It has been ‘press week’ at Alakat Towers, so we’ve been immersed in polishing our April edition to perfection before sending it to print on Monday. However, many of the conversations we had with toy folk this week largely revolved around waiting: waiting for the majors’ selections to be confirmed, waiting for plans to be rubber-stamped and generally waiting for business to really kick into gear.
This time last year, we were basking in 20 degrees of sunshine, and all was well with the world. By comparison, my car temperature gauge hit the giddy heights of 1 degree yesterday morning. The fact that we’re in the grip of an unseasonal bout of cold weather must surely be having an impact on toy sales: I hope at least that slower sales of outdoor toys are being balanced by increases in other areas, such as crafts or indoor games.
On the positive side, figures from the Office for National Statistics show that retail sales rose by 2.1% in February, compared with January, when bad weather was blamed for sluggish sales. They were also 2.6% up on last February’s numbers. But, of course, these numbers relate to overall sales; we will have to wait a while for NPD to reveal the specific toy numbers. But if anecdotal feedback is anything to go by, I fear they may not exactly set the world on fire. There are bright spots, naturally, but I get the feeling that the last few weeks’ trading has probably been somewhat less than spectacular.
Easter clearly can’t come soon enough. Of course, it arrives especially early this year: looking ahead to 2014, Easter falls a full three weeks later in the calendar. But this time round, kids will be breaking up from school next week, and hopefully this will help to get sales moving in the right direction.
The budget provided a few bright spots for small businesses – such as a welcome reduction in employer national insurance bills and a cut in corporation tax – but there was little in the way of specific measures aimed at boosting consumer spending in the short term. Ultimately, it will be down to suppliers and retailers to tempt people to put their hands in their pocket. The budget did, however, provide the folks at Trunki with a good opportunity to enjoy some gentle social media fun; their tweet of George Osborne holding aloft a bright red Trunki in place of the usual battered ballot box raised a smile. Personally I would pay good money to see ‘Gideon’ astride a Trunki next budget day.
Peter Fielding’s funeral last Friday showed what a warm and wonderful industry the toy trade can be sometimes. Around 80 of Peter’s friends and colleagues attended, and Peter’s wife Sandra and all of the family were touched by the way that people have reacted. It was a very moving occasion, and a mark of how well-respected Peter was that so many wanted to be there to give him a good send off.
I’m off to put the finishing touches to the April edition; enjoy the penny off your pint this weekend – by my reckoning, it roughly equates to “buy 360, get the 361st free”. Thanks George….
You can follow John on Twitter here: @Baulchtweet.