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10yearson... Rising from the ashes

Ten years after a near disastrous pre-Christmas warehouse fire that destroyed the entire stock of the then fledgling Flair, CEO Peter Brown, reminisces about the events, while managing director Simon Hedge looks at where the company is heading. Tom Roberts reports.


t was the phone call that every toy executive would dread to receive. On October 29th 2003, while Peter Brown and Simon Hedge attended the Licensing Show at Olympia, they received a phone call from Flair’s financial director at 12

o’clock, Carl Moran simply said: “The warehouse is on fire”. While Peter and Simon were disturbed by the

news, they continued to look at prospective licences. Peter recalls: “I was imagining that it was just a small fire in the corner of the warehouse and that the Import Services team where gainfully tackling it with hand-held extinguishers.” The next call blew that image away; by 3:30pm Carl was ringing back to report that the warehouse had been totally destroyed. As a new toy company back in 2003, Flair was looking forward to ramping up its shipments to Christmas because the warehouse was full of toys ordered by expectant customers. But tonnes of Play-Doh and thousands of Sylvanian Families had all gone up in smoke in what was described at the time by The Guardian as “the biggest fire in Hampshire’s history”. Thankfully, no one was injured, but the company now faced a huge commercial crisis. Its first task was to let Flair’s staff, agents and customers know what had happened, and to advise that every outstanding order was now cancelled. Next, Flair had to galvanise itself and seek inventory from any part of the world that would meet its customers’ requirements. Under the direction of Carl Moran and Spencer

Gray, the company’s operations department worked diligently with its suppliers to find and ship whatever inventory was available from any part of the world and, more importantly, book space to air-freight the goods into the country as quickly as possible. Thankfully, Flair had goods in transit and its

insurance company had agreed to bear the cost of air freighting. Of course, the management also had to assure its staff and suppliers that the company could continue on and successfully grow out of the ashes of the Southampton warehouse. Peter explained that he had the difficult task of phoning Flair’s chairman, Richard Beecham, to give him the sad news. He said: “Richard was so upset that he could not speak, but later, in characteristic Richard fashion, he called back to enquire how much redundant stock we were holding that had also been destroyed. The next

34 Toyworld

Peter Brown CEO

day, he and his wife arrived at the offices with boxes of chocolates for the staff. This kind and thoughtful gesture was greatly appreciated by everyone.” “There was a real spirit of the Blitz,” recalls

marketing director Lindsay Hardy. “We had to re-plan everything that we had scheduled for late 2003/early 2004; a lot of midnight oil was burned.” Sales director Nicola Bergot had the task of allocating the trickle of stock that was starting to come into the country so that customers would receive stock as fairly divided as possible. But what proved most memorable to Peter was just how resourceful, enterprising and entrepreneurial the team at Flair had become. He said: “Everyone in the company responded to the challenges of the fire in such a positive way, and clearly demonstrated what can be achieved when everyone works together. Credit must also go to Import Services, who owned and operated Flair’s warehouse. The loss of such a huge warehouse was a blow to Import Services, but, as the true professionals they are, they quickly reorganised themselves so that we could start shipping whatever goods we could as quickly as possible. We were able to dispatch shipments to customers within five days of the fire.” The company’s efforts were recognised at that

year’s Toy Fair Awards Dinner when Flair won the Toy Company of the Year Award, presented to Peter Brown by Ruby Wax. Peter humorously quipped: “I didn’t realise that you had to burn the warehouse down to receive such an award.”

A phoenix In the intervening years, Flair has developed a

Simon Hedge managing director

solid reputation for building brands and for re- inventing its portfolio. By 2007, the company had made it into NPD’s Top 20 at number 18, which caught the eye of Giochi Preziosi who were looking for a UK partner; the two joined forces the following year. A landmark was reached in 2009 when the company doubled its turnover, made it into the NPD’s Top 10, celebrated its 10th Anniversary and won Toy Company of the Year for a second time; a remarkable achievement given such a near disaster in 2003. Now, ten years on from the fire, Flair is under

the direction and leadership of Simon Hedge, managing director, who commented: “In recent years Flair has established itself, not only as a master toy distributor, but also as a brand builder for some of the most prestigious properties in the market. In the next few years we want to build on this reputation and be seen as a potential partner for when properties are launched. Building on global partnerships, such as the recently announced WWE/Bridgedirect/GP Flair deal, is also an clear objective for us, both on UK-focused projects and as part of the Giochi Preziosi Group. In development, Flair remains one of the most innovative creators of toys and craft sets, and we will also continue to grow this area.” But for now, the company is solely focused on

the year ahead. Simon said: “2014 sees us enter the digital age, and this will be a major area of diversification for us. We believe the launch of the GP Tech lines is just the start of something very big for the company, and is something to be really be excited about. Make sure to visit our stand at Toy Fair to find out more.”

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