With a universe of toys at his disposal, and the entirety of the children’s entertainment market at his fingertips; you’d assume grandfatherhood was just another day at the office for Gary Grant, founder of the UK toy shop The Entertainer.
As any doting grandparent would attest, the role comes with some pretty basic blueprints; say yes to everything, concern yourself with the logistical fallout later on. Blueprints like these commonly apply to ‘ice cream before bed’ or ‘a treehouse for the cat’.
Less commonly do they include ‘a mobile vaccination centre for rural villagers in Pakistan.’ Yet here Grant has found himself, fleshing out the requests of a nine year old grandson whose penchant for philanthropy appears to have matured early, and with no one to blame but himself for it. Because in the Grant orchard, the apples don’t fall far from the tree.
Recognised industry-wide for his philanthropy, Grant is not shy of bringing his Christian faith into the business space. While many will notice this in The Entertainer’s weekend trading hours, or in the stock that the 172 UK shops carry – or don’t (you’ll find no Harry Potter or Halloween items on the family toy shops’ shelves) – it is actually the giant bounds forwards for the concept of ‘business’ it is taking behind the scenes, that puts this enterprise in a different league entirely.
The Entertainer is a business that places ‘giving back’ at the centre of its efforts, with no task too big or challenging; particularly when it comes to the idea of one nine year old and a nation’s vaccination crisis.
“[My Grandson] came home from school one day and said ‘Grandad, we need to buy an articulated lorry and turn it into a mobile vaccination centre’,” Grant recounts to ToyNews. “And I thought, ‘Right. We need to follow that up. If a nine year old thinks we should be doing that, we probably should be doing that.’”
One conversation with the retailer’s partner in the region later, and a plan to put a mobile vaccination clinic on the road in Pakistan, supplying Covid-19 jabs to the people living in the country’s small rural villages and most affected areas, is being put in place.
“The little lad is a genius,” says Grant, a businessman who has positioned his assets into a central role in the global efforts against the pandemic on more than one occasion this past 12 months. “It all feeds into the core philosphies we have at The Entertainer, to see ‘business as a force for good,’ and to reposition the idea of philanthropy.”
Because for Grant, philanthropy doesn’t need to follow the perceived trope. It’s not always about ‘millionaires spending money to do good things’.
“It’s not like that at all. Every one of us can be a philanthropist; it’s easy, it’s about getting on the journey of ‘how can I be generous?’” says Grant. “People can be generous with their skills, their time, their efforts, and their assets, just as much as with their money.”
You’ll find that culture within every strain of the firm’s DNA, from encouraging its staff to give a percentage of their monthly wage to charity, to working with the microgiving platform, Pennies to enable customers to make even the minutest donations with every purchase they make at the till. At the centre of The Entertainer is the desire to empower everyone to be a philanthropist; it’s a business that’s all about inclusion. Through its Pennies collaboration, for instance, the toy shop is able to raise £750,000 a year for charity, from customers largely unaware of the impact that rounding up their purchase to the pound can really make.
“Charities can budget so much better if they know what their monthly regular income is,” explains Grant. “They’re not waiting for one big check to come in every now and again. So we aim to encourage and facilitate generosity. Over 40 per cent of our staff give to a charity every month, which is unprecedented – it’s way off the charts of a normal business.”
But The Entertainer – a firm that tithes 10 per cent of its annual profits each normal year – is hardly one to adopt the ‘normal’ business model, is it?
It was at the beginning of Lockdown One last year that Grant utilised the company’s large warehouse in Bambury as a holding depot for Tesco deliveries destined for food banks across the UK, as well as a workforce and a fleet of delivery vans to help see it all to its various destinations – be those village halls, churches, or people’s own front rooms. The work was carried out in partnership with the Trussel Trust, with whom The Entertainer shares a close relationship.
“I remember speaking with their CEO months before the outbreak, saying if they ever need any support in any way, ring me,” says Grant. “And in early March last year, they did. They didn’t have the distribution facilities for the quantity of food being donated to them by Tesco – it was the equivalent of six articulated lorries of stock a day, for eight weeks.
“The stock came in bulk, so it had to be repurposed, i.e. scaled down into food bank type volumes and delivered around the country, so that’s what our warehouse transformed itself into, receiving six artics a day, reconfiguring the dispatches into the right mixtures of food for the banks, and delivering the palettes to hubs around the country.
“In the course of eight weeks, we had five million meals.”
Did it cost The Entertainer money? A little bit, Grant admits, but not a fortune. Certainly not enough to put any huge dent in the percentage it gives away each normal year. But it’s part and parcel, says Grant, of being in the business of selling toys to children, that all of the company’s ‘give back’ is to the families and children that support them.
And it doesn’t stop short at food bank distribution or mobile vaccination centres in the outer villages of Pakistan. The Entertainer has made its assets and resources available to countries such as Haiti who suffered Hurricane Matthew in 2016, doing so by utilising its partners on the ground in local areas. Which is why Grant is so meticulous when it comes to selecting the kinds of partners he works with.
“Take our partner in Pakistan, Mrs Seema Aziz,” offers Grant. “She is a lawyer by education and the co-founder and managing director of Retail 1 in Sefam. She also runs one of the biggest educational systems in Pakistan, educating 200,000 children. She started it up from one school in one village that had been badly affected by a flood.
“When she first told me this, I thought ‘you know what? I am happy to partner with you, you are a mover and a shaker.’”
To that end, you’ll quickly discover that the majority of the partnerships The Entertainer embarks upon, are with family business.
“Whether that is in Pakistan, Azerbaijan, in Singapore, Malaysia, the family in Greece who has our Early Learning Centre partnership, the family in Gibralta, the family business in Cyprus,” says Grant. “Wherever it happens to be because you can have a conversation with them about making a difference and they don’t turn around and say ‘shareholder money’, a family business is a different kind of business.”
For all the turns of phrase that Grant likes to apply to his own enterprise, it is perhaps this one that best summarises The Entertainer and its approach to the corporate world, whether it’s implementing the humanitarian ideas of a nine year old grandson, or encouraging philanthropy by community among its own staff members, there’s no question that this family business is a very different kind of business indeed.