More than meets the eye?…it’s the Friday Blog! (Updated)

Published on: 7th September 2018

Last week, we reported that Toy State had ceased trading. At the time, I made the not unrealistic assumption that its fate was ultimately driven by recent events at Toys R Us, especially as the company was heavily involved in the retailer’s own-brand programme. In fairness, while Toys R Us was a major factor, it was by no means the only issue – a perfect storm of retail failures (not just TRU, but Ludendo and others), several under-performing licences and – crucially – a writing down of commercial assets including properties (a Hong Kong property crash is apparently becoming a genuine possibility) left the company desperately short of cash and unable to pay wages to the 3,000 workers at its factory. At this stage, the workers complained to local government officials, and they moved swiftly, closing down the factory and taking control of disposing of assets. It just goes to show that it may be wise not to automatically assume that anything bad which happens in the toy trade over the next few months is purely the fault of Toys R Us. Convenient scapegoat it may be, but in the same way that everything which goes wrong in a company can’t be blamed on the person who recently left, TRU isn’t always going to be the single guilty party- sometimes, there is perhaps more to it than meets the eye.

Speaking of bad things happening, I have it on good authority – from another impeccable source – that Bullyland will enter Chapter 12 in Germany today. Sad and a little surprising, especially since the ‘new’ owners haven’t been on board all that long.

Back here in the UK, Holly Oldham has left her role at Hasbro Licensing to re-join Rubie’s as UK managing director, while Julia Cake will be replacing Ben Harper at the head of Magic Box’s UK operation when Ben moves on this month – we wish them both all the best in the new roles. I also gather that John White has left Magformers to take up a new position heading up KD Toys, while Adrian Leafe will shortly be leaving Eduk8 and is currently looking for a fresh challenge in the national accounts field. Adrian can be contacted on 07720 275214 or at

We reported last week that Hamleys chairman Frank Slevin was also on the move. Several toy people contacted me to suggest he would be sorely missed and felt he was a shrewd operator. New House of Fraser owner Mike Ashley appears to have taken quite a different view, calling for an Insolvency Service inquiry into Frank and other House of Fraser directors, accusing them of misleading suppliers and the retailer’s warehouse operator by promising them deferred payment with Chinese cash which never materialised. With echoes of Toys R Us stringing along US toy suppliers with promises of preferred creditor status providing they carried on shipping, it looks like another retail situation which could potentially get very messy.

All the more reason, then, to acknowledge and celebrate retail success stories – and B&M is unquestionably one retailer which is going great guns at the moment. I was the lone journalist invited to attend B&M’s ‘Golden Quarter’ conference in Liverpool this week, which you can read all about in our next issue (October). It was a most illuminating event. Did you know that B&M’s turnover is now three times the figure that Woolworths ever reached in the UK? That it’s toy department is trading 17% up so far this year (in a market which NPD suggests is tracking 10% down, not helped by the fact that successful retailers like Smyths, B&M, Toymaster and others are not part of its data panel)? There is plenty more fascinating detail which I am looking forward to sharing with you next month. I promise you that it will shatter a few more preconceptions about B&M, and while it remains a controversial retailer with some sections of the trade, I have no doubt that it is only going to grow its share of the toy business over the coming years, often in areas you wouldn’t necessarily think are its real heartland. Another perfect ‘more than meets the eye’ example.

We recently announced that BLE will be moving to Excel next year – although the news about Crossrail being delayed by a year is not ideal, the new rail line was always the icing on the cake rather than a core pillar behind the relocation. Looks like we’ll all be hunkering down in Docklands after all. Autumn Fair is also on the move in 2019, although only within the NEC complex – the show is being relocated to the newer, brighter Atrium section of the venue, away from its current home in Halls 1-5. We’ll bring you more details on the show revamp as and when they’re available.

The 7th birthday September issue of Toy World – accompanied by our largest-ever dedicated games and puzzles supplement – landed on desks earlier this week. You can read the digital version of the September issue here, and the games supplement here. As the only UK toy magazine to grow its market share this year (not to mention consistently be the first to actually appear on desks every month), I would like to personally thank all of our readers and advertisers for their fantastic, ongoing support this year. Of course, if we had been down, I would have just blamed Toys R Us!

Finally, while the average leaving do consists of a few beers down the Dog & Duck, Character Options have never been known to do things by halves. Thus, the Character team and a few select industry friends and colleagues find themselves in Portugal this weekend to celebrate Colin Rossiter’s retirement, as you can see from the picture below. Having been on one of Character’s jolly jaunts before (Colin Fox’s stag do), it is definitely best that they took the picture at the start of the weekend rather than the end.