Whisper it quietly, but things are looking up…it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 12th September 2014

‘So far, so good’ would seem to sum up the first nine months of the year quite succinctly. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but NPD’s column for the October issue of Toy World suggests we should all be in a positive frame of mind as we approach the crucial Q4 period, and maybe even be a little less reticent to come out and say so (something they rightly point out is a very British trait).

Argos’ second quarter results, announced yesterday, continued the upbeat theme: the fact that Argos experienced its ninth consecutive quarter of growth is encouraging, but perhaps even better was the fact that – and even the trading announcement used the phrase “for the first time in many years” – this growth was supported by an improved gross margin performance.

Mind you, the statement also points out the full-year outcome is completely dependent on the Christmas trading period, and this week we’ve seen the first signs that pricing (and thus margin erosion) will be as contentious a subject as ever this year. Step forward B&M, who fired the opening salvo of the year by offering Furby Crystal for £39.99, a whopping £25 less than the Argos price of £65. I can’t imagine that other major retailers were especially thrilled with this, yet alone the independent sector. Indeed, within days TRU had reduced its price to £48.74, presumably in direct response to the B&M deal. And so it begins….

Another indicator of the growing optimism around the retail market came from the British Retail Consortium, which confirmed that retail spending grew 2.7% in August, the best monthly performance since January. It was particularly interesting that from the entire retail spectrum, the BRC chose to single out Frozen dress-up costumes as one of the items which had made a major contribution to the numbers.

Which makes it all the more bemusing that a survey released by LIMA this week, highlighting favourite toy brands and voted for by children, made absolutely no mention of Frozen. I guess LIMA may say that it was covered within the overall Disney Princess brand (which appeared at number seven on the girls’ list), but I’m not convinced that kids would appreciate the nuances of sub-brands and umbrella brands. It just seems a surprising omission to me.

Elsewhere in licensing, Character Options has been confirmed as the new global master toy partner for the re-launch of Teletubbies next year, Michael Palin has been unveiled as narrator of the new Clangers series (surely a perfect fit – I can already hear it in my head) and John Adams has been announced as the master toy partner for Pip Ahoy.

With BLE less than a month away, no doubt there will be a steady stream of further announcements from the licensing community over the coming weeks. We’ll keep you posted on all of the relevant information for the kids’ market via our daily newsflash service, and round up as much information as possible in our bumper October edition, which is something of a licensing special. In addition to an exhaustive round-up of the main kids’ brands which will be on show at BLE, there’s also a huge section devoted to the key new licensed ranges which will be hitting retail shelves soon. If you buy or sell licences or licensed product, you really won’t want to miss it – or indeed not be featured in it.

And, of course, next week is the Licensing Awards. I shall be attending and look forward to seeing many of you there. My frank and fearless take on the evening’s proceedings will follow in next Friday’s Blog. If you’ve sponsored the toilets, be afraid – be very afraid.

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