Having shrugged off any uncertainty surrounding the indie retail sector earlier in the year when Youngsters went under, Toymaster is, six months down the line, a bigger and possibly stronger group.
At a time when a lot of retailers were experiencing problems with credit insurers pulling out on them, which proved to be the coup de grace for Youngsters, Toymaster had already been working closely with its own credit protectors to ensure its own position was secure.
Ironically, the group’s own problems with the demise of the Greens and Toymaster Kingdom store chains, two of its biggest members, proved to be useful in demonstrating the group’s own ability to cope with financial difficulties among its members.
“The question you sometimes get asked is what is your doomsday scenario and the answer is we’ve already faced it,” says managing director Roger Dyson.
“What seems to bring a lot of retailers down, and I don’t just mean toy retailers here, is that credit insurers pull out on them.
“We’ve worked with our credit insurers closely over the last three years since the Greens bust and with KPMG too, and our credit insurers have stayed with us. None of them have cut their limits and the smaller ones are happy to increase them should we wish to. The major ones not cutting us has been a real vote of confidence for us.
“The fact that we had managed Greens and Toymaster Kingdom going under stood us in good stead with them.”
And since the disappearance of Youngsters plenty of former members have jumped ship to Toymaster. Around 34 former Youngsters stores are now Toymaster members, with more arriving all the time.
“The membership issue is a moving target. What’s happening is that some Youngsters members decided they needed the strength of a group straight away and others have taken their time and considered their options.
“There are probably three main reasons why retailers join a buying group. Firstly, the amount of admin they would otherwise have to do is phenomenal. There is probably, on average, about 80 suppliers to deal with and all the other people they have to pay on top of that. They can end up with 40 invoices a month.
“Dealing with suppliers outside of a buying group is almost impossible and the payment terms are also better with in a group too.
“But the key difference is that outside of a buying group, there’s no way to access FOB. And the other thing they wouldn’t have access to is the marketing – the catalogue and the windows.”
Toymaster’s efficient but, seemingly, relaxed approach is down to its single-minded focus on its mission to help its members says Dyson.
“There’s nothing else for us to do,” he explains. “And everyone in this office understands that. That’s why it is easy to stay focused – we just have a single task. It’s a bit like an orange. You may see plenty of segments but it’s still only one orange.”
And despite the tough trading conditions and portentous statements about retail declines and recession coupled with shaky optimism in the toy market itself, he believes his members are doing…OK.
“Retail is tough. It’s difficult, but it’s not impossible. At our May show they weren’t cutting orders.”
And his message to the members, already well communicated through the constant stream of newsletters and information through the members’ area on its website is a simple matter of differentiation.
“There’s no point doing the same thing as Woolies. If you consider what an independent retailer is, they’re a niche trader.” Ian [Edmunds] spends a lot of time talking to retailers about duplication, range etc.
“People want service. You have to stick to what you know,” adds Edmunds.
Dyson believes good independent toy shops will always be a destination within a town and it’s this is one of the factors that gives him his underlying optimism in the future of indie retail.
“There has to be a heritage with a toy shop in a town. Whenever I go anywhere I ask people where the nearest toy shop is and they always say ‘we’re really lucky, we’ve got a really good one here’. “