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Turmoil… it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 1st July 2016

Broadcaster Danny Baker used to have a slot on his Saturday morning radio show entitled ‘Turmoil’, wherein he would take pictures of people from the newspaper and write turmoil across their foreheads. It was actually a much funnier segment than it sounds when written down. All I can say is that, if he chose to resurrect that particular segment, he would have an absolute field day this week.

One week on, the only thing we can currently be certain about is uncertainty, which is clearly something which all businesses hate. Every day throws up fresh confusion: yesterday Boris Johnson, one of the main instigators of the current drama, announced he would not stand for leadership of the Conservative party after all. Clearly he didn’t really expect to win last week’s vote, nor in truth did he really want to. He knows there is now a massive job ahead to clear up the aftermath of the surprise result, and has duly absconded, leaving it to someone else. Thanks mate.

But regardless of my personal views on the matter, from a business point of view I do think it’s important to keep things in perspective and, particularly, not to panic – there is enough of a challenge ahead without making things worse. Real change is at least two years off, maybe more – and there are some that believe it will never happen. This isn’t the place to debate any of the scenarios that may or may not result in Article 50 being triggered. Even if it is enacted, we may still be able to negotiate a settlement which means that, in practice, little will change, especially with regard to access to the single market. We will all need a back-up plan just in case, but for now, the main concern revolves around the weakness of the pound. I sat in Las Vegas airport last Friday with two directors of a PLC discussing how much currency they would be forward buying when they landed, with the pound having risen to $1.50. When we landed ten hours later, the situation was rather different: the result we had all anticipated had not materialised, and the pound was languishing down at $1.32, its lowest level for three decades. Let’s just say that the ashen looks on peoples’ faces around the baggage carousel weren’t just because we’d all just stepped off an overnight transatlantic flight, exhausted and jet-lagged.

Currency swings of this magnitude inevitably have a major impact on the toy market, especially coming at the time when spring summer pricing is being calculated – that certainly won’t be an easy process this time round. While the pound has recovered slightly this week, it is still not immune to further fluctuations as aftershocks from the vote continue, so I am envisaging a bit of flexibility will be key to the coming round of supplier / retail negotiations.

The referendum result may have been dominating conversations around the toy trade this week – as I am sure it has in every other market sector – but there are still a few interesting pieces of toy-specific news to report. Philip Morris left his role at Papo UK yesterday after seven years at the helm. With many years’ experience in the trade, I am sure Philip is keen to remain within the toy market – he can be contacted on philip@phmorris.co.uk or 0774 815 0906.

Elsewhere I gather that former Trod / Buy for Less owner Dan Ashton has wasted no time re-establishing an online toy retail business, after his previous business was wound up earlier this year. If you have a look on Amazon for Boxbot, you’ll get an idea of what he’s up to. A few toy companies are already on-board – most notably Melissa and Doug – so I guess they must all have faith in his creditworthiness (if that is indeed a word). He is by no means the first retailer or supplier to have popped up again after administration, and it will be interesting to see if the new scaled-back version can succeed where the previous operation didn’t. As last time, the emphasis seems to be on selling via Amazon, which other toy retailers tell me is still a tough area to trade profitably in.

It’s the Toy Trust Big Challenge this weekend, and I’m sure just about everyone reading this will know someone who is participating, so I hope you’ll all find someone to support to help raise a fantastic sum for the Toy Trust. I wish everyone involved the best of luck and I’m sure it will be another great day.

I also want to send my best wishes to David and Janine Rawlings, who are closing their Flying Toys business and retiring today. The company was formed way back in 1978 and the couple have always been genuinely passionate about their part of the toy market and a delight to work with. I wish them all the best for the coming years.

Finally, it’s back to the referendum: with all the rifts and divisions opened up by the vote, there have been some heart-warming gestures by individuals and companies which have recognised the importance of starting the healing process and bringing people together. Perhaps my favourite came from the Playfull toy shop in Bristol, which placed a bucket full of roses outside the shop with a message inviting immigrants to take a rose, reminding them that Bristol chose to stay in the EU. A Facebook post highlighting the gesture has already been liked more than 10,000 times. But on this occasion, it’s far more than just a smart piece of local / social media marketing: it’s an example of the mind-set we all need to get through what lies ahead.

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