volume of stockholding that you might expect to see in a supermarket toy aisle. Our own staff will be here in-store six days a week, helping customers in the way that we would do in any The Entertainer store. These staff are used to thinking on their feet and keeping displays topped up; they’re used to filling gaps with product, making sure the customer sees full shelves of toys.”
One of the key features of The Entertainer’s toy aisles in Asda is the presence of branded displays, featuring popular brands such as Paw Patrol, Barbie, Fisher Price and Hot Wheels. Indeed, Gary is full of praise for Mattel, and head of EMEA Sanjay Luthra in particular: “Mattel is one company which has really stepped up and grabbed the opportunity. As soon as the deal was announced, Sanjay contacted me to say “the combination of real toy knowledge and supermarket traffic is potentially explosive.” In my experience, Sanjay has brought an entirely different attitude to Mattel – more collaborative and partnership-oriented. Last week, for the first time ever, Mattel was The Entertainer’s number one supplier.”
Ultimately, Gary remains optimistic about the venture: “Supermarket shopping must be a chore for children, not something they look forward to at all. We want to create an environment where the toy aisles become the fun part of the trip for them – and hopefully that will encourage more sales as a result.”