“The main aim this year is not to have a repeat of 2010’s last minute nerves, shall we say,” Toymaster’s operations director, Ian Edmunds explains to ToyNews ahead of the buying group’s annual three-day show in Harrogate.
A fire at the Majestic Hotel last year, less than two weeks before the show was due to be held, meant Toymaster had to shift venues to the Harrogate International Centre. But, while both its members and the industry were elated that the show went ahead at all, the buying group felt that some of the more ‘Toymaster’ elements were lost.
This year, all public areas of the Majestic are open once again and Toymaster returns to what it affectionately calls its ‘spiritual’ home.
“It’s a very different animal running the show in a conference centre, as opposed to running it in a hotel,” explains Edmunds. “I think suppliers would have been happy if we’d stayed in the conference centre, but as far as we’re concerned, we lost a lot of the ‘Toymaster’ bits that we wanted to get across. Things like members networking, talking and sharing experiences. At the end of the day, if we were going to run a show in a conference hall, Toymaster wouldn’t run it. That’s not what we do; it’s not Toymaster, if that makes any sense.”
However, Edmunds confirms that the show’s future lies with the Majestic – indeed, it’s booked up to run there until 2020.
All exhibition space for this year was sold out back in early February and a good proportion of suppliers on the showfloor will have some kind of deal on offer for visitors.
“For members this is a very, very important show,” states Edmunds. “This is not a Toy Fair. Toy Fair is a ‘looking at’ show. This is very much an ordering show.”
The networking element, too, is a vital component. “One of the best things about being in the group is sharing experiences with likeminded people. Finding out from other people what they’ve done in the last year, what worked, what didn’t and generally picking up on things.”
For non-Toymaster members, too, the event is becoming an important fixture in the calendar. “We think it’s a good showcase for what we do, so why not let other independents come and look around. They’re welcome to come and find out more about the group, or just to look around, there’s no pressure. We get around 150 of our accounts and probably another 100 independent non-members.”
Levels of business in the independent sector are still considerably above what they were in 2008. After the collapse of Woolworths in 2009, the sector had a fantastic year, although Edmunds admits that 2010 wasn’t so good. It’s not all doom and gloom though, with trading in the first two months of 2011 actually being better than expected.
“In truth, we thought the first two or three months [of the year] would be down, but for most of our members the first two months have been alright, because the suppliers have come through with some good product.”
Edmunds is under no illusions, however, that 2011 is going to be a tricky year, although come November hopefully lost trade will be put back on. But what’s his ultimate aim for this year?
“I’d like to think that in a year’s time, we’ve still got all our members, they come out of Christmas with less stock than they came out of it last year and we’ve achieved our mission statement, which is very simply to help our members trade more profitably. That’s all it is.”