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Preschool toy suppliers come together to discuss COVID-19 impact

Rainbow Designs, Fiesta Crafts, Berg Toys, Trends UK, Juratoys and Great Gizmos share their views on how COVID-19 has affected business during virtual conference.

A host of leading preschool toy companies from across key categories joined PreschoolNews.net yesterday (Wednesday April 29) to share their views and experiences about how they are dealing with life and business during the coronavirus pandemic.

In the latest virtual industry meet-ups being hosted by PreschoolNews.net, Zara Grindrod, sales director at Rainbow Designs; Andrew Bacon, md at Fiesta Crafts; Graham Spark, sales director at Trends UK; Peter Shaw, UK sales manager at Berg Toys; Neil Montgomery, UK commercial director at Juratoys; and Sarah Dayus, sales director at Great Gizmos shared their experiences of how their respective companies were initially shored up, as well as how conversations and business with retailers has adapted as the weeks of lockdown have progressed.

And, encouragingly, there were many positive messages to be shared among the group.

“I think there have been several stages – from the initial shock of it all and those first couple of weeks of lockdown, through to it feeling very different to today when people are beginning to talk about what happens afterwards, what happens in autumn/winter, etc,” commented Zara. “We are starting to have some positive conversations about the future, rather than just what’s going on right now.”

For Berg Toys’ Peter, March and April have actually been bumper months, due to the demand for outdoor and activity equipment – such as trampolines – soaring. “It’s gone absolutely crazy over the last few weeks,” he offered. “It’s been an incredible story – we had our best ever month last month and we’re going to beat that again this month.”

Sarah and Great Gizmos has also enjoyed a lift on the educational and crafts kits side of the business. She said: “Although it was quite frightening at first, I think in the grand scheme of things that we’ll come out okay from this and it’s allowed us to open new opportunities, to revisit accounts that we haven’t been in for a while. It’s been tough, but we are kind of feeling quite positive about things now.”

Trends UK’s Graham also agreed that online sales have been strong, commenting: “After our initial concern that everything would disappear, since then things have picked up quite nicely. Online sales have been very strong and our wholesaler has been absolutely inundated with orders.

“Our biggest concern is FOB and international business and how much that will be affected in quarters three and four. I think there’s going to be, potentially, quite a short fall on FOB but that should be, in you’re bold enough, picked up on domestic business if you can bring the stock in yourselves.”

Fiesta Craft’s Andrew is hopeful that the upswing in crafts and activities will lead to people getting involved with traditional hobbies for the longer term. “I think when we come through all of this, we’ll come out a stronger company because it’s given us a chance to look at ourselves,” he said. “We’ve seen a real upsurge in people wanting crafts and educational products and I’m hoping that will help in the long-term with people getting back into traditional type hobbies. Every single little thing is a win right now. I’ve learnt to appreciate the smallest things.”

Notes of caution were sounded over the situation with bricks and mortar stores, however, with talk of some independent accounts closing and going into administration with no signs of them coming back, plus some of the department store chains which may already have been struggling before the pandemic.

“How many of those are going to open, what does that look like and what does that look like for the rest of the year,” asked Zara. “I don’t think we’ll be back to normality this year… I do think it will start to claw back in Q3 into Q4, but I think we’re talking about a new normal level rather than where we were.”

Sarah pointed out that those independents without websites had certainly been hardest hit. “We have seen a big increase in people creating websites or loading things into Amazon or eBay; we’re doing everything we can to support them,” she commented. “But then, have some indies placing much bigger orders than they ever usually would, so I think some are finding their way quite well and others unfortunately aren’t.”

Juratoys’ Neil added: “Everywhere you look it feels like there are good and bad. There are some accounts that are closing… but what we’ve started to see, the number of new account enquiries that are coming through from the website where retailers are looking to add additional products and new brands because have seen the demand, that’s been a real positive.

“It’s also nice to see a lot of the Toymaster accounts who have been doing phone and delivery in their local towns.”

Peter concurred: “Independents and local dealers will be getting a lot of good feedback. The local side will really be hitting home for people – they will appreciate what business is being done by their local suppliers.”

The group agreed that in conversations with suppliers, the key thing was being flexible.

Looking further ahead, there are still so many unknowns that it certainly makes planning for Christmas a tricky prospect.

But as Graham pointed out: “Christmas does always happen. We’re an industry which has always been relatively recession bomb proof in that kids are at the top of people’s lists. What to bring in, how much to bring in and how do you get it to the relevant people, that’s going to be the challenge I think.”

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