Some good news, a few retail observations and a sprinkling of gossip…it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 9th August 2013

I go away for two weeks and what do I come back to? According to the British Retail Consortium, retail sales enjoyed their fastest July growth in seven years (2.2%), while manufacturing output has grown at twice the forecast rate since the end of June, based on figures released by the Office of National Statistics. Maybe I should go away more often?

George Osborne has (rightly) been wary of bandying the old ‘green shoots of recovery’ chestnut around, but at least these pieces of positive news offer hope that the general UK economy is beginning to head in the right direction.

From a specific toy perspective, the launch of the Argos catalogue has given suppliers an early indication of consumer reaction to their latest launches. I’ve perused the toy section at length, and it is certainly jam-packed with a huge number of products and brands – indeed, whether they’ve tried to cram a little too much into some of the pages is perhaps a matter of opinion and personal taste.

Over at Toys R Us, latest figures show a drop in profits for the third year running, down 48% to £6m. On the face of it, that may not sound great, but I happen to believe that – based on what I was hearing from the supplier community towards the end of last year – it could have been a whole lot worse. When all is said and done, £6m is still a fairly healthy profit, and turnover figures were only 3% down, which surely has to be encouraging.

There have apparently been a number of changes to the Tesco toy buying team: according to industry sources, Boys Buying manager Phil Markham has been made redundant, while category manager Donna Worsley is believed to have moved off toys. Vehicles buyer Ravi Patel has moved over to the food department, with his role taken by James Kelsey. There may have been other ‘realignments’ which we haven’t yet been made aware of, but we are still waiting for any official word from the Tesco press department.

In fairness, I guess they’ve been busy this week, Tesco having unveiled a brand new superstore format which UK managing director Chris Bush says ‘points the way to the future of the store – it’s Tesco for the digital age.’ It just so happens that this redevelopment is in Watford, and it’s the store I have visited every week for the past 20 years. The reaction to the new-look format has been largely positive, and there is absolutely no doubt that the non-food aisles in particular have undergone a significant transformation. Chris Bush describes the general merchandise area as having ‘a department store feel to it’, which is a pretty accurate description. The whole store is much more glamorous (they have a L’Oreal counter and ‘misty veg’!), and on one level, I can see why retail observers are raving about it. But here’s the thing: while I was there, 90% of the shoppers seemed to be concentrated in the third of the store given over to food, resulting in ridiculously cramped food aisles, while you could have rolled a bowling ball in most of the huge non-food section and not hit anyone. Ok, it was a Wednesday evening in July, but the whole experience now feels more akin to visiting a ‘mini Lakeside’ rather than the sort of place you would go to do the weekly food shop. And for what it’s worth, I thought the toy range seemed a little more ‘focused’ than previously, although that may not be a bad thing for the lines that did make it on to the shelves.

On the licensing front, the biggest news of the week is that Platinum Films has awarded the Simba Dickie Group the master toy licence for Matt Hatter Chronicles across EMEA, CEE, Russia and India. Ever since Platinum MD Nigel Stone stopped me in the aisles of the MipCom show in Cannes around three years ago and showed me some initial rough-cut footage of the show, I’ve always believed it had huge potential, and I am sure that this partnership will be a major coup for both parties. You’ll be able to read lots more about the plans for Matt Hatter – and many other properties – in Toy World over the coming months, as we count down to October’s Brand Licensing event by significantly expanding our print and online coverage of the licensing sector.

Have a marvelous weekend.