Just the facts, ma’m, just the facts…it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 23rd June 2017

It is that time of the year already. The UK is basking in a prolonged spell of glorious weather – there is talk of the country enjoying the longest heatwave since the legendary summer of ’76 and swans are melting in the ferocious heat. So, what better time for retailers to start releasing their top Christmas toys lists. Argos was first out of the blocks this year (or the winner of the ‘have they peaked too soon?’ crown, according to your personal preference): you can see their predictions here. No great surprises – Spin Master will be delighted to have four lines featured, while Mattel and Lego have two each and Hasbro, Flair and Character Options all make an appearance. There is also the obligatory Chad Valley line; I looked at the list, wondered what on earth it was, then breathed a sigh of relief when I realised it was an own brand line and not a major new launch which had somehow escaped me. Is the release of the list premature? I’ll leave you to be the judge of whether consumers are thinking about Christmas while they throw another bucket of cold water on themselves to avoid melting like the swans.

Hornby’s latest results were released earlier this week. At first glance, there was little to get worked up about, certainly nothing much that wasn’t expected: sales down again (15% this time), losses less than last year (only £6.3m versus £13.7m last year) and the obligatory ‘turnaround on track’ headlines. But there was real devil in the detail, as several people were quick to point out to me, before other media outlets too started to pick up on a rather interesting subtext that initial releases had attempted to ignore. Basically, Hornby’s biggest shareholder – Phoenix – has increased its stake in the company to 55%, and is now obliged, under City rules covering majority ownership, to offer to buy the shares it does not own. Thus, the company is now facing a mandatory takeover by the same Phoenix, lest we forget, of which Hornby chairman Roger Canham is a director – or more to the point, ex-chairman, after Canham unexpectedly quit the board on Tuesday afternoon. Not suspicious in any way, obviously…

Inevitably, some observers have speculated about potential correlation between the original appointment of Canham and the fact that Phoenix is now in the process of wholly acquiring the company at what has been described as a very competitive price. It has also been suggested that the move could result in Phoenix taking the company private, although this has been denied by Phoenix, claiming it wants to keep Hornby’s listing on London’s AIM market in order to – and I quote – “maintain transparency” (irony alert?). So, nothing to see here, or is there more to this than meets the eye? Again, I will offer no opinion, just the facts as I understand them.

For those who had been wondering who would take over from Terry Crew at IMC, we were finally able to reveal this week that his successor is to be Fredrik Wolff, who will be leaving his current role as general manager of Tomy to take up his new position in August. To help with the transition, Terry will be staying on in an advisory capacity until the end of December. I also hear that sales director Guy Rooney will shortly be leaving IMC to join the Character Options sales team. We wish all concerned the best in their respective new roles.

I was very sad to hear that industry stalwart David Pope passed away this week. David spent many years as a buyer with some of the industry’s foremost retailers such as Beatties, Hamleys, Woolworths and The Entertainer. David had bravely been battling cancer for some while and, according to his good friend Mark Dixon, who worked alongside David for many years, he passed away peacefully in a hospice with his family around him. Not yet 60, David is another to pass far too soon, and I know his many industry friends and colleagues will miss him and want to send their thoughts to his family.

The Blog takes a well-earned rest next week, while I am away on holiday in a country where reliable wi-fi is practically non-existent. Digital detox it is then. Normal service will be resumed in two weeks’ time. Have fun and try not to melt.