You spin me right round (baby)…it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 5th May 2017

You don’t need me to tell you that the Fidget Toy category has gone crazy.

I’ve seen pictures on Facebook and Twitter of small indie retailers crammed to the rafters with people queueing to buy spinners or cubes. One supplier told me that he has heard of indies selling up to 1000 items a day – incredible numbers. Naturally, when a craze blows up to this extent, a degree of chaos ensues. Suppliers are frantically rushing to air freight stock in (which is apparently not as straightforward as it sounds), while I’m reliably informed that there is already a severe shortage of ball bearings in China, exacerbating the supply situation.

As an inevitable consequence, there is already some pretty shoddy product finding its way on to the market; there are rumours of budget versions being shipped with rusty bearings, while the Amazon website already features numerous customer comments about cheap items breaking after a few cursory spins. On the plus side, a number of reputable suppliers have seen the opportunity to up-spec rather than down-spec their products, so we may yet see a reversal of the traditional ‘race to the bottom’ which follows a craze taking off. Anyway, if a retailer is going to sell hundreds of items in a day, surely they would rather be putting £8 in the till each time than £1.99?

The $6m question is, of course, how long will it all last? By the time the kids come back to school in September, will the category have evolved and developed, or is the next seven weeks its natural life-cycle? As ever, it’s impossible to predict with any degree of certainty – I guess it all comes down to how much of a gamble suppliers and retailers are willing to take.

It’s all great news for the indies though, driving footfall just when they need it. The craze has also got the media excited: I’ve been inundated with requests for interviews, and ended up on Radio 4 discussing playground crazes earlier in the week. Another BBC journalist failed to reach me, and decided to speak to American industry observer Richard Gottlieb instead. Now Richard is a fine fellow, albeit one who has somewhat maverick views on occasion. Hence, I had to explain to the nice Radio 4 researcher that the spinner craze isn’t really being fuelled by kids worrying about Brexit or Syria, nor indeed is it being driven by fewer adults and children smoking (something I suspect Richard had been doing before he gave those quotes, although quite what he had been smoking should perhaps remain a mystery).

Elsewhere, Sainsbury’s year-end results were considerably buoyed by festive profits from Argos, giving a glimpse into the importance of the acquisition (especially if they get it right over the coming months); Toys R Us has announced it will be opening 40 new stores in China (nice to see it continues to do well in Asia, if only it could replicate that success in the UK) ; Lego has released series 17 of its iconic Minifigures range (series 17…already!); David Wootliff has joined Pyramid as commercial director and new online marketplace On Buy has announced its national TV consumer launch in a month’s time. With dissatisfaction with Amazon at an all-time high amongst both suppliers and sellers, maybe the time is right for a marketplace which doesn’t directly compete with its own seller base (and one that ‘loses’ less of its suppliers’ deliveries as well).

I was sad to hear that former Robenau MD David Samuels passed away this week after a long period of illness – our thoughts are with his family.

Finally, good luck to all those competing in the Toy Trust Big Cotswold Challenge this weekend. Given the incredibly close-knit nature of the UK toy community (forget seven degrees of separation, it’s probably two or three at most), I’m sure everyone is connected to someone who is participating, so a gentle reminder to find someone to sponsor – ‘Giving the Gift of Play’ really is a worthwhile initiative, so let’s hope that in the Toy Trust’s 25th anniversary year, it hits its target to raise more money than ever for this great cause.