'We will continue to bring more events, more experience and great products to the West End,' says The Toy Store - ToyNews

'We will continue to bring more events, more experience and great products to the West End,' says The Toy Store

September 2015 saw The Toy Store make its UK debut, opening its first store on London’s Oxford Street. Robert Hutchins catches up with Geoff Sheffield, director of purchasing and licensing at The Toy Store, to find out how the first four months of trading have been and what 2016 expansion plans are in place.
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How have the first four months in London been for you guys?

I think the best phrase to use here is ‘a steep learning curve’. Like any venture into a new market, there are many things you can predict and then there are others which are simply out of your hands.

The team on the ground are superb and what is great is seeing how they have adapted to the challenges and rallied together to keep things on track.

Last year you said that The Toy Store was going to bring theatre back to the High Street. What has consumer reaction to this been like?

This has been one of the most pleasing elements as the public response has been brilliant. Customers have consistently been positive about the look and feel of the store and they have found it a pleasant environment in which to shop.

As far as getting across our message to a wider audience, we have some work to do to let people know that we exist.

The passing trade is naturally there, but the destination shopper needs to be told we are there.

As a newcomer to a mature market with some excellent players, not just around W1 but across the market, we have to continue to be engaging with our consumers and provide that immersive experience with the brands and characters they love.

What are the biggest differences you have noticed between the UK and your overseas stores?

The pace of things is slightly slower in the UK versus our home markets in the Middle East, which presented a few challenges during set up.

However, the biggest difference is that we are an established, known brand in the Middle East, but a new player in the UK. In addition, the online retail environment in the UK is massively advanced versus our region and as a result, people are more price sensitive and better educated in terms of upcoming products and trending items.

What are your expectations for 2016?

We can see the positive impact of merchandising by licence on sales of non-core toy product within sections. We need to work with our partners closer to bring further emotional touch points for the customer with their favourite characters.

If we get the message across to a wider audience, we believe 2016 can be a success. However, it is early days and with everything happening in the world right now, I think it’s impossible to predict too far ahead.

What plans for expansion have you got for 2016?

We are about to open our first store in Riyadh in Saudi Arabia with our partner House of Retail.

In addition, we have seven more stores opening in the Gulf Cooperation Council in 2016, further cementing our position in this region.

The team is also in numerous discussions for additional franchise opportunities in all corners of the globe, so there is plenty to do in this respect.

We have also been overwhelmed with interest since the London store opened, from all corners of the UK. We are currently assessing some interesting options, but it is too early to divulge anymore at this stage.

What can we expect to see from The Toy Store in the New Year?

We will continue to bring more events, more experience and great products to the West End.

We will look to add some strategic alliances to the store to capture a wider audience and drive footfall to this iconic location.

Of course, consumer confidence is always a major factor so economic outlook is key. Not just in the UK, of course, but given our location, tourism is important. So the wider economic picture plays a role also. Oxford Street always attracts shoppers, but given the prominence of the city, people need to also feel safe to shop and this will play a short term factor with the daily news reports from around the world.

What will be the big brands of 2016 for you guys?

Star Wars will of course play a role, although as to whether the product will be the big success people are hoping, I’m not sure. The movie will be a smash, let’s hope it translates to sales.

What do you make of the current ‘gender neutrality’ debate among campaigners and the toy industry

Strangely, this has not really impacted us.

Through the strategy of merchandising by licence and character, we have avoided the entire debate. But I believe there is no real debate here: toys are toys and are open to all.

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