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Keeping pre-school lit: Catching up with Halilit’s Judith Stark

Notoriously competitive and increasingly cramped, even at the best of times the pre-school space has not been one for the faint of heart.

Throw into the mix the matter that 2019 has seen shelf space diminish once again with the collapse of Mothercare’s UK operations, and a high street finding it difficult to pull in the punters, and you’re looking at an industry sector under some real pressure.

It’s always of particular note then when a firm manages to emerge from such a situation in a position not only of strength, but growth. This year, that company is none other than Halilit, a sector specialist who – thanks to the successful launch of its new Edushapes brand at the start of the year – has not only vaulted the hurdles 2019 has thrown at the industry, but is now bearing down on the year’s finishing line with victory in its sights.

For Halilit, 2019 has been all about maximising sales, significantly growing its portfolio of stockists and recovering business lost to the retail casualties that the past 12 months have thrown up. From here, at least, it looks like it’s mission accomplished for the toymaker.

ToyNews sits down with Halilit’s managing director, Judith Stark to learn more about the firm’s successes, its best performing lines, and how it stands out from the competition.

How has business been for Halilit this past year? What have been the biggest challenges and successes?

I don’t think many companies would say that they’ve had an outstanding year considering the retail climate, however all things considered, we’re fairly pleased with how 2019 has panned out for us.

We started 2019 launching the Edushape rebrand at Toy Fair with fantastic new packaging and lifestyle photography which has really bolstered demand for this sensory-focused range.

We’ve probably had our best year ever in terms of award wins with Edushape’s Textured Pop Blocks being voted Top Baby Activity Toy and Taf Toys All Around Me Gym from the delightful Koala Daydream Collection winning Gold for Best Baby Activity Mat in the recent, well-publicised Made for Mums Toy Awards, and we have seen a spike in demand for these lines along with our other award winners such as Taf Toys Hunny Bunny Stacker as a result.

Among the challenges that we have faced this year has been to need to recover business lost as a result of some of the very sad recent industry casualties. Casualties like this mean that there are the same number of suppliers fighting for significantly reduced shelf-space and we are investing significantly in supporting our stockists to ensure that our brands retain a strong-shelf presence.

How are you guys sitting in the pre- school space at the moment? What is the health of the pre-school sector like at the moment?

It seems as though our position in the pre-school sector has strengthened considerably over the last year. With the introduction of the new Edushape branding, we have had a significant number of new stockists come on board who are keen to add a trusted range of sensory toys to their offering.

Additionally, our core range of Halilit Musical Instruments and Toys has been bolstered by the keen uptake of this brand as the instruments of choice for many preschool music groups.

Pre-school is notoriously a very competitive space. How does Halilit maintain its standout and its position within it?

There is no tried and trusted formula for success, but we actively engage with our customers and listen to their needs and suggestions as to how best we can support them in order to meet our common goal of maximising sales.

In addition to supplying bespoke POS, one notable successful strategy has been to provide marketing support in the form of sensory samples to have out for customers to try before they commit to buying them.

We continue to enter (and happily win) awards which all helps with recognition and we have made a significant investment in our social media activity, working closely with influencers and generating awareness and demand for our ranges through creative activities such as our very recent ‘Aw Factor’ promotion which looks set to become a huge success.

What changes have you seen to the pre-school sector in recent months or years? Or what developments would you like to see take place in the sector?

A prominent topic in pre-school is that age categorisation should be overhauled to better target children with developmental products – what would your take on a topic like that be?

There seems to be an increased demand for items with longevity or those that can last through several developmental stages. Consumers are really feeling the pinch on their spending power and there appears to be an increased appetite for products that will help develop rather than just amuse a child.

Parents do look for guidance when choosing developmental toys and age appropriateness is key in helping them to make a decision, but once the safety aspect of an age recommendation is addressed, we believe that it is more important to explain the developmental benefits of a toy.

Children develop at different rates and in different ways and parents generally know what their child may need encouragement with, they just need to know how a particular toy can help them.

Can you talk us through some of the best performing lines for you in the preschool space?

That’s an easy one. Our award winners are performing best with notable high- performers being Taf Toys Hunny Bunny Stacker, Edushape Textured Pop Blocks and Halilit’s Musical Rings.

What do you guys think will be the next stage of development for the pre- school sector?

Honestly, we’ve got no idea. We are guessing more technology and interactive toys but that’s not what we are about – we believe that there will always be an appetite for non-tech toys that will help with essential skill development such as fine and gross motor skills, spatial awareness, emotional intelligence, creativity and human interaction, and that’s where all of our toys deliver in spades.

What’s next for Halilit? How will you maintain your position as a leader in the field for the coming years?

We’ve got some fantastic developments coming through for 2020 and beyond – new innovation across all of our ranges, and we are working closely with child development experts, focus groups and retailers to make sure that our products remain relevant and in demand for now and for years to come.

 

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