The stuff of dreams…it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 19th October 2018

Another week where interesting news stories have been coming thick and fast: the ‘never a dull moment in the toy trade’ adage continues to hold firm. It’s a journalists’ dream – illustrated by the fact that our online readership has grown by a staggering 45% this year – but sadly not all of the news stories are exactly the stuff of dreams.

At least I can start on a positive note: Character Options has moved swiftly to head off potential challenges that lie ahead after March next year by acquiring a 55% equity holding in Nordic-based toy company Proxy. The move will allow the company to extend its European reach and potentially enable frictionless access to EU markets post-Brexit, a major plus point for toy companies and brand owners seeking UK and EU market access going forward. I suspect this will be the first of many similar arrangements put in place by British toy companies: some European toy companies could be in for a field day – their own Brexit dividend.

As we reported last week though, sadly all is not so rosy at Hamleys, which appears to have made its former finance director the scapegoat for its recent set of poor results. To be fair, I usually find that when things have gone awry at a major retailer, it’s all the fault of the finance director (insert eye-roll emoji here). In a ‘you couldn’t make it up’ moment, his replacement comes from House of Fraser – presumably because they’ve been doing so well recently? If that doesn’t work out, perhaps they can check to see if the Toys R Us finance director is available next?

Inevitably, it isn’t just retailers who are looking closely at their cost-base in the light of the changing face of the retail market: Hasbro has announced that it will be making redundancies across its global workforce. The cut has been described as a “single digit percentage”, but no news yet on specific numbers or which specific territories and operations will be affected.

Having mentioned last week that there have been suggestions that the recent Argos ‘3 for 2’ sale didn’t quite hit the dizzy heights of previous years, it will be interesting to see how the infamous Sainsbury’s half price toy sale fares. The sale, which started this week, has acquired semi-legendary status amongst bargain hunters. A quick check on this year’s offering suggests that all the major toy companies and brands are well-represented – arguably even more strongly than in recent years…. perhaps that’s the Argos effect? Around a quarter of the sale items are subject to the full 50% discount, but even 20% off some hot and high-profile brands such as LOL Surprise and Lego is not to be sniffed at. To be fair, I didn’t exactly have to fight my way down the aisles, but it was 3.30 on Wednesday afternoon, so I am reluctant to draw any conclusions from my visit, beyond the fact that consumers certainly have an excellent selection of offers from which to choose.

Last week I nearly had cause to say nice things about Amazon, but thankfully they helped me out at the last minute. This week I find myself gritting my teeth as I am about to congratulate President Trump on getting something right – although, by the law of averages, I guess that had to happen at some point. On this occasion, his decision to withdraw from a 144-year-old postal treaty appears to be sound: the treaty, which allowed ‘developing’ countries to pay cheaper rates when shipping packages internationally, was partly responsible for the US being flooded with cheap e-commerce packages from the Far East. It may have been appropriate all those years ago, but China can hardly qualify as a developing country now. And if this move stops a percentage of counterfeit goods reaching their destination, it can only be a good thing.

There’s just time to confirm that Lindsey Hewitt will be moving on from her role at boys toys buyer at Asda – she is heading over to the ambient food team. Lindsey will be replaced by Emma Griffiths, who herself has been at Asda for several years. Elsewhere Fredrik Wolff has recently parted company with IMC Toys. I’d also to wish Dave Cave – the Peter Pan of the toy trade – a very happy 70th birthday for next week.

Finally, as last week’s Blog was written immediately after BLE closed its doors, I didn’t have time to canvass the select panel of like-minded licensees who share my indifference towards some of the jargon employed by certain people in the licensing community. However, over the course of this week, plenty of examples have been put forward. One licensor was apparently proud to have defined its ‘aggregation strategy’: unfortunately, the licensor didn’t actually explain what it was or even what the term meant, and the licensee in question was certainly none-the-wiser.

One new video game was described as being a ‘run and gun’ game, which – whilst undoubtedly accurate – was described as “not pleasant to hear, especially in an American accent.” Another licensor talked about its ‘global strategic franchise plan’, without detailing in any way what it was – but as the licensee admitted, “I bet it’s absolutely brilliant.” I highlight these choice phrases only in the hope that one day, if we all work together, they will be as frowned upon as a TOY number plate and we can all get back to speaking in plain English instead of riddles that many struggle to comprehend.