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#23 TOY RETAIL: THREE OLD SCHOOL FUNDAMENTAL PRACTISES WHICH STILL WORK… Way back in the 1980s I experienced Toy retail for the first time. My grandparents had a wallpaper/decorating shop in Manchester, England, and my grandmother, being of mixed Russian, Byelorussian and Ukrainian descent started selling Matryoshka Dolls in the window of the store. Wallpaper is fairly dull, but these famous wooden dolls featuring smaller and smaller wooden dolls inside brought people into the store to buy and play with the dolls, as there was nothing like that around at the time. Needless to say many people were attracted into the store by the dolls and then left with new wallpaper, paint or other decorating related items as well! My first graduate job was as a management trainee for Makro (a bit like a European version of Costco, although I’m sure neither chain would thank me for the comparison!). Retail management trainee’s get taught a lot of very basic realities of retail, from ‘you can’t sell it from the warehouse, get it out on the shop floor’ to seeing the reality of convoluted merchandising solutions devised by dozy marketers in an ivory tower office somewhere. These ‘solutions’ were often too time consuming/inefficient/unrealistic to be properly deployed by shop floor workers with high pressure on time and productivity. I always credit that first job I had with giving me a reality-based grounding which not everyone gets in terms of how retail really works. Successful Toy retailing is not just about basics & common sense though - it's also about creating ‘WOW’, because our consumers really love our products, so we have to balance out the boring but critical basics with trying to really grab people’s attention with some pizazz. I recall vividly a visit a few years back to Debenhams department store in the very centre of Manchester (England). This was at the point where the writing was clearly on the wall for Debenhams, and the future of the business was very much under threat alas. You can imagine then my surprise when I entered the store and found literally dozens of staff members hanging around waiting for customers to come into the store. Just a short distance away through the glass entrance doors I could see literally thousands of people walking past and failing to see anything outside the Debenhams store of sufficient interest to entice them in!

The old school retail mentality, like that of my grandparents, would have put all those staff members outside the store in the eye of the thousands of passers by offering people an experience that might draw them into store to buy – the staff from the make-up counters could have brought in shoppers by spraying perfume, the Gift and Toy department staff could have been showing cool Toys to families and above all the entire staff could have been focused externally on bringing in footfall versus looking busy with internal tasks which in the end did not make the business viable. The lack of imagination and adaptability was very striking in this instance. The truth is that in an industry like ours whereby we are selling both a physical product, but also an experience, getting people to play with our products can be a powerful sales driver. For sure Amazon, online in general and mass market box shifting retailers provide high sales volume for our industry, but even then, ongoing sales are largely driven by consumer reviews i.e. by their having had a positive experience of using the products after purchase. So, in this article we’re going to look at some of the fundamentals of old school retailing which are still effective for Toy retailers today. ‘WOW IN THE WINDOW’ - THE SHOP WINDOW IS WHERE IT BEGINS Have you ever noticed a retailer who really takes special effort to create enticing and appealing shop window displays which reach out and grab the attention of passers by? Hamleys flagship store on Regent Street in London is a great example of a really thoughtfully created shop window. Whenever you walk past there is a strong, professional, high impact window display, along side a team of play enthusiasts to greet you. If you see a Lego retail store there is also normally a strong effort to create ‘WOW in the window’. This can be done with a combination of a built up super-sized Lego model, alongside artwork that really grabs the attention. The same fundamental point applies to online retail also by the way! If an e-commerce site has a confusing front page with no clear navigation, which makes it too hard for the consumer to find something they are interested in. then people will click off the page and find another page which more clearly catches their attention and directs them further into the website. DEMONSTRATIONS REALLY DRIVE SELL THROUGH Like many other marketing people reading this, I have spent a lot of dumb money on marketing for Toys & Games! I remember a few campaigns which were so grotesquely over funded that I literally ran out of places to blow the money in order to spend the budget which management had dictated had to be spent. But one of the long-term proven marketing methods for Toys & Games is that for products offering a good experience, getting people playing with the product is the most proven marketing method with the closest link between spend and resultant sales.

I can remember one in store demo campaign I worked on which saw sales go from an average of one per store per week to hundreds of units sold per in store demonstration day. If you check the research, a large proportion of sales of Toys & Games are driven by trying the product out, whether that’s in retail or at a friend or family member’s house, so it is obvious that getting people actually playing with our products will lead to more sales. The challenge is that it can take work and effort to scale the impact of such demonstrations. One other observation then is to take demonstrations to a place where the size of the gathering automatically leads to scale i.e. music festivals – I have seen numerous Toy & Game brands at music festivals over the years for example, whereby the products can be played with by thousands of people in one go. The best examples of that type of demonstration came with either a place to buy on site, or a voucher to buy from particular retail partners with a discount or promotional offer. MAJOR MEDIA EVENTS BRING PEOPLE INTO STORE! At the time of writing, the Barbie movie has racked up a massive $1.4 billion at the global box office. Just to put that in context, that represents the 14th highest box office take ever. Barbie has outperformed Frozen, Black Panther, the final Harry Potter film, Minions, Iron Man (any instalment) and many many other successful blockbuster movies. This type of massive global media event brings people into Toy stores, and when people come in driven by interest in one event, they often purchase other products as well. Years ago, I remember working with UK entertainment retailer HMV to launch a new Star Wars product. We hired in an officially authorised squad of Stormtroopers and Darth Vader – these guys were all enthusiasts who had created their own costumes at their own expense and were so authentic that Lucasfilm at the time approved them as official impersonators. Once we had finished in the store, Darth & the Stormtroopers moved outside the store & began directing traffic along the road. Needless to say they caused a massive hold up, and eventually the police were called & asked Darth & his friends to go back in the store…which they did, followed by dozens of excited would-be shoppers. The point is this – it’s not guaranteed that major media events will be a success for every retail outlet, but for those stores which embrace the opportunity and utilise creativity and an event driven mindset can often achieve a strong sales boost, alongside creating an ongoing perception of their store as a fun place to visit. N.B. All trademarks featured herein are the property of their respective owners. Sign up for my free e-newsletter and receive all the latest reports, analysis and insights on the Toy & Games business: sign up for free here: PLAYING AT BUSINESS PODCAST 100 EPISODES OF ‘PLAYING AT BUSINESS’ PODCAST Back in 2018 I started the Playing At Business podcast with the aim of sharing knowledge about the Toy & Games business. There were three motives: 1. A genuine desire to help those people and companies who were newer to the business and don't know all the answers. 2. An easy reference tool I could refer people to avoid having to answer the same questions repeatedly. 3. To act as a marketing tool for my Consultancy business bringing in interested companies who want my assistance. Over the past 5 years, the podcast has been fairly successful in all three respects based on feedback from listeners.

So, if you've been with me from the start - many, many thanks, watch out for more episodes coming soon. And if you have yet to listen, why not join the other listeners and check it out... Anyway, here's the latest episodes here: EP 100 – How To Recruit Good People And Find New Job Roles In The Toy Business Join host Steve Reece in a deep dive into the toy industry's recruitment nuances. Having helped many people to find new roles in the Toy business and having advised many Toy companies on who & how to recruit, Steve unveils key strategies for companies to recruit effectively and tips for candidates to land their ideal roles. Whether you're hiring or job-hunting, discover invaluable insights to assist your recruitment/job search process. EP 99 – Gift & Hobby Distribution Channels (The Original Kidult Toy Business?!) Guess what – people have been buying Toys for adults for a very long time. Even though the ‘Kidult’ thing is the big noise nowadays, hobbyists and people buying Toyetic gifts for adults have been around for a long while. Listen in to Episode 99 as we look at these adjacent areas in more detail: EP 98 – How The Toy Industry Clears Excess Inventory A few episodes back we looked at why excess inventory is so dangerous - in this episode we move on to look at the practicalities of how our industry manages excess inventory, where they sell it, how it works and some major banana skins to watch out for when selling clearance stock! ARE YOU A BUSINESS OWNER LOOKING TO SELL UP/MOVE ON? We are working with companies who are actively looking for acquisitions. If you are a business owner or shareholder looking to sell up, please get in touch & we might be able to help you realise a sales transaction or other forms of investment/takeover. For example, one of our clients is currently looking to acquire companies with the following characteristics:

  • Revenues of $1-10M USD (with positive profit).

  • Offline distribution as primary sales channel.

  • Game brands/products or similar adjacent categories preferred.

  • North America or UK based companies primarily.

Please just drop me a line if you are interested… AND FINALLY… TOYFAIR in New York: I’ll be in the 'big apple' for the NYC show and giving a presentation on the future of Toy Sourcing. Here are the details below: Hope you can join me for this presentation. But if not, and you’d like to meet in NYC, please just send me a message & we can book a meeting subject to timings/availability :) I’ll be there to discuss Indian Toy Manufacturing with my clients, friends and colleagues – I’m currently working with strong Plush & Board game factories in India, happy to talk about those. Also happy to talk with you about growing your export sales, or just about Toy & Game business gossip! MY CONSULTANCY BUSINESS – CAN I HELP YOUR COMPANY? Can we help your business? Do you want to grow your export sales, prep to offer your business for acquisition, find senior staff or maximise your sourcing department? If you want to find out more about our Toy & Game business consultancy services, please just click the link below. Our company has helped hundreds of Toy & Game companies to get ahead and grow sales/make more profit. I have worked on all product categories across a 25-year career in Toys & Games, and genuinely love sharing knowledge, contacts and facilitating greater success for our clients. Here’s a profile of some recent projects: · Helped several Asian Toy companies to grow distribution in ‘Western’ markets & to recruit key staff to build distribution with new retail accounts opened up. · Advised multiple Amazon vendors on accessing traditional/offline distribution channels with various distribution deals signed across North America, Europe & Asia. · Toured a leading U.S. company around India’s leading Toy factories leading to factory selection, production start & significant cost savings. · Advised a leading Toy industry association on trends and data related to Toy Sourcing. · Secured Plush manufacturing outside of China for a company seeking to geographically diversify. · Reviewed and scouted available Toy manufacturing facilities in Europe for a major Toy Co. · Advised a leading high end Toy brand on marketing and licensing strategy. · Advised the board of a leading factory group on sales trends and best practise in the Toy business.

For more information on our services, click here: Sign up for my free e-newsletter and receive all the latest reports, analysis and insights on the Toy & Games business: sign up for free here:


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