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It’s all kicking off… it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 21st October 2016

It’s starting to get a bit lively out there. Tesco has metaphorically poked Argos in the chest by announcing it will be specifically price-matching its toy range against them in the run-up to Christmas, while Sainsbury’s now legendary / notorious toy sale kicked into gear this week. As ever, it was billed as a half-price toy sale, but from a cursory look, a lot of the latest toys appeared to be discounted by significantly less (20% in many cases). I would hazard a guess that many of the more heavily discounted items are older stock or were bought on clearance, but I’m sure that someone will put me straight if I’m wide of the mark.

Indeed, someone from the clearance fraternity told me at BLE that mainstream retailers have bought more lines on clearance than ever before this year – often from overseas rather than the UK – and he wondered about the impact this would have on UK toy suppliers’ figures.

Elsewhere The Entertainer unveiled its brand new TV ad, which premiered during Emmerdale last night, although the toy community could view exclusively on the Toy World website yesterday morning. The ad spearheads the biggest TV campaign ever for The Entertainer, which is another bold move from a retailer at the top of its game.

This week has also seen the Toymaster regional meetings take place. I was delighted to be invited to join the members at the Swindon event yesterday, and I have to say it was a very worthwhile trip. I love talking to independent retailers: free from the politics – or worse, media training – than can sometimes preclude major buyers from speaking their mind, you get wonderfully frank and honest feedback from the indies. The good news is that all the ones I spoke to seemed happy and confident about the festive season. Most felt that Christmas has kicked into gear earlier than it has in previous years – by all accounts, September was a good month, and October has carried on in a similar vein. I wonder whether consumers have been buying early as they anticipate price rises as the pound tumbles?

Indeed, I asked some Toymaster members whether consumers were worried about price rises in 2017, and most felt that their customers were fully expecting this to happen and were bracing themselves to deal with whatever rises transpire. There is a sense, however, that certain price points are about to undergo a seismic shift, with the £9.99 price point in particular under threat – if orange really is the new black, £11.99 may well be the new £9.99.

Product-wise, many of the usual suspects were repeatedly mentioned (Pokémon, Shopkins, Paw Patrol, Sylvanian Families), while a couple of new names joined them: Hatchimals has got off to a flying start, selling out within a week for most retailers I spoke to (the fact that Smyths announced yesterday that it will be selling Furby Connect at £59.99 next week – which is I understand £5 less than the cost price – may not be entirely unconnected). And the M-Word (margin) was on everyone’s lips: companies such as Peterkin are loved by the indies for the margin they offer, while Toymaster members seem to be adopting a more selective approach to stocking products from companies that fall short of offering the magic 40% they need to survive (some of the names mentioned even took me by surprise, and that’s not an easy thing to do).

Over the pond, Mattel and Hasbro both announced strong third quarter results, although my favourite results-related quote of the week came from the Hamleys CEO, who said that the retailer’s international stores will leave its London flagship “in the dust” next year. Yes, apparently he really did say that – how comforting for British suppliers…