Some things don’t change… it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 25th November 2016

Sunday evenings at this busy time of the year are usually spent slumped on the sofa, watching people dancing, singing badly or eating something hugely unpleasant in a jungle setting – basically, the calm before the storm of the week erupts once again. Last Sunday night was different: I was kindly invited to attend the Children’s Baftas by Bananagrams, who sponsor the after-show party. I hadn’t been to the event for over a decade – I know this because the last time I attended, I was under strict instructions to get Jacqueline Wilson’s autograph for my daughters, who are now 19 and 22. However, some things don’t change; media events of this ilk are one of the few places where a man can sport a ponytail or man bun without fear of mockery. It’s also one of the few places where the interpretation of Black Tie can include a pullover. For all that, it’s a very glamorous, fantastically enjoyable night. There were some very worthy winners, but the other thing that hasn’t changed is that the shows with more commercial success (such as licensing programmes) tend not to win. That may be pure coincidence, but I remember it from a decade ago, and it still seemed to be the case this time round.

Back in the real world, Black Friday – once a single day event, now a more drawn-out affair – is in full swing. My inbox has been metaphorically groaning under the weight of all the ‘amazing deals’, although finding a genuine bargain amongst the hyperbole gets harder every year. I have a sneaking suspicion that while a lot of merchandise will be moved over the period, consumers will start to question just how ‘amazing’ the bargains really are. And this is another area where some things don’t change, however much retailers try: Tesco has already warned that deliveries of Black Friday items may take longer than people expect.

Elsewhere, as suppliers and retailers continue to grapple with the 2017 pricing situation, another factor to be taken into consideration is the significant increase in shipping container costs since the demise of the Korean shipping company Hanjin – I’m told that prices have risen by up to 20% in the short term. I’m not sure whether this will calm down after the initial surge in demand subsides, but coming on top of everything else, it’s not an ideal development by any means.

Both Hornby and Mothercare released half year results this week; Hornby’s results were largely as expected, with numbers broadly similar to last year’s figures, and an indication that the turnaround strategy is going according to plan. You can read more about that in an exclusive interview with CEO Steve Cooke in the December issue of Toy World. I’m guessing that Mothercare’s numbers will have come as slightly more of a disappointment, with last year’s £5.8m profit turned into a £800,000 loss. Nevertheless, Mothercare is in the midst of a turnaround plan of its own, with loss-making stores being closed and high street branches relocating to out-of-town sites. Hopefully this will help to put the retailer back into a healthier financial position in the coming years.

On the supplier side, GP Flair is in a very healthy position, and UK MD Simon Hedge has been rewarded with a promotion to group vice president for licensing and distribution development (as well as retaining the UK MD role…so presumably that means he gets two salaries now?). Congratulations to Simon on his newly-enhanced group role.

I’ll be back on my sofa this Sunday evening, but the TV highlight of the week will come the following night; former Toy World columnist and owner of 50Fifty Gifts, the irrepressible Ali Mafi, will be making an appearance on First Dates. Yes, you did read that right. I genuinely have no idea what happens (I’m sure all contestants are sworn to secrecy), but I can only imagine it will make fascinating viewing. He’s certainly made some interesting fashion choices to impress his date….