He’s lost control (again)…it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 1st October 2021

2021 – the year that just keeps on giving. This week has seen parts of the UK resemble a scene from the Mad Max movies, as brave souls wander a dystopian landscape in search of fuel, fighting with anyone who got in their way. It certainly puts the challenges faced by toy companies this year into perspective – right now, there are far bigger things to worry about than whether little Johnny will get exactly the right Among Us figure this Christmas.

Of course, this latest fiasco isn’t helping matters – by all accounts, last Saturday’s retail trading was something of a washout, as people who would have been out shopping were either sat in endless queues for petrol or sat at home conserving fuel for more essential journeys. Equally, online deliveries are going to be disrupted if this ludicrous situation persists – the Times ran with a headline saying it may take up to a month for a full return to normality, and to be fair, it is not traditionally one of the national papers given to wild bouts of exaggeration.

Some indie retailers were out queueing at petrol stations at 4.00 in the morning, to ensure their vans had the necessary fuel to keep their stores topped up with stock – that is, of course, those who have been successful (or lucky enough) to obtain deliveries. Those who built up stock levels early will be very pleased they had the confidence to get ahead of the pack.

The shortage of workers isn’t limited to lorry drivers – I saw an email sent to suppliers this week from a major logistics company, announcing peak period surcharges of 30% due to the need to pay higher wages and retention bonuses in order to secure the number of staff they need to keep the supply chain running smoothly. I am going to say something here that may be considered controversial in certain quarters; I wonder whether this may be yet another knock-on effect of the hastily devised furlough scheme. While it has undoubtedly helped some sectors and individual workers, I fear it has also inadvertently distorted the labour market, at least in the short term.

As for the lorry driver situation, what a trucking mess. Giving out 5,000 temporary visas to overseas drivers isn’t going to scratch the surface, and as for the visas expiring on Christmas Eve – that seems an odd mixture of vindictiveness and stupidity. I am sure those lorry drivers who spent last Christmas stuck in a makeshift lorry park in Kent are just dying to do that all over again this year. As one Polish HGV driver was quoted as saying this week: “Why go to Britain, jump all these hoops, face all this hostile environment, if you could go to Ireland or Holland, earn more, be respected, drive on nicer motorways…and be a free European?” Quite.

However, despite the backdrop of infinite chaos and a government that hasn’t so much spiralled out of control rather than one that never had control in the first place (and there was me thinking the point of Brexit was to ‘take back control’…silly me), it’s important not to get too hung up on things that we as a community can’t control. On that note, I was pleased to receive a call from Gary Grant this week – he had just come out of a meeting where he had told his teams to focus more on all the great toys on shelves rather than what isn’t there. Then he read me saying the exact same thing in last week’s Blog and wanted to echo my sentiment – great minds clearly think alike.

The truth is that there are loads of great new toys on shelves, and we should be making consumers feel positive and excited about their impending festive purchases, not giving them yet another thing to be worried about. So, if you are approached by the media looking for another story of logistics nightmares and a ruined Christmas, maybe think about turning that story around and focusing on all the good things we have to shout about?

To that end, retailers have started to release their festive top 10s – the past week has seen both Bargain Max and Midco Toys unveiling their predictions for festive best-sellers, and no doubt there will be plenty more individual retailers’ selections to come before the official Dream Toys list is announced.

This year’s choices will, naturally, be a little different: rather than being literal predictions of what is perceived to be hot, they will need to take into consideration what’s in stock (I managed to secure a container – and it has actually been delivered to store…quick get it on the list!) and pricing (I only had to add 20% to the price of that line – so add it on before the price goes up).

I also received a suggestion for an ‘alternative’ top 10 from Paul Clarke at Canal Toys, reflecting the joys we are all currently experiencing. If you have any other suggestions, feel free to drop me a line.

1. Eff All on the Shelf

2. Baby Born Overdue (January) Doll

3. Asmodee Stocks at the Docks Game

4. Hot Wheels No Delivery Driver Track Set

5. L.O.L. You Want it for Christmas!

6. Lego Nonstocko Action Figures

7. Monopoly Shipping Company Edition

8. Exploding Parents Card Game

9. Harry Potter I Can’t Magic Up Stock Wand

10. Hornby Going in Circles Express