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Retail feature: Finding the community in isolation

It’s always worth remembering that in times like these, for every anxiety-inducing headline churned out to cook up one social narrative, there’s an equal and opposite act of positivity happening somewhere and being carried out by someone to counter it.

It is in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic that such acts have – but are often overlooked in favour of the bigger and brasher headlines – arisen. And nowhere has it been more prevalent than across the toy space.

Up and down the UK, toy retailers have taken up arms in the fight against coronavirus to help families, parents and children take on the necessary imposition of self-isolation, whether that is through door step or curb-side delivery services of toys, games, and craft kits to keep kids and families entertained over the coming months, or the generation of ideas and off er of support to locals.

Perhaps the idea of community has never been as important as it is now, and perhaps the local, independent toy shop is best suited to rally the message; after all, it’s the drum this sector has been beating loud and rhythmically for many a year.

ToyNews puts the topic to its Retail Advisory Board of experts: What positives can be drawn from the situation the UK, and the rest of the world, finds itself in right now, and what can the independent toy retailer do to overcome?

AMANDA GUMMER
Director, Dr Gummer’s Good Play Guide

We are living in crazy times, there’s no doubt, but I think it will just be about providing trusted sources of advice for parents in difficult times. Anything that they can do via their Facebook output and their social media channel – newsletters or anything like that, to A – keep themselves front of mind, and to B – support parents while they are going through all of this will do wonders in terms of loyalty and everything that comes with it.

If they have online facilities, they will be wanting to ramp those up and communicating the benefits of those to parents and families. If you don’t have an online platform, you could be offering to do deliveries for the local families by teaming up with a local shop that does, and work off the back of that – like a local clothes shop, or someone local with an online presence.

More than ever, this is going to be about community and rallying together. There are positives to look for in all of this, this could be a chance for local communities to come together, for social division to be repaired, and of course, for the environment to recover.

IAN EDMUNDS
Managing director, Toymaster

There are two things that we are telling our members, and first to that – which is paramount – is that they stay safe. Listen to the guidelines of the Government and all the rest of it, that is common sense whether you are in retail, or whatever you are doing.

The second thing is cash. Cash is king. Make sure you have cash. If that means not paying your landlord, HMRC, the rates are gone, not paying your bank or whoever. Talk to your bank and get it sorted. It’s all well and good the Government saying that there is help and that there is going to be help, but you need help now, don’t you. It’s alright with people proposing things, but where’s the wonga?

It takes time, we understand that; but what we are saying is that don’t pay your rates in the hope that it comes back to you at some point in the future. That’s all the advice at the moment, and if that is the right advice for our members, it’s probably the right advice for all those retailers who aren’t our members as well.

If you are being particularly cut-throat about all of this, the big positive about this is that it is happening now, and that it didn’t happen in November or December. That would have been disastrous.

One of the good things that our members have got is that they all talk to each other; share experiences and share ideas and share what’s working. I think, it’s early to say now of course, but there are a lot of issues out there that – once this does all go – will all become clearer because of this period, and this will certainly highlight what is really important to us and what is really important in life.

I will say that a lot of our Toymaster members are good with dealing with adversity and coming out strong, they have had a number of things thrown at them to deal with over the years, and have always known what to do and how to behave in a crisis before now, and will know how to handle the next crisis after now. They are a resilient and hardy stock.

PETER ALLINSON
Manager, Whirligig Toys

This is clearly a difficult time for us all. As a specialist in ‘things to make and do’, our customers are very keen to talk to us at the moment with the prospect of a number of weeks with children stuck at home.

They, and we, are aware that the internet will only sustain them for some of the time, so we are seeing people picking up arts and crafts kits, investigative toys and family games that everyone can do together. There are also a number of adults buying themselves kits to build whilst they are off .

Meanwhile, we are supporting customers by providing free delivery on all orders and putting additional lines onto our website so that they have the greatest choice possible. As a small online retailer, we do not have the massive warehouses but can also be more responsive as we don’t have to maintain a huge team to ensure delivery. As long as Royal Mail are operating, we can get toys to our customers.

The biggest issue for us is that our team members are all safe and happy. Ensuring business continuity is the priority for us so that we can keep our experience in house. Meantime, it is a great time to explore some of our toys in more detail and I’m personally looking forward to having some time to play with all the games we discovered at Toy Fair this year and some time to make up all the samples.

CHARLOTTE KHAN
Director, Moo Like A Monkey

We’ve spent a week dealing with this being re-active, desperately trying to navigate in a space no one recognises but it’s now time to switch gears and start being pro-active; taking control of our business as best we can in this situation by adapting to meet our customers changing needs.

Moo Like a Monkey is predominantly a brick and mortar shop with an online presence but we are working fl at-out to ramp up our online business while shutting down the physical shop (not for good, I hope). We very quickly started offering free delivery and delivered all local orders by (well-sanitised) hand. We are pushing products on social media which will benefit people stuck at home with their kids, activities and educational books etc.

The local community especially have shown overwhelming support for our business, people genuinely don’t want to lose the independent businesses which are part of the identity of the town they live in. They are rooting for us and we are determined to cling on until this is over. We will take the support the government is offering and we will continue to be up beat and positive through our social media channels, because everyone is sick of bad news.

I genuinely believe good will come of this, if we survive it, customer loyalty, appreciation of small independent business and a genuine strengthened community.

 

About Robert Hutchins

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