Normal service is resumed…it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 6th April 2018

I hope you all had a pleasant Easter. Sadly, the weekend was something of a washout from a weather perspective, with media reports suggesting that the incessant rain resulted in reduced footfall in High Streets across the country. On the positive side, shopping malls and retail parks reported an increase in shoppers, so at least they didn’t all sit and home and shop online.

Online trading continues to be an unavoidable issue whenever the topic of retail sales crops up. Over in the US, President Trump has reignited his battle with Amazon; currently, it remains a war of words alone, but given the President’s unpredictability, it could yet escalate into something more concrete. Like many Brits, I have struggled to comprehend the logic of much of Trump’s rhetoric and his increasingly random policy threats, so it’s quite a novelty to find myself in agreement with him. My concerns with Amazon are well-documented, and while the retailer is certainly not going to go away, any move to level the playing field to make it a fairer fight for bricks and mortar retailers is fine in my books. Trump has also thankfully left toys off the list of 1,300 new tariffs being introduced in his fight with China, which I’m sure has come as a huge relief to the US toy community. Two positives in a week is surely as good as it’s going to get for Trump; he’s bound to do something crazy any minute (spots the announcement about Trump sending troops to the Mexican border and smiles wryly – normal service is resumed).

Back in the UK, the biggest story of the week was the sudden departure of Mothercare CEO Mark Newton-Jones. The board clearly ran out of patience, deciding that – having given him four years to turn the business around – things were not moving fast enough for their liking. In a ‘don’t let the door hit you on the way out’ moment, Mark was instantly dismissed from his post – by all accounts he had no idea what was about to happen when he arrived at work that morning. The appointment of his successor David Wood, who has a strong track record with Kmart, has been unanimously welcomed. He has some tough challenges ahead, so we wish him well; the toy community has had enough turbulence for one year and it would be good to see Mothercare finally heading in the right direction.

The April issue of Toy World was published this week – you can read the digital version here. A big thank you to all those suppliers whose unwavering support we very much appreciate in these turbulent times. The issue was accompanied by a special pull-out supplement marking the 10-year anniversary of plaY-room, which you can read here. May is going to be the ‘new January’ for us this year, with the Independent Toy & Gift Show, Toymaster Show, Licensing Expo and Distoy all taking place within the space of a hectic four weeks – with a healthy-sized June issue to pull together at the same time. Fun and frolics ahead, but it’s good to be busy and in demand.

There are a couple of recent moves to report; Keith Grafham has parted company with Green Board Games, Wendy Hill has moved on from her role as director of brand activation at Mattel, while media guru Mike Frost has left the Generation Media Group. Mike is one of the most knowledgeable, perceptive people I know in the toy market – and one of the nicest. We wish him all the best in his courageous fight against the serious illness he is battling, and with whatever work projects come next.

I’d also like to congratulate Nic Aldridge on his well-deserved promotion to managing director at Bandai, and to wish his predecessor Clive Smith all the best – the baton has been perfectly passed on. Congratulations also go to former Mattel national sales manager Martin Whitaker, who has been appointed managing director of Siso Toys, a brand new subsidiary of the Simba Dickie Group, which will henceforth handle the company’s licensing portfolio in the UK. You’ll read a lot more about Siso Toys in forthcoming issues of Toy World.

Finally, a few of you may have noticed that I have come under attack from the editor of a ‘rival’ – and I use the word in the loosest possible sense – magazine this week. Now, I don’t mind being challenged on anything I’ve actually said; that is part and parcel of having and expressing opinions, which, after all, is kind of my job. But, as a rule, I prefer not to be criticised for something I never said. In fairness, the magazine in question has developed quite a reputation for spectacularly missing the point. Surely no rational person would think for a minute that my provocative comment about ‘cheering up’ was aimed at TRU employees, rather than its clearly intended target (i.e. a very small group of toy suppliers)? I showed his hilarious attempt at ‘controversial journalism’ to Donald Trump and his rabbit friend – the rabbit literally couldn’t believe anyone could be quite such a numpty: