A flying start
This month, indie retailers tell Sam Giltrow how the Christmas and New Year selling periods went and look ahead to the new products coming in for 2022.
Tony Duffy - Duffy’s Toyworld, Dunleer, Co Louth
We’ve had a fantastic Christmas, and some of this was thanks to publicity we had, which brought more customers to the shop. We appeared in The Irish Times and featured on a TV chat show talking about toys, as well as on a programme which went out on RTE a couple of days before Christmas called The Toy Shop, which featured family businesses. These all showed the benefits of going into an independent toyshop and the high level of customer service we can provide.
The Toy Shop programme featured 16 toyshops from around Ireland, but we had a large share of the airtime, due to our way of doing things differently here: we don’t sell any electronic or battery-operated toys. We used to sell items of this type, including battery operated ride-ons, and I have no problem with them at all. But we decided we needed to have a point of difference to the many larger retailers near us, so we decided to go down this route a few years ago. We also wanted to focus on developmental skills, toys which encourage children to play and use their imaginations rather than just pressing buttons.
This strategy has proved to be very successful; customers like us because we sell a lot of different products compared to other shops. We stock a huge range of sensory toys which is very popular, and we also offer a wide selection of wooden toys. These sell well because they last, and because the public is becoming more environmentally aware. Our entire range has been selected with imagination, creativity and development in mind.
Due to Covid, we decided to launch a new website last year and we now sell throughout Ireland. The store is still as popular as ever though; we even have people travelling 300 miles to visit us, as they see it as a day out.
This Christmas, the usual big sellers such as Playmobil, Lego and Schleich all did very well, as expected, and our farm toys always perform well, due to our location in a rural area. We stock a wide range from Bruder – nearly 300 SKUs in total – including tractors, animals and agricultural machinery.
I think this year will be a good one, as we had a very successful year in 2021 and I am expecting sales to increase again for 2022. I haven’t had much chance yet to see what new product is coming out, but I have been going through our figures to see what sold well last year and what didn’t. We were very successful with a lot of the stock we carried, so we obviously chose well and had a good product mix. I don’t want to start changing it too much, but it’s always interesting to see what’s new.
I think that 2022 will bring challenges and an ongoing one for us is Brexit. I have just had a meeting with our MEP, for a television report on how Brexit is affecting small businesses in Ireland and Europe in general. We have found trading very difficult as it has brought about a lot of red tape, and I am now having to pay a lot of duties, tariff charges and customs clearance, most of which we didn’t have before. For example, we recently had an invoice from a UK company for £650 - they wanted €75 to clear it, and then there was the duty on top of that, so prices were up about 22% for that one consignment.
However, I am very happy with how the shop is currently performing and pleased that the decision to have a point of difference to other toyshops is paying off. Despite turning 76 this year, I have no plans to retire. I wouldn’t know what to do with myself and I am so passionate about the toy trade. My father, John, started the business in 1938 and I took it over when he died suddenly when I was aged just 19, so I have been running the shop now for 57 years.
When I see young children come into our 10,000 sq ft shop and say ‘wow!’ when they see everything we have on offer, it makes my day. It’s just so lovely to see.
Paul Wohl - Argosy Toys, Westcliff-on-Sea
2022 is going to be a big year for the shop as we celebrate its 75th anniversary, me being behind the counter for 35 years and it’s also my 50th birthday. The shop has come a long way since its humble beginnings when it was started by Sylvia Redmayne in her living room, just after the war in 1947.
After it became a proper shop, and a few owners later, my parents bought it in 1987 and so began my association with the business. I started working right away, helping out after school and weekends, and here we are now, 35 years later.
I bought the shop myself when my parents retired in 2004. Initially I thought I’d carry it on for a little while longer but was never really expecting it to still be here now. Although there have been many changes over the years, it still remains a big, old house packed full of Lego and other toys. We don’t see ourselves as an old-fashioned, traditional toy shop, as we carry a lot of new products from the likes of Hasbro and MGA Entertainment, but along with all the latest, on-trend toys, we stock all the old favourites.
Business over Christmas was fantastic. We were very busy - and this wasn’t just in the immediate run-up, as we also enjoyed a terrific October, November and December. Customers told us they preferred to visit smaller shops that weren’t jam-packed with people. In terms of what we were selling, we had a fantastic run on Sylvanian Families and Geomag, particularly the Magicube. VTech also did well for us, as did Schleich and Playmobil, so there was a really good mixture of traditional and up to date lines.
The biggest seller for us last year was Pokémon, and this was on both cards and toys. As it was the 25th anniversary last year, I wondered if it would continue but since Christmas sales have still been amazing. Anniversaries always mark a big surge for Pokémon but this one has been even better than expected.
Sales in general have been very strong since we re-opened after Christmas, and I have been surprised every day with how busy it has been. We all know that the cost of living has gone up, and it will get even higher with petrol prices and electricity prices increasing – and there’s probably more to come. We will just have to buy carefully this year.
I am confident we will have another buoyant year in the shop. December did feel like being on the edge of a cliff, waiting and wondering if the government would tell us to close, but no restrictions have been brought in which makes us feel more confident we will be able to remain open.
I don’t yet foresee any trends for 2022, apart from Pokémon which is still going to be huge. Obviously, Lego will continue to do well too; it is such a tour de force now in terms of sales – we literally can’t get enough of it most of the time. I can’t see any particular crazes around the corner. Yo-yos looked like they were gaining popularity again at the end of last year, but didn’t really take off in the end.
If trade for 2022 is anything like last year and it’s a nice, steady year of selling all the old favourites, I will be more than happy. I think many families will continue to stay local rather than going on big holidays – some of our customers are saying they don’t want to book them because of lingering uncertainty and the constantly changing rules.
We have good local support for the shop, and I’m sure this will continue. To be honest, I didn’t really think customers would continue to use us so much now, but they are. Lots of them are grandparents who want to see what they are looking at and be able to ask questions rather than buying online, and I hope this will follow with the next generation.
We will be marking our 75th anniversary when it falls around the Easter holidays. We will be celebrating as much as we can, given the circumstances. In the past, we would have events to pull people in such as instore Punch and Judy shows that were really popular, but obviously that can’t happen at the moment, because it wouldn’t be safe to cram crowds into the store. However, we can run some outside events and we will certainly be organising giveaways and promotions in honour of the occasion.
Bhav Patel - Toy Galaxy: Watford, Barnet Ealing, Hatfield and Witney
We opened our fifth shop in Watford in November, and it has gone really well considering the limitations we had in regard to time, stock, logistics and staffing. It allhappened very quickly, and I still can’t believe we managed to get up and running in just five or six days, but the process was very rewarding. I would like to thank the Toymaster team for its incredible help and support – they helped with every aspect, and it really did make all the difference in getting everything done in such a tight timeframe.
It is our fifth shop – we opened the first in High Barnet in 2006, and also have branches in Ealing, Hatfield and Witney – and though we don’t currently have plans to open any more, if another opportunity arises such as it did with the Watford store, we have the ability to action it. In this particular case it was a beneficial move, and everything slotted into place. It’s probably one of the closest shopping centres to where I live, so I know it well, and this meant I also knew it would be a competitive location with other toy retailers within the vicinity. When I first looked at the unit, which was the former Disney Store, it just had the right feel with a good layout. My direct neighbour in the shopping centre is Lego, so I knew the store would attract good footfall.
Christmas was very strong for the new Watford store, and I was impressed with the footfall that was there from the day we opened. All our existing stores performed very well too. Naturally these stores were going to be up on 2020, when they were forced to close, but looking at our projected figures, they have performed even better than expected.
We don’t sell Lego in the Watford store because it was one of the conditions of us taking the unit; the Lego store is right next door. Not having our best-selling brand there has made it interesting.
Over Christmas, sales of Lego have been up for the business overall, as expected, but they have been closely followed by Asmodee’s Pokémon lines. In recent years, Pokémon has consistently been extremely popular, but nothing has ever tracked so closely to Lego sales before; it has been unbelievable. The stock we get sells out incredibly quickly, so last year we managed our purchasing with this in mind. When customers see such an extensive range, it’s very good for awareness and also for building up loyalty and traffic.
Over Christmas, sales on Barbie also increased by more than 25% over the previous year and Hot Wheels performed very well. Within the categories of dolls and vehicles, these two brands always sell well for us. As expected, board games were a big driver for sales, particularly those from Hasbro, Mattel and Asmodee, and our arts and crafts range performed better in Q4 than it did the previous year. That could be down to the fact that during the first year of Covid and the lockdown, people had stocked up on activities and were overloaded, so they didn’t sell quite as well for Christmas 2020.
Spending in general last year balanced out between people who were hesitant to go into shops and those who found themselves working from home instead of commuting and having the desire to visit the High Street as a break from being stuck in the house all week.
I think there is still an issue over consumer confidence, and maskwearing and the increased number of Covid cases could still make some people hesitant about going out. The real challenge for us right now is the number of our staff contracting Covid - we are stretched in terms of our numbers across the stores, drivers and warehouse staff.
I am feeling confident about 2022 though; 2021 was considerably better than the year before, and there are now signs of things becoming a lot more normal. Also, as much as it was feared towards the end of last year that we would go back into another lockdown, I don’t think it’s sustainable or workable anymore, so now there is a much more positive outlook for retailers such as myself.
I’m looking forward to seeing all the new product that comes out this year. It’s going to be a big year for movie releases and that is where I do see some positivity in terms of brands. There are some big Marvel movies coming out, along with Jurassic World and many others, and that will give us a lot of strong, new product ranges based around these licences.
Overall, I am just excited that we will, hopefully, have a normal year where we can remain open.
As we are in a new year, we can look forward with cautious optimism to a more stable year ahead (although nothing is guaranteed!). 2021 ended well for us, and we can look back on the Christmas period feeling pleased. Trade was strong in September, October and November, and then levelled out a bit in December. But, overall, we were up on our 2019 figures, which is very pleasing indeed. Although December was understandably quieter, there was a very late rush on 23rd and 24th December, when we took far more money than we would ever take during a pandemic. Despite the rise of the new variant, we guess that the people who leave their shopping to the last minute are not too worried about such things.The period immediately after Christmas also saw strong footfall and sales, with lots of kids spending their money and vouchers. We were closed on Boxing Day for the first time, but this didn’t affect sales and our colleagues really appreciated it, plus it was nice for both of us to enjoy two days off over Christmas.
So far in January, trade has held up well, although now the kids have gone back to school, it feels much quieter. We are still trading up on 2020 though, so are happy. As there is currently little threat of another lockdown, we are hopeful going forward. People seem to have become accustomed to dealing with the new variant, and it is not having a big impact on footfall. As ever in January, the new Lego launches are proving a huge draw and are driving excellent footfall into our stores. The new Minifigures, Minecraft and Superheroes seem to be the standouts so far. We are starting to get more stock of Squishmallows from Jazwares too, and it is flying out. If we can keep the range in stock, it will be a strong sales driver for this year; there is so much demand out there and new designs being brought out regularly will really help to drive repeat visits.
By the time you read this, we will have hopefully been to Toy Fair, and about to head off to Spring Fair. After two years without being at any shows, it will be great to see products in the flesh, as well as catch up with people in the toy trade we have not seen since early 2020. Spring Fair will be less hectic than Toy Fair but is a good chance to catch up with suppliers we did not see in London and pick up more of the non-toy suppliers that we buy from.
Green/sustainable toys are a massively growing sector, and it is something that is on a lot of our customers’ mind, especially after all the publicity surrounding the COP26 conference in Glasgow last year. Toys may be a small part of global trade, but all sectors need to do their part to help. We don’t really have a massive selection of eco toys, but a lot of the major manufacturers are moving in this direction, so it is an area that is growing organically. We will be focusing on increasing our offering of more sustainable products over the coming years and will be keen to see what is out there from suppliers that is new and more sustainable.