I’ve been to Swindon and this is what I found….it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 28th March 2014

There is traditionally a significant gap between Toy Fairs and the next time the industry gathers en masse in one place – usually either the AIS plaY-room event or the Toymaster show. So this week’s Toymaster Supplier Meeting in downtown Swindon provided a very handy stop-gap opportunity to catch up with a whole bunch of toy folk to find out how the year is progressing. No surprise then to see the two main toy magazines turn up to show their support.

The general consensus is that the prevailing optimism from January and February has been tested somewhat this month – primarily due to the unpredictable weather conditions – but that overall, ‘so far so good’ remains the majority verdict. There’s no doubt that sales of Lego – driven by the movie – have been largely responsible for retailers posting year-on-year increases in Q1: I am lead to believe that taking Lego out of the NPD data produces some rather interesting results. But nevertheless, with a later Easter to bolster the April numbers, a feeling of positivity is still evident.

Toymaster’s presentation was – for me – fascinating: I would need several columns to do justice to the amount of interesting nuggets of information I picked up. But you’ll have to wait for our May edition – our Toymaster Preview issue – for that. For now, how about these little gems, which might challenge a few industry preconceptions:

  • 15 of Toymaster’s top 20 accounts traded up in 2013. Yet only 22 of the top 50 accounts showed an increase.
  • Eight of their top 10 members in 2013 weren’t even members in 2006.
  • 75 members have been replaced since 2006.
  • Three of the top 10 members are internet-only traders.
  • Looking at the toy market as a whole, consumers still buy more toys in December than October and November put together, despite the fact that the majority of consumer marketing is focused on September, October and November, and major retailer promotions follow a similar pattern.
  • And finally Roger Dyson – perhaps the most Welsh person I know – wants England to win the World Cup so it kick-starts a craze for football collectables.

The Q&A session at the end provided some refreshingly honest responses from Roger on the topic of independent retailers going online, why the Toymaster show (sensibly) won’t be moving from the Majestic to the exhibition centre, the subject of credit insurance in general and in particular the industry’s long-term bête-noir, credit agency Euler Hermes (the company effectively responsible for taking Woolworths down). But as I say, you’ll have to wait until next month to read the unexpurgated version (which I promise will make it a must-read issue).

Ian Edmunds also called on suppliers to consider “rebalancing their terms”, suggesting preferential terms should be given to high street retailers “who need them most”. Of course, this is contentious territory, and a subject which has been running for years (and will undoubtedly run for many years to come), but in fairness, I completely understand the rationale behind the request.

There has been plenty of other interesting retail news this week. The Entertainer announced a strong set of results: a pre-tax profit of a fraction under £6m represented a 16% increase on the previous year, a tremendous achievement in the trading climate. Click & Collect orders were up 93% in the five weeks running up to Christmas, and margins also increased. Five years of continuous growth is a fantastic achievement, whichever way you look at it.

Conversely, ELC’s problems continue unabated: we were tipped off earlier in the week that seven stores were being closed this week, coinciding with quarter day. The leases on the stores haven’t expired, so rent is still payable on these premises for the remainder of the tenancy, suggesting that leaving the shops empty is actually more cost-effective than paying the staff and incurring logistical and head office overheads. Two further stores will close next month, leaving fewer than 30 standalone branches of ELC, compared to 200 stores when Mothercare bought the chain in 2007. Sad times for ELC, and one wonders what impact this will have on the potential sale of the brand. Although some toy retailers might see the wholesale programme run by Peterkin as even more of an opportunity now there are so few ELC branches in existence.

Congratulations to the BTHA’s Majen Immink on her promotion to Toy Fair head of operations and sales. Majen has been part of the BTHA team for six years, and I’m sure she’ll do a sterling job.

Finally, I’d like to return to Toymaster, for an observation from Paul Reader. Standing on a chair to take a photo of the assembled throng of suppliers, his first words on returning to terra firma were: “Blimey, I didn’t realise how many men in the toy trade are going thin on top.”

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