Summer Fun.…it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 7th August 2015

Summer is bubbling along nicely. It might seem a contestant for the ‘no s*it Sherlock’ observation of the week, but a press release from the owner of shopping centres such as Brent Cross and the Bullring – which specifically cited sales of toys as helping to drive a sharp rise in sales in July – was still welcome. The school holiday period can reasonably be expected to produce a sales uplift in the kids’ arena, but after mildly disappointing retail figures in June, nothing can be taken for granted.

Another initiative currently driving toy sales is Argos’ 3 for 2 promotional offer. While I hold no truck with the idea that parents across the land are currently in the process of putting the finishing touches to their Christmas shopping (a view that all the available industry data backs up emphatically), it’s certainly tempting to get together with a couple of friends and take advantage of Argos’ seasonal spirit of generosity. Three mums (or indeed dads) who have their eye on major purchases can save a decent sum by pooling their resources, and it gives suppliers – and of course Argos – a reasonable steer on which products might turn out to be in heavy demand over the festive period.

On the subject of Argos, I was interested to read an interview in The Drum with Alyson Lockley, who was appointed last year to oversee the retailer’s own brand drive. By all accounts, she set an ambitious target of her division being responsible for 33% of Argos’ sales within three years – which last year would have equated to a whopping £5.7bn. The interview goes on to say that three categories have been identified as the focus of the own-brand drive, one of which is toys. It was certainly noticeable at the recent Argos Christmas press event that the toy buyers were just as keen to talk up new Chad Valley lines as they were the hot branded items on show. In some ways it seemed incongruous at the time, but this article certainly explains why they were doing it. It will be fascinating to see whether the lofty goal can be achieved: I’ve been mildly critical of major retailers over-ranging own brand lines in the past, and can still vividly remember one of the most eloquent and fascinating rants on the subject I’ve ever heard. I was in conversation with Bryan Ellis, then managing director of Hasbro, and he launched into a tirade about the folly of retailers placing too much emphasis on own brand goods at the expense of branded goods. Although this was probably a good 15 or more years ago, much of what he said would arguably still be valid today (although it was Woolworths that had provoked his ire on that occasion rather than Argos). Ultimately, it’s all a question of balance, but wherever the line is drawn, someone will lose out. I’m sure branded toy suppliers have their own concerns about the prospect of the UK’s largest toy retailer devoting a third of its range to own brand, while own brand suppliers must be salivating at the prospect.

There’s not a huge amount of gossip about at the moment, but I can reveal that Adam Reed has joined Nickelodeon as retail marketing director. I think it’s a great move for both parties and we wish him every success in his new role.

Finally, as we’re at the height of summer, sport inevitably features high on the agenda for many people. Yesterday’s astonishing performance by the England cricket team will surely be hard to top this year (Pomicide! Walking Matilda!), while football fans amongst us are eagerly awaiting the start of the season this weekend. 34 people have already signed up for this year’s Toy World masters Fantasy Football League – if you’d also like to join, email me  for the log-in code. But perhaps my favourite sporting anecdote this week came courtesy of one of our competitor’s websites. I rarely draw attention to typos, mainly because anyone who works in publishing knows it can happen to the best of us. But this was a particularly classic example of the genre: a story about the release of some new Rugby-related trading cards included the phrase “the nonce cards.” As someone who was forced to play Rugby for five long years at school, I do know that calling a rugby player a nonce wouldn’t have ended well. Let’s just hope none of the England players saw it before it was corrected!