Don’t panic Mr Mainwaring*…it’s John Baulch’s Friday Blog!

Those Blog readers who know me personally will hopefully appreciate that I am generally a ‘glass half full’ kind of person, especially when it comes to the fortunes of the toy trade. This year has definitely tested my positivity at times, but I still believe that we have everything to play for over the next five weeks.

I am not going to dwell on the case for the prosecution – if you’ve been watching the news or reading newspapers/social media, you’ll be well-acquainted with the economic backdrop that every UK business is currently facing. This week’s budget statement did its best to kick the can of pain down the road and obfuscate as best it could, but I suspect most people will appreciate its realistic medium and long-term implications.

Nevertheless, there are still some mitigating factors in the toy industry’s favour, even when assessing Q4 against last year. It is worth remembering that the last six weeks’ trading in 2021 was hardly spectacular: many consumers bought early, spooked by reports of mass product shortages caused by last year’s calamitous supply chain problems. Those logistics challenges have eased significantly this year – indeed, some of the container prices I have seen this week look like real bargains, albeit very late in the day.

The other major contributor to a lacklustre festive season last year was the steep rise in Covid cases in November and December, causing many people to stay at home. Mercifully, that also doesn’t seem to be a factor this time round.

So, yes, September and October weren’t great this year – but October half-term saw sales pick-up, and hopefully that momentum has carried on in November. With five weeks still to go, if that momentum continues, it is still possible to make up for the slow start to the season.

Black Friday will be an important opportunity for all retailers. And those retailers who have been expanding their store estates recently will hopefully reap the benefit; Alan Simpson told me at DreamToys that Toytown’s new Coventry store was his top-performing outlet within weeks of opening, while the new Hamleys store in Westfield opens today. I am hoping to get down to see it in person very soon, but I have heard very good things from some of the suppliers who have been working with Hamleys to make the new branch a real experience for customers. I am sure Hamleys would have liked the store to be open a few weeks ago, but by all accounts it has been transformed from an empty shell to a vibrant, exciting destination within the past couple of weeks.


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