Alan Wright, toys & kids books buyer John Lewis & Partners, talks to Clare Turner about his aim to make toys available in more shops across both the John Lewis and Waitrose brands this year
What’s your background?
I’ve been at John Lewis for almost 19 years working across multiple categories. I started out as the buyer for Christmas Shop & Gift Food, but the majority of my career has been spent as the buyer for Beauty, where we introduced our first concessions and doubled the size of the business in eight years.
I was appointed the buyer for Toys and Kids Books in August 2021 and it’s fair to say it’s been non-stop ever since!
Tell us a bit about John Lewis & Partners.
We sell toys in 32 John Lewis shops and 150 Waitrose shops, with exciting plans to make toys available in more shops across both brands this year.
How would you describe your range?
We carefully curate our collections to ensure we have a mix of the most popular toys, as well as exclusives that you won’t be able to find anywhere else.
Our toy offering appeals to the whole family, making it easy for those who have wish lists to fulfill and fun for the kids (who write the lists!).
How many brands do you carry?
We sell more than 120 brands in our shops and on johnlewis.com.
How many suppliers do you deal with?
I’m pleased to say that we have long-standing relationships with all of the largest toy suppliers.
I’m also very proud to see how some of those relationships have developed over time, moving from us taking just a few lines in selected shops to them being some of our largest suppliers.
How do you find products?
We always attend the Toy Fair in London and Spielwarenmesse in Nuremberg each year – it’s truly the most exhilarating and exhausting time of the year!
In advance of the fairs, we meet with our largest suppliers for a sneak peek of the biggest launches.
In addition, we keep an eye on Google trends, data from Circana [formerly NPD, Circana provides sales data and analysis to the toy industry], and I like to know what my friends’ kids are playing with.
What’s proving popular at the moment?
We’re seeing growth in many product categories: constructions, vehicles, soft toys, and preschool, to name a few.
What lines have you started stocking recently?
We have recently doubled the size of our soft toy range, and the response from our customers has been amazing.
We have also refocused our preschool range to allow for a wider range of products from the top five licences, which is also seeing a good reaction.
And I’m really pleased with the expansion of the John Lewis wooden roleplay lines. The John Lewis Wooden Coffee Shop for all the wannabe-baristas is a personal favourite!
What’s the most rewarding aspect of your job?
I love the dynamism of this category and how every supplier I meet is keen to give something a go. My team and I are all relative newcomers to toys, and it’s been great to build on what we’ve learned in our previous categories to help this area develop.
What’s your current favourite toy or game on your shelves?
My favourite game is easy: Uno, I absolutely love to play it with my nephews and niece, although I’m regularly defeated thanks to their unique interpretation of the rules!
What’s your favourite toy or game of all time?
I’m a child of the ’80s so I had a huge number of Matchbox cars, Transformers and LEGO’s Space range. I really wish I’d kept them, as the originals are worth a fortune now!
As an adult, I wouldn’t have said that I had a favourite toy prior to joining this category… However, I do now own a few LEGO items.