Early Learning Centre plans to open 10 in-store outlets of the brand later this month in select M&S stores.
Marks & Spencer will be introducing an Early Learning Centre toy section into a small selection of its stores, as it extends its strategy to sell external brands in an attempt to increase its appeal to families. The move follows a trial to sell ELC toys via the Marks & Spencer website, which started last year.
Then, over 200 toys from a curated Early Learning Centre range were added to the M&S website and app to sit alongside existing kidswear and gifting ranges for Christmas.
This year, the retailer will open Early Learning Centre outlets in 10 stores at the end of March, including at the Bluewater shopping centre in Kent, Longbridge in Birmingham, and Liverpool. Each ELC area will feature activity tables for children to play on, complete with Happyland products and free activity sheets in addition to the range of toys for sale and will open just in time for Easter.
The partnership with Early Learning Centre is part of the ‘Brands at M&S’ strategy which offers customers access to a carefully selected group of brands and all of the advantages of shopping with the M&S platform. The brand curation, which is predominately online, is a mix of complementary products and areas M&S doesn’t have an extensive own brand range – such as toys.
Neil Harrison, the director of brands at M&S, said the move was part of an effort to become “more relevant more often to families” in stores: “We know a large proportion of our customers look to purchase toys for family and friends. So, by bringing the Early Learning Centre brand – with fun and interactive experiences – to our stores, we’re able to give our 22 million customers more reasons to shop with us.”
Early Learning Centre is one of several brands that has been bought onto the M&S platform to appeal to parents. These brands, which include Clarks kids’ shoes and Smiggle, support M&S’s focus on kidswear, an area in which M&S is growing market share. As part of offering a seamless shopping experience for families, M&S has also introduced a number of family favourite initiatives such as Kids Eat Free in Half Term in its cafes.
Mark Campbell, CEO of The Entertainer, added: “We are absolutely delighted to announce that we are extending our partnership with M&S into stores, continuing to unite two of the UK’s best loved brands. The fit between them is clear and we are sure that M&S customers will be thrilled to see Early Learning Centre in store.”
Early Learning Centre will open in 10 stores across the UK: Bluewater, Stratford, Pudsey, Cheshire Oaks, Lisburn, Thurrock, Metro Centre, Liverpool, Longbridge and Merryhill. The ELC range will continue to be sold on M&S.com and will be available for next day delivery or Click & Collect to over 700 M&S locations.
The Early Learning Centre was acquired by The Entertainer in February 2019, when Gary Grant, founder and executive chairman of The Entertainer expressed his pride in being the new owner of the brand: “It has an amazing heritage, supporting children’s learning and development through play for nearly 50 years. ELC is trusted by parents and grandparents alike, many of whom remember the brand being part of their own childhoods.”