Two sides to every story…it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 27th September 2019

The job merry-go-round has gone into overdrive in recent weeks. As is often the case, I was aware of a number of these moves quite a while back. I also know of a few big moves that I am not at liberty to announce just yet (either ‘legal’ discussions are ongoing or notice periods are still in effect). If you keep your ear to the ground at BLE next week, I’m sure you’ll pick up a few very interesting nuggets.

In the meantime, we were finally able to announce the appointment of Paul Bufton to the role of vice president of consumer products for EMEA at Universal – a great move for both parties ahead of what promises to be a very strong year for Universal. We also revealed that Sue Barratt has been appointed as the new UK country manager for IMC Toys, while David Wootliff has joined Sambro as marketing director. We wish all of them the best in their new roles. Look out for news of further comings and goings over the next few weeks.

Retail continues to be challenging. It’s important to remember that it isn’t just the toy market which is being affected: Sainsbury’s has confirmed that it will be closing 60-70 standalone Argos stores and moving them into a nearby branch of Sainsbury’s. The move is part of a series of store closures which is aimed at saving the company £500m over the next five years, although the one-off cost of the closures has been estimated at £230-270m. I am still hearing from some suppliers that Argos sales numbers are significantly down on previous years, and while the closures may be prudent from a financial perspective and possibly even logical from a store estate standpoint, I remain to be convinced that they will do anything to reverse the current sales decline in its toy category. On the flipside, it certainly provides opportunities for other retailers to fill in the gaps. Of course, this is just my humble opinion – I may well be proved wrong in the fullness of time.

I’m always happy for people to disagree with what I’m saying: not only does it show that they are reading and engaging with what we say, but it illustrates that there is often two sides to every story, and that things are rarely black and white. One of our contributors has written a ‘pro-Amazon’ piece for our next edition, and was apparently concerned that “I wouldn’t like it.” On the contrary, it makes some compelling points and illustrates the positive benefits of finding a way to trade successfully on the platform. I may not be entirely comfortable with Amazon’s approach to safety standards, policing of third-party sellers and its attitude to tax, but I’m certainly not denying that it can shift serious volumes of product.

Equally, while I had many people agreeing with my views on ‘Mctat’ in last week’s Blog, there is another view, eloquently espoused by Golden Bear’s Barry Hughes: “As someone who cut his teeth in toys on McDonald’s Happy Meals, I have no illusions that the environmental impact needs addressing and that was being discussed back at the turn of millennium when I was working there – so it’s long overdue. However, I would challenge the inference that McDonald’s Happy Meal always harms toy sales of the brands utilised. When I joined Corinthian we did a MicroStars meal and featured a high price point set on the tray-liner, which meant that Corinthian sold a massive number of a £30-£40 line direct to the consumer that year – more than they ever did at retail. I used to calculate the advertising value to a brand of posters on every high street in the UK for four weeks and then the TV advertising on top (which doesn’t happen anymore), which was hugely compelling for the brands concerned. It’s actually all about the giveaway being an entry to the brand and an encouragement to trade up to the fully fledged toys.” I am sure there will be plenty of people who can relate to that viewpoint.

As we head deeper into the autumn season, we’re seeing some big new launches hitting shelves; last week it was the turn of Tomy’s Rizmo, while this week saw the unveiling of Mattel’s Creatable World, described as a ‘gender inclusive’ doll range which – in the company’s own words – “lets kids play as they want, without rules or labels.” The range attracted high-profile media coverage (over 90 separate articles in the UK alone) and plenty of comments online; the majority in favour of, frankly, a very nice-looking doll range which is well-proportioned (all those who have complained in the past about Barbie being unrealistic from an anatomical perspective should be happy) and reflects the positive impact of inclusivity. On the other hand, I saw a few uncharitable comments on LinkedIn, which seemed to me to have completely misinterpreted the concept of gender neutrality (i.e. it’s not transgender or anything to do with sexual orientation). I say good luck to Mattel for trying something different. It’s also important to keep things in perspective: ultimately, it’s a doll, which kids will play with whichever way they want. Because that’s what kids tend to do – with pretty much all toys.

I think we all know that it is impossible to please all the people all the time – a lesson I learnt many years ago. I took the conscious decision that Toy World would not be bland and boring, peddling ‘prozac journalism’ that was so vanilla that no-one could take possibly offence, because it never actually said anything other than “everything is awesome”. We endeavour to be authentic and honest and, while not without its risks, it is a strategy which has paid off in spades, both commercially and in terms of reader engagement. Our October issue landed on desks this week; you can read the digital version here, and the comprehensive Mattel supplement which accompanied it here. Not only was it almost double the size of our nearest competitor, we actually lapped our other competitor this month – our October edition actually landed on desks before their September issue! Enjoy reading our issue before you head down to BLE next week – and if you’re free at 12.30 on Tuesday, it would be great to see you at our panel discussion, talking about the worlds of licensing and toys. I’ve never done anything like this before, so wish me luck and if you have any questions at the end of the discussion, feel free to throw them our way – because an open and honest debate is (almost) always a good thing.