Lockdown II: Indie retailers call for ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ equivalent for toy shops

Independent toy retailers have called on the UK government to initiate plans to help high street traders recover from the loss of income brought by the current second country-wide lockdown with a concept similar to the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ initiative that was launched earlier this year.

The call has come amid widespread worry among independent toy stores, who have been forced to close under the ‘non essential’ retail branding, while others – the ‘essential retailers’ – have begun to capitalise on the demand for toys and games amid the peak trading time for the toy industry.

Independent toy shops and hobby specialist have been very vocal on the matter over the last two weeks, as well as offering up speculation over whether what has become known as Lockdown II will be lifted in time for indie shops to make any money in the build up to Christmas, the most pivotal time in the calendar for the toy industry.

Such is the worry that many have called on the UK Government to assure the country’s retail sector that Lockdown II will be lifted by December 2nd. In an interview with Good Morning Britain this week – the first MP interview with the ITV morning show in six months – Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health, refused to rule out a lockdown Christmas.

In the absence of any concrete assurances at all, independent retailers have now began to call for measures to be taken, which include demands for a scheme similar to Rishi Sunak’s Eat Out to Help Out campaign, that will encourage shoppers to use their local, independent stores – be that online or in-store shopping – if and when they are allowed to trade again.

“I would love to see the government look to support local retail in the same way they had the “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme when the lockdown is lifted… if it’s lifted…” David Neale, co-founder of Bird and Bear Toys told ToyNews. “That would be a huge injection for us, and the local high streets across the UK. If the lockdown isn’t lifted, well I just don’t know. I’d rather not think like that to be honest.”

It was around six months ago that the entrepreneurial trio behind Bird and Bear Toys took a leap into the world of toy retailing with the launch of its independent toy shop. A pooling of toy industry and children’s sector talent that includes Craig Kidd, a 25 year toy industry expert, David Neale, the account director on a sister toy agency business, and Stacey Neale a teacher and child sector expert, Bird and Bear Toys has had to navigate a business launch through some of the most inhospitable landscape the sector has seen in over a decade.

“The impact of the lockdown is going to have huge implications across the board. As both a small retailer and an agent in the toy and gift industry, my livelihood has been decimated,” Neale continued.

“Many shop owners I work with are just as furious as me as we have been left at the wayside. I know of several businesses who have already closed for good, and others who don’t think they’ll have anything left by January.”

Predominantly an online business, Bird and Bear Toys has, for some of its earliest months, and while government restrictions and Covid-19 measures allowed, taken a spot at the retailer’s local Saturday market in Hitchin. Talking openly about its decision to set up shop in the midst of a global pandemic, Bird and Bear Toys is under no illusion that its move wasn’t an ‘interesting one,’ but that it has, so far, been able to take advantage of its size and ability to “change with the times”.

But that hasn’t washed away the bitter taste left by the single matter that while independent toy shops up and down the country keep their doors shut, retailers and supermarket deemed ‘essential’ via what has been dubbed the ‘Lockdown Loophole’ have been able to capitalise on this year’s current increase in demand for toys and games.

The stationery retailer, Ryman is one that has been the focus of online ire, with indie retailers questioning its position as an essential retailer while highlighting its increased stock of toys and games in the build up to Christmas. Speaking on social media, the eco-conscious children’s lifestyle store and community space, Small Stuff highlighted the topic.

“Let’s keep this conversation going – I’ve had so many messages and emails about this. So many loopholes, loopholes that are being exploited,” it said.

Bird and Bear Toys’ Neale is among the many to be left feeling let down by a system with so many grey areas that have allowed many retailers to keep their doors open.

“I am disgusted about the loophole,” he said. “One of the things that I laugh wryly at is the picture you’ll see on social media that “we’re all in the same boat.” My answer to that is that we are all in the same storm, just some have a yacht whilst others have a life raft with no paddle.

“I was joking with a friend that we should look to sell tomatoes and bread and claim that we are also essential. The big stores are mopping up on sales, while others of us are sitting on Christmas stock unsure if we’ll even get the chance this side of Christmas to sell it. And that’s not to mention that our suppliers still need to be paid.”

For Neale, it’s not been an easy launch for the business. The company co-founder is currently working a third job at his local supermarket to ‘bring in a little bit of extra cash’ for a family that is preparing to welcome a fourth addition in a matter of months.

“We are incredibly nervous how we’ll cope financially if another lockdown is imposed as we’re still reeling from the others,” Neale continued. “It’s incredibly frustrating that we are having to work so hard just to try and survive, but there are many people I work with who are in the same boat.

“I’d love to just shout out to all the amazing small, independent businesses that are still supporting their communities. There are so many wonderful people I know who are striving to do the best they can, and I just really hope that people choose to shop small and local as best as they can when the lockdown is lifted.”

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