Autumn is upon us and it’s all on Christmas to keep the toy trade busy now, right? Well, maybe not.
As Halloween creeps up and Bonfire Night promises to be as explosive as ever, do these traditions offer toy retailers the opportunity to make an extra killing this Michaelmas?
For Neil Palmer, the owner of The Cinema Store, a London based cult movie toys and collectables shop, they do.
“Halloween is a big deal for us now, it’s nearly as big as Christmas for us,” he tells ToyNews. “It’s massively improved in the last four or so years. It’s a mini Christmas for us which spills over into Guy Fawkes as well.”
Stocking a range of masks and costumes from Rubies alongside more specialist products, Palmer seems staggered by the popularity the yearly scare event now enjoys.
“The whole thing has become a big deal now. Even the full size mannequins, which we sell for £300 to £400, do well. Halloween never used to be that big.”
In the last decade the largely American influenced tradition has seen an increase in popularity this side of the water, as consumer spend on Halloween has soared from £12m to an estimated £300m.
“Halloween is definitely increasing in popularity,” Toy Town Seaford’s owner Jeanette McGee tells ToyNews. “Kids see so much of it on TV and cartoons about trick or treating. They absolutely love it.”
Yet, while demand for the independents to embrace the tradition grows, it is the supermarkets that dominate the sector.
“It’s not really that pushed over here,” explains Palmer. “You get big firms like Tesco seeing it getting bigger, so there’s definitely a big market for more of it.”
But the independents are not short of support, as Rubie’s, one of the UK’s leading manufacturer and distributor of fancy dress and accessories, now trades with over 1200 independent retailers.
Alexandra Gilles, product manager of Rubie’s Masquerade Co., says: “Halloween is an overall event, from the little store next door to the big department stores to online retailers - it’s one to be embraced and loved by all.”
And Toy Town’s McGee is one retailer who certainly has embraced the tradition to its full extent.
“We have a really good face-painter who comes down and sets up in-store,” she explains. “We run competitions for best fancy dress, and then we have little stands around the store.”
And with a dash of creativity, McGee demonstrates that the celebration can be a relatively inexpensive affair. “Our most popular one - which was really gross - was a big inflatable coffin with loads of cooked spaghetti that had been dyed to look like worms.”
And as big names such as Tesco do tend to dominate the Halloween and Bonfire Night scene, McGee argues that the independent’s position in the community can help tip the tradition back in their favour.
“For kids who want to do something for Halloween, but whose parents aren’t keen on the idea of taking them trick or treating, events like ours offer them an alternative, a place to dress up and go to.”
Of course, Halloween is only half of this tale, and as more and more shoppers are returning to the High Street to shop locally, Bonfire Night may just present a few opportunities of its own.
Steve Kerrison, owner of Kerrison Toys, has been selling fireworks within his Norwich toy store for over 40 years, and it’s a revenue that has proven to be quite profitable.
“They are always popular and we still sell a lot of them,” states Kerrison. “Less and less people seem to do them, but it’s one area that you’re not battered on all sides by silly pricing.”
Selling fireworks all year round, Kerrison admits that the regulations of stocking the product can present difficulties, but once overcome, the hard work pays off.
“The demand for fireworks has grown and various indies have tried selling over the years, but the regulations do make it difficult. It is hard work, but we are very successful with this fireworks side of our business, so it is certainly worthwhile.”
“A lot [of independent toy retailers] don’t realise they can embrace the trade,” says Lee Beecroft, fireworks display organiser at Dynamic Fireworks, a UK retailer, event organiser and trade supplier of fireworks.
“We have worked with a few toy retailers in the past, but at the moment it is still very minimal. There are some legalities, but we always help retailers out with making sense of the legislation. “
Lee Smith, buyer and owner of fireworks trade supplier and retailer, First Galaxy Fireworks, adds: “It is actually very straightforward and simple and ten minutes with somebody who knows what they’re talking about can make it very easy for [a retailer] to do.
Whereas many suppliers of fireworks today concentrate their efforts on the supermarkets, both Galaxy Fireworks and Dynamic Fireworks seem to have found their niche working with the independent trade.
“Our business is mainly driven by the specialist retailers,” says Smith of Galaxy. “And we’re at a turning point where the popularity [of indies selling fireworks] is coming back.”
His optimism is driven by the belief that the independent retailer will always be able to offer the reassurance of specialist knowledge, a quality highly regarded in the sector.
“I would love to see more independents, particularly toy retailers embracing the fireworks trade. They are much more in tune with their business.
“The consumer wants to know that you know what you’re selling to them. Indies and specialists will have this knowledge and experience. We are actually using our retail website already for our trade customers to look at video and description of our products, we are looking to find more independents again,” concludes Smith.