It’s that time of year again, and it’s our fifth annual retail survey. Yes, we poked our noses into your business to ask a cross section of the UK’s independent toy retailer population to find out just how 2016 performed for you, what products triumphed and what struggles you faced through one of recent history’s strangest 12 months.
What was the highlight of the year?
Well, here we are: at the start of another year and it is that familiar old sense of optimism with which the UK’s independent retail scene enters it.
True to form, when it comes to your highlights of 2016, it couldn’t be any more of a mixed bag, with responses ranging from the sharp incline in sales of Pokémon towards the end of last year, to a number of you enjoying a steady revenue growth.
In fact, over the past year, an impressive 16 per cent of you have experienced a growth of the business with new premises, opening new stores and increased profits all topping the bill of personal achievements.
Elsewhere, the Shopkins phenomenon has helped keep the smiles on your faces over the last 12 months, while a good number of you – to the tune of seven per cent, at least – have been celebrating various anniversaries and milestones within the industry.
Congratulations must go to the one retailer who recently celebrated its 40th year in business. Whoever said toys were just for kids?
How was business in 2016 compared to 2015?
The good news continues as it looks like 2016 proved to be a positive year for the indie retail scene, with a majority of retailers revealing that the past 12 months far outpaced the previous year.
In total, 43 per cent of those interviewed stated that business had improved, with one retailer declaring that an ‘increased online presence’ helped contribute to a better year on the High Street. Other factors highlighted by you included good weather and the build up to the Christmas shopping season.
The decision to leave the EU in 2016 has been a contributing factor for the 27 per cent of you who, in comparison, believe business to be down on the glory of 2015. One retailer revealed that Brexit had in fact ‘hit us really hard.’
However, 30 per cent of you maintained that business had remained steady, despite the challenges within the market.
Which toy category performed the best for you in 2016?
Taking centre stage this year is the construction sector, with 22 per cent of you citing that toys of this ilk were most popular with consumers throughout 2016.
It's no wonder, it's been a big year for LEGO alone, who with the launch of its Disney Minifigures and popular Star Wars inspired building sets, has played a huge role in keeping that green stuff filling your cash desks.
Following close behind is the collectables and dolls and plush sectors, ranking in at second place together, with retailers championing the likes of Shopkins, Num Noms and Teddy Bear Hospital.
The wooden toys sector, last year’s favourite, has dipped slightly this year with 10 per cent of retailers citing the category as their best performing - a dip, however, compared to last year’s 21 per cent.
Pre-school has continued to perform well for you, with one retailer declaring, ‘pre-school is still excellent with Paw Patrol, Peppa Pig and VTech doing very well’.
Similarly, the games and puzzles and arts and crafts sectors are still storming the market, with seven per cent of retailers confirming that these areas are still performing well.
What impacted your business the most in 2016?
In the words of Queen ‘Nothing really matters’, but in this case it matters to the tune of 23 per cent of you. That afterall, is the percentage of you who believe that absolutely nothing has impacted your business this past year.
Despite the majority of you feeling more than satisfied about 2016, Brexit was definitely a sore spot for 18 per cent of you. Prices going up, quiet stores, cost of importing goods and exchange rates were all factors you experienced as a result of the EU referendum.
Once again, online competitors and the decline of the High Street has been a factor impending your businesses, while the uncertainty of the weather throughout the year was also an irksome factor for seven per cent of you.
Business rates continue to be the bane of your lives, closely followed by issues with suppliers and bootleg toys.
Do you feel confident in the health of your business moving into 2017?
It looks like 2017 is on course to be a positive year for the majority of retailers, as a mammoth 83 per cent of you remain confident in the health of your business as we enter the New Year.
Opening new premises and expanding your current stores are just some of the factors contributing to your positive outlook for 2017, with one retailer revealing, ‘I would like to think we can start the new year having had a profitable Christmas, and hopefully still keep trading for many years to come’.
Despite this positivity, for 17 per cent of you, the future looks uncertain for business, with Brexit proving to be a major gripe. This, followed by online competitors and, oh, the decline of the retail sector. What happened to that festive cheer?
How were Christmas takings in 2016 compared to 2015?
It looks like things are remaining positive for most of you on the retail scene, as this year’s festive period has seen an improvement compared to last. For 42 per cent of those interviewed, customers starting Christmas shopping earlier were among the leading factors for 2016’s increase.
In contrast, we have once again received a number of differing opinions, with some of you stating that Black Friday caused shoppers to hold off spending, with one retailer blaming the mass discounting event for its lack of business. It's 23 per cent of you that revealed that Christmas takings were down this year.
However, by large, Christmas takings this year have been on a par with last year and for the 35 per cent of you who attest to it, let's hope the rest of 2017 holds up too.
What new toy or products are you looking forward to stocking in 2017?
LEGO Batman has piqued the interest of a good ten per cent of retailers interviewed this time around. And well it might. Yet despite the growing excitement and the latest LEGO Minifigure line-up, the caped crusader hasn't done enough to convince the 15 per cent still unsure about this year's toy line-up.
Shortages of Spin Master’s Hatchimals continues to fuel demand, at least for the eight per cent of you keen to get your hands it, if only to stop the constant customer enquiries.
Elsewhere, licensed toys from Star Wars and Power Rangers are popular collections for another eight per cent of those interviewed, closely followed by new lines in the arts and crafts category, exciting a further seven per cent.
Construction and pre-school are still performing well this year, with five per cent of you looking forward to stocking items from these categories, while STEM toys are also starting to show new promise, if only for the three per cent.
Which current trend is making the biggest impact on business this year?
The phenomenon that was Pokémon Go has seen the franchise grow into one of the biggest trends for 2016, with one retailer stating, ‘Pokémon has had an impact this year, if not for profit margin, then certainly for units sold and turnover. We have lot to thank Pokémon Go for’.
Although 26 per cent of you revealed that no trend in particular had made much impact over the course of the year, the power of the internet is still a massive bugbear for the retail scene. 'It's killing prices for bigger items,’ stated on retailer. Meanwhile the likes of Amazon and the sales of counterfeit goods online are all other trends affecting your business.
Elsewhere, thanks to blockbuster TV series including The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad, seven per cent of you revealed that licensed toys is a main trend, followed by tech toys, pre-school and traditional toys, each coming in at a respectable five per cent.