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It’s Easter, so you know what that means…it’s the Friday Blog – on a Thursday!

Published on: 17th April 2014

This week has seen the AIS Show – now officially called the Independent Toy & Gift Show – take place in Solihull. The facilities at Cranmore Park really are top notch, and around 80 suppliers were present, including many of the major toy companies along with a selection of children’s gift suppliers. The diverse exhibitor base reflects the members’ requirements: the department stores and garden centres which make up a large percentage of AIS members probably stock a broader range of products than mainstream toy retailers. Walking round the show with Miles Penhallow, I was particularly impressed with the ‘Opening the play-room door’ initiative, which focuses on 22 companies with best-selling ranges, all of which give high margin returns and thus offer a viable way for retailers which are not currently stocking toys to dip a toe into the water.

Non-members are also welcome at the event, and I’m told that there were a decent number in attendance (including Gordon Walker, buying for his new Toyland stores). Overall, I thought the mood was relatively positive and most suppliers I spoke to felt that the show continues to move in the right direction. A few did question whether a later date would potentially boost both attendance and orders placed, so it will be interesting to see if this sentiment is widely shared amongst members and suppliers and whether a change of date – say to early June? – could be accommodated.

It was also good to say a fond farewell to Joyce Daly in person. Joyce retires in two weeks, having done a sterling job setting up the whole plaY-room division over the past six years. I’m sure Miles will continue Joyce’s good work, and from listening to the array of things Joyce has planned, she has a lot to look forward to. Good for her.

Of course, the main talking point at events such as these inevitably revolves around how business is faring. The British Retail Consortium has suggested that March sales figures are actually “stronger than might be expected”, given the fact that Easter falls in April this year. So although I’m lead to believe that some of the NPD March numbers are by no means spectacular, I think it is prudent to wait until the end of April, when we’ll have a better idea of whether or not sales have evened out over the two months. One successful independent retailer we spoke to in the run-up to Easter suggested that the second week of the holiday – i.e. Easter weekend itself – was where he expected the bulk of his sales to come, so let’s hope that trading over the next few days bears this observation out.

Other major talking points at the show included the imminent arrival of the Toy Store to these shores (I feel like I’m rapidly becoming their UK publicist, as everyone seems to be asking me about their operation!), and the fallout from the In-Thing’s recent demise. On the latter subject, I understand that a creditor’s meeting will shortly be taking place in Manchester, and without wishing to pre-empt anything that may be discussed, it does seem that feelings are running pretty high. Some of the amounts owed to creditors are truly eye-watering, and the fact that stock which was supplied to the company – and was never paid for – has mysteriously ‘disappeared’ has only exacerbated the situation. I suspect a lively meeting is in prospect.

On the job front, Alex Ratchford has joined HTI as senior national accounts manager, Stephen Gould has been appointed as managing director of CPLG, while Rebecca Rees has left The Entertainer to join Nickelodeon as senior retail marketing manager.

Annual retail results continue to be unveiled. As anticipated, Tesco has reported a 6% fall in its annual profit to £3.3b, the second year in a row in which the supermarket has announced falling profits. Like-for-like sales also fell by 1.4%. In fairness, the fall is not as bad as analysts had expected – many had forecast a fall of up to 10% to £3b. And ultimately, I do think it’s important to keep it in perspective: despite the fall, the company still made £3.3b profit. Not exactly shabby, is it?

Finally, I can’t decide whether this week’s PR Front Cover is the funniest in-joke ever, or evidence that the world of PR really is in need of a reality check. Do they have any idea just how accurate Jessica Hynds’ portrayal is?!

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