Special Feature - INDX Toys & Nursery
Rosie Marshall, head of Toys & Children’s Gifts at Playroom, the toy division of AIS, chats to Sam Giltrow about the upcoming rebranded INDX Toys & Nursery, and what AIS is doing to help its members navigate the year ahead.
Members of the AIS buying group and other specialist toy retailers will be heading to the West Midlands’ Cranmore Park exhibition centre in just a few days’ time, as they return for the group’s annual domestic show. Cancelled in 2020, the Independent Toy & Gift Show was staged in September 2021 instead of its usual April date, but this year it returns to its traditional April slot in a new guise, after being rebranded as INDX Toys & Nursery.
The reason behind the new name, Rosie explains, is to bring the show inline with all of AIS’s 26 other trade shows which span the categories of fashion, homewares and sports & leisure and come under the INDX (Independent Exhibitions) brand. It was also, she adds, a strategic move to allow more crossover across the categories: “We are finding there is product crossover within so many different areas. For instance, our last toy and gift show had some sports and leisure suppliers who attended and their show at the end of last year had some toy suppliers. So, it’s a wider database, and it benefits everyone by being so – visitors and suppliers.”
There will be some differences to the show – notably the inclusion of nursery gifts – and though the exhibitor numbers are the same as for the 2019 show, Rosie says the rebranding has attracted some first-time attendees, including toy companies Little Concepts and Dantoy.
The theme for this year’s show, which takes place on 6th/7th April, will be ‘Sustainability’, in line with increased demand for products made from alternative materials and made using green methods.
“I think the toy industry has been under the radar for a little while in terms of sustainability, but it’s something consumers are very much aware of, so we decided to go with this theme and I think it’s a strong choice,” says Rosie. “Post-pandemic, it’s noticeable that everyone is making more considered choices, thinking about the products they are buying and doing what they can to step away from a throwaway culture.”
Rosie is also pleased that some key exhibitors that were missing from the London Toy Fair in January will be appearing at the INDX Toys & Nursery Show.
“It’s a good time for retailers to be able to have the conversations with them”, she adds.
The show has secured impressive exhibitor attendance featuring global suppliers Lego, Mattel, MGA, Character Options, Hasbro, Spin Master, Playmobil and Moose. Other confirmed exhibitors include Bandai, Brainstorm, Casdon, Flair, Gibsons, Golden Bear, Just Play, Kidicraft, Learning Resources, Naylor Activity Tunnels, One For Fun, Rainbow Designs, Ravensburger, Schleich, Toynamics, United Wheels, Vivid Goliath and many more.
As with last September’s event, the team will be making sure the show is as safe as possible for exhibitors and visitors alike, and though the UK has now ended all Covid legal restrictions, precautions will continue to be taken; aisles will be wider than required, with sanitation points and thorough cleaning in place.
Like most businesses, AIS has changed quite considerably since the start of the pandemic which also coincided with the appointment of a new managing director, Sue Kemp, who introduced a raft of changes and new strategies. “Covid has definitely speeded us up more as a business, particularly with our turning more to digital, and this has helped members as well,” explains Rosie.
One key development has been the introduction of a product hub, launched early last summer, to replace the out-dated members’ net. With memberonly access, the platform gives buyers the latest information at their fingertips, such as supplier details and trade news.
“It probably wouldn’t have been on the radar before the pandemic, but it turned out to be so important last year to keep everyone updated in terms of product availability and price increases,” says Rosie. “The product hub also covers areas such as launches and promotions, and it is a platform we can continue to add to and build on.”
The Playroom division has also helped its members by holding regular calls on video conferencing site Teams, allowing members from across department stores, garden centres and specialist retailers to chat and keep abreast of developments.
“This has been so important because isolation during lockdown put a stop to the ability to network with other members, or even hear what was going on,” explains Rosie. “The calls enabled the conversation – for example, a garden centre that was fortunate to still be trading could say what was working and share what trends were coming through. Thankfully, technology allowed people to feel more connected.”
Now, with no further lockdowns on the horizon and life returning to a ‘new normal’, Playroom’s focus will be on helping members to drive customers back into stores. With NPD Group figures for the last quarter showing a decline in online purchasing, Rosie is keen to capitalise on this, bringing back activity days and adding in-store theatre for those venturing back out and looking for a shopping ‘experience’.
“That is something that our members are concentrating on and something we are working to help them with,” she says. “Our members are very eager to drive people back in-store and there is an appetite for the physical shopping experience from consumers. There’s only so much you can do online, and everyone prefers to see product in the flesh. We will help our members do more to drive footfall and also help with branding.”
Feedback from members so far this year has been very positive, with very good half-term sales following a strong Christmas. Rosie is confident sales will remain buoyant in the run up to Easter. “Customers are definitely returning to stores, and they are spending,” she concludes, “We need to do all we can to encourage that.”
INDX Toys & Nursery takes place at Cranmore Park in Solihull, close to the M42. The two-day event is open to all retailers, and offers free entry, free onsite parking and complimentary refreshments. Attendees can expect a friendly, relaxed and professional buying environment in which to network and connect with the toy industry. Visitor registration can be completed via the INDX website www.indxshows.co.uk (toysnursery), where further show updates and news can also be found. You can also follow @INDXHome on social media.
Cranmore Park Exhibition Centre, Solihull
Show times: Wednesday 6th April 2022: 09:00 - 17:00 Thursday 7th April 2022: 09:00 - 17:00
Free admission and free refreshments for independent retail buyers. Convenient central location just 5 minutes from M42 J4. Free on-site parking.