I was at a licensing event recently, talking with a couple of toy trade friends. One asked the other: “How is business, is everything good?” The second person replied with a smile: “Not really, but thanks for asking.” I think that exchange nicely sums up the state of play at the moment. The Blog has always held true to the principles of honesty and journalistic integrity and I’m not going to stop now – one of the main reasons why this column resonates with people is because it doesn’t insult their intelligence. I like to believe that our readership is a pretty intelligent bunch who know exactly what’s going on. So, while I can’t pretend that everything is rosy when it’s clearly not, I also think it’s good to accept that there will be ups and downs for the foreseeable future, and not to over-react to either.
It certainly isn’t all doom and gloom out at retail; speaking to Toymaster’s Paul Reader this week, he told me that 60% of the group’s members were trading up by the end of April. B&M also told me this week: “We really want to go for it on toys and snap up that big piece of market share that’s now up for grabs.” Notable new in-store releases at B&M include Lego (a broad range, focusing on sub £30 price-points), LOL Surprise! and Fingerlings, so the retailer is clearly delivering on its promise of having the latest hot lines as a key part of its toy offering.
By way of a teaser for the next edition of Toy World, I’m delighted to announce that it will include an exclusive article from NPD looking at the post-TRU landscape. NPD has conducted extensive consumer research to assess the impact TRU’s liquidation had on consumers’ immediate purchasing patterns, as well as their intentions for the rest of 2018. I am sure the piece will make fascinating reading for everyone connected with the toy market, and you only have to wait a few weeks to find out the results.
Numerous retailers also stand to benefit from TRU’s demise in the USA, with many suppliers said to be aggressively diversifying their retail bases, focusing on specialty stores and retailers such as Kohl’s and JC Penney, which were previously considered ‘niche’ as far as toys were concerned. In the past, many US suppliers have been decidedly lukewarm about supplying this channel, preferring instead to focus on the ‘Big Four’ players. Of course, Walmart and Target will undoubtedly pick up incremental business when TRU shuts its doors, but I hope that US suppliers will also adopt a more pro-active approach to trading with a broader selection of specialty retailers, as (most) suppliers here in the UK have done for many years. With their support, who knows, maybe a Smyths or Entertainer-style chain will emerge – or even a number of Toy Barnhaus- sized ‘mini-chains’. Giant multi-channel retailers will always have a significant role to play in our industry, but the more stores which have a dedicated, year-round toy presence the better as far as I’m concerned. Plus, it will help to act as a buffer against the demands of the major accounts; I gather Amazon has already advised its first-party vendors that it intends to price-match Walmart and the vendors will be obligated to make up the difference.
A passionate advocate and great ambassador for the toy industry passed away this week; bastion of kids advertising, Mike Frost. The long line of heart-felt tributes and comments we received after we announced his passing showed just what high regard Mike was held in by his peers, friends and colleagues. Like everyone, I’ll miss our chats and hearing what he had to say about the toy market – always refreshingly honest, frank and perceptive. Mike had a thirst for knowledge, a keen appreciation of retail and a genuine love of toys – but above all else, he was a genuine ‘people person’ who always made time for you, no matter whether you were a long-time friend or new to the business. I loved that one person said: “He told me when we were getting things right, but more importantly when we were wrong.” In a world where it is becoming harder to be honest and speak your mind, Mike was a beacon of integrity and a man who wasn’t afraid to say what he felt. Like many in the toy industry, I will miss him terribly. I’m sure there will be a big industry turnout at his funeral on 25th June.
In the midst of all the current trading turbulence, it is good to see that the toy and licensing industries still have time to throw themselves into charitable initiatives. Last weekend’s Toy Trust Big Challenge event has been hailed a huge success, raising £200,000 to allow 65 disabled and poorly children and their siblings to enjoy a week-long activity camp. Meanwhile, a host of people from licensing community are currently ‘on their bikes’, riding from Bristol to Belfast. Well done to everyone who has been involved in both fantastic fund-raising events.
And finally, well done to Mojo Nation for organising a special summer party / music quiz this week. It was hugely enjoyable event and would still have got a mention, even if the Toy World team hadn’t won (which we did). Despite what you may have seen on social media, it was very much a team effort; our designer Mark displayed admirable knowledge of cheesy 80s movies and One Direction, Casey was invaluable with her knowledge of music from the last few years (where frankly I flounder), Anita was delighted when the 1984 round came up, Rachael likewise with the Power Ballad round, while it was interesting that our sales director ‘the other’ Mark knew all the words to a succession of Ibiza Club Classics yet had absolutely no idea what any of the songs were called or who the artists were. I think it’s a great format and maybe someone should think about organising something similar for the toy trade. If that happens, we’ll be delighted to turn up to defend our crown. Any takers?