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continue to push our suppliers to bring more ranges to the region that are readily available in the UK and the US. Due to the regional labeling requirements this can be a challenge for some manufacturers but in our view not impossible. All products require Arabic warning labels, safety certifi cates with a one-year validity and the G mark (same as the European CE mark). This has meant some delays to product introduction due to the adapting of these rulings.

TV promoted items work well in some regions such as Saudi or Qatar, but not as impactful as in the UK as there is a greater split of the viewing public meaning more effort needs to be given to the in-store presentation of a product. This is something which, along with our demonstration ethos, makes our stores different to the rest. There are certain properties that perform well in the UK, which either have not made their way to the UAE/GCC (such as Peppa Pig), or ranges have been modifi ed by the importer (such as Angry Birds ranges with the pigs removed). The most extreme case is Lego where we are forced to buy product close to UK retail prices meaning the consumer is always paying a premium for this brand. I believe UK readers would be interested to know

to the malls. We have consumers visit our stores several times a week as opposed to a couple of times a month. Strong tourism combined with a growing ex-pat community and consumer-friendly opening hours are also positive environments for any retailer to operate in, not just toy retailers.

Are there any notable differences between the UAE/ GCC toy retail market and that in the UK? The main differences are with the timing of product hitting the region versus the same in the UK. It’s also the depth of product, regional labeling requirements and price. The US and Europe tend to be prioritised over this region, and in a modern tech age where everyone can Google or YouTube the latest toys, to have to be months behind the trend (due to production schedules) is frustrating for the consumer and retailer alike. Many of last years’ top items for Christmas arrived to

our market this year. The gap is slowly reducing but, for example, 2013’s Furby Boom, which will be on many a Christmas wish list, is slated for 2014 availability over here. Depth of range is also another challenge as we believe in offering the best variety of product, and we

that a retailer wishing to drive out a money-off promotion is required to pay a fee for running such an offer, this is especially challenging if the line you are discounting is one you wish to liquidate. We also operate in a market that is open 365 days a

year, and malls generally are open from 10am through until midnight/1am, so the hours are long. Now we even have 24-hour openings in some of the major malls during the Eid festivities, which is unique to this region.

Which toy categories are proving most popular in the UAE/GCC market at the moment, and why do you think they are so popular? The trend here is not so different to other parts of the world. Boys toys certainly lead the way, largely due to the RC category as there is a strong desire for toys with functions. Movie-related merchandise also performs strongly. With strong repeat custom the need to continually update the product offering is important. The Outdoor category performs well, even with the vast majority of people leaving in the Summer, the rest of the year sees great weather and, as such, pool- related toys sell well. Battery ride-ons do well, such as Peg Perego, and Ferrari California from Feber, as people have the space for these items both indoors and outdoors due to the size of accommodation available. Barbie is still the number-one fashion doll brand,

but Lalaloopsy has a wider appeal in terms of the look and does very well here. Like elsewhere, the electronics category is growing strongly. Skylanders and Disney Infi nity have re-opened the door to this category in the past 12 months in our stores. It is also quite common to see toddlers with iPads in the malls, which demonstrates that the more traditional children’s tablets are no longer enough, and families here think nothing of having multiple tablets at home.

You’re just about to launch the virtual Toy Store; how did you go about setting it up, and why now? We cannot ignore the virtual world, although this region is a long way off that of the UK in terms of the percentage of shopping done online (due to longer mall opening hours, weather not keeping people indoors and an underdeveloped logistics model). The most important thing is that the experience for the consumer must be simple, safe and reliable. We secured the same domain name (www.thetoystore. com) as our stores, which is important so that the correlation between the virtual store and physical stores is there. We also wanted to launch before Christmas, hence the timing. We referenced the worlds’ leading sites to get a feel for what worked and what didn’t. The biggest challenge was getting local suppliers to understand the need for accurate information and images to support the listing online, because until recently there has been skepticism as to whether a virtual store will work or not.

What services will the virtual Toy Store provide your customers? We will be able to offer an even bigger selection of items online, especially the bulkier items which cannot be displayed in-store or carried home. We will offer incentives to online shoppers in the form of free gifts and discounts. There will also be a free gift wrap service for orders over a certain minimum, as well as a wish list so consumers can send specifi c requests which we will source for them. We will also offer door-to-door delivery either through our own vans in Dubai or our parcel service partners. Members of the virtual store will be granted fi rst peeks at new products, exclusive offers and access to online competitions. We already have a strong following on our Facebook page (The Toy Store ME) and will look to link both our virtual and physical platforms in a number of creative ways. Clearly we do not face the same rental challenges online as with our physical stores, so this enables us to offer our members unique discounts online.

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