The toy industry in Britain has a proud history of development and manufacturing over the last 100 years and we are still one of the largest toy markets having the highest per capita spend in Europe. As with many manufactured goods however, the actual production process is largely now done elsewhere. The design and marketing of the products is an international business, but Britain and Ireland are major players with several international companies based or operating strongly here. The British Toy and Hobby Association links manufacturers and suppliers and its members include Hornby, Lego, Mattel Hasbro and Character Options (see www.btha.co.uk). We work closely where we can on standards, promotion and education. Equitoy is the third significant trade association in the industry linking major importers of toys some of whom are also retailers and traditional wholesalers.
The Toy Retailers Association is well connected and our members (in bold below) are in every channel. We are grateful to NPD, the primary collator of point of sale data on toys across Europe and America, for the market summary. We also represent retailers to government and at the UK Toy Fair and industry days.
The UK retail structure is also unique and reflects the importance of children in our families and society as well as the high rate of change in retailing generally. Every retail channel has toy specialists or major departments devoted to toys. Our international premier stores include Hamleys, our leading catalogue store is Argos, and all our major department stores sell toys via specialist departments or concession arrangements, supermarkets sell more limited ranges as do budget and mixed stores such as TK Maxx. Online trading in toys is constantly growing and includes all the above plus independents.
Toy Shops in Britain remain special places and for most that is exemplified by the specialist retailer, selling only, or largely toys, games, models and puzzles. These are in three main categories. Chain stores include Smyths, The Entertainer and Early Learning Centre and these dominate our retail parks and shopping centres. Independents in Buying Groups are more familiar on traditional high streets and include the Toymaster Stores. Not all of these are branded but they benefit from buying together as do members of Associated Independent Stores (AIS) including several privately owned department stores such as John Sanders, Boswells and Jarrolds, some increasingly significant garden centres and the Toy Town chain of stores and concessions. Finally solo independent stores provide some amazing examples of survival and success on our high streets including, for example, Stockton Models.
The ability to survive in what is probably the most seasonal specialism in retailing (50% of sales occur in the 8 weeks before Christmas) is testament to the skill, customer focus, ingenuity and commercial sense of retailers in the industry.
In addition to coping with seasonality, retailers abide by the most demanding set of regulations which underpin international toy safety, even more thoroughly than the food sector. Thirdly the toys we sell change and develop more rapidly than any other consumer product with most top selling lines changing every year to reflect the latest technology, the current hit television series and films and the demands of a new generation of children who all want to stamp their own choices on our world.