Time to get ‘that Friday feeling’….it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 14th February 2014

It’s a notable Friday for the UK toy market, as both Moshi Monsters Series 9 and the Lego Movie are released today. I’ve not managed to see the Lego Movie myself as yet, but several toy retailers have been fulsome with their praise of the film on social networks and it has been well-received by critics, which is comparatively rare for a toy-related movie. Most importantly, it will inevitably provide a timely boost to toy retailers over the coming weeks, which I’m sure will be most welcome.

One of the major talking points over recent weeks has been Argos’ decision to hit suppliers with demands for 2% turnover rebates. The timing of the move has been widely criticised, coming just after quotes had been submitted and shortly before orders are due to be confirmed for the year. Whether the threat is implicit or explicit, there does seem to be an inference that non-compliance could result in orders being adversely affected. Both domestic and FOB suppliers have been targeted, the latter just after meetings in Hong Kong had been concluded and days before Chinese New Year, which has been suggested as cynical at best. Several suppliers have pointed out that with freight rates at their lowest level for some while and exchange rates favouring sterling, Argos is already significantly ‘in credit’, without having to levy additional charges on suppliers. Ultimately, though, it’s yet another game of Russian roulette: do you say ‘no’ and risk orders being reduced, or say ‘yes’ and erode margins even further. Publically every supplier will deny that they have given in, but privately, how many will be prepared to take the risk? Either way, I sadly doubt Argos will be the last retailer to hold a gun to suppliers’ heads in this way.

Asda is the latest in a growing line of retailers being linked with a move for the Early Learning Centre: whether this rumour is any more credible than last week’s suggestion that Tesco is a potential suitor is anyone’s guess. I do, however, suspect that everyone connected with ELC hopes that the situation is resolved sooner rather than later. The uncertainty surrounding ownership can’t be good for morale, yet alone the ability to conduct day-to-day business.

I have just heard through the grapevine that Paul Bufton will shortly be leaving Warner Bros. Consumer Products to head up Rovio Consumer Products EMEA, where he’ll be working on the Angry Birds brand.

Disney and Toys R Us have come in for some flack this week over a Doc McStuffins promotional event which has backfired. Parents expressed their disappointment that the chance to “meet their favourite characters from the TV show” actually turned out to be a cardboard cut-out and a few members of staff dressed in doctor’s coats. A Disney spokesperson apologised for “the confusion” (an early contender for ‘least convincing apology of the year’ perhaps?). Promo events can be hugely valuable for both brand and retailer alike, but in fairness, how anyone thought they would get away with this is completely beyond me.

A small postscript to last week’s piece on the In-Thing: their website now confirms that the company was officially placed into administration on 6th February. Is there more to come out of the woodwork yet? It’s possible: the toy trade is a close, tight-knit industry, and it isn’t easy to pretend that nothing has happened and get away with it.

Finally, good luck to all of you travelling to New York for the Toy Fair next week: it’s already snowing, and one forecast I’ve seen predicts that as much as 10 inches of snow could fall on the city over the next few days, just like the good old days…who could forget the legendary ‘blizzard of ’03’? Walking down the centre of Broadway without a car in sight remains one of my abiding memories of New York. But I do hope that whatever the weather, the show itself isn’t too badly disrupted. And I hope that wherever you are in the UK, your business hasn’t been too badly affected by the conditions we’ve been experiencing here. Roll on Summer.

You can follow our fearless leader on Twitter @Baulchtweet.