North by North-West

A trip up to Halsall's impressive showroom at its Fleetwood HQ underlines the breadth of its toy range, including an impressive array of licensed items. Ronnie Dungan pointed his compass North to see it all for himself...
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The sometimes understated nature of Halsall’s approach is belied by its massive showroom at its Fleetwood HQ. It can take almost as long to navigate your way around the firm’s impressively broad range as it does to reach the firm’s office in the North West. But it’s worth the trip.

Within it the firm displays products boasting an impressive array of well-known licenses – Dora the Explorer, JCB, Barbie, Batman, Spiderman, The Simpsons, WWE, Scooby Doo – and many more across a range that incorporates everything from pocket money to ride-ons.

While the firm makes plenty of noise within the trade, unlike many of its counterparts in the UK market it doesn’t grab the headlines outside of it. And it seems to like it that way.

MD John Hutt says the firm is regarded by many of his retail buyers as the trade’s best kept secret.

“I’m always told by my retailers that we’re their little secret,” says Hutt. Which is nice. They look forward to coming up here. They know anything is possible. We learn from our customers and it’s a good relationship. Nobody covers the UK market better than us. We deal with every major retailer. We have very long tentacles.”

The firm has built up the toy side of its business progressively, having moved away from the gift market and now boasts, aside from its broad array of licensed lines, one of the trade’s most comprehensive FOB ranges.

That's the result of the firm’s long-standing association with suppliers and manufacturers in Hong Kong of some 35 years or so.

Hutt also believes, with some justification, that nobody does FOB better than Halsall.

“It makes a big difference when you sell to as many markets as we do – Europe, the Middle East, the US, South America, Mexico.”

And it has undoubtedly helped grow the firm’s international business, which has become essential to its continued growth and progression.

Like many firms of its size, Halsall wants to achieve that growth but remain flexible enough to be able to cater for the needs of its suppliers with fast turnarounds and a management structure that remains true to its entrepreneurial roots.

“The biggest is not necessarily the best,” says Hutt. “If we become too big we become a big animal. We need to be really proactive and reactive. We need to be able to turn on a penny.”

Which is one of the reasons why he says the firm has no plans for a floatation at the moment.

And although its range is dominated by licensed product, and it’s something that it is constantly looking to expand, having its own brands is key to ensuring it controls its own fortunes.

“Having our own IP brings stability and identity,” says Hutt. “We’re very ambitious. We’ve got a great team and the right people and it will happen. It’s just about being focused.”

Marketing director Andrew Coplestone adds: “Licensing is probably 30 per cent of our business and it’s growing and it’s something we’re looking to grow further. The biggest investment is actually in tooling and product though.

“A few years ago there was a reluctance to invest in licensing. The focus was more on creating a business. Now we have our own design team and focus group. And of course we use external designers too.

“Over the past few years there has been a recognition that we are manufacturers and not importers. It’s part of a long process, but what’s important is that we are a strategic partner of a number of key retailers.

“We’re an entrepreneurial business and we understand their pressures and what drives their business. We’re strongest in our key categories of pre-school, role-play, prams and pushchairs and we’re number one on pocket money toys too.”

There's not a lot that Halsall doesn't supply. But although there are other sides to the business, it is now very much a cornerstone of the UK toy trade and it’s in no hurry to change that.

Halsall licences

Baby Annabell
Baby Born
Dora the Explorer
Fifi and the Flowertots
Gogo’s Crazy Bones
Mamas & Papas
Roary the Racing Car
Science Museum
Silver Cross
The Simpsons
Underground Ernie
The X Factor

New for 2009

Ben 10
Wall E
Peppa Pig
Gazillion Bubble
Disney Fairies
Hannah Montana


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