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At last our high streets have come back to life! After three long months, springtime brought relief to the retail sector, with non-essential stores reopening on 12 April in the next step of the easing of the national lockdown. 

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Toy retailers across the country are hoping that pent-up demand will now be released, and that cash registers will ring merrily again.  

In the words of KPMG UK Head of Retail Paul Martin: “All hopes of a strong recovery now rest on consumers feeling more confident to move away from their homes and hit the high street to browse the stores that have been out of bounds for months.”

As we’ve discussed in previous issues, lockdown has led many readers to rethink the way they do business. But even the ones who have embraced online – and have prospered – agree that there’s absolutely no substitute for unlocking their doors and serving customers again. 

And in many cases, some toys just sell better in person; being able to touch and feel items is often an integral part of the sales process. As Paul Wohl, CEO of Argosy Toys in Essex reflects in our Retail Interview, during lockdown his baby and nursery product was probably the hardest thing to sell, because “a lot of people like to see it in the flesh – that’s what clinches the deal”.

Amir Yusuf, owner of the three-strong Totally Awesome toy chain in Yorkshire, makes a similar point in our Talking Retail feature. “It’s very important for us to have people actually walk through the door, because our stores are quite interactive – and many of our products sell well because we demo them to customers,” he points out.

We asked several independent toy retailers in the first week that non-essential stores rolled back into action for a trading snapshot, and their responses were overwhelmingly positive. It seems that indies are (unsurprisingly) thrilled – and relieved – to be back behind the counter. 

Although some were initially nervous and concerned that not all customers would stick to the ‘shop safe’ guidelines, their fears appear to be unfounded, with no bad examples of social distancing to date. Others report that there’s “a really lovely vibe” in-store and “a great buzz” on the high street. 

One remarked: “Have I missed customers? Yes, I have! Obviously from a financial point of view we missed having footfall – although online kept us going. But I’ve missed the banter with the kids and grown-ups!”  

Perhaps a comment made by Jade Oliver-Deacon, owner of The Toy Shop in Okehampton, best sums up the overall mood: “The key message that has come across from our customers is that they’re really, really pleased that I managed to survive the last lockdown and are delighted to see the shop open once again.” 

But of course, we’re not quite out of the woods yet, and the CBI’s principal economist Ben Jones recently issued a cautionary warning to that effect. 

Despite progress along the roadmap, the impact of Covid-19 restrictions are still biting hard, he noted. Retailers generally are still facing challenges around inventory management and their supply chains, amid trade disruption, big shifts in consumer behaviour and uncertainty over how long some degree of social distancing could remain in place, he said.

So, what’s been your trading experience? I’d love you to get in touch and share your story with me. You can connect with me via LinkedIn or email me at clare@lemapublishing.co.uk. I look forward to hearing from you!  

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