Half-time team talk …it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 30th June 2023

And lo, we find ourselves at the midway point of the year. The first half has – by and large – gone the way most people thought it would. We knew there would be an abundance of excess stock to move through. We knew there was no craze on the horizon. We knew that some consumers would be short of disposable cash. Taking all that into consideration, using a football analogy (which our American readers might now appreciate if they have been watching Ted Lasso), we have reached half time and I think it’s fair to say that we’re still in the game.

Although, to stretch that metaphor to breaking point, how some players are still on the pitch remains a mystery. Those of you who have been reading my columns for a while will know a few of the things that really push my buttons. One of my biggest bugbears is pre-pack administrations, whereby a company starts up again with the same directors and virtually the same name, having jettisoned a pile of debt in the process – and when that is combined with not paying tax that is owed, that just compounds the situation.

So, you can imagine how disappointed I was to read about a recent case which ticks all the very worst boxes of the pre-pack strategy. My thanks to Thierry Bourret for doing a lot of the leg work on this:  he noticed a UK company which was representing some good brands had entered receivership. However, on contacting the receivers (within a few days), he was told that all assets had been disposed of. Surprise surprise, he soon found out that a new company, which was registered only a few months ago with a very similar name to the original company that went into liquidation, with the same directors, is now distributing the same brands.

It appears that the old company went into liquidation with a debt of around £800k, £400k of which was owed to HMRC. Of course, there is no suggestion that the administrator or the directors have acted in any way illegally. However, the fact that this questionable practice is still legal is, frankly, bewildering. It’s not just the unfortunate creditors who were affected, we are all out of pocket when HMRC loses out to the tune of £400k.

You could argue that there is a very simple solution – disbar anyone who puts a company into administration from holding a directorship in a company with the effectively same name and brands (some might even go a step further and say any company) for a minimum of three years – or indefinitely for repeat offenders.

The interesting things is how few people know this recent case even happened, especially as the company name is practically identical to its now defunct predecessor. Naturally, no-one is naïve enough to send us a press release admitting what has gone on. Indeed, we received a press release from a trade show that the company in question is showing at, listing them as an exhibitor: when I asked if the organisers were aware of the situation, it was hardly surprising that they had no idea whatsoever.

Does it really matter, as no laws were broken? I will leave that up to your own personal interpretation – personally, I think morality can sometimes be just as important as legality. We won’t be covering the company in question (or taking any advertising money from them) – I just don’t feel comfortable endorsing a company that feels this is acceptable behaviour. I won’t name (and shame) them publicly, but if you want a clue, look up all the song titles by Odyssey (and no, it’s not Going back to my Roots Ltd).

Anyway, on to much happier things. I received an email from Dave ‘Lord’ Cave this week, who tells me that he has just had his Walmart Hong Kong showroom appointment confirmed for early August (with buyers covering the USA and some other territories). As Dave says: “If Walmart are making the trip, I’m sure buyers will be back”, which certainly augurs well – now all we have to do is work out when they’re all going (for suppliers, I am sure a co-ordinated trip across one or two weeks in either the autumn and/or January would be infinitely preferable to a gradual drip drip effect across multiple timeframes).

It was also great to be able to share the news that David Allan has joined Epoch – what a fantastic move for both parties – and also to report that Charlotte Smith has joined the Wow! Stuff sales team. I’d also like to offer my congratulations to Playmobil’s Mark Foster, who became the latest recipient of a coveted Golden Teddy award at this week’s Industry Day at Great Fosters. It was another good turnout for the BTHA’s event, just as it had been the night before when the Toy World editorial team joined Bandai and a host of influencers for the launch of Tamagotchi Uni. There have been a few excellent launch events recently – it is good to see toy companies shouting about their hot new brands to start building excitement ahead of the festive season.

There are also plenty of companies showcasing their latest launches in the July issue of Toy World, which landed on desks this week (coincidentally, on the same day as a competitor’s June issue rather apologetically limped out – no guesses as to which one retailers will read). There is plenty of sizzling exclusive content in our issue, including an interview with Mattel’s Sanjay Luthra on the massive retail campaign rolling out across the UK and EMEA in support of the Barbie movie, plus the latest ‘double header’ featuring Midco’s Dave Middleton and Rick Derr of Learning Express. We caught up with the pair just after Dave had returned from the Astra Show in the US, and I am sure you will fine his observations on the event illuminating. Our editor Rachael did a wonderful job of keeping the pair in check, although I fear Rick may be somewhat bemused by the headline, as I don’t think Ian Dury was big in the USA.

Enjoy the issue, enjoy the good weather and bring on the second half – when not only is there all to play for, but I also predict there will be a few surprises in store for everyone (I am already sitting on one potentially huge story, which I suspect will break fairly soon and set the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons if my sources are correct…and they usually are).