From Robo Turtles to selfie sticks, ToyNews talks to Hawkin's Bazzar's head buyer Leanne Jenning about how the retailer has postioned itself as a High Street heavyweight.
At Hawkin’s Bazaar, a cashier rings yet another sale of a replica die-cast James Bond Aston Martin DB5 through the till.
The customer hands over a crisp £20, and with that, Corgi’s Anniversary edition of the toy car it released 50 years ago to celebrate the 1964 film, Goldfinger, becomes one of the retailer’s best selling lines of 2015.
In fact, demand has been so great for the retro-styled toy car that it has been declared by the toy, gift and curiosity retailer as its “runaway winner of the year, so far”, rivalling the likes of its 2014 hit line, DigiBirds.
“Models like this definitely seem to be trending at the moment,” Leanne Jenning, head buyer for Hawkin’s Bazaar tells ToyNews. “Retro toys are just huge right now.”
It is for this reason that as well as seeing Corgi’s entire range of miniatures fly off its shelves, the High Street and online toy shop has just launched its own selection of retro tin collectables, inspired by popular lines of the 1950s.
“And they are proving to be very popular, both online and in our High Street stores,” continues Jenning. “As soon as they were launched, we immediately started to sell out of some of the lines.
“People always love retro reminders, whether they’re keen to rekindle memories from their childhood or introduce their own children to old favourites.”
It may be owing to Hawkin’s Bazaar’s nostalgia of its own humble beginnings that lends it such a confidence in the retro sector. Even its name is in homage to The Hawk Inn, the disused Suffolk pub where the retailer began life as a toy and gift mail order service back in 1973.
While the company appears to keep one foot in the nostalgia of yester year, it is with both eyes looking forward that it moves through 2015, with expansion into online trading and tech toys as well as gadgets to rival 007 himself.
“We are definitely looking at a year of growth, especially online,” continues Jenning.
“This year, along with a very strong product offering, we are looking at ways to expand the content around the toys and gifts in our collection.”
The forward-thinking strategy will see Jenning and the Hawkin’s Bazaar team bolster its online approach with more digital elements, allowing consumers to engage with its extensive selection of product.
It is all part of the team’s plans to grow its online presence, currently only a small percentage of its operation when compared to the 30 High Street stores it boasts nationwide.
“But if you were to class online as a standalone store, it is certainly our biggest,” says Jenning. “And in this day and age it is essential to have an online presence and also to be utilising social media. It is how people interact and connect nowadays, so we would be silly to miss out on the opportunity to get Hawkin’s out there, too.”
In the coming months, online visitors to the Hawkin’s Bazaar website can expect to find extra content in the form of videos, blog posts and more information to give customers a better idea of what they are buying before they commit to a purchase.
But all this does leave one very important question: just what will shoppers find lining the shelves of Hawkin’s Bazaar this year and on the approach to the all-important fourth quarter?
“DigiBirds were huge last year, so we have expanded the range with a selection of new additions that are just as loveable and collectable,” continues Jenning. “In a similar vein, we will also have the Robo Turtle, a miniature pet turtle that swims as soon as it is dropped in water.”
Meanwhile, in the gadget space – a now burgeoning sector for the retailer – it is virtual reality that is causing a stir.
“This year, we are selling the Immerse Virtual Reality Headset. This lets users explore 3D worlds like never before, totally immerse themselves in virtual reality games and watch films in true 3D, just as if they had their own personal cinema,” explains Jenning.
Since its inception in the early 1970s, and throughout its varying incarnations from wholesale to retail, catalogue sales and now online sales, the group has held on to its ethos of delivering “different and quirky items that can’t be found everywhere.”
It is, therefore, arguable that items don’t get much more quirky than the latest craze to hit the selfie-generation, the Selfie Stick. The item has reportedly been a big seller for the company since it introduced it to its shelves last year.
But it does carry the question, what place does a Selfie Stick have in the toy shop setting?
“We class ourselves as a toy shop for all ages and we have gifts for people aged from three to 103,” explains Jenning. “One of the big policies we have in our shops is that you should be able to try something before you buy it, and the Selfie Stick is an item that has caused a huge buzz in store.
“We have had people of all ages having a go with them since we started stocking them last year. The fact that people of all ages are playing with these across the world meant that we just had to have one in Hawkin’s, too.”
And so Jenning reveals what is perhaps the retailer’s secret to remaining relevant to today’s consumer – holding fast onto its High Street presence and enjoying a year of growth: by maintaining a youthful disposition.
“We are all big kids at heart,” laughs Jenning. “That’s why we stick to making the items we offer appeal to young and old, we want people to have as much fun as possible and not take life too seriously.”
Of course, with over 40 years of rich history to its name, Hawkin’s Bazaar has seen its fair share of ‘quirk’ come and go through its doors.
“Some of the items that we would have selected over the years simply would not be allowed anymore,” says Jenning. “Then on the flip side, we have some items in the range that have been with us for well over 20 years.
“But the company really has evolved massively over the years.”
Today, and in its most recent state of evolution, Hawkin’s Bazaar is looking at what it declares a ‘promising and very strong year,’ citing healthy footfall throughout its 30 shops across the UK and an online that’s consistently tracking above previous years.
“2015 has been exciting to say the least,” continues Jenning. “The calendar says it’s July, but we are well into our Christmas plans.
“The Easter holiday saw an increase in sales of our craft collection, especially our new range of Scentos scented stationery sets.
“We are now excited to see what the main event of the fourth quarter has in store for us.”
While the allure of the impending Christmas shopping period is enough to keep Hawkin’s Bazaar focusing efforts on its established fleet of UK stores for now, the retailer hasn’t taken future expansion completely off the table.
“Never say never,” teases Jenning. “We are always hopeful for expansion.
“Retail is still quite tough in the UK so we are not considering any massive expansion plans, but we are always on the look out for new stores in different areas or new shopping centres.
“And of course, we are always looking at new ways of how we can reach out to all of our digital customers, too.”
So from the James Bond fans of yesterday to the tech-savvy youngsters of this generation, Hawkin’s Bazaar appears to have its strategy for encompassing the young at heart planned out for the foreseeable future.