When the going gets tough …it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 25th September 2020

It was all going so well too. Once again it’s a case of ‘all change’, as the government rows back on many of the things it has encouraged us to do in recent weeks, such as return to the office and generally get out more. Clearly, it’s all the public’s fault for following these suggestions in the first place – what were we thinking?

The good news is that it seems we can’t catch Covid in a pub before 10.00 at night, although I do hope the virus will recognize when the clocks change next month.

Joking apart, I do feel for retailers in city centre locations, for whom the latest policy U-turn will come as a blow. However, local stores could once again stand to benefit if people heed the advice to work from home – although personally, I am not convinced that will prove to be the case. Businesses which have invested significant time, effort and funds in creating ‘Covid secure’ workplaces did so for a reason; they believe their teams work better when they are together, rather than operating remotely. Even the Prime Minister admitted under question from fellow MPs that if a business felt it was operationally beneficial to work from the office, it should do so – which seems to directly contradict what he said on TV the day before. No wonder we’re all confused…

Whatever happens, the toy community has weathered the storm so far this year, and it will do so again. We’re a resilient, resourceful, adaptable, reactive crowd, and we’ll do whatever it takes to make it work – unless, of course, a return to lockdown brings back the dreaded Zoom quiz. If that happens, we riot.

If Covid wasn’t enough for businesses to contend with, Brexit looks set to provide further challenges: in the ongoing saga of ‘Freight Britain’, it has emerged that drivers will need a ‘Kent Access Permit’ to get into the county after December 31st, creating a de facto internal border….in Kent! Maybe our government has been following Trump’s lead: “We’re going to build a wall…and Maidstone is going to pay for it!”

The sad thing is that while we joke about it, this whole fiasco could have a profound impact on retailers and suppliers next year: we’re creating borders where there were none, inflicting cost where none was previously levied. Earlier this week, Michael Gove admitted that a 7,000-strong lorry queue could easily follow in the wake of the new arrangements: to put that in context, last year it was suggested that a queue of between 1,200 and 2,724 heavy goods vehicles would lead to tailbacks lasting six days. Now multiply that by six…thank goodness January is not a key month for toy stock to arrive in the UK. Hopefully, the wrinkles will be ironed out by the time toy shipments start to arrive in earnest.

Away from the virus and Brexit-related developments which have dominated national headlines this week, it has been a very busy week for the toy community – and Toy World has once again been first with all the stories that mattered. Whether it was the appointment of Rosie Marshall to head up AIS’s play-room department (a move which has been warmly welcomed across the trade); the news that Rubies is poised to come out of Chapter 11, courtesy of a deal with Neca owner Joel Weinshanker; confirmation that Smyths will not be running its ‘£10 off £50’ promotion this year, plus the launch of its Christmas catalogue; Menkind opening concessions in Debenhams; the postponement of the Frankfurt February trade shows or the news that Hong Kong’s quarantine restrictions have been extended to 31st December and the UK placed on the ‘high risk’ travel list– EVERY important story affecting the toy market has appeared first on the Toy World website this week. As it does every week.

Our story about the Hong Kong quarantine ‘stealth extension’ took a bit of digging to uncover; the Hong Kong government certainly kept that one quiet, possibly to avoid push back from the businesses which will be most affected, including tourism, retail and of course the whole conference and trade show sector. The fact that the UK has now been added to the ‘naughty list’ makes matters even worse, putting a serious question mark over the traditional January buying trip for most UK visitors.

There is a vague possibility that the quarantine regulations will be lifted from 1st January – but how many international travellers will be willing to commit to airline tickets and hotel reservations on the slim chance that happens? If the restrictions are still in place, visitors wanting to open up a showroom or attend appointments in the first few days of January would need to fly out the week before Christmas and spend the next 14 days alone in a hotel room. We all love the trip, but I’m not sure anyone would be up for that.

This is just the latest twist in this most unpredictable of years. Undoubtedly, 2020 hasn’t been the year any of us would have hoped for, but one of the things that has shone through in the toy community this year is its passion for what it does. People care. They care what happens to trade shows and buying trips. They care about the people they work with in the trade – look at the number of people offering their congratulations on our social media feeds to Graham Saltmarsh, Rosie Marshall and numerous other people who have recently taken up new roles. Toys is a close-knit community – and it shows. Toy World is at the heart of that community – we haven’t missed a single daily newsflash or monthly print issue at any stage this year. Like most people in the toy industry and Billy Ocean, when the going got tough…. we got going.

We’ve received so many messages from retailers and suppliers this year, thanking us for maintaining our service. In truth, we never considered doing anything else: our role in this great trade is to keep information flowing, to keep people up to date with what’s going on, to keep communicating, voicing an opinion and analysing what’s going on. Arguably, the industry needed that more than ever this year. The way things are going, next year will be no different. So, we’ll keep doing what we do. Good or bad, we’ll bring you all the news that matters – and you’ll read it here first.