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viewpoint David

Ripley Chief Operating Officer of Winning Moves

Deck the halls

Nothing comes close to the feeling of working in the toy industry at Christmas. Having worked both sides of the fence for many years, I still get that feeling of excitement as the month of December draws close. Whilst undertaking store visits in November, it was encouraging to see retailers looking ‘trade ready’ ahead of the peak sales period. If toy sales fail to materialise in 2014 it will not be for want of

preparation and planning. It was encouraging to see the headline NPD toy sales figures for September showing positive market growth for the first time this year, and it could be the turning point for a return to positive territory for the remainder of the year. Last year I ranked my top three retailers based on their Christmas marketing, promotional and store set-ups – in 2012 the ranking was: TRU at number one, Smyths at two, and at three. The article generated some interesting discussions at the UK’s Toy Fair back in January. This year, based on the same criteria, my PERSONAL top retailers for 2013 are as follows: In third position is TRU who, after a tough 2012 and early 2013, continue to transition their offer. In second place is Argos; the fight-back is well and truly underway, great advertising on TV and other digital platforms such as YouTube, supported by strong and clear promotional plans, and new ways to shop will further consolidate its market position in 2013.

Having narrowly missed out on the top spot last

year, I have ranked Smyths as my number one in 2013. This is based on its great TV campaign and consistently strong promotional deals throughout Q4. They have kept pace with competitive activity and have responded accordingly. I would be willing to wager that Smyths stores offer the highest return on space than any other similar retailer in the UK. Its optimal store footprints are near perfect, with matching service and range. Smyths is a great example of a traditional bricks and mortar retailer becoming increasingly competent with their multi-channel offer. This is driving a decrease in the competitive advantage of pure-play e-tailers over those with broad multi-channel operations. The profitability challenges in 2012 at Ocado, Amazon and show how the pure-play e-tailers are facing challenges of their own. I wish all Toy World readers a very merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

Ali Mafi 50 Fifty Gifts

You’ll never know what’s

hit you I have always believed that almost everyone comes up with great commercial ideas, but by-and-large most people simply don’t pursue it. The reasons can vary from “it’s too obvious and must have been done”, “can’t be bothered”, “too much hassle to do anything about it”, etc. Whereas I have a reputation for spotting a seller, and I have had some whoppers in my life. I remember getting so excited about a set of Alien Figures and utterly convinced that after these I would be able to comfortably retire, and ended up shipping 3,000 pieces to test. I can’t even remember what happened to the 2,952 that we didn’t sell. On the other side of the coin I remember looking at a small robotic dog with a wire remote control on a stand at the January Toy Fair in Hong Kong and chuckling to myself as to what a sad product it was. An hour later, Carmel Fitt, my then sales director, caught up with me and announced she had found a cracking line and dragged me back to the same stand. I laughed and suggested I make a contribution to her badly needed psychiatric help but she was NOT having it. We went on to sell 1.2m pieces in four months, 800,000 of them to the same retailer. We subsequently found three copies in China

26 Toyworld

and rather than fighting them we signed all of them exclusively, and even with four factories we were struggling to keep up with demand. So the reality is that one can never tell, and more often than not we will get caught with our pants around our ankles. Times have changed, and those sorts of quantities can only be dreamt about, but even now it is really satisfying when a retailer buys an initial quantity of 2,000 pieces of something and calls three weeks later wanting 40,000 pieces. It is really funny how a great idea can come about, and our current top line is a particularly good example. One of our designers suggested that instead of offering stale sandwiches, sausage rolls and warm wine we should have a Pick N’ Mix stand on our booth. It didn’t do much to increase our sales, but boy did it increase the calorie intake of buyers in Olympia and Birmingham. My son then suggested we do a desktop one and we all got excited about the idea, but then came the issue of small enough sweets that comply with all safety regulations and have a long life so we almost abandoned it. But somehow we went back to it and made it happen, and it is currently our absolute top line causing queues at the October Fair in Hong Kong. I have to say that I remain, at best, sceptical about so-called full-time inventors who actually spend their time trying hard to come up with new toys. A few years ago we changed from being a trading company to being a design and development company and with five designers, two engineers, etc., we set about it and then the reality dawned that actually coming up with a million-seller is an entirely different ball game to finding one. Statistically this should not be a surprise, as three people are less likely to come up with a great seller than 200,000 people. So you are more likely to find a great line than come up with it. Going back to inventors, all I will say is that they

have the same issues as we have but on an even larger scale. We do, at least, have a total of eight very creative people.

Then we come to those who just happen to have stumbled on an idea and they fall into two categories. Those who, despite all advice, fall utterly in love with their idea and mortgage the house, the kids and the family silver to pursue it, and those who are totally clueless about what they actually have and just think it may have potential. In the first category fall the board game inventors

and we see them every year at Toy Fair. They all think they have the new Monopoly, which is flawed. Don’t get me wrong, I think Monopoly is a great game, but I equally believe that if it was invented today it would flop. In this age of speed and technology it is just far too complicated a game, and the only reason it keeps selling is that the knowledge of how to play it is passed down from generation to generation with each family having their own, slightly tweaked, rules. My favourite of all time is an inventor who turned up at my office to show me an ingenious way of practicing golf putting indoors. The idea, and this was 15 years ago, was a device that, if putted, would return the ball straight to you. Notwithstanding the fact that for the 80% of the time that you missed you still had to get your own ball back, I decided to see him. I was expecting... actually I don’t know what I was expecting, but what I got was a couple of egg cartons, a ball of strings, some paper clips, two cut-up Fairy- Liquid bottles and a motor from a toy car. I did not go for the idea but I absolutely loved his audacity. That’s how inventors should be. Mad as a March

hare, total conviction and the ability to amuse and entertain.

What will rarely result in a huge line is a

brainstorming session in a board room with a few cups of coffee and a couple of Jaffa Cakes.

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