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At the time of going to press, England’s route out of lockdown remains on schedule, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson declaring we’re “continuing along our roadmap to freedom”. 

Vtech Marble Rush

Speaking to the virtual Conservative Party spring conference, Boris said he was looking forward to “unlocking our economy and getting back to the life we love”. But he warned that while we are in a different world from last spring, there was a need to be “honest about the difficulties ahead”. The watchword in government remains ‘cautious’.  

Toy shop owners are no doubt breathing a big sigh of relief and counting down the days until they can finally reopen their doors on the scheduled date of 12 April (at the earliest).  

This mood is reflected among retailers we’ve spoken to in this issue. Many are concerned about the months ahead and the post-lockdown timeframe changing again, while others are worried about consumer confidence and the possibility that customers may be reluctant to go out. But all are wholeheartedly looking forward to shoppers returning to their stores – and have invested heavily to make their premises Covid-secure. 

As KPMG UK Head of Retail Paul Martin comments: “With the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown in place and the vaccine rollout moving at pace, there is finally light at the end of the tunnel for non-essential retailers. High streets are hoping consumers swap their slippers for trainers as they start to hit the shops. All hopes will be pinned on consumers wanting to break free from home to browse the stores that have been out of bounds for months.” 

And there’s more good news for independents. Exactly a year after the first national lockdown, Barclaycard Payments (which processes nearly £1 in every £3 spent in the UK) released new research identifying the biggest shifts in consumer behaviour which have emerged as a result of the pandemic. 

One finding reveals that almost two-thirds of shoppers have been choosing to shop closer to home to support their communities. Shopping locally is set to be a lockdown legacy, the report concludes, with 91% of Brits who have been shopping locally throughout the pandemic saying they will keep doing this to support smaller and independent businesses, even after all restrictions end. 

Another major positive for toy traders is the news that two exhibitions of interest are set to return in a live show format later this year. Home and Gift in Harrogate will be held from 18 July to 21 July and while not a major show for toys, it does have some toy element. More relevant is Autumn Fair, which has a toy hall and will return to NEC Birmingham from 5 September to 8 September. It will be interesting to see how willing retailers are to visit an exhibition – fingers crossed!

Of course of great interest to TnP readers is the Toymaster Show, which was due to take place next month but has been postponed. The next event is planned for 17-19 May 2022 at the usual venue of The Majestic Hotel in Harrogate. Explaining the decision, the Toymaster Board said: “The Toymaster May Show is renowned within the industry, and we feel the Show will be a much better success when we know our members and suppliers are able to attend safely once again.”  

Although we’re all missing the opportunity to see and feel new toy products and make those personal connections that are so unique to a trade show setting, I’m sure you will agree that this cautious approach by Toymaster is the right one for our industry.  

For me, it’s been a disappointment that I can’t meet you personally yet. With that in mind, I’d love for you to get in touch. You can link up with me via LinkedIn or email me at clare@lemapublishing.co.uk. I look forward to hearing from you!

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