Toymaster: “Indies are poised for a strong Christmas and we have a chance to listen to our members more”

With the cancellation of the Toymaster May Show, a structural change up among its company directors, and now the group’s first leap into the virtual space as it hosts its own virtual tours in place of the usual physical FOB meetings in October, the year has been unlike any other for the toy buying group.

However, like the independent toy retailers that it operates to serve, Toymaster has rolled with each punch thrown at it and stands now, buoyed and encouraged by signs that Christmas will arrive for the UK’s local toy shops – driven by rising trends in consumers hitting up their local high streets for local shopping – in a position of strength as it looks to take on the final quarter and propel itself into 2021, refreshed and ready to open conversation with suppliers and members alike.

Here, ToyNews catches up with Brian McLaughlin, Toymaster’s retail manager, to talk about the events of the year, the resilience of the independent toy retail scene, and how the buying group will be moving from strength to strength as we all head into the business end of 2020.

Hi Brian, thanks for talking with us,  and first up – what a year! How has it been for you guys, steering the Toymaster ship through such a time?
Its certainly been a very different year to normal, operating remotely and with a reduced team at times, but we managed to keep fully operational and kept in regular communication with our Members and Suppliers throughout.

We’ve seen a lot of structural changes at Toymaster over the past few weeks – how are things looking now?
We continue with business as usual! We have a great team at Northampton who are passionate with immense experience in running a buying group to support Independent retailers. Colin, Yogi and Paul have 85 + years’ experience at Toymaster and will take us forward into 2021 and beyond.

With the new leadership in place, how is Toymaster positioned in a place of strength for Q4 and beyond?
Our goal for Q4, like all other retailers is to come out of this year with a solid, sound and secure business that provides us with the perfect platform to face the challenges of 2021. All members of the team in Northampton will be encouraged to take a greater role and take more ownership in the process.

What will be the implications of the change up – will we see Toymaster eyeing new directions, exploring new avenues? What potential does it all offer the group?
We have the opportunity to listen to our Members more, they have all experienced a lot of changes to the way they operate their stores this year and we need to react as necessary if they would like us to do anything differently to support them.

We see conflicting reports around high street shops and Christmas, footfall is reportedly dropping again, but local shopping is reportedly a trend for this Christmas season – what’s the Toymaster take on the outlook for Q4?
The majority of our Membership are located in local/commuter towns, rather than the bigger towns and cities, so are benefiting from more people working from home and able to shop locally.

Members are also telling us that they are starting to see customers purchasing early for Christmas, in particular higher priced purchases, and we do anticipate sales will be spread out more rather than the usual last minute rush in December.

What is the strength of the independent toy shop? What do you think it means to be an independent toy retailer in 2020?
Independents are well positioned to have a strong Christmas, due to their ability to react quickly to any changes. This is even more important this year than ever, because the changes are happening at short notice and in many cases are happening at a local level, rather than a national one.

The biggest strength Toymaster Members have is each other – they have been communicating with each other and sharing advice and ideas throughout the year, utilising our Members forum to support each other.

How is Toymaster supporting its members through Q4 this year?
Toymaster is continuing to support it’s Members by offering services to help them compete. Our catalogue has been out since late September, but we will also have a flyer in November, to highlight some great deals and new items.

Key also will be our Christmas Window which allows them to create a great stand-out display in their local town by highlighting all the major brands they stock.

Have the events of the year evolved Toymaster operations? What’s the next step for Toymaster?
We’ve had to look at different ways of communicating and providing information and services to our Members.

The cancellation of the May Show was a big disappointment, but we still had to collate key product information from our Suppliers and make it available to all Members, along with the all-important order forms.

We have also had to cancel our Spring 2021 FOB meetings, planned for October, so for the first time we have done a virtual video tour of the range. This means we can still get the products out of the box and show our Members the features and benefits. It all helps with their decision making and ordering process.

Moving into 2021, we will continue to look for new ways to do things, with the input of our committees and also from listening to our Members and Suppliers.

About Robert Hutchins

Robert Hutchins is the editor of and ToyNews. Hutchins has worked his way up from Staff Writer to the position of Editor across the two titles, having spent almost eight years with both ToyNews and, and what now seems like a lifetime surrounded by toys. You can contact him by emailing or calling him on 0203 143 8780 You can even follow him on Twitter @RobGHutchins if ranting is your thing...

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