INTERVIEW: ToyTown's Brian Simpson - ToyNews

INTERVIEW: ToyTown's Brian Simpson

He may have only been in the industry three years, but Brian Simpson has already helped to lead ToyTown through an economic recession and into healthy expansion. Robert Hutchins asks about the retailer’s new stores in East Kilbride and Croydon, plus his plans for the future
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ToyTown is growing.

By the time this magazine went to press, ToyTown manager, Brian Simpson had just opened his 24th store, moving into the East Kilbride shopping centre located just south of Glasgow.

As you read this, preparations are more than well under way for the opening of the 25th, this time in Croydon, opening its doors in early October. Not bad for a family run business first established in Belfast in the late 70s.

“We have grown slowly, but solidly,” Simpson tells ToyNews. “We made sure our business was in control of its expansion, something not many people in Ireland looked into at the time.

“The Celtic Tiger meant people tended to open as many stores as possible and before they knew it, it was too big for them to actually control properly.

“We now have 24 ToyTown stores, we are currently opening one at the minute and there will be a 25th by October.”

Boasting three and a half thousand square feet of toys and collectibles, the new store will be moving into the same building as Croydon’s recently vacated Allders Department Store, and Simpson is looking forward to the expansion.

“We will be opening the stores with the whole shebang. There will be activites and promotions to get the foundation and awareness of these stores into full flow before the Christmas rush. With these stores being concessions within department stores, we fully partner with the owners of these stores to have a grand opening event in each.”

At only 27 years old, Simpson’s plans for expansion do not end here, but instead of drawing up a long-term schedule, the young retailer adopts a slightly different approach.

“This may sound odd, but we don’t plan our growth as such. Instead we look at the individual opportunity that comes our way and if we deem that it will provide a service to a town and therefore a profit, then we will look for a deal to be done.

“I don’t wake up on January 1st and say ‘this year there’ll be four’.

“We are a small family business, we don’t have teams of people to plan like that. We take our opportunities just as they come.”

With concession stores placed within numerous large department stores across the UK and Ireland, and new stores opening this month, it’s hard to believe that ToyTown started the year on the back foot.

“When Allders went into administration, it worried me. It traded as probably our third or fourth biggest store, and its loss was a huge chunk of business for our other stores to try and recoup,” says Simpson.

“However, other stores have really pulled their socks up and we’re actually trading up year on year, it’s actually been absolutely fantastic for us this year.”

In tough economic times, a turn around such as this, transforming the loss of one store into the opening of four new ones since Allders demise, is certainly no mean feat, and is one that Simpson puts down solely to hard work.

“We managed, as a team, to work hard enough to not feel the recession. I know of a lot of people that work extremely hard and have not been so ‘lucky’, but we have done everything within our power to improve and drive our business, and it is paying off for us.

"Now we are strengthening our business and consolidating it as we go so we have seen consistent growth every year for the last five years. It’s tough, but good going and with the hard work that we have put in and the effort we have made, we are hitting targets every single week.”

Of course, exploring expansion models and fighting recessions are only part of the work that Simpson enjoys so much, as he also ensures he keeps his eyes firmly on the season’s hottest products, starting his career as the head buyer within ToyTown.

“Monster High and LEGO have been our big sellers of the year so far. Monster High has just been absolutely phenomenal. The recently released 13 Wishes doll will be very sought after in the run up to Christmas."

“And LEGO is riding the wave at the moment, between its Super Hero, Galaxy Squad and City ranges, LEGO has just been exceptional for us."

“I am really looking forward to The LEGO Movie next year. Watching the trailer, it looks absolutely brilliant. And because they’re not just going from scratch and only introducing a couple of core ‘unheard of’ characters, they are working in their portfolio of licensed characters such as Batman and Turtles among others that they already control – my goodness, you couldn’t ask for anything better.”

So, as the run up to Christmas shopping season fast approaches, what is Simpson predicting to make a big impact?

“I wasn’t around whenever Teksta was released about ten years ago, but it is definitely one to watch for this year; with the PR that Character Options are doing on this line I think it will see exceptionally high sales.

“I am also very interested to see what happens with Doc McStuffins and Princess Sofia which will be very strong this year. But, Disney always creates evergreen products [such as these] and I don’t know if after a couple of years there will be enough room in the pre-school girls market for both. It will be interesting to see how they fight it out this year.

“Moshi Monsters is a craze item, and by nature crazes always slow down at some point.

“Vivid have done an excellent job of keeping this brand so strong for the last few years, but we have noticed a slight dip in sales, so it will be interesting to keep an eye on this and see how Mind Candy’s plans to keep the brand alive come to fruition.”

The young business owner speaks passionately about his products, and it’s probably just as well, as he plans on sticking around for a while.

“I want to be doing this all my life.

“We have an exceptional team in our head office and out in our stores that really back up what we see as our vision about being a great High Street retailer.

“Toys are an exceptionally interesting and dynamic form of retail trading. I enjoy it very much and I am hoping to be able to provide good jobs for all our staff with a great business that makes a solid profit from its turnover.

“The retail trade has changed hugely over the last number of years. The economic recession has caused a reduction on spending and forced people to look differently at how they use their cash.

“All we can do as toy retailers are provide an excellent service and a great retail experience to everyone of our customers.”

Simpson concludes: “I am forever grateful to our suppliers for their effort in helping service our business. I get worried every year with increasing cost prices and stagnant RRPs, and at some point I will be forced not to stock brands that don’t allow me to make a profit.

“But for the most part, we have very strong relationships with all suppliers and it is great to have their backing right through the year.”

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