On with the show…it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 10th May 2019

Before we get down to business, we ask you to note that within the Baulch Blog dated 15th February 2019, it was unfortunately implied that Zimpli Kids Limited has been, is or is likely to be, involved in a formal insolvency process or is, alternatively, in some way financially compromised. This was never our intention, and we accept there is no truth in such a suggestion. We offer our sincere apologies to Zimpli Kids Limited.

Now, on with the show. First up this week is the news that Hamleys has been acquired by Reliance Brands. We first reported that the two operations were in talks three weeks ago, and the negotiations have now been concluded. Reliance, which already has a pan-Indian franchise agreement with Hamleys, is a huge player in its domestic market, but this will be its first foray into the international arena. A Regent Street flagship store is certainly a bold place to start, so it will be fascinating to see how it all pans out.

We ran a story about Distoy earlier this week, in which David Potter expressed his disappointment at a renegade group of former exhibitors who have decided to set up round the corner from Distoy, effectively piggybacking on his established event. To be fair, I can completely understand why David is upset: in small, owner-managed businesses, people do tend to take things personally. The individual behind the breakaway group had previously attempted to set up a rival show at Lake Como in Italy, which unsurprisingly failed to gain any traction. From there, I guess that the person concerned was too proud – and probably too embarrassed – to ask if he could bring his group back into Distoy, so has decided to ‘go rogue’ instead. It’s not as if it is a money-saving exercise; while I won’t give away the location (as that would only be giving them the oxygen of publicity) let’s just say that it isn’t exactly a Travelodge. However, I did receive at least one email from someone who had assumed that the official Distoy show had run out of room at its usual hotels and had extended to a new venue, so there is clearly some confusion in the international toy community as to the rogue event’s status.

Of course, in the end, they’re not doing anything illegal, and most established trade shows will have experienced similar piggybacking issues. You know the sort of thing: people holding meetings in a suite at the OIympia Hilton, or just commandeering a table in a coffee shop at Olympia and holding meetings there all day – some people may as well bring a flag with their logo on and stick it on the table! It is very much a grey area and while not wanting to seem draconian, I know that some show organisers are trying their best to prevent this sort of behaviour. I don’t really blame them: it is a bit naughty to take advantage of all the benefits of a show without contributing to its running costs. If you want to exhibit, that’s great. If not, that’s absolutely fine, but should you really be taking visitors away from people who have paid to be there? I’ve never felt entirely comfortable with these situations: as I mentioned in a previous Blog, I turned down the opportunity to attend a movie screening across town during this year’s London Toy Fair – even though it was a movie I really wanted to see – because it would have felt disrespectful. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I do believe that a bit of decency goes a long way. As ever, I’m sure Distoy will be a hugely successful event and visitors will no doubt make their own minds up about how they use their time most wisely across the week.

Before Distoy, we have the Toymaster show in Harrogate. It was announced this week that a 40-strong delegation from Australia’s largest and best-known network of independent toy retailers, Toyworld Australia (no relation), will be attending this year’s event. This is quite a coup for Toymaster: no doubt it will be a great opportunity for the members and directors of Toyworld, as well as exhibitors. Rumours that the evening function format has been changed in their honour to a barbie (not that one) where we will all sit round wearing hats with corks on while quaffing ‘tinnies’ cannot be confirmed at this time. There is still time for any UK-based independent retailers to register – you don’t have to be a member of Toymaster to attend, just click on this link and you too can join the fun.

Elsewhere this week, Character Options has unveiled a great set of financial results, which saw a healthy increase in both turnover and profits, while the company also announced that popular Irish agent Phil ‘Panzer’ Richardson will be retiring from his current role at the end of August. Phil has been part of the Character set-up from the very start, and I know how well he is thought of by the whole team. A hard act to follow for sure – he has set the bar high for Colm Banaghan and his team, as they take over Irish representation for Character this month. I also gather that former Hamleys and Mothercare / ELC buyer Claire Loxley has joined Addo Play as senior product development manager, while Catrina O’Brien has moved from Mattel’s licensing division to become VP of retail at eOne. We wish all of them the best in their new roles.

Finally, to the usual woes of soaring business rates and high car parking charges, it appears that we can now add stag and hen parties to the list of challenges faced by independent toy retailers. Asked why he was closing his York branch, East Midland Toy Company owner James Colclough cited all the usual factors, but threw in this curveball: “We found that Saturdays, normally our busiest day, were flat as shoppers were deterred by party-goers including stag and hen parties, which don’t really allow for families to enjoy the York experience comfortably and safely.” I definitely had a very different view of York, all dreaming spires and an air of affluence and gentility; now I find out it’s actually turned into a rival to ‘Skeg-Vegas.’ At least we can rely on Harrogate to be as genteel and refined as ever in a few weeks’ time…