A catch up with an old business partner has our columnist thinking over the power of physical retail in a digital age.

JON SALISBURY: Selling in a digital age

The other day, I got a phone call out of the blue from my old business partner, Sean McGowan, an analyst from New York.

He was in London and asked if I was still living at the same address. He wanted to know if he could pop over. We hadn’t seen each other for some time. Sure, we email, but I haven’t had a chance to go Stateside for a while and I only get to see Sean when business brings him to England.

Within a few hours, he was at my front door and we very quickly picked up where we left off, laughing at shared experiences and updating each other on the twists and turns of our colourful private lives.

One of the great things about Sean is that he’s not your average Yank. He has a passport and is very well travelled.

A native of Rockaway Beach (cue The Ramones) he paid for himself to go to college. First, he studied English Literature and French at Hofstra before Master of Business Administration at Harvard. Formidable brainpower led him to Wall Street where he built his name and reputation as a financial analyst, specialising first in toys and, later, in the interactive entertainment, ie. the video games space.

Of course, toys are what brought us together.

I was publishing World Toy News and saw Sean quoted in The Wall Street Journal about the Hasbro takeover of Kenner Parker Tonka and called him for his opinion. Sean was running toy conferences in New York and I started going to them.

I got the chance to listen to and meet the bosses of the likes of Hasbro, Mattel, Tyco and Toys R Us and fi le loads of great copy for my humble subscription only magazine.

To this day, I‘ll never forget being on the phone with Alan Hassenfeld as Hasbro tried to dissuade shareholders from accepting Mattel’s latest offer. As we were speaking, Alan received a message. “Jon,” he told me, “Mattel has just pulled out of the deal.”

Talk about being in the right place at the right time.

Knowing Sean opened those doors for me and I eventually invited him to visit my toy and game media show in London after which we hatched a plan to join forces to stage similar events in New York.

Our chat the other night didn’t involve toys too much but the power of retailers cropped up.

I mentioned the rampancy of video game piracy and Sean said Microsoft had decided to cease sales of physical games because it was easier to counter piracy via pre-loaded and downloaded material but their biggest retail customer worldwide, GameStop, objected and plans were shelved.

It seems that even though digital products and digital delivery is becoming ever more widespread, a three dimensional customer is still able to call the shots.

Perhaps our desire to still feel the quality and the width before we buy will outlive the short-term, quick fix of the online purchase…

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