Weatherwise, it was a pretty miserable May – the coldest for 25 years with rainfall 31% higher than average, according to the Met Office. What’s especially galling for toy retailers is that last May was the sunniest on record and they were forced to close. Now they can reopen, it’s the weather that’s in hospital.
But there is hope on the horizon. As we go to press, forecasters are promising that our unusually wet and cold May will end on a drier and warmer note over the bank holiday weekend.
And retail is on the road to recovery too. The latest ONS (Office for National Statistics) figures covering the period from 4 April to 1 May show that retail sales volumes grew sharply with a monthly increase of 9.2%. Of course, this was the period when restrictions on ‘non-essential’ retail in England, Scotland and Wales were relaxed, allowing physical stores to reopen from 12 April in England and Wales and from 26 April in Scotland. This reopening had a “profound effect” on the retail sector, ONS said, with non-food stores providing the largest contribution to the monthly growth.
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, confirms this. She said the ongoing easing of coronavirus restrictions has offered a long-awaited and very welcome boost for thousands of retailers – and pent-up demand built up during lockdown continues to be released. She added that online sales also continue to perform strongly, rewarding those retailers who invested in their online and delivery operations during
Her views are reflected by the experiences of all the toy retailers featured in this issue apart from our guest columnist Hazel McCarthy, owner of Toy Corner in Galway. But at the time of writing our new ‘Diary of a Toy Shop’ article, she was hugely relieved to have just heard the news that click & collect was returning to the Republic of Ireland from 10 May and she could reopen on 17 May – for the first time in 2021.
Another independent retailer in this edition – Mapes of Millport on the Isle of Cumbrae – turned 75 on the very day that non-essential reopened in Scotland, so 26 April was a double celebration for joint owners Scott and Deborah Ferris. As for online, our interview with Cas Paton, founder and CEO of OnBuy.com, reveals that the toys and games category is among the strongest in his entire catalogue.
In the meantime, while the boost in sales is a step in the right direction, high streets still have some way to go. As KPMG UK Head of Retail Paul Martin recently pointed out, retailers are delighted with the way reopening has been greeted by consumers eager to engage once more with physical shopping, and online sales have continued to grow across most categories, but at a reduced rate as many consumers stepped away from their computers to head outside.
He predicts that retailers face an interesting few months as they assess the level at which online shopping falls back – and warns that the full reopening of the hospitality sector will likely see a dilution in retail spend in favour of leisure, entertainment and hospitality.
Toy retailers will be hoping that with the increasing positive signs of the economy improving, market conditions will offer scope to spark a big surge in consumer spending this summer.
So, what’s been your trading experience, as a toy retailer or supplier? I’d love you to get in touch and share your story. You can connect with me via LinkedIn or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you!