The Dark Lord returns.…it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 30th October 2015

There have been several major news stories which have been announced this week (and guess which magazine was first to break them…). First, we revealed that HTi will be closing its London office, which only opened at the start of the year. With former CEO Chris Spalding and MD Paul Bennett recently leaving the company (with potentially more to follow?), the London office was clearly on borrowed time. If I was a betting man, I would say that the HTi we see moving forward will perhaps resemble the HTi we knew of old.

In other news, Spin Master’s European MD Kevin Jones announced that he will be retiring at the end of the year. Frankly, Kevin doesn’t seem remotely old enough to contemplate retirement, but after a fantastic last couple of years he’s going out on a high, and there is surely no better way to go. I’m sure he’ll still be involved with the toy trade for a while to come, and we wish him all the best. Jacqueline Taylor-Foo and Phil Hopper have both been promoted as part of the reshuffle, so it’s great to see that the company will benefit from continuity at a senior level despite Kevin’s departure.

Finally, the sale of Hamleys has finally been confirmed. You can read more about that here. It has already been suggested that the £100m deal will see Hamleys extend its reach into department stores, including House of Fraser outlets, which are also operated by new owner C. Banner. I’m sure everyone involved will be relieved that the uncertainty of the past few months has been brought to an end.

Elsewhere, October half term has seen marketing and promotional activity ramp up, as the industry starts a concerted push to persuade customers to make a dent in their festive purchases. I gather that the half-price sales continue to drive big numbers (Sainsbury’s numbers were up on last year’s by all account), while Argos has resorted to giving away free toys to help boost demand. Ok, the free toys in question were low-priced collectible items (presumably from old series to boot), but I’m sure plenty of shoppers were still tempted. Even Amazon has adopted the ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ approach and joined in with a 3 for 2 offer.

Looking ahead, there has been much speculation in the media about how this year’s Black Friday will compare with previous events: I saw a report this week which suggested that some shoppers were put off by unseemly scenes at some stores last year and are suggesting they will avoid getting involved this year. Even Argos advised caution during its recent quarterly report statement. But these examples seem to be the exception rather than the rule, with most retailers expecting an even bigger surge this year. Time will tell…

Before then, we have Halloween, which is traditionally particularly good for retailers when it falls on a weekend, so hopefully there has been a nice upturn in dress-up sales this week. Halloween is also perceived as the time when parents start thinking about Christmas in earnest, and with next week’s Dream Toys to help create further media coverage, hopefully retail will feel the benefit over the next few weeks.

I was sorry to hear former VTech MD Sid Heyde passed away recently. Known to many as ‘Hissing Sid’, he developed a fearsome reputation in some quarters, but I have to say that as a young person making his way in the trade when Sid was at the height of his career, he was nothing other than friendly and charming in all his dealings with me. I’m sure he will be greatly missed.

Finally, this week’s ToyTesters.TV awards took place at the O2, sharing a venue with rock Gods U2 for one night only. Flair, Trends and Spin Master had a friendly competition to see who could take home the most trophies, with Spin Master’s incredible Meccanoid taking top honour as best toy of the year. A full list of winners can be seen here. The ceremony was preceded by a short film, featuring a hitherto unknown actor in his first major role. All I can say is that seeing your own face blown up on a giant screen is one of the more surreal things that is ever likely to happen to you. Getting booed by kids because they think you’re really a villain when you go up on stage to collect an award on someone else’s behalf probably comes a close second. Perhaps I should have kept the costume to frighten the life out of the local kids for Halloween….