More of that sort of thing…it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 18th September 2020

One encouraging sign that a semblance of normality is returning to business life here in the UK is the abundance of stories about new appointments and promotions which we’ve reported on this week. Both Interplay and Gibsons have boosted their teams with multiple new recruits, while there have been some notable senior appointments across a range of organisations. More of that sort of thing, please.

Following the departure of Ian Edmunds from Toymaster, it was announced earlier this week that long-term team members Yogi Parmar and Colin Farrow have been appointed as interim joint managing directors, while Paul Reader has been promoted to marketing director. I liked Paul’s email to suppliers this week – an uplifting rallying cry thanking the suppliers for their support and encouraging them to work even closer with Toymaster going forward. I’ve said it before, but the toy industry is better off for having a thriving independent base. The indies are passionate about what they do and are laser-focused on toys; they don’t suddenly ‘pivot’ and devote their space to toilet roll and hand sanitizer. They live and breathe toys 24/7, 365 days a year. However well they have performed so far this year, specialist bricks and mortar retailers need support – not necessarily preferential treatment (although that would be nice on occasion), but at least as close to a level playing field as possible. The days of only offering the indies product when the majors have shut their warehouse doors, leaving stock suddenly available, are hopefully long gone. For example, it’s great to see Toymaster being given an exclusive by Mattel for Masters of the Universe – I am sure that more of that sort of thing would be very much appreciated.

Elsewhere, a couple of toy and licensing industry stalwarts have popped up in new roles this week: Graham Saltmarsh has been appointed to run the UK arm of Licensing International, the licensing industry association. The flood of well-wishers and positive comments on my LinkedIn post about Graham’s appointment is testament to how well-regarded Graham is within the community, and I am sure he will bring his own unique, refreshing perspective to his role. We also announced that Chris Isitt has been appointed as a licence consultant to Smiffys: a few people were taken by surprise by the move, given the often ‘lively’ competition between Smiffys and Rubies in the past. Nevertheless, Chris is steeped in the dress-up and party market, with considerable experience and extensive contacts, so I was not in the least surprised to see that another major player in this sector was keen to harness his attributes. And keep an eye out for further news from Rubies in the coming days, as the deadline for offers for the business has now passed, following the company’s filing for Chapter 11 in the US. Watch this space…

A couple of other moves to report; Andy Clempson has returned to Mattel to work in its Asia Pacific operation. Andy will continue to be based in Hong Kong, where he has lived for the past few years. Becky Sherwood has joined Lisle Licensing, while Evolution PR has appointed a new team member, Georgina Dobie, who some of you may be familiar with through her stint at one of the other toy magazines. We wish everyone all the best in their new roles. If you are looking for a new challenge or a change of scene, perhaps this ‘Italian Job’ – commercial manager for the Italian market – might be worth exploring. I know of a few recent other high-profile appointments which I hope to be able to announce soon. Taken as a whole, it’s clear that the jobs ‘merry-go-round’ has whirred back into life, which I hope augurs well for the overall health of the market.

That said, there are a few warning signs to be aware of: there are rumblings about further national lockdowns here in the UK – something I am sure the government will be keen to avoid if at all possible – while Israel has implemented a month-long lockdown of its own. Meanwhile, this week’s John Lewis results were accompanied by a rather revealing statement: “Before the crisis we believed that shops contributed around £6 of every £10 spent online. We now think that figure is, on average, around £3.” The belief that stores helped drive online sales has been a factor in retail development in recent years, including the level of store openings and retail footprint. If there is a perception amongst retailers that this is no longer the case, it may well have implications for future retail planning. I’ve also heard rumours that certain major accounts may be looking to rationalise their supplier base and SKU count even further next year. Of course, we’re at the stage where nothing is cast in stone, but the ‘buy narrow, buy deep’ philosophy has been adopted by several major accounts this year, so a continuation – or even extension – of this strategy wouldn’t necessarily come as a massive shock.

We’ve also seen several more trade shows cancelled in the past couple of weeks, including Mipcom in Cannes and Mega Show in Hong Kong, both of which were due to take place this autumn. This is leading once again to intense industry speculation about what may happen to the trade fairs in January and February. The deadline for decisions by the respective show organisers must be looming – we’ll bring you concrete information as soon as it is available. Amongst my contacts, there is a growing sense that some events may benefit from postponement – in particular, several people have suggested that the Hong Kong trip might potentially slip back a couple of months, from January to March. I think that the majority remain keen for at least some shows or sourcing trips to take place, but equally, most people are also realists and pragmatists. We all have tremendous affection for these events, we don’t want anything to diminish that. It must be so difficult for organisers to find a way to put on a show which adheres to all the appropriate government guidelines and prevailing safety regulations, yet which doesn’t compromise the very essence of what makes shows special.

To use popular modern vernacular, shows are one of my ‘happy places’ – I couldn’t disagree more with the handful of people on my LinkedIn feed who seem keen for them to be replaced by virtual events (perish the thought). Personally, I can’t wait for them to return – but if I do have to wait a little bit longer this time round, so be it. They’ll be back when the time is right.