Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?…it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 17th August 2018

So, we’re told that Mike Ashley wants to turn House of Fraser into the ‘Harrods of the High Street.’ Interesting. It begs so many questions, not least “does ‘the High Street’ really need a Harrods?” Didn’t Hamleys once try that and essentially fall flat on its face? I am not sure how many UK High Streets Mike has walked down recently, but I fear he may move in different circles to the majority of the population.

I think you get a far more realistic impression of real life in 21st century Britain from watching the Saving Poundstretcher documentary on Channel Four on a Monday evening. I used to enjoy ‘business’ programmes like Dragons’ Den and The Apprentice, until I realised they have little or nothing to do with business per se – they’re basically all about the egos of the Dragons and Lord Sugar. The Dragons rarely offer support to the people who really need it – the ones who have just sold a product to a major supermarket for less than cost price for instance. They are only interested in the people who have already built successful, profitable businesses, who are largely there for the free publicity. Like bank managers, they only want to lend money to the ones who don’t really need it.

In contrast, Saving Poundstretcher is a veritable ‘warts and all’ fly-on-the-wall documentary which lays bare the reality of running a retail chain in 2019. It is particularly brutal when exposing life on the retail front line. Ok, not every retailer is located in a town that resembles a dystopian wasteland, or has to deal with knife-wielding shoplifters as a matter of routine. But my word it shows a picture of modern Britain that many of us in business won’t be acutely aware of, but nevertheless clearly exists. However, far from being depressing, it is actually rather heart-warming; my youngest daughter is just as invested in whether the Bolton branch of Poundstretcher survives than she was in Love Island (and believe me, that is saying something).

Even more entertaining are the Machiavellian goings-on at Head Office, as the family which owns the retailer appoints former Poundworld owner Chris Edwards in an attempt to turn around its fortunes. Naturally, his methods (not to mention his considerable ego) clash horribly with the decent if disorganised owners, and as he fills the business with more and more of his cronies, it becomes clear that a major bust-up is on the cards. All of this plays out unflinchingly in front of our very eyes. It is the very finest car-crash TV; you wince, but you can’t take your eyes off it for a moment. I suspect that for many, this is exactly what REAL business really looks like; not Dragons’ Den or The Apprentice. And it has some classic, unintentionally hilarious one-liners – my particular favourite, from one of Chris’ hired-in minions, delivered straight-faced to camera without a trace of irony: “I live on tea, nicotine, tic tacs and adrenaline.” Seriously, If you have missed this little gem, I can heartily recommend it on so many levels.

Meanwhile, bloggers and ‘Influencers’ are sitting a little less comfortably this week, as it has been revealed that the CMA has written to a group of celebrity influencers to ask whether they are paid to endorse a product on social media (which they are supposed to declare), and threatening to name anyone caught flouting the rules. Given that we all know the answer to that question, one wonders what happens next – will being forced to reveal that they have been paid (an extortionate amount in many cases) to promote the product affect their credibility and effectiveness? Given the sensitivity around marketing to children, it seems inconceivable that kid influencers will be exempt from future investigation (and that’s without looking into the whole ‘paying for followers’ scandal which several prominent UK kid influencers were implicated in last year). Their one hope may be the inefficiency of the CMA itself, which may buy them a little time to put their houses in order.

Elsewhere this week, Jeremy Robinson has joined Fundamentally Children as head of business development – we wish him all the best in his new role. Talk of a potential ‘Amazon tax’ has returned to the headlines after chancellor Phillip Hammond suggested he is considering introducing the measure and, over in the States, it looks like Toys R Us creditors will receive a settlement of around 22 cents in the dollar, in return for a promise not to sue the group of lenders who pulled the plug and sent it into liquidation. I guess they’ve decided to take what they can get and look forward rather than back, which is probably for the best under the circumstances.

The Dream Toys selection committee is running a competition to find a talented independent retailer to join its team of media spokespeople. I know there are some great candidates out there with the enthusiasm, passion and knowledge to make a valuable contribution to the event, so I heartily recommend anyone reading this to put themselves forward. You can find details of how to apply here.

Finally, this week saw Toy World editor Rachael Simpson tie the knot with fiancé Lewis in a stunning, highly original ceremony (I’m sure she’ll tell you all about it when she returns). She will henceforth go under the name of Rachael Simpson-Jones, and is therefore going to need a much bigger business card. The Toy World team was in attendance for the celebrations, and was collectively thrilled that, among the very many thoughtful and personal touches on the day, the event included a wedding Tee-Pee shaped rather like our last month’s cover star, the Harry Potter Sorting Hat. Coincidence? Congratulations to Rachael (Ravenclaw) and Lewis (Hufflepuff).