Half-Term hiatus… it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 17th February 2017

It’s been half-term this week which, on the plus side, always makes the drive into the office a little more straightforward. But while there has been a distinct lack of 4x4s on the road, and more gangs of teenagers milling around Hemel town centre at lunchtime, it has been unusually quiet on the retail front (a modest Argos flyer aside). I suspect most retailers’ promotional ‘powder’ is being kept dry for Easter.

To compound the number of people away on holiday for Half Term, the weeks following Toy Fair Season tend to be relatively quiet anyway, as most people seclude themselves away to wade through all the post-show follow up. Major retailers are huddled away in full-on selection mode, while suppliers are working their way through a long line of quotes, proposals and all the other selection-related paper work that they love so much.

It’s no great surprise, then, that gossip is traditionally thin on the ground in the aftermath of the shows. However, I do understand that Darrell Jones will be moving on from Bandai at the end of next month – we wish him all the best with whatever comes next.

It was also good to finally announce details of Nat Southworth’s new venture – Added Smile – earlier this week. If you missed that story, you can read more here. Judging by the number of people who apparently got in touch with Nat after the story ran, he’s going to be rather busy in the coming months. It’s always nice to see people being bold and launching a new company, and Nat knows the industry extremely well from all sides of the fence, so he’s well-placed to make it a big success.

Of course, for some, Toy Fair season is not quite over yet – many people will be making their way to New York for the Toy Fair which starts this Sunday. At least the bitter cold temperatures of recent years haven’t returned this year. Sadly, I won’t be joining them this time round; the show dates have moved back a week in the calendar, so they clash with press week for our March issue. As I’m not fond of issues coming out in the middle of a month (unlike some titles I could mention…), I’ve had to forego my trip to the Big Apple. Spies have, however, been primed to let me know of anything exciting or scandalous that happens.

Talking to retailers over recent weeks, the year seems to have got off to a respectable start. While I haven’t seen the January NPD data, talk around the trade suggests there were some interesting winners and losers. Unsurprisingly, Batman Lego has been a stellar performer (an awful lot of mini figures have been shifted), while equally inevitably, Star Wars has gone backwards after Christmas. It would appear that those retailers who took the view that Rogue One would have only a modest impact on sales were not too wide of the mark. I suspect the launch of Episode 8 – The Last Jedi – will be a different ball game entirely.

Elsewhere, the rumours of the impending closure of a large chunk of the Clintons store estate offers a glimpse into the ongoing challenges faced by High Street retailers, while at the same time presenting an opportunity to enterprising toy retailers who could potentially capitalise if their local branch of Clintons bites the dust.

Finally, without wishing to sound like Captain Hindsight, I was not surprised to see John Lewis is offering plush toy versions of Buster the Boxer dog – star of its Christmas TV commercial – at a vastly reduced price online. When I first saw the soft toy, my reaction was: “Hang on, that looks absolutely nothing like the dog in the ad.”  It would appear that children everywhere quickly reached the same conclusion. In case you think I’m being harsh, here is – as Donald Trump might describe him – “so-called Buster” in all his glory…