Retail comings and goings and Star Wars ‘nuts’… it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 4th April 2014

For me, the most interesting news this week has revolved around the ups and downs of a handful of international toy retail players.

The news that the Dubai-based Toy Store is planning to open a chain of stores in the UK, starting with a flagship branch on Hamleys’ doorstep in the West End, has certainly got plenty of toy people talking. I first met the people behind the Toy Store at a gathering in Hong Kong a number of years ago, where the Croatian buyer and I bonded over a shared enthusiasm for British electronic music from the 80’s, and I have stayed in touch with them ever since.

They have always impressed me with their knowledge, enthusiasm and passion for toys: I see them regularly at shows across the globe, and as there isn’t a Middle Eastern toy magazine, they have always used the UK and American publications to keep up with what’s happening in the toy market. We interviewed CEO Peter Bracken at the tail end of last year: if you missed the article you can read it here. It makes fascinating reading, and gives a good insight into the company’s ethos and trading approach. They have certainly established a very strong business across the Middle East over the past decade, and it will be well worth keeping an eye on them when they make their UK debut. After all, there were those who were sceptical about a certain Irish retailer’s ability to replicate their success when they first came to England, and look how that turned out.

Speaking of Smyths, they open their latest store in Derby this weekend, with character appearances from amongst others Fireman Sam, Barbie and Skylanders’ Gill Grunt (yes, there really is a character with that name!). Five or six further stores are expected to open in 2014, which will take the firm past the 70 store mark in the UK and Ireland.

Unfortunately the other piece of major retail news is not quite so positive: according to the Copenhagen Post, Hamleys has closed all four of its Danish stores after the owner of its Scandinavian franchise filed for bankruptcy. Hamleys’ outlets in Sweden and Norway have also closed as a result of the failure of Kids Retails of Denmark, illustrating the potential pitfalls of the retail franchise model as a method for overseas expansion.

I also gather that James Heese is no longer with Hobbycraft. We’ll bring you more news on that story as and when we are able.

As Easter rapidly approaches, new ranges are beginning to hit the stores. Notable new arrivals this week include Mattel’s BoomCo, which will provide healthy competition for Nerf, and Topps’ official England trading card game and sticker collection. Earlier this week Click’s Mark Hillier told me that Panini’s World Cup collection has got off to a flyer, with the first four days EPOS readings tracking a massive 160% up on the 2010 collection, and repeat orders coming in already. This undoubtedly bodes well for World Cup merchandise becoming the craze everyone is hoping for. If you missed our article on World Cup merchandise in the April issue of Toy World, you can catch up on that – and a host of other news, views and information here. As I said in my leader column, it’s the largest April issue we’ve ever produced, so I hope you found plenty to keep you informed and entertained.

With all the brouhaha surrounding the government’s pontificating about nurseries not preparing children for school, might I suggest that the BTHA’s Time to Play campaign is more vital – and necessary – than ever? Learning through play remains an integral part of a child’s development, and I do hope that this important message doesn’t get lost in some of the nonsense being bandied about by Ofsted and the media. I’m sure the BTHA will be doing their utmost to make sure our voice is heard.

Finally, if you thought a certain Derbyshire-based toy retailer was something of a Star Wars fanatic, Wednesday night’s Collectaholics programme on BBC2 featured one James Burns, who I suspect tops even Mr Middleton, with his collection of over 35,000 Star Wars action figures and pieces of memorabilia. In fact, not since the days of the mythical landfill site in Coalville have so many Star Wars items been found in one place. Although perhaps the most surprising part of the whole programme was when they introduced his wife (yes, you read that right: a collection of 35,000 toys and he is still married). It makes my record collection look pitiful in comparison – at least it only takes over one room in my house.

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