Community spirit, providing toys and packages to local food banks and providing online resources and toys throughout a year plighted by the pandemic are just some of the values being celebrated among the winners of this year’s Retailer of the Year awards.
Taking on a different approach to its awards initiative this year following the various challenges that have been thrown at the retail sector over the past year, the British Toy and Hobby Association has selected its winners for their show of altruism and innovation, as well as their willingness to go the extra mile for customers.
Ireland’s Toy Corner, Devon’s Trading Post, The Entertainer, and Smyth Toys have been named winners of this year’s Retailer of the Year Award, each having displayed ‘community spirit in various ways’ such as in partnerships with local businesses and providing toys and packages to local food banks.
“This is a change from our usual awards,” said Phil Ratcliffe, president of the BTHA and chair of the Retailer of the Year judging panel. “We made a conscious decision this year in the retail landscape to take a completely different tack on the Retailer of the Year awards and celebrate the retailers who have gone the extra mile.
“We are not using our historic categories, instead we are celebrating altruism and innovation and we have received lots of entries demonstrating this. This year we have decided not to award an overall Retailer of the Year, as toy retail from every quarter contributed massively.
“Over the last 12 months, retailers across the industry, both small and large, have shown great spirit and dedication in adapting and shaping their business to help support and provide for customers despite the challenges they have faced throughout the continuing pandemic. We are mindful that there have been many great acts of support and generosity during the pandemic across the industry but the panel can only judge those who entered or were nominated.”
One of a handful of local independents and the only toy store in the local area, Galway’s Toy Corner has only just finished celebrating its first year anniversary, having opened its doors to customers a matter of weeks before the coronavirus pandemic took a hold in the UK.
Staffed by a team of one, Toy Corner’s owner, Hazel McCarthy has called the recognition of the store’s local endeavours as “truly wonderful”.
“Toy Corner has now been open one year, and what a year it has been,” McCarthy told ToyNews. “I am so fortunate that all the hard work and creativity throughout 2020 will allow me to continue to grow my business in 2021, and for Toy Corner’s innovation to be recognised with this award is truly wonderful.”
A proud Galway local, McCarthy likes to maintain a local identity within her toy shop through he use of the Gaeltacht language, and ensures she does what she can improve the use of the cúpla focal where she can in conversation, social media and even in the bilingual signage she employs in store.
“It’s a really wonderful aspect of life in Galway that I love,” she said. And to that end, she added: “Tá áthas orm ghlacadh leis an mbronnadh seo, is iontach an rud é gur aithnítear an obair dian a dhéanaim anseo.”
Over in Devon and Julia Wingate, owner of the Kingsbridge toy shop, Trading Post – a store split 60/40 between bikes and toys, revealed that she is “honoured” to have received recognition for her small, local shop.
“For what is a small toy shop in southern Devon, a long way away from other bigger shops and cities, it is a great honour to have received this award,” she told ToyNews. “We’re in a very vibrant market town with over 100 other independent shops where the local community is really felt and celebrated. Our customers are 90 to 95 per cent local customers, and through the various lockdowns, our resident local community is what you have to survive on.
“They have been supportive of us, and we have done our best to support them, by doing extra things like deliveries, click and collect, sharing things on social media and so on.”
Not quite a one-man-band, Wingate’s Trading Post – a staple of the Kinsbridge community for the past 50 year, 25 of which under her own stewardship – has ensured those locals have had their orders delivered, at times taking to her bicycle to ensure toy and gift drop-offs are successfully made, all Covid-safe, of course.
“It’s been tough working through these very turbulent times, but what it has taught me is to be more resilient and more flexible, and to stay positive throughout it all. If you stay positive, you can normally glean something out of hardship. I’d like to say to the retailers out there, stay positive – we’re in this and it will get better.”
The Superhero Award
This year, the British Toy and Hobby Association has also introduced the Superhero Awards in order to recognise and celebrate staff within retail who have gone above and beyond normal service this year.
The winner of the inaugural Ultimate Superhero Award is Armadillo Toys’ own Lisa Clay, praised for continuing to deliver ‘excellent services to her customers and community, while using innovative ideas to make safety restrictions in her shop child-friendly and fun.
Clay has worked each day of the lockdown and delivered toys to customers herself, as well as sorting postal orders and arranging for collection. She also created her own character, Sally the Social Distancing Spinosaurus, who had socially distanced dinosaur footprints around the shop, as well as Sally’s special sanitising station, among other initiatives and activities.
On her win, Clay told ToyNews: “I am very humbled and proud at the same time, so thank you to the BTHA for this award. As a small, independent shop we have to try harder and harder every year, we have to compete with the huge online giants, supermarkets and the multiples, so it is amazing to feel that you can be seen and noticed amongst the larger players.
The BTHA has recognised a number of individuals who have gone above and beyond to help their community this year, with efforts ranging from volunteering for the NHS, helping their local community, raising funds and volunteering for local charities and more.
The Individual Hero Award Winners, are:
Ultimate Superhero Award: Lisa Clay, Armadillo Toys, Leeds
Lisa Dyson, Games Crusade
Nouman Qureshi, Ebay
Craig Whiting, The Entertainer, East Kilbride
Julie Robbins, The Entertainer, Jersey
Karen Stacey, The Entertainer, Brent Cross
Layla Owen, The Entertainer, Llandudno
Chantel Lopez, The Entertainer, Ashford
Inna Nikolova, The Entertainer, Stratford
Jade Oliver-Deacon, The Toy Shop Okehampton
Kelsey Davis, The Entertainer, Hereford
Paul Hart, The Entertainer, Telford
Karen Emery, The Entertainer, Area Manager
Kelly Martin, The Entertainer, Brighton
Bespoke awards have been made for each of this year’s Retailer of the Year awards by Golden Bear. The winners of the Toy of the Year Awards will be announced by the TRA in the coming days.