In case anyone didn’t have time to catch up with the latest Blog last week, here it is again.
And so it came to pass that we sat round our TV sets on Wednesday evening, watching a bewildered man woefully out of his depth flounder about, making a series of bad decisions and being publicly humiliated. But enough about the England cricket team captain…
On that very same evening, the announcement we were all dreading came out of the blue: the notorious Plan B is to be implemented in England, starting on Monday next week. Retail Week immediately went into full on panic mode: “Plan B delivers another blow to shoppers” screamed the headline. But does it? Retail Week claimed that workers have been ‘told’ to stay at home: but from where I was sitting, the announcement sounded far less clear cut. It was a request – advisory rather than mandatory – made by a man who in the previous 24 hours had lost all moral authority. We’re even thinking of renaming our Allegedly column ‘Allegraly’ for one month, in honour of one of the least bright journalists ever: “Allegra, you’re on camera, don’t say anything stup- oh, too late.”
Those who have been working from home for a while will no doubt continue to do so: but I am not convinced that those companies who have deemed it beneficial for their staff to be in the office will feel the need to change their policy at this juncture.
After all, the advice was hugely contradictory and inconsistent: please work from home, but on the other hand you are allowed to go to the office party? For heaven’s sake, make it make sense. Thankfully, Plan B does not represent a full lockdown: and if people can still go to a pub, nightclub, restaurant or football match, why shouldn’t they go to the office, providing it is a safe environment?
For what it’s worth, I don’t see the move to Plan B as a massive threat to the final lap of festive trading. Let’s hope that proves to be the case; the last thing we need is any disruption during such an important period for the toy market – a massive two weeks lies ahead.
NPD has revealed this week that sales patterns are once again changing, making year-on-year comparisons tricky and illustrating just how important the next few weeks will be. Compared to 2020, when lockdowns led to a bumper year for the toy sector, sales value is lagging slightly behind so far this year, down 4.7%, with sales volume down 0.8%. However, if we compare those figures to 2019, value sales are up 3.9%, with many consumers yet to buy their toys for the big day.
Black Friday apparently provided a nice kickstart to the ‘last push for Christmas’, especially for higher priced toys. It seems that despite all the attempts to encourage consumers to buy early, many chose to wait to see if there were any deals on offer. The NPD report suggested that “Brits still expect price cuts and deals on toys” and while we – and I use the royal ‘we’ here – keep giving them what they want, it’s no great surprise that they keep their hands in their pockets until the offers arrive.
I’d like to offer my congratulations to the Collinson brothers Paul and Mark on being presented with Golden Teddies recently – richly deserved for two members of one of the UK toy trade’s most successful family dynasties. And it was great to see so many industry friends and colleagues at last Saturday evening’s Fence Club Christmas party, which raised a fantastic £25,000 for the kids’ charities supported by the Club. I’m not sure the massive conga was quite the epitome of social distancing, but a good time was certainly had by all.
I made a passing reference to the Nuremberg Toy Fair in last week’s Blog, prompting the Spielwarenmesse team to get in touch to reaffirm that, as far as they are concerned, the show will definitely be going ahead as scheduled. I have an interview lined up next week and will bring you more information straight afterwards. Some key questions remain: a video released by the organisers last week suggested that it is a possibility that visitors may have to take a new Covid test every day before entering the show. I received a flood of calls and emails from people curious to understand the logistics of processing anything up to 20,000 tests every single day before 9.00 am, so I am keen to understand how that might work in practice. There will also be a limit on the number of people allowed into the halls and mandatory mask-wearing, although the recent BLE show announced a similar policy on mask-wearing, and it didn’t seem to hold much beyond lunchtime on the first day of the show.
Finally, I would like to apologise if I keep popping up on your TV screens over the next few weeks – even Tom Allen is going to be jealous of my screen time at this rate. I must admit, I was surprised when I started to receive messages last Sunday night to say that I had been spotted on a toy documentary on Five. Then I remembered that when we filmed 18 months ago for a show that was broadcast last Christmas, the producers had shot some additional footage for a further three shows that have finally hit the airwaves a year later. Yes, that was my ‘April ’20 lockdown tan’ in full effect. This week, I have also made an appearance in The Guardian, on Euro News (allegradly the ‘most-watched international news channel in Europe’ – their words, not mine) and on BBC Radio Coventry and Warwick. If you are an avid viewer / listener of all of these channels, you may well feel that I am now in danger of becoming seriously over-exposed. But as long as I can keep banging the drum for the toy market and great toys, I will do my best to spread good cheer and make everyone feel warm and fuzzy about their impending toy purchases. If it carries on like this, we’re thinking of building a press briefing room here at Toy World Towers. Can anyone lend us a few million quid? I promise I won’t make any insensitive remarks while the cameras are rolling…allegradly.