One down, three to go….it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 17th January 2014

One show down, three to go. Hong Kong got proceedings off to a fine start last week, but as soon as I arrived back on home turf at the weekend, the countdown to Toy Fair began in earnest. My show diary is just about full to bursting and I just can’t wait to head down to Olympia and get started now.

More festive Retail results have been unveiled this week. Encouragingly, both Argos and The Entertainer have announced strong performances over the holiday season: Argos quoted like-for-like growth at 3.8%, and revealed that full-year profits are likely to be towards the top end of its original projections, while The Entertainer’s sales increased by a whopping 12% in December (7% like-for-likes) and the company has already confirmed that it aims to open a further 12 stores in the UK in 2014. Great news for The Entertainer (and its suppliers), but arguably not so-great for other independent toy retailers, some of whom will no doubt be eyeing their local press nervously over the coming weeks to see if their town is one of the destinations chosen for one of the new branches.

There has been no further news from either Conways or Toymaster since last week’s announcement about Conways intention to appoint an administrator. The general consensus in Hong Kong was that a slimmed-down portfolio of stores (maybe around six?) was a potentially viable outcome to the unfortunate situation, so hopefully the next news we bring you will be good. On the positive side, Toymaster has announced that the May show has already sold out in record time, which I’m delighted to hear.

As festive trading statements emerge, it seems clear that – as ever – there have been winners and losers, and try as some commentators might, it’s hard to discern a consistent pattern as to why certain retailers fall into particular camps: as well as Argos and The Entertainer, winners have included retailers as diverse as Primark, Dixons, Ocado, John Lewis, Next, Aldi, Lidl, Thorntons, Waitrose and Halfords, while losers have included Marks and Spencer, Morrisons and Tesco. In specific toy terms, general opinion suggests that Smyths and Shop Direct can be added to the winners list, while Asda appears to be edging ahead of Tesco and Sainsbury’s in the toy supermarket ‘mini-league’.

I was sad to hear that Stephen Green passed away earlier this week. Stephen enjoyed an illustrious toy trade career back in the 80’s and 90’s, taking in stints as MD of Nintendo, Bandai and ERTL, and I’m sure he made many good friends during his time in the toy trade, who will be sad to hear of his passing.

In other news, Jon Tilley has parted company with Plum Products, while Richard Hollis has joined Dreamworks Consumer Products. I understand that Hornby is in the process of conducting a consultation period with its entire marketing team, which regrettably is likely to result in some casualties. HTI has agreed a deal to distribute Innovation First’s range to the independent trade and selected key accounts, while Click Distribution has announced its first venture into developing and manufacturing its own product with the launch of a Mister Maker board game and Vivid Imagination has signed distribution rights for Sparkup, the Magical Book Reader (although someone in our office did suggest that the name sounds like it is encouraging children to start smoking….I guess that’s what comes with working in an office of smokers).

That’s it for this week. Back to finalising the military- grade plans for setting up our modest little Toy Fair stand (I can only imagine what the people organising the really big stands are currently going through….). You can find us on stand GH 37, in the Green House area, just off the main central aisle – right at the heart of the show. Feel free to pop on and say hello, pick up a copy of the January issue (if you’re feeling strong) or sign up to receive a regular copy each month. The entire Toy World team will be out in force – we look forward to seeing you there.

You can follow our fearless leader on Twitter @Baulchtweet.