This week, it emerged that Liz Truss has a habit of scribbling tldr over government documents (for those who haven’t come across the acronym before, tldr stands for ‘too long, didn’t read’). When you bear in mind that Liz is the minister in charge of international trade and the documents in question are often complex trade deals, it’s not exactly reassuring. Maybe she needs someone to curate all the key bits of information and present her with a bite-sized ‘snackable content’ round-up. I’d offer to help her out, but I’m too busy doing that for the toy community, and there is plenty to cover this week, so let’s dive right in.
First up, one of the worst-kept ‘secrets’ in the industry is finally out…Just Play will be setting up its own subsidiary in the UK from January 1st, bringing to an end its five-year partnership with Flair. Just Play has been busy building a team of high-powered industry figures over the past year, so it has always been a question of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ the move was on the cards. We’ll bring you more on the new Just Play operation in the coming months, and I’m sure Flair will also have plenty of new developments to share across its own portfolio too.
Big changes are also in the offing within the Sainsbury’s Argos toy buying team. I gather that Paul Kinge will be leaving the toy team to manage part of the retailer’s consumer electronics department – it’s a shame to see someone of Paul’s experience move on, but that’s very much the way of retail these days, especially the major accounts. Paul will apparently still be working with both Andrew Hartley and Juliet, who have moved to the same division. My understanding is that toys has now been combined into a bigger category which also includes nursery, books and DVDs. On the positive side, Tara Mortimer and Karen Leddy will remain in the toys team. However, it would appear that when you factor in redundancies, the move represents the removal of a big chunk of resource from the commercial team: with less resource and extra categories to manage, I suspect the new toy team is going to be pretty busy going forward.
One toy retail stalwart that is very much staying put is Yogi Parmar, who has this week been promoted to managing director of Toymaster. Congratulations to Yogi on his well-deserved new role. With the support of fellow directors Colin Farrow and Paul Reader, the Toymaster head office team is steeped in toys: all the knowledge, experience and contacts that the trio have accrued over the years will undoubtedly be hugely important in helping the buying group and its members navigate the current challenges. In a normal year, we’d all be preparing to head to Harrogate next week to meet up with the Toymaster family – and while that isn’t possible this year, I am sure we’re all looking forward to next year’s May show already.
Another toy retail operation steeped in toy experience is The Entertainer. I caught up with founder Gary Grant this week ahead of the opening of the first-ever The Entertainer branded store in Spain. The former Poly Group store in Valencia has been completely refurbished and rebranded, with a view to assessing whether adopting The Entertainer branding and its standards of merchandising, presentation and customer service results in increased sales. If the trial is successful, it could not only lead to other Poly stores being converted and rebranded, but also brand-new stores being opened with The Entertainer branding in Spain. Along with its ongoing trial to run the Asda toy departments here in the UK, The Entertainer is certainly not standing still, despite the ongoing retail disruption – and it’s exactly that kind of ‘fortune favours the bold’ approach that sees many toy suppliers and retailers continuing to post strong numbers, both here in the UK and across the globe.
Looking at the first four weeks’ trading since English stores re-opened, Gary tells me that he would categorise them respectively as “Outstanding. Average. Good. Good.” Overall, the chain beat its “cautious, conservative” forecasts quite comfortably over that period – hopefully other toy retailers will have enjoyed similar experiences. We’re not out of the woods yet (another lockdown would clearly be a major challenge), but so far, re-opening has been a success and the future looks bright.
Exactly the same could be said for printed toy magazines…yet this week, I heard of one magazine blaming the pandemic for cutting back its print issue to a meagre couple of appearances a year. Ostensibly, you might believe that view has some merit: however, it is way wide of the mark. Exhibit A for the defence: Toy World hasn’t missed a single print issue (or indeed a single daily email news bulletin) over the past year. We’ve consistently delivered the best content, resulting in some of the largest issues we have ever produced. I appreciate that not all businesses have physically been able to continue to operate through lockdowns, but that simply isn’t true of media. Just as YouTube and other consumer platforms have seen eyeballs increase in the past year, so has Toy World – more than ever, the trade has needed to keep up to date with everything that has been going on, and with many of the usual avenues temporarily closed (trade shows, previews, visits from reps / agents, meetings with industry colleagues etc.), trade press has been an invaluable source of information.
Continuing to publish Toy World last year was the second-best business decision I ever took (the best being to set Toy World up in the first place). And we’ll carry on throughout this year in the same vein – the freshest, most relevant content; the largest, most comprehensive issues; the hottest news and not being shy to express an opinion. And crucially, a fixed print schedule, not an erratic one – our readers and advertisers need reliability, so they know where they stand and can plan properly. Just as retailers have had to react, be flexible to prevailing conditions and find a way to keep doing what they do, so have media operators.
We all know that the world is changing, but just as the best physical stores are here to stay, so are the best print magazines. And whether retailer or trade magazine, if we can harness the myriad opportunities presented by the digital realm to enhance our brand and our capabilities, that’s absolutely the way forward.