Own bargains: An in-depth look into own-label toys

Jade Burke

By Jade Burke

May 26th 2017 at 10:31AM
UPDATED May 26th 2017 at 11:53AM
Own bargains: An in-depth look into own-label toys

Own-label products are now a key part of many retailers’ portfolio, but are these low-cost toys now starting to damage the independent retail scene who champion branded goods? Here, Jade Burke ask this month’s ToyShop UK listing how detrimental these own-branded toys are to indies on the High Street.

It’s not uncommon to see today’s grocers and department stores offering their own-label toy products, and with shoppers constantly on the look out for a cheaper alternative, it’s no wonder these retailers are looking to increase their own offering.

For the larger guys, designing and developing an own-branded toy line seems like the logical next step for a retailer to grow its presence in the market.

However, this has been labelled as ‘damaging’ by the indie retail scene, who are competing with these huge retail names.

Not only that, shelf space is being pushed to the limit with many toy brands all fighting for a spot on retailers’ shelves, with many items often featuring similar characteristics and core learning skills for kids. Therefore, if a retailer is looking to fill its shelves, why not fill it with its own branded line of toys?

Recently, The Entertainer also outlined plans to bring out its own- label products over the coming year, revealing that it will be ‘good quality, well produced and well sourced products at excellent value for money’.

With The Entertainer now taking advantage of own-labelled products, and retailers including John Lewis, Hamleys, Sainsbury’s and Tesco offering their own variants, the sales of these goods could be destructive to the indie.

“I am furious that supermarkets are now selling wooden toys and other toys. Why can’t they just stick to groceries like they started out with,” Paul Commander, owner of Penrith store The Toy Works, tells ToyNews.

“It’s not only the supermarkets that are getting in on the toy market, nearly every garden centre and now farm shops and coffee shops are starting to stock toys.

“I am an independent retailer who specialises in traditional wooden toys, and they are swamping the market place with their products.”

Clearly grocers and department stores have rocked the indie scene, selling toys that were previously only available in specialist toy stores alongside their own branded lines. However, surely a branded toy will come out top when customers are on the look for a reputable product for their child to enjoy?

Charlotte Croser, owner of Jollys, believes so: “Wooden toys is a category in which many retailers seem to be producing own brands, so our wooden toy range, particularly Big Jigs, stands out as being more original,” she explains.

“I think consumers prefer a branded toy, especially if giving it as a gift, so will the own-brands win hearts?”

Offering bespoke toys in stores is what makes an independent toy retailer stand out from the crowd, giving store owners the opportunity to be more selective when it comes to choosing their stock, which will no doubt help retailers remain competitive against own-branded goods from large multiples.

Plus, with toy companies constantly replenishing their stock with new toys, customers are likely to head to their local toy shop where they will be able to find out advice and source a must have-toy, which may not be available within a multiple focussing on their own- labelled goods.

Peter Allinson, owner of Whirligig Tunbridge Wells, agrees: “Being independent means not following what everyone else is trying to do. Our shops stand out because we have chosen toys and brands that offer our customers choice.”

Following the news that The Entertainer will develop its own branded line of toys, buying group Toymaster also outlined its viewpoint on own-label goods, revealing it has ‘no plans to bring them into its in-store offering.’

“We do not have one either in-store, in the planning stage or even in our list of the top 100 things to do to help our members trade more profitably,” said Ian Edmunds, MD of Toymaster.

As a buying group offering various benefits for numerous members from the indie retail scene, it is clear that own-label items can be damaging for an independent with a store full of branded goods.

And with supermarkets and department stores offering everything from groceries to household items and toys all under one roof at slashed prices, can retailers really compete?

“We can’t compete with the price and the purchaser is not as aware of the lesser quality of the product when they make the purchase,” cites Mimi Gorman, owner of The Cheshire Cat in Hillsborough.

Sian Hughes from Ringinglow Toys echoes this sentiment: “It’s so damaging that we sold our shops and got out of toy retail.”

Although own-label products may be significantly cheaper compared to branded goods from well-known toy firms, each offer an alternative product to retailers. For example, branded goods could be considered the latest, must- have toy, while own-labelled goods could be deemed as a quick profit maker for retailers looking to cater for everybody.

This is something that Croser believes will help to enhance the sales for indies, she continues: “Hopefully this trend for own-label toys will protect the margins of the brands that independents stock, which is very positive.”

In contrast, The Toy Works’ Commander feels that the blame lies with suppliers and sales representatives who choose to sell to grocers and department stores, who are selling branded goods, as well as their own-label line.

“Whatever happened to loyalty between suppliers and their original customers? They have representatives out on the road who don’t give a damn as long as they get the orders and earn their commission. Perhaps I should start selling groceries and pot plants too,” he quips.

No doubt indie retailers would jump at the chance to put their own inventions into physical items, however Mitch Brown, owner of Darths Hutt, feels the costing of this is far too high, which unfortunately gives the larger guys the opportunity to weigh in on.

He adds: “I agree that this affects independent retailers, but unfortunately we just have to go with it as there is nothing we can do. I’m sure we all have ideas of our own ranges and exclusives but the costs would be far too great.”

With larger retailers, such as Tesco and John Lewis choosing to delve into an own-branded line of toys, it certainly does give today’s independent retailers the opportunity to build on their branded products, which will no doubt help to make them stand out in this crowded marketplace with an offering customers cannot find in their everyday grocer.

“It is an opportunity for the indies to carry branded lines, that the multiples may not carry, there actual toy ranges are quite narrow,” explains Julian Shelford, owner of the Final Frontier.

Croser concludes: “It means that the brands we sell aren’t common place in the bigger shops, which is a major, positive point of difference for us.”