Flair’s current trading is very much of a worry to boss Peter Brown.
As we know, these are tough times and many companies in this market are cutting marketing budgets, forecasts and in many cases jobs too.
Not so with Flair, however, which is currently trading 39 per cent up on last year and enjoying record success. The problem is typical of the man, who is anything but smug about it, to worry that any publicity given to the firm’s current purple patch, might be seen as vainglorious, set against such a background of relative austerity.
“We’re a fairly modest company, so it’s always a bit of an embarrassment to talk about numbers. I feel for our fellow distributors who are struggling,” says Brown, lighting another Monte Cristo with a £20 note.
Actually, anyone who knows him will probably be delighted that the firm is currently thriving so. It may have been the suggestion that we photograph him on a bed covered with £10 notes that set off the egalitarian in him and got the alarm bells ringing.
Nevertheless, the sentiment is genuine. But the firm should be rightly proud of its performance over the last year. It adds further weight to the notion of continuing to invest in marketing and product in a recession.
“It’s fortuitous. We can claim credit for some of it, but it’s just the way the situation panned out,” says Brown.
“Everything is working at the moment and the acquisition of Flair by Giochi Preziosi has made a difference. They said ‘go for it’ and encouraged us to increase our advertising and marketing efforts to drive them to the level they wanted to see. Shipments are up 59 per cent. The company as a whole is up 39 per cent and our order book up 56 per cent.”
The firm’s boys’ collectibles range Gormiti is up 64 per cent year on year and there is an accompanying TV series coming soon which should cement its success further.
GX Racers has just launched and is also performing above expectation, giving the firm a strong boys’ offering. And in girls’ toys, Sylvanian Families is reaching a new audience through the independent sector, while arts and crafts products are also experiencing an uplift. Its Beano Comic Maker line is one of its best selling items.
Marketing spend is in line with the growth. There is significant investment in advertising on TV, POS, core advertising, displays, end caps… right across the board.
Of course, such unexpected growth has been a test of the firm’s ability to fulfil its order book and maintain customer service levels.
“Traditionally we have had very high service levels. And if in January we had said we would increase by 50 per cent, people would say we were off our rockers. One of the things we increasingly have to deal with is meeting customer requirements.
“We forecast 27 per cent growth and we are trading well above that. Shipments are up a similar level. We just say to people be aware that we have to manage this growth. We sink or swim through support of our customers and the last thing we want to do is let them down.”
But other than an increase in marketing spend, backed by its Italian owner Giochi Preziosi, what is it that Flair is doing right?
“In a recession the type of products we are offering seem to be attractive to consumers. They are turning away from the glitz and bling and want products with longevity and play value.
“We always try and position ourselves as a company with products that offer enduring play value and I think customers recognise that.”
But whilst Brown can maybe optimistically forecast growth with such strong new lines and an up in marketing, it’s the level of the increase which has surprised him.
“When you start a company you can put on that kind of growth initially and its almost expected, but we’re ten years old.”
Ever the industry uncle Brown cannot enjoy his success without thinking about the wider picture. In order to sustain the growth he needs a growing market. “We hate to see our competitors not doing well,” he says. “We’ve all only got one set of customers and we need to keep them healthy, we need a buoyant market.”
Despite his wider worries, Brown is enjoying his success. He knows its certainly a nicer problem to have than some are having to deal with at the moment.