Exclusive: Retail Profile – Midco & Learning Express

Published on: 6th April 2022

Toy World sat in on a Teams call between Rick Derr, from Learning Express in the US and Dave Middleton, owner of Midco Toymaster, to find out why small is mighty.

Take two successful toy retailers, one either side of the pond – what happens when you get them together? That’s what Toy World wanted to find out, and why, for the first time, we’ve interviewed an American retailer – Rick Derr and a British retailer – Dave Middleton, at the same time, on the same Teams meeting. Rachael Simpson-Jones sits in to find out how the pair differ and the many things they have in common.

Rick, the author of the popular monthly Toy World column Letter from America, is a regional manager and owner at American toy retailer Learning Express Toys. He’s an enthusiastic and genial individual, always more than happy to talk toys, keen to find solutions to challenges facing the industry and brimming with big ideas. Dave, winner of Independent Multi-Store Toy Retailer of the Year (up to 10 stores) at the Toy Industry Awards 2021, is a long-term friend of Toy World whose passion for toy retail is evident in the way he applies himself to both the Midco business and the wider industry.

The pair discuss how 2022 is shaping up so far, with Learning Express having just enjoyed its best February and Midco Toymaster is trading well up on last year, and up over 100% up on 2019.

They compare notes on supplier relationships – some of which sound very similar but some of which reveal greater points of difference – discussing the lines which are bringing in footfall this year so far.

Dave explains to Rick that the majority of US companies benefit from domestic UK operations, and how belonging to the Toymaster buying group helps too, giving access to a raft of suppliers that indies going it alone might not be able to work with.

Rick shares that “it’s often the case (in the US) that we’re just too small to deal with compared to Walmart and the like. But we strive to offer what kids want and work really hard to find it and offer it. Margin isn’t the be all and end all for us; I want the right products, first and foremost, and then it’s up to me to engineer the pricing and logistics that go into making it work. We might be small but we’re mighty, and we drive the volume.”

The rise of social media is the next topic under discussion which, as well as building consumer trust and being a useful selling tool, has been a huge factor in inspiring the two retailers to swap notes.

Rick and Dave also share their thoughts on trade fairs and buying patterns, and sow the seeds for a future collaborative launch between Learning Express in the US and Toymaster members in the UK.

The future of the toy industry is important to both, with concerns that not enough young people are being attracted to the business, not just in retail but in supply and design/invention too. “You need passion to run a toy shop and I don’t think there’s enough of that out there,” says Dave. “We need to be more welcoming or there won’t be anyone to replace us all when we retire.”

Rick agrees. “For our kids’ sake, for learning’s sake, for the sake of experiential retail, I hope we can get a handle on this because one day, people may find they can’t enjoy what we currently offer. What a shame that would be.”

To read the full conversation, which appears in the April edition of Toy World, click here.


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