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from the T

here is an old toy trade joke which – to the best of my knowledge – started doing the rounds in the ‘80s. For our younger readers, these were the days of massive shoulder pads and giant mobile phones

that needed a wheelbarrow to be carried around. They were also the days of rampant consumerism and an all-pervading ‘greed is good’ culture, when the big toy companies were rapidly getting bigger, largely through aggressive acquisition. Even the acquisition targets themselves got bigger over time: iconic British companies such as Bluebird, Spears and Waddingtons, along with global players such as Tyco, Parker Bros, Kenner and Tonka, were snapped up by Mattel and Hasbro, in what appeared to be a two-horse race for world domination. Indeed, at one stage, there was even talk of one of the mighty toy behemoths buying the other. Against this backdrop, the aforementioned joke emerged, and it went something like this: It is some time in the future, and as a result of all the takeovers and mergers, there is only one toy company and one retailer left. The last remaining retailer heads to the last remaining toy supplier’s showroom to see their new range, dutifully walks the aisles and at the end of the tour, turns to the supplier and says “Sorry, I don’t like your line.” And thus ends the toy trade. Of course, the toy world is a very different place now. Not that there won’t be further takeovers of course, but now there is a far greater sense of realism about what any one company can realistically achieve. This is illustrated by the major growth of the licensing divisions of both Mattel and Hasbro: there was a time when acquisition would have been their chosen route into new product channels. Now

publisher John Baulch - @Baulchtweet

both companies seem to have developed an understanding of what they excel at, and also an appreciation that they can’t be experts in every category. For years, some toy companies were a little nervous about signing licences with the two big two companies, as they feared that revealing their business models in such intimate detail to a competitor would be to their detriment one way or another. Thankfully, that is clearly no longer the case, and any mutual mistrust has been put to one side in the name of maximising potential opportunities to grow brands. There is another factor in the equation which can’t be dismissed: buyers have always been very nervous of putting too much of their business with any one account. Whenever there was a takeover, and the percentage of combined business exceeded a level with which the buyers were comfortable, they simply pruned orders back until they reached a figure they were happy with. Hence the old adage ‘one plus one never equals two’, which is still applied to takeover situations. They could clearly see that their interest was best served by diversity and choice, not monopoly. So why drag up this old joke now you may

well ask. There have been a couple of occasions recently when it came to mind. The first was an issue which seemed to turn a popular assumption on its head, namely the threat from ‘showrooming’, the practice of going into a store to try out an item and then going home to buy said item from an online vendor. Some scaremongers would have you believe this practice threatens the very existence of bricks and mortar retailing; that at some point in the future there will be no physical retail outlets and all purchases will be made via a screen in the safety of one’s home. Whilst appreciating this phenomenon is a concern, I have always maintained that shopping can never be fully replicated by the online experience. You only have to look at the growth of The Entertainer to see how valuable the in-store experience can be in delivering sales. Now a survey by

Accenture has revealed that more shoppers are actually browsing online before purchasing in- store, rather than using shops as a showroom for online purchases. Admittedly, the number of retailers offering to price match must be a factor in this shift in attitude (and whether that is sustainable in the long-term is a whole other ball game), but it’s good to see shoppers proving that they value choice and diversity, which surely has to be a good thing in any business context. Take my own situation: since I launched

Toy World just over two years ago, I have had to face numerous questions about whether there was “room for three toy magazines.” The question is nearly always asked from a negative perspective, but I believe Toy World has proved that diversity and choice is a good thing. Since our arrival, magazines have had to up their game to survive. There is far more editorial space available overall, so coverage isn’t monopolised by the big boys as it sometimes was in the past. We’ve been surveying independent retailers throughout this year, to see how attitudes towards the toy trade magazines have been affected since the landscape has changed, and the one thing that has come over loud and clear is that buyers really do value the trade press. Of course, they have preferences (and it’s gratifying to hear that Toy World comes out universally positively in this respect), but I have been massively encouraged at how many people have said that the trade magazines have a key role to play in keeping them informed. Who knows whether three magazines will survive long-term or not (there are three gift titles, in an industry that allocates far less budget to the trade press, so that would suggest it is eminently possible), but that isn’t a question that should be of interest to anyone other than the three publication owners themselves. The real question is ‘how can I make the most of the opportunities on offer?’ Greed is not good. Healthy competition is good. Choice is good. Embrace the possibilities.

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