I’ve spent quite a bit of time this week talking to – and talking about – retailers, and frankly, I have seen both the good and bad. Shall we start with the positives?
I visited Swindon (no, obviously that’s not the positive…) to attend the Toymaster supplier meeting – the retail group’s first such presentation for six years. I think it is fair to say that the pandemic was relatively kind to specialist, independent retailers, in a way that they (or indeed anyone else) could not possibly have foreseen at the start of the whole mess.
Of course, they had sleepless nights, as did all business owners. But after the initial shock, their inherent reactive, nimble nature served them well, allowing them to reposition their business models swiftly to take advantage of the new ways of selling toys to consumers. Their unrivalled product knowledge and personal service have continued to attract consumers now that stores have re-opened, and it was lovely to hear that Toymaster members have been outperforming the market: over three quarters of Toymaster members traded up last year versus 2021, and member sales increased by 14%, in a market that – lest we forget – was down by 3%.
No wonder then that the meeting was packed, as toy suppliers assembled to hear all about Toymaster’s strong retail sales performance and healthy underlying financial position, while being presented with a range of options to maximise their trading relationship with Toymaster members moving forward. Closer working partnerships and support to achieve a healthy margin mix were on Paul Reader’s wish list for suppliers, and he also highlighted the opportunity to launch new ranges exclusively through Toymaster stores: as he rightly pointed out, “Collectively, the 280 stores of our members offer serious shelf space for brands at launch.” Suppliers were also encouraged to support other key marketing initiatives, such as the Christmas catalogue – “our biggest and most powerful marketing tool” according to Paul – window displays and the Toymaster product hub.
As well as inviting Toy World to attend the meeting, Yogi Parmar also gave a personal thank you to the whole Toy World team by name, for the incredibly close partnership we have developed in recent years – and like suppliers, we are absolutely delighted to continue that special relationship with the Toymaster team and its members going forward. A healthy specialist independent channel can only be good for the toy market as a whole, and Toymaster plays an absolutely pivotal role in facilitating that.
But having seen the very best of toy retailing, there is always another side of the coin.