ICYMI: Getting away with it …it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 1st June 2021

In case you missed it last week, due to the bank holiday, here’s the latest Friday Blog.

We were speaking to a prominent retail owner this week, for a very special article you’ll be able to read in our July issue about a milestone anniversary the retailer is celebrating this year. After much enjoyable reminiscing – we started out in the industry within a year of each other, so we share many great memories – talk turned to the current trading conditions, especially the issues around pricing. I know all too well what suppliers think about the situation, but I was curious to hear first-hand what a major retailer had to say on the subject.

As far as I am concerned, any retailer who point blank refuses to even discuss price rises is – as Orwell would say – “rejecting the evidence of your eyes and ears.” Facts are facts: this year has seen massive increases in freight costs and the price of raw materials – the retailer we were interviewing described them as “unprecedented” (yes, that word is back again – I thought we might have heard the last of it after significant over-use last year, but apparently not). Even when inflation was running at double digits, it apparently didn’t have the seismic impact on pricing that this year’s perfect storm of factors has produced.

But of course, just because retailers should listen to reason doesn’t mean they are. So, I was pleased to hear that our interviewee was prepared to accept price increases – as he admitted, some store racking had gone up in price by 17% since he initially placed the order six weeks ago, plus he has a direct import programme, so he knows that suppliers aren’t crying wolf. In his own words: “We need our suppliers to be successful. Give and take is important in a partnership. We all have the same objective – to sell more toys and earn a living.”

However, he did have one very important caveat: that suppliers need to apply increases consistently across ALL accounts. The message was abundantly clear: woe betide anyone who forces an increase on him but doesn’t do exactly the same to all of his competitors, giving them a competitive pricing advantage. So, potentially, it just takes one brick in the wall to make the whole thing crumble…

Just like last year, I think the key to navigating these ongoing supply chain challenges will be open and honest communication, and a partnership-driven mentality. To be fair, the toy community pulled together superbly last year to ensure we coped admirably with the prevailing conditions. Hopefully more of the same will have a similar effect this year.

We saw at first hand just how close knit the toy community is with the response to a couple of stories we ran this week. One was a nice story: toy industry stalwart Malcolm Cook will be retiring next month, and it was lovely to see so many people wishing him well on our social media feeds, with many others getting in touch to ask for his contact details to contact him personally. Both retailers and suppliers queued up to send him best wishes…it’s good that Malcolm’s customers thought so highly of him, but also noticeable that others on the supply side (essentially competitors) were equally fulsome in their praise. The toy community really can be a lovely place to work sometimes.

However, the second story showed the not-so-good side of the toy market. Some of you may have traded with an online retailer called Squizzas. Some may have had problems getting paid. It happens. We highlighted the operation’s demise to keep people in the loop, but things took a further twist when the story prompted several toy companies to get in touch to let us know that the people behind Squizzas are apparently attempting to start up all over again under a new name. So, it was time for Toy World to go all ‘Rogue Traders’ and do some digging: we turned up some very interesting information, which we were happy to share, just to make sure the toy community has the full facts and can consider their next moves accordingly. It’s disappointing that this sort of behaviour still goes on, but as the UK toy community is a relatively small place, at least it is just that bit harder to get away with it.

Over the past few weeks, it has been good to see normal life gradually creeping back – I have my first in-person ’22 Preview next week, the first time I have visited a client’s office in over a year. Speaking to another supplier this week, he told me he was in the process of booking flights and hotels for Toy Fair Season ’22. No doubt it’s a subject we’ll be covering in more depth over the coming weeks – there are a few shows still hopeful of taking place in the second half of this year, and it won’t be long before we all need to start thinking about our plans for next year’s events. There is still some uncertainty over international travel and more than a few grey areas that need to be clarified (not least the quarantine situation, both here in the UK and in international territories). However, I get the sense that with the UK vaccination programme proceeding apace, we might be slightly more welcome across the globe than visitors from certain other countries.

Finally, with a lovely bank holiday beckoning and a weather app mercifully free from that awful storm cloud which has been a permanent fixture for the past few months, you might like some quality reading matter to accompany the break. In which case, may I point you in the direction of our June issue, which will be arriving through your door any day now. It’s another absolute corker, with some cracking content, including our first-ever in-depth look at the Kidult market. We’ve only been able to consistently publish such strong issues over the past year because of the amazing support from the toy community – thankfully, the vast majority of you understand and appreciate the value of partnership, and the fact that we can all help each other through this. Stronger together indeed…