Simba Smoby: “Without social contact, pre-school toys have supported mental wellbeing this year”

Simba’s Smoby toy brand is a pre-school name that boasts a heritage of almost 100 years. When the pandemic first struck the UK, sending families indoors with limited access to the outside world, that century’s worth of trust and recognition among families looking for trusted toy brands to turn to, very much came into its own.

It’s according to Mayur Pattni, head of marketing and UK marketing manager at Simba Smoby Toys UK, that throughout the very worst of the UK’s battle with coronavirus, the Smoby brand – the company’s main and foremost pre-school name – thrived.

When temperatures reached their highest and the UK’s population of children – shut out from their usual pre-school routines – ventured into their own back gardens, it was the Smoby playhouses and outdoor toy lines that swathes were reaching for. Meanwhile, Simba was quick to jump on the surge in social media activity, ramping its own up in time to place the Smoby brand “front and centre” to ensure its position “as a trusted brand” among pre-school parents.

“One that people can rely on, even in tough times,” says Pattni.

Here, ToyNews catches up with Mayur Pattni, UK marketing manager at Simba Smoby Toys UK to talk about the success of the pre-school brand, the strength of the sector through the worst of the pandemic, and how measures taken around the Covid-19 outbreak have informed changes over the pre-school sector that he hopes to see continue.

Hello Mayur, thank you for joining us. To kick us off then, could you talk us through how business has been this past year? How has the market evolved and what adaptations have you had to make? What impact you think this has had on the pre-school sector this year?

We’re thankful that business has remained strong throughout this unprecedented year. Smoby, our main pre-school brand, has thrived this year. With families spending more time indoors and looking for ways to enjoy the great weather during lockdown, demand has been especially high for our Smoby playhouses and outdoor lines. 

How has Simba Smoby worked with these changes? What has been your reaction to the events of the year, and how has this helped you maintain your strength in the pre-school space?

We have been nimble in the way that we have reacted to the challenges that we have faced this year. We strengthened our team with new appointments, which has enabled us to continue dispatching orders and meet the heightened demand. 

Plus, Simba has really ramped up its social media presence over the last six months. Engaging with the consumer is more important now than ever before and this has made a world of difference to sales figures. Our social media activity has not only kept the Smoby brand front and centre, it’s also made us more of a trusted brand – one that people can rely on even in tough times.

To what extent do you think the pandemic has influenced change over the pre-school market this year, and what are the current trends to emerge from this? Have we seen a re-evaluation of the value of play and toys by parents? Has this filtered down through the pre-school space?

We’re seeing the power of trusted brands. With families venturing to the shops less, pester power has become less influential in the buying process, so parents and grandparents are purchasing the brands that they know and trust. Because of this, we’ve done really well with Smoby; the brand’s heritage spans almost 100 years. 

Beyond this, the types of toys families are purchasing has changed somewhat during lockdown. Toys with limited play value have not sold so well. Meanwhile, larger ticket items and toys that keep children entertained for greater lengths of time, like the playhouses and outdoor lines from Smoby, have been hugely popular. 

Parents have also been turning to toys that serve educational purposes amid school closures, so we did well with toys that could help supplement education. Again, Smoby is brilliant for this, as role play is a great way to get kids learning in a fun way. Take the Smoby Chef Corner Restaurant for instance; it has a cash register, which can be used to really help hone early maths skills at home.

With the social restrictions imposed this year in the fight against the spread of the corornavirus, how do you think 2020 has redefined pre-school play? 

In the absence of social contact, pre-school toys have provided entertainment, education, and they’ve supported mental and physical wellbeing. While this is what they have always been able to do, their ability to offer all of this when there are few other ways to achieve any one of these things is hugely significant. We don’t think families will be quick to forget this. 

Can you talk us through some of you key items for the pre-school market for this year and moving into 2021? What of those trends do you think will continue on?

Next year, we’ll be introducing a market-first plastic Teepee from Smoby, which can be pitched both indoors and outdoors. It’s got a simple, modern design and it evolves as children grow, making it suitable for kids aged two to 10 years old. We will also be launching some other great Smoby playhouses, such as the new Garden Playhouse, which comes with 15 accessories, including guttering, a water butt, a watering can, a plant trellis, and a detachable worktop. 

In terms of the trends that we think will continue, we expect parents will continue to stick with the familiar, trusted brands that were there for them in 2020, like Smoby. We also expect parents to continue using toys to help support development and learning at home.

How are you guys looking for the Christmas season and moving into the new year?

As we enter the all-important Christmas season, Simba Smoby Toys UK is in a really solid position. We have a great 2021 portfolio, a bigger, highly experienced team, plenty of wonderful retail partners, and many loyal consumers. 

We’d like to add that we’re really grateful for our retail partners. This year has not been easy, and we really appreciate all the additional time and effort they have put in to ensure that Smoby products continue to reach families when they need our products most.

Thank you, Mayur.

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