We finally have a date for the grand re-opening of High Street UK – 15th June. It may well have been two weeks earlier, had a certain person not decided to take an ill-advised 260- mile trip up the A1 to Durham. It’s a total Domnishambles, but here we are.
While some toy retailers had got their hopes up for a 1st June re-opening, at least this new date gives them extra time to prepare. It also gives consumers a little more time to get used to the idea of everything being open again. Some shoppers are clearly champing at the bit to get back into stores, illustrated by encouraging footfall numbers from the recent bank holiday. Others may take a little longer to return to their old habits, but at least their temporary absence will help with the logistical aspects of re-opening shopping destinations.
We’ve run several stories this week which look at some of the practical measures that are being implemented: Intu is planning to introduce a one-way system around its centres, while also limiting the amount of people in the centre at any one time. As most individual stores will be doing the same, this raises the potential of shoppers needing to queue to get into the centre, then queue again to get into each store. The British are renowned the world over for our love of a good queue, but even we have our limits. We’ll probably even have to queue to get into the car park, as Intu will also be limiting the number of parking bays available. While this seems perfectly reasonable, if you have ever been caught in the Watford ring road gridlock in December, you’ll know the carnage that can follow when cars are denied entry to car parks (and if you haven’t had that particular pleasure, just watch the opening sequence of La La Land and imagine it without the sunshine or dancing).
In addition to these logistical challenges, stores will face their own ‘new abnormal’ decisions. For example, what happens to stock which has been sullied by the touch of human hand? Nothing, you might think – that’s how supermarkets have been operating. However, Waterstones will be operating its own form of ‘book quarantine’, taking any title which has been handled off the shop floor for 72 hours. When we reported this, I received several emails from toy suppliers doubting this would work in practice – but as a friend of my youngest daughter works at Waterstones on the South Bank, I can promise you that it is already happening. Given that Waterstones only carries a single copy of many titles, can you imagine how annoyed you would be if someone manhandles the book you had gone into buy and you had to watch it being taken into quarantine before your very eyes.
Practical niggles aside, the big picture here is that we are finally moving forward. Sales numbers apparently improved significantly after toy stores started opening for click and collect orders, so hopefully we can expect further improvement when those stores become fully transactional once more. With stock levels already falling, we should see retail re-ordering gaining further momentum in the weeks following 15th June.
Within a few short weeks, we’ll reach the next stage in the pandemic: lockdown will be behind us, parents can finally stop binge-watching their kids and we’ll hit the ‘re’ phase: pick your own adjective from refocus, restart, reboot, refresh, reinvigorate, reenergise, revitalise, recalibrate, rebirth – or if you’re an old Roxy Music fan like me, remake, remodel.
Each of these descriptions seems apt. In the short term, we have all had to remake and remodel our existing operations to fit the post-covid world – and no doubt, some of those changes will stay with us for the long haul. Virtual toy fairs and showrooms have been creating a bit of a buzz in recent weeks, as a question mark remains over when we will realistically be able to hold live events. I’m sure we’re all hoping to meet up with our industry friends and colleagues again soon – as for how soon, I guess that will become apparent over the coming weeks.
In the meantime, trusted media brands like Toy World have an important role to play in communicating with retailers: with many suppliers’ launch plans disrupted or delayed in recent months, retailers need to know where suppliers are going to place their focus in the second half of the year, so they in turn know which ranges to support and invest in. Without a doubt, fresh, exciting new products are going to play a pivotal role in encouraging consumers to return to physical stores – well-respected US specialist toy retailer Richard Derr from Learning Express recently posted on LinkedIn that his May sales have been dominated by new items, including some products which didn’t even exist a few months ago such as children’s masks.
With 15th June confirmed as the date when the starting gun will be fired on the second half of the year, we’ve decided to make the July issue of Toy World a special ‘2020 reboot edition’, giving suppliers the perfect opportunity to re-energise their autumn winter season. As an industry, we have fared incredibly well during lockdown, but the next six months will be crucial for toy suppliers and retailers alike. TV advertising and other marketing activity is gradually being re-activated, while new ranges and products will soon be landing at retail. Time for retailers to refresh their stores and for suppliers to reinvigorate their year – and Toy World is here to help you. Get in touch if you’d like to find out more.
And while it is warm and sunny outside, Christmas is most definitely coming – I will be filming my contribution for a TV show focusing on Britain’s favourite Christmas toys on Monday. By the time it airs, lockdown will hopefully be a distant memory, the only reminder of which will be a TV programme featuring my distinctly ‘throwback’ lockdown hairstyle, the likes of which hasn’t been seen for several decades. That’s the one thing I am not brave enough to remake and remodel myself…