Our mystery toy retailer wonders if store owners can ever truly enjoy a break from work, what kids want from this cut-throat Christmas and if they'll ever know what Back to the Future is.

COUNTER INSURGENT: Getting away from it all

As I write, I am away with the family. 11.30 at night and drinking more Bacardi and Coke than is probably safe when writing a column. I am trying to forget about work.

It doesn’t happen does it? Emails, my computer, the odd text message, they all make it very difficult to switch off. At least every phone call rings off before I get to answer.

Knowing that I have escaped the UK to find sun, only to hear of heat waves at home doesn’t bother me like it would have before.

In the back of my mind I know that the paddling pools and water guns we have moved around the warehouse and shop for two years have finally started to sell.

Tennis racquets and balls are selling now we have a British champion at Wimbledon and hopefully over the coming weeks the cricket sets will sell too.

But when you’re an indie running things yourself, can you really relax on holiday? Do we ever truly forget the worries of: Can we pay the bills? Are the customers coming in the shop? Are the staff actually working while you’re not there to jolly them along? All of these things are in the back of your mind as you look in disbelief at the cost of food shopping in Spain, wondering if you have enough change for another bottle of wine.

As you read this, the summer holidays will be nearly over and kids will soon be back at school, while we as an industry will be gearing ourselves up for Christmas.

What it will bring, I don’t think any of us truly know. Money is still tight and household budgets are under more pressure than they have been for many a year. We’ve already been warned it will be a price cutting Christmas and with Argos running a three-for-two in August, just how bad can it get?

Indies I’ve spoken to know it will be a big one for deals and price cuts. The problem is, consumers simply don’t know when or what to buy.

The big stores moan that consumers aren’t spending but then ply them with unneeded freebies to keep in the cupboard ready for the next birthday.

In times like this, consumers are looking for value. I don’t just mean value for money, but something a kid will play with time and time again.

Around the shop all I hear is: “You don’t play with your Barbie/Batman/Cars, so you don’t need another one.”

I never hear that about LEGO. Consumers moan about the cost, but will pay it as they know a child will play with it. The same goes for Playmobil and Sylvanian.

One final word on LEGO. Who says that adults can’t be dragged back into buying toys? The Back to the Future LEGO set has been fantastic, and every one we have sold has been to a dad.

I have seen mothers roll their eyes as husbands plead to be allowed a set. I heard one dad ask his son to help him build the model, only to be crushed when the son said he has never heard of Back to the Future.

I could see this father was then on a mission. As soon as that kid gets home he will be sat in front of the TV to do what his father has wanted to do all holiday – watch the entire trilogy for over six hours straight.
It’s got to be Ghostbusters next hasn’t it?

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