Thank you Ma’am, for everything…it’s the Friday Blog

The Toy World team joins the nation in offering our respect and gratitude to Her Majesty the Queen. In the words of Paddington Bear: “Thank you Ma’am, for everything.” The next few weeks will be very different to what we had imagined before yesterday’s events. The Entertainer has announced that its stores, head office and warehouse will be closed today as a mark of respect, while BLE organiser Anna Knight has been in touch to say: “We join our colleagues around the world in grieving the loss of a beloved leader. As we await further detail on the United Kingdom’s plans to memorialise Her Majesty, and any resulting impact on Brand Licensing Europe, our promise is to communicate as early and often as possible with you. Thank you for your patience and support.”

Below is the Friday Blog, exactly as it was written before we heard the sad news.

Now that the summer holiday season has pretty much drawn to a close, things are starting to get interesting again. A couple of days ago, I got a call from Gary Grant, who had broken off from his annual store manager’s conference to give me the heads-up that The Entertainer was about to announce a major new initiative.

A few hours later, an embargoed press release found its way into my inbox, revealing that the initiative in question was a deal with Tesco for The Entertainer to take over the running of around 35 of the grocer’s toy departments on a trial basis. One can only assume that someone at Tesco saw what The Entertainer did with Asda last year, very much liked the look of it and couldn’t believe their luck when Asda decided not to move forward with the arrangement.

Kudos to The Entertainer team for not adopting a ‘once bitten, twice shy’ attitude and being willing to enter into a dialogue with Tesco – and good to see that those discussions ultimately led to a deal. In Gary’s own words: “It’s a huge opportunity – we’re taking it very seriously.” And so they should; in its heyday (not all that long ago), Tesco really was a tremendous force in the toy market, driving huge sales for many suppliers and brands. Arguably, the sheen has come off that performance in recent years; the toy team that everyone knew and loved has moved on, while some suppliers have suggested that Tesco has become a little less pro-active and more reluctant to take on new ranges and suppliers. And even when it does agree to open a new account, I gather that it can take anything up to six months to complete the necessary admin – although to be fair, Tesco is not alone in that respect, it seems to be a challenge that toy suppliers are facing with all of the grocers. Inevitably, a combination of these factors may have resulted in some missed opportunities for Tesco in its toy aisles – and one of the real strengths of specialist toy retailers is their flexibility and speed to market.

So, if The Entertainer can bring what it does best to the partnership, it will have access to a huge number of consumers on a regular basis – that has all the hallmarks of a win-win arrangement. I understand that the aim is for the new stores to be open in the second half of October, in time for the all-important festive selling season. And I believe the in-store space given to the Tesco project could be up to three times greater than The Entertainer was allocated in the Asda trial, so it can really go to town with ranging and merchandising. If you add its new Tesco trial stores to its extended ELC footprint in M&S (the partnership will be growing from 10 to 30 stores in the coming weeks), The Entertainer really is strengthening its presence across the retail spectrum.

Of course, The Entertainer also still has its partnership with Matalan to manage its toy departments under the Totally Toys brand, but with the news this week that Matalan is reportedly working with advisors at Lazard to either find a buyer for the entire business or an investor to inject capital, who knows what may happen in the coming months. Matalan’s tribulations also challenge the assumption that value-driven retailers will all be in a strong position in the current economic climate – the truth is far more nuanced.

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