The best laid plans … it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 15th September 2023

I have had quite the week. Saturday should have seen Anita and I heading off for a mini break for our wedding anniversary. Unfortunately, we woke up on Saturday morning to find that our chosen destination – Marrakesh – had been hit by a devastating earthquake. Our thoughts are with the people of Morocco, we didn’t feel it would be appropriate to travel there under the circumstances, so a last-minute switch to an idyllic island off the coast of Dubrovnik in Croatia (next door to the island where the Beckhams own a villa) was hastily arranged.

We ended up having a wonderful break, but the timing of our anniversary did mean that I missed a couple of industry events this week. Hence the Toy World team of Mark and Rachael flew the flag for us at the Licensing Awards and the Big Christmas Press Show. You can read Rachael’s report from the Press show today, while we ran a full list of the Licensing Awards winners on our sister site Congratulations to all the successful companies – toy suppliers and retailers celebrating included Spin Master, Amscan, The Entertainer and HMV, while toy / kids’ properties Barbie, Bluey, Wizarding World, Pokémon and Minecraft were all victorious.

Interestingly, it wasn’t just me who was absent this year: quite a few toy people would have missed both events, as many from the UK toy community have been out in LA this week. I wasn’t able to make it to California this time round, partly because of the anniversary trip, which was planned at the start of the year, and partly because I needed to be in the office for a couple of days to finalise our October issue, which is being sent to print today. Expect it to land (with a pretty hefty thud) a few days earlier than usual this month, so it gives everyone a chance to read it before heading to BLE. Because, as I say repeatedly to licensing people, no one has time to read anything at the show itself.

September is turning into the new January, with multiple trips and events vying for attention – and the reality is you can’t be everywhere at once and still do what you need to do to keep your business on track (ultimately, the most important thing). I decided a few years ago that it wasn’t right to put business commitments ahead of personal ones, so I try to get a balance and accept that I can’t be everywhere. In the end, that’s what teams are for and why it is important to hire good people. And anyway, if I had said I was at the Licensing Awards, no-one would have known any better with 1300 people in the room.

So, what else did I miss while I was celebrating 31 years of marriage? German toy company Haba has filed for insolvency under self-administration (a legal step in Germany to avoid making the CEO and management personally responsible). I am not sure what happens next, although there are rumours of competitors circling. I understand that Haba has a stronger presence in some other European markets than it does here in the UK, so whether it can rise from the ashes, or the brand ends up part of someone else’s range, remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, here in the UK, the much-rumoured deal for Doug Putman to acquire Wilko fell through, as the numbers just couldn’t be made to stack up. The Wilko name may survive via The Range, although if anyone can explain quite why they felt it was worth coughing up £5m for, I would be delighted to be enlightened. Who thinks “I’ll buy a Wilko” anything?! And given the fact the retailer has just failed causing thousands of job losses, I can’t help feeling any residual goodwill is negligible at best. However, Poundland has acquired around 70 stores, to add to the 50 that B&M took over, so that will hopefully save some jobs. This morning also sees reports of Lidl looking at some stores.

At the other end of the retail spectrum, John Lewis announced further losses in the first half of the year and admitted that its return to profit will now take two years longer than originally stated. 2028 is the new target date for the turnaround to be complete, although on the bright side, chairwoman Dame Sharon White did rule out selling a stake in the business, putting an end to speculation that it was being considered.

In more positive news, The Entertainer has appointed a new CEO, Andrew Murphy – who coincidentally comes from John Lewis, where he most recently held the role of group chief operating officer. Elsewhere, Toymaster launched its Irish Christmas catalogue this week, with the UK version set to follow in ten days’ time. The group will soon be on the road again for its regional meetings in Ireland, Harrogate and Swindon, starting at the end of September/early October. I get the impression that many Toymaster members have had a decent year, and I also have a sneaking suspicion that this Christmas is going to be another late one, which generally helps the independent specialists. You will hear commentators talking about consumers waiting for great offers and deals before purchasing, but I believe that for many consumers, the reality is simply that they will need their December pay cheque to hit their account before heading to the shops. With Christmas falling on a Monday this year, that final weekend could potentially be huge for retail.

I also wanted to congratulate Stephen Town, who is the latest recipient of a Golden Teddy award. Steve has enjoyed a long career in toy retail with the likes Lorimers, Westgate Co-op, Youngsters and SMF, and he was also a Toy Retailers Association Council member for more than 17 years, 16 of those as Treasurer. A very worthy recipient.

Finally, I hear there are quite a few changes going on at a number of licensing companies – I have heard of three senior people who have moved on or are about to just this week alone. BLE is certainly going to be interesting this year.