Sign o’ the times…it’s the Friday Blog! (On a Thursday)

Published on: 18th April 2019

Finally, Easter is almost upon us – hence the Blog coming to you on a Thursday this week. Easter falls late in the calendar this year – some suppliers have even suggested that it is a little too late from a trading perspective, but there’s clearly not much we can do about that. Speaking to one independent retailer recently, he was hoping for a spell of “pleasant weather…but not too hot.” Looking at my weather app, London and the South East is predicted to be basking in unseasonal 23 degree heat over the Easter weekend, so I’m not sure if that quite fits the brief. Either way, good luck to all toy retailers for this weekend and the Easter holidays as a whole; I hope you see a healthy upswing in sales, whatever the weather.

The biggest retail story of the week is only a rumour at the moment – but as it reinforces something that a very well-placed source told me a month ago, it certainly bears scrutiny. The rumour in question is that Indian group Reliance Retail is said to be in talks with Hamleys owner C.banner about acquiring the retailer. The two companies already have a trading partnership in India; a deal would give Reliance a global footprint for the first time. The question remains as to whether a deal can be struck, or whether there are any other potential suitors who may yet declare an interest. We’ll keep you posted on further developments.

A recent report by an investment bank has put the odds of the Sainsbury’s / Asda merger being approved by the CMA at just 20%. The report went on to suggest that Asda would probably be snapped up by a private equity buyer if the deal doesn’t go ahead, while Sainsbury’s could be forced into a major overhaul which may see chief executive Mike Coupe being replaced. Of course, it’s important to stress that this report remains purely speculative, and its findings represent one possible outcome. However, it must be said that the scenario described in the report does sound eminently plausible.

Meanwhile, Asda has been accused of attempting to disguise a pay cut for thousands of its staff. Apparently consultations are taking place to simplify terms for hourly-paid staff, which would potentially remove paid breaks, cut the premium for working unsociable hours and shorten night shifts. It has been suggested that the net result would see 3000 employees around £500 a year worse off. A sign of the times perhaps, but one wonders how many of these staff are potential toy consumers and whether there will be a knock-on effect on their discretionary spending.

Mind you, there is a whole new generation entering the workplace which will readily accept these new working conditions as the norm. My youngest daughter – who left university last year – looked at me quizzically when I told her recently that people used to be paid time and a half or double time for working overtime, or at weekends and evenings. Such a concept is as alien to her as the thought that we used to be able to smoke on planes and trains and in offices – a relic from a bygone age. I sometimes look back and give thanks that I started my career in a time before zero hour contracts, internships and ‘Mcjobs’. As for Jack Ma, the owner of Alibaba, and his comments endorsing ‘996’ (which refers to the tech sector practice of working a 12 hour day, six days a week), let’s just say that I would respectfully agree to disagree that this constitutes an acceptable working environment and culture. The mistakes you would make towards the end of a 12 hour shift after working for six days straight don’t bear thinking about…

We’re just putting the finishing touches to our bumper May edition, and – entirely coincidentally as it happens – the issue features three retailers celebrating milestones in 2019: Toy Barnhaus and Toytown Seaford, which are both celebrating their 10th anniversary this year, and the Trading Post, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary. It’s no mean feat for independent retailers to reach these landmark birthdays in the current retail climate, so congratulations to them all. It also got me wondering about how many similar anniversaries we’ll be reporting on in ten or twenty years’ time; the prevailing retail landscape may look brutal at times, but hopefully there will be some brave souls willing to join the fray and open new toy retail businesses. Toy World launched in 2011, less than a month after Black Monday; if you wait for the economy to be in a great place before launching a business, there is always a danger that you’ll be waiting a very long time. And if you can establish a business in tough times, the theory goes that you should be in a healthy position to benefit when things pick up. So, if you’re launching a new toy store this year, all power to you – and I hope that we’ll be reporting on your milestone anniversaries in years to come.

It isn’t just toy retailers celebrating anniversaries this year: DKL Marketing – another company which we’ll be featuring in our May edition – celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, while 2019 also represents Spin Master’s 20th year in business. The milestone has been marked by a documentary which was initially broadcast on Netflix in Canada and is now available to view on YouTube.

Something which unites all of the aforementioned companies is consistency of ownership and direction. While they have all evolved their respective business models over their lifespans, I suspect the culture that has driven these companies to succeed has been unwavering throughout. Longevity in business is rarely an accident; it takes commitment, passion and a lot of hard graft. A bit of luck along the way helps too, but as they say in football, sometimes you make your own luck.

So, have a great long weekend, enjoy eating your body weight in chocolate if that is your thing and let’s hope for a bumper sales weekend all round – outdoor toy suppliers will certainly be feeling optimistic.