Guide to toy retail

ToyNews brings you the essential list of the key toy retailers in the UK. Learn about the teams behind the shopfronts and each company's strengths and plans for the future...
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UK stores: 2
188-196 Regent Street, London
Contact number: 0871 704 1977

Hamleys’ Regent Street store opened in 1881 with five floors of toys and it remains trading as one of the most famous toy shops today, with seven floors of toys and games.

The retailer now also operates online, has recently opened a store in Glasgow and has a number of franchises throughout the UK, in train stations, airports and retail outlets.

In 2009 the firm linked up with Next to offer a selection of its toys in the Next Christmas catalogue alongside its gadgets and gift ranges.
The retailer operates stores in Denmark, Jordan, Dublin and Dubai as well and is planning an expansion programme in the UK and internationally over the coming years.

Meet the team:
Laura Olver – Head of buying


UK stores: 765
Argos Limited, 489-499 Avebury Boulevard, Central Milton Keynes MK9 2NW
Contact number: 0845 1240044

Argos sells products from over 700 stores throughout the UK and Republic of Ireland, online and over the telephone.

In the last financial year, its sales were £4.3 billion and it employs 33,000 people across the business.

The retailer serves over 130 million customers a year through its stores and four million customer orders either online or over the phone.
The Argos website was the most visited High Street retail website in the UK in 2008.

Meet the team:
Ian Chaplin – Trading manager, toys, nursery and entertainment
Caroline Jones – Product manager, Chad Valley
Sarah Hobson – Buyer, boys toys, games, construction and DVDs
Alison Harrison – Buyer, girls toys, science and arts and crafts
Rachel Gray – Buyer, infant and pre-school
Lindsay Rogers – Buyer, outdoor toys
Yannis Vaharoglou – Assistant buyer, boys, games and DVDs
Helen Bannister – Assistant buyer, girls, arts & crafts and dress-up
Catherine Johnson – Assistant buyer, infant and pre-school
Sarah Parker – Merchandise planner

Toys R Us

UK stores: 73
Mitre House, 160 Aldersgate Street, London EC1A 4DD
Contact number: 01628 414141

Toys R Us is a family leisure, baby care and toy megastore, with 73 stores in the UK and over 1,500 stores worldwide in 33 countries. It was founded in the UK in 1985 with the opening of five stores and has grown rapidly.

The range of toys, baby care, video games, multimedia PCs, bikes and outdoor products make Toys R Us a one-stop-shop for all the family’s needs. New stores opened in 2009 in Exeter and Kirkcaldy.

Meet the team:
Sarah Harding – Pre-school and educational toys buyer
Brian McLaughlin – Boys and vehicles buyer
Evelyn Chiu – Buyer


UK stores: 360
Asda House, Southbank
Great Wilson Street
Leeds LS11 5AD
Contact number: 0113 2435435

Asda has been selling toys for over 30 years. The toy range has stepped up significantly over the last 12 months with more focus on key brands and the right range. The success of the toy line-up is demonstrated in the retailer’s customer numbers, which are at a record level and continue to increase.

Meet the team:
Emma Lumley – Girls toys buyer
Georgina Cokill – Events and pocket money toys buyer
Tracey Brunton – Category marketing manager
Steph Strike – Toys general manager
Mark Spowart – Head of toys and pre-school toys buyer
Ben Coates – Boys and games toys buyer
Kim Barrientos – Trainee buyer boys and games toys buyer

WH Smith

UK stores: 1,026
WHSmith High Street, Greenbridge Road, Swindon SN3 3LD
Contact number: 01793 616161

WHS has been trading since 1792 as a newsagent and stationer. The business has expanded over the years to become a large estate that currently totals 562 stores on the High Street and 464 in travel (airports, bus and rail stations, services and hospitals).

The High Street business is focused on driving sales in four key areas: stationery, books, news and entertainment. Part of the sales drive in stationery includes toys and games. WHS has been retailing games and puzzles successfully over a number of years, occasionally bringing in toys.

Whilst games are still a large part of the business, a change in the marketplace has once again re-engaged the business’ interest in toys, and significant space has been given to the category. Toys will launch in around 400 stores this autumn/winter and this commitment to the industry is long-term.

Meet the team:
Liz Cooper – Buyer
Amy Maidment – Assistant buyer
Vicky Frampton – Merchandiser
Shirley Beadle – Trading controller


UK stores: 45
7 Enterprise Way, Aviation
Park, Bournemouth Int’l
Airport, Christchurch, Dorset
BH23 6HG
Contact number: 01202 596100

The US craft retail business model was the basis for the Hobbycraft stores when the idea for the business was first developed back in 1995.

The goal was to create arts and crafts superstores on retail parks, covering 7,000 to 10,000 ft, housing approximately 35,000 products
and catering for over 250 creative activities.

As Europe’s first, and the UK’s largest, chain of dedicated art, craft and hobby superstores, the retailer offers both branded and generic, own-label ranges across a wide range of pursuits that includes everything from knitting to cross-stitch, painting to framing and card making to model making.

Meet the team:
Rob Farnworth – Operations director
Chris Crombie – Chief executive
Dominic Hooley – Buying director

Address:, PO Box 192, Jersey JE4 8RP
Contact number: 01223 484000

THE LOW DOWN is an online entertainment retailer, which recently added a dedicated toy area to its site. The site is the UK’s third most visited online retailer with in excess of seven million customers.

The toy category holds around 2,500 SKUs and is still growing. Many of the toys are licensed goods, tying into the rest of the site’s offering and offering a cross-category experience.Toys on offer are aimed at all ages from pre-school to teens.

The category will have a range of genres from arts and crafts, plush, outdoor, games and puzzles, construction and more with both licensed and non-licensed products.

In February 2009, was named as the UK’s top retailer in The National Consumer Satisfaction Index (NCSI-UK), according to a survey about which stores British customers are most satisfied with.

Meet the team:
Frank Keenan – Product director
Anne-Marie Farrar –
Category manager
Sophie Cusick – Buyer
Graeme Gilkison – Assistant buyer


UK stores: 5, expanding to 17 over 2010
Alworths, Abbey House, 25 Clarendon Road, Redhill, Surrey
Contact number: 01737 852266

Alworths was set up by the ex-head of store and concession development of Woolworths, Andy Latham, and its first store opened in November 2009, 100 years to the day of the opening of the first Woolworths store.
The retailer stocks a mixture of toys, sweets, homewares, stationery, seasonal and garden products.
Meet the team:

Jill Martin –Marketing and proposition manager
Lisa Dower –Buyer
Paul Cox – Merchandising and visual operations manager

5 Ardwell Road
London SW2 4RT
Contact number: 0844 9221010

University friends Michael Smith and Tom Boardman set up in 1998 with the dream of retailing, marketing and manufacturing a select range of new and unusual products from around the world.

The company survived the dotcom boom and bust and has developed into a successful multi-channel retail operation including an award-winning website and a mail-order catalogue.

Originally building a reputation for having the latest gadgets, games and boys toys for men, Firebox now services a broader market, identifying the latest trends in consumer products to bring quirky and unusual designer homewares, gadgets and gift ideas to its customers ahead of mainstream retailers.

Meet The Team:
Alison Sakai – Financial director
Ben Fowler –Senior buyer
Christian Robinson – MD
Michael Smith –Co-founder
Tom Boardman –Co-founder and technical director
Steve Law –Operations director


UK stores: 250
HMV, Film House, 142 Wardour Street, London W1F 8LN
Contact number: 020 7432 2000

Entertainment retailer HMV is a music, film and games specialist. The retailer also offers popular culture products ranging from books and licensed products and toys to artist merchandising and other ‘cool stuff’.

Its related products are one of the fastest-growing areas of the business, as the company accelerates its diversification into popular culture. HMV is particularly well placed to cross-merchandise products generated from film franchises – ranging from DVDs to t-shirts, books, calendars, toys and other licensed products.

Meet the team:
Maxine Lister – Merchandising manager
Rudy Osorio – Head of music
Ali Arber – Advertising planner


UK stores: 221
Cherry Tree Road, Watford, Hertfordshire WD24 6SH
Contact number: 01923 241000

Mothercare is a specialist retailer
of products for mothers-to-be, babies and children up to the age
of eight.

The chain offers a wide range of maternity and children’s clothing, furniture and home furnishings, bedding, feeding, bathing, travel equipment and toys through its retail and internet operations in the United Kingdom, and also operates internationally through retail franchises in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and the Far East under the Mothercare brand name.

Meet the team:
Kate Morris – Head of buying

TK Maxx

UK stores: 235
50 Clarendon Rd, Watford, Hertfordshire WD17 1TX
Contact number: 01923 473561


TK Maxx sells designer and High Street brands at up to 60 per cent less than the recommended retail price. It is the only off-price retailer in the UK and Ireland and first introduced this American retail concept to the UK in 1994.

The firm was voted the country’s fourth favourite retailer in 2009 (source: Verdict) and is number 34 in the UK’s top 50 retailers 2009 (source: Retail Week).

A typical store has over 50,000 items in stock and receives 10,000 new items every week. Daily deliveries mean stock is consistently fresh, so customers find new gems every time they visit.

TK Maxx buyers negotiate deals from approximately 10,000 (ever-changing) vendors, in 60 countries, at any one time – which means lots of opportunities for branded bargains. The buyers buy every week of the year, all year round. This allows them to take advantage of opportunities as and when they arise.

Meet the team:
Beth Carey – Toy buyer


UK stores: 272
Victoria House, Newport Pagnell Road West, Northampton NN4 7JJ
Contact number: 01604 674477

Toymaster is a buying group for independent toy retailers with a USP of ‘Helping Our Members Trade More Profitably’. Toymaster trades as a mutuality and is 100 per cent owned by its members.

The stores (members) retain their independence while at the same time having access to the following: a year-round marketing programme, including catalogues and window displays; direct import programme; favourable trading terms with over 250 suppliers; central invoicing and The May Show.
Meet the team:

Paul Reader – Central office
Ian Edmunds – Central office
Andy Taylor – Toymaster at Ramsdens
Ciaran Fitzpatrick – Banba Toymaster
Gordon Walker – Conways Toymaster
Steve Hogg – Hoggosaurus Toymaster
Ian Edmunds – Central office
Jo Skelton – Central office
Chris Blatcher – The Ramsey Warehouse
Ciaran Burns – C & H Burns
Debbie Hartfield – Kids Stuff
Elaine Stott – Conways Toymaster
Sharon Eveson – Eveson Toys


UK stores: 32
Commerce Way, Lancing Business Park, Lancing, West Sussex BN15 8TA
Contact number: 01903 765 496

Modelzone is the UK’s largest model retailer and its aim is to bring the latest models to a wide audience by catering for both the casual shopper and dedicated collector alike.

When Model Aerodrome, which had been established for 40 years under the same ownership in Brighton, came on the market, the present owners, local importers, saw the opportunity to acquire a showroom for its products. This venture proved successful and a further four shops were opened under the same name.

Further expansion occurred in 1995 with a new shop in Croydon and in Plymouth. In 1999, the firm opened a Bluewater outlet. At this point, the stores were rebranded as Modelzone.

Since the successful launch of the eighth store, the company has grown to 29 shops nationwide, from Plymouth in the South West to Newcastle in the North East and the expansion continues.

Meet the team:
Gill Thomas – Marketing
Graham Poole – Buyer
Jane Evans – Merchandiser


UK stores: 525 supermarkets and 303 convenience stores
Contact number: 02476 439 100

Sainsbury’s is the UK’s longest-standing major food retailing chain, having opened its first store in 1869. Quality and fair prices go hand-in-hand with a responsible approach to business.

The firm now serves over 18.5 million customers a week and has a market share of around 16 per cent. Its large stores offer around 30,000 products and it offers complementary non-food products and services in many of its stores, including a range of toys. An internet-based home delivery shopping service is also available to nearly 90 per cent of UK households.

Meet the team:
Dawn Okell – Senior buyer
Lee Clark – Buyer
Christopher Drewitt – Buyer
Haylea Smith – Senior merchandising planner
Jo Barnes – Merchandising planner
Andrew Hartley – Merchandising planner
Steven Goss – Technologist

John Lewis

UK stores: 28
John Lewis Partnership, Carlisle Place, London SW1P 1BX
Contact number: 020 7828 1000

John Lewis began in 1864 with the opening of the first shop in London’s Oxford Street. ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’ is the firm’s unique promise that the price of any item it sells will always be as low as the lowest price in the neighbourhood. The retailer is supplemented by a growing online business –

Supported by its network of suppliers around the world, John Lewis department stores typically stock more than 350,000 separate lines. In July 2009, it came first in the UK Consumer Satisfaction Index from the Institute of Customer Service (ICS) and was named best High Street retailer at the Which? awards in 2009, as well as being the second overall and rated top in every sector in which it trades in an annual customer service survey by Which? in January 2009.

Meet the team:
Elaine Whiteman – Toy & book buyer
Rachael Stacey and Janine Richmond – Assistant buyers
Sarah Batty, Ellen Jarvis and Lee Talson – Buying administrators
Laura Sharpe – Toy and book merchandiser
Ben Archer – Assistant merchandiser
Michael Loveless, Russell Woolley, Michael Dumas – Merchandise assistants


UK stores: 403
Hilmore House, Gain Lane, Bradford, West Yorkshire BD3 7DL
Contact number: 0845 611 5000

Morrisons is the fourth largest supermarket in the UK, offering a range of goods including both branded and own label products. Its aim is to provide customers with the best value for money wherever they live and, uniquely, it has always charged the same prices in every one of its large stores.

Meet the team:
Laura Clements – Toy buyer


UK stores: 116
Cranmore Park, Shirley, Solihull, West Midlands B90 9LF
Contact number: 0121 713 4487

Following requests from members, Associated Independent Stores (AIS) launched its own toy buying group – Play-room – in June 2008. AIS is
the largest non-food buying group in the UK.

AIS Group facilities such as accounts, IT, logistics, catering,
e-commerce, e-procurement, marketing and visual display are all available to the Play-room team.

In addition, one of the division’s key strengths is its ability to offer a diverse range of product through key relationships with preferred suppliers. Currently, 110 carefully selected toy suppliers have signed up to the Play-room central payment system known as Cenpac.

Play-room currently has 56 members with 116 outlets. With further members eager to join up in 2010, Play-room is looking forward to yet another year of substantial growth. Any toy retailer that meets the required standards can apply to join – it is not necessary to be a member of AIS.

Play-room offers a comprehensive range of services, including an extensive and competitive fob import programme, access to clearance, broadsheet and window-to-shelf marketing, all of which are available to members via Members also receive a weekly newsletter and Cenpac suppliers receive a monthly version.

The highlight of the Play-room year is ‘Play–room at the Park,’ which will be held at Cranmore Park.

Meet the team:
Joyce Daly – Controller
Miles Penhallow – Manager
Charlotte Roberts – Administration


UK stores: 19
2nd Floor Block 2, Galway Financial Services Centre, Moneenageisha Road, Galway, Ireland
Contact number: +353 91 743600

Smyths Toys is a leading provider of children’s entertainment products – the company now has 26 stores in Ireland and new stores opening in Greater London.

The company’s goal is to provide consumers with an extensive range
of high quality products at competitive prices.

Smyths offers its customers a large range of toys, bikes and video games at low prices.

The firm says it stocks something to suit every child – including everything from nursery products to pre-school, toys for all ages, as well as bikes, video games and DVDs.

Its books and activity kits encourage learning and develop creativity for everyone.

Smyths’ stores are open seven days a week, all year round.

Meet the team:
Anne-Marie Garrett – Buyer

Patriot Court, 1-9 The Grove, Slough, Berkshire SL1 1QP
Contact number: 0800 496 1081

THE LOW DOWN strives to be Earth’s most customer-centric company where people can find and discover virtually anything they want to buy online. By giving customers more of what they want – low prices, vast selection, and convenience – continues to grow and evolve as a world-class
e-commerce platform.

Amazon constantly innovates for its different customers, whether they are individuals on its global websites, merchants who sell on its platform, developers who use its infrastructure to create business, or the creators of the books, music and films that it sells. The firm also believes that online shopping is more environmentally friendly than traditional retail.

Meet the team:
Ulrike Wingenter, category manager toys and baby
Ruth Shaw, senior buyer baby
Michelle Stern, buyer toys
Sue Powell, buyer baby



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