Who says it goes quiet in the toy industry in the summer.… it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 26th June 2015

The BTHA’s Industry Day, held earlier this week, proved to be another triumph. Proceedings included the presentation of a richly-deserved Lifetime Achievement Award to The Entertainer’s Gary Grant, as well as the usual fascinating array of speakers. Practicology’s Jeremy Wilson followed the well-worn path of covering the increasing importance of the internet to retail sales, although it would arguably have been even more interesting if he had spent a little time focusing on some of the challenges facing the sector, in particular the looming logistics crisis. American toy inventor Bruce Lund discussed why toys matter and talked about how they influence the adults of the future, explaining for example that the Wright Brothers’ interest in flight was galvanised by being given toy aeroplanes as children. I tend to agree: for instance, had Bruce been given more VTech and LeapFrog products as a child, he may well have mastered the power point presentation better (only kidding – that was a cheap excuse for a gag). Daredevil / madman winter Paralympian Talan Skeels Piggin’s inspirational talk probably humbled everybody in the room; next time anyone has the proverbial ‘bad day at the office’, it will serve as a good reminder to keep things in perspective. Foye Pascoe also spoke about the fantastic ongoing work of the Toy Trust, which dovetailed perfectly with Talan’s talk. It was great to hear that a record amount was raised by the Big Thames Challenge, so a belated congratulations to all concerned.

In other toy-related news, the scramble to be the first retailer to release a Christmas top toys list has intensified this year, with Hamleys – which has held the proverbial crown for the past few years – gazumped by Argos this time round. The wisdom of releasing a Christmas list this early is still up for debate, not least with embargos precluding the inclusion of any Star Wars items at this early stage. I guess there will always be some kudos – and perhaps additional coverage – for the retailer who is first out of the gate, but I honestly can’t believe that many parents have given a second thought to Christmas purchases so far. A case of peaking too soon maybe?

Anyway, if you want to play ‘spot the template list emerging’, you can find the Argos list here and the Hamleys list here.

According to a report in yesterday’s Guardian, Amazon’s UK operation paid only £11.9m tax last year, despite sales to UK shoppers rising by more than 14% to £5.3bn. The UK subsidiary recorded a meagre profit of £34.4m, as Amazon continued to claim that UK sales were all being made by the group’s Luxembourg arm. Last month, the retailer quietly reversed this frankly ridiculous position, and will henceforth count sales made to British customers in its UK tax return. However, that development is still unlikely to lead to a leap in Amazon’s UK tax bill, as the company continues to use further controversial measures to shift profits out of Amazon EU Sarl – which reported a loss last year – and back to the US. So whether the level playing field that tax law- abiding UK retailers have been seeking is any nearer remains highly debatable.

I hear that one of the people who worked for the consultancy engaged by Toys R Us to ‘negotiate’ with UK suppliers has apparently left the company. It’s not clear why he has decided to move on already, but I can’t imagine he has been given an easy ride during the recent meetings, and who knows, it’s possible he may even have had some sympathy with some of the points being raised by toy companies. It can’t have been an easy ‘sell’ for him, that’s for sure.

Congratulations to Peter Dawson and Helen Davis, organisers of the Rainbow Toy Awards, who got married in their home town of Thrapston this week. A very lovely ceremony it was too.

Finally, yet another reason why I love my job: yesterday afternoon was spent in London’s Chinatown at a press event for DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda 3. Lead voice talent Jack Black was in attendance, being very much himself, except this time a few feet away rather than on a screen. Even though I can’t really say anything meaningful as I signed an NDA, it was all very entertaining and the movie looks great. I even found a random toy person wandering through Soho (as you do), who decided to gate-crash the event. Here he is enjoying the party: in case you’re wondering, Martin’s the one on the left.