Consuming Issues: Toy shops face tough struggle for survival
Saturday 21 August 2010
Tiny tables and dressers for dolls, replica cowboy guns, plastic pirate eye-patches and blunt cutlasses, modelling clay, Hornby trains, seaside buckets and spades, day and eveningwear for Barbie ... despite the rise of the Xbox and Nintendo Wii, many children's playthings are surprisingly timeless.
This summer the explosion of colour and shapes at a toyshop in the town of Arboga, near Stockholm, Sweden, reminded a forty-something holidaymaker of his childhood. While some toys had been updated, they were essentially the same; the children's delight were the same too. What has changed is that in Britain, fewer and fewer 21st-century small eyes and hands experience an emporium devoted to their enjoyment and imagination. Independent toy shops are in decline.
Like all the specialist shops once common on the high street, fishmongers, butchers, bakers, they have been clobbered by supermarkets with smaller but cheaper ranges.
Figures from Verdict Research shows that specialist toy shops' share of the market shrank from 40 per cent in 1989 to 21 per cent last year. During that period the grocers' share has doubled, from 9 to 20 per cent.
The rest of the market – department stores John Lewis, Marks & Spencer and Debenhams, Argos, and internet operators – has risen too, to 59 per cent.
Among the specialists, Toys R Us, with 78 stores, and the splendid Entertainer chain, with 52, are growing, suggesting that the independents have shrunk by more than half in two decades.
The Toy Retailers Association, which represents the £3.4bn-a-year trade, says the past few years have been particularly hard for independents: the recession and the collapse in 2008 of the Youngsters group in which they pooled their buying power has led to a "shakeout".
"What we have seen is a lot of slip at independents that have lost a lot of their share," says Neil Saunders, Verdict's consulting director. "The big challenge for anyone who is an independent is either to have sufficient volume to compete with the grocers or have a specialism such as selling wooden or educational toys."
Is the decline of toy shops bad for children and parents?
Supermarkets certainly offer good deals for the season's best-selling toys – Tesco is currently selling an Action Man for £5 and a Disney Princess and Horse set for £9.99 – and shoppers understandably take advantage of such half-price offers.
The value of toy shops can't be weighed in pounds or pence alone, though. They offer some tangible and intangible benefits. Tangibly, they have a wider range than a supermarket aisle or corner of a department store and tend to stock fewer electronics and more traditional playthings.
Intangibly, they offer entertainment and enchantment: wandering around one with a small child can briefly rival in excitement a visit to a theme park or the cinema. Cherished toys can also enter the heart.
In a survey by the Firebox website this year, 70 per cent of adults said they hankered for old-fashioned toys, from their youth. Adults unaccompanied by children are watching ToyShop3, Disney's summer's blockbuster featuring resolutely old-style soldiers, teddy bears and dolls.
I don't want to recreate a fictional 1950s Mary Poppins era or complain about electronic gadgets, or get overly sentimental – toy shops certainly don't eradicate arguments over how to spend Granny's holiday money – but losing them will diminish our shopping experience and the character of high streets. If you pass one, you might open the door and enter. The time-travel is free.
The best supermarket? You decide
Well, some supermarkets. Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury's, the Co-operative and Waitrose have been shortlisted for the RSPCA's "People's Choice" award for animal welfare, run in conjunction with The Independent. You can scrutinise the stores' record and vote at Independent.co.uk. The winner will be announced in October.
Villain: Chris Huhne
The Energy and Climate Change Secretary is responsible for ensuring energy suppliers don't overcharge. So far he has announced a "review" of Ofgem, but his department has "no plans" to refer the industry to the Competition Commission, which the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats called for in Opposition.
- 1 Woman accidentally shoots herself in the head while posing for a selfie
- 2 Isis burns woman alive for refusing to engage in 'extreme' sex act, UN says
- 3 Puerto Rico, island of lost dreams: People are leaving the debt-hit territory in droves as near neighbour Cuba's star rises
- 4 Female Muay Thai champion hustles coaches to give them a beating
- 5 16-year-old girl beaten and burned alive by lynch mob in Rio Bravo, Guatemala
As a white man, I'm surprised more women aren't tweeting the hashtag #KillAllWhiteMen
Scotland may have to leave the EU even if it votes to stay in, David Cameron confirms
The day that Britain resigned as a global power
Almost a third of school pupils believe 'Muslims are taking over our country', study claims
SNP fury as HS2 finds 'no business case' for taking fast train service to Scotland
Gay marriage 'Bert and Ernie' cake bakery found guilty of discrimination in Northern Ireland
iJobs Money & Business
£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...
£45,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you looking for your next opportunity for ...
£45,000 - £55,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ACA/ACCA/ACMA qua...
£50,000 - £60,000: Laura Norton: Are you looking for an opportunity within a w...
Day In a Page
On the market for the first time in more than 50 years, this six-bedroom home is a project with vast potential - spread over three floors of living space.
This five-bedroom home comes with a range of outbuildings including a large barn which could be converted into a self-contained granny-flat or rental.
Surrounded by rolling countryside, this four-bedroom barn conversion comes with a self-contained, one-bedroom annexe that could serve as an office or a holiday let.
Located near Harrogate town centre, this five-bedroom Victorian terrace is arranged over three storeys while a current study serves as an optional sixth bedroom.
A ground-floor flat in a country house, located a mile from Sway; this two-bedroom home would make an ideal weekend retreat on the edge of the New Forest.
On a popular residential lane in Caterham on the Hill, this four-bedroom family home offers a secluded garden and a convenient location for local schools and public transport.
Just a short walk from Westerham green, this three-bedroom cottage has a light kitchen with exposed brickwork and double doors that lead to a south-facing garden.
In a prime spot opposite the River Thames, this one-bedroom flat has an 18sq ft reception room with glass doors that open out to a private terrace.
Set in the hills above Llanwrda Village, west Wales, this 18th-century three-bedroom farmhouse has holiday-let potential from a separate barn conversion and annexe.
This charming end-of-terrace townhouse is arranged over three floors, with two double bedrooms and a private courtyard garden located at the rear of the property.
This four-bedroom Edwardian home offers a combination of original features and contemporary design after a renovation by the current owners.
Located in the University area, this semi-detached five-bedroom home is arranged over three floors - there's even a rear garden and off-road parking too.
Only a few minutes' drive from the charming town of Marlow, this two-bedroom home sits on the private riverside estate of Harleyford.
This detached four-bedroom home in Middleyard is arranged over two floors, with features that include a wood-burning stove and bespoke oak staircase.
In a row of eight detached Georgian residences, this five-bedroom home offers views of The Sound, Mount Edgcumbe and Cornwall from its impressive veranda and full-length balcony.
If you love cooking for friends this two-bedroom flat - complete with views of the iconic Battersea Power Station and an open-plan kitchen/dining area - will go down a treat.
Located above Grasmere village, this five-bedroom home is arranged over three floors and offers countryside views across Grasmere Lake towards Silver Howe.
Surrounded by the Western fells, this five-bedroom Georgian home retains many original features including panel-plastered ceilings, sash windows and fireplaces.
This six-bedroom home is set amongst three acres of grounds. Currently a large family home, Clift Hill has potential to make a B&B, subject to change of use permissions.
A former period coach house, Glebe Farm Stable is now a three-bedroom cottage with a double car barn, office, kennels and an outbuilding that's currently used as a gym.
Set sail for this four-bedroom farmhouse in Cowes. With five acres of land and an indoor pool, this home oozes character. There is even potential to let a one-bedroom annexe.
Surrounded by woodland, this five-bedroom manor house has plenty of outdoor storage space in the form of three converted loose boxes, two smaller outhouses and a woodstore.
This four-bedroom detached home comes with a double carport, useful workshop, garden and two walkways that offer views of the adjacent countryside.
With space for an equestrian business, a greenhouse for growing your own veg, a wine store and a gym; this five-bedroom home has all the ingredients for a country retreat.
This four-bedroom home has exposed brick chimneys and a vaulted ceiling in a breakfast room that's ideal for summer entertaining - the doors open to the patio and garden.
The decked roof terrace of this two-bedroom flat is perfect for summer drinks while large windows and ample storage space make for a light and spacious interior.
Surrounded by approximately 15 acres of grounds, this six-bedroom grade II-listed home has been extensively refurbished yet retains many period features.
This four-bedroom home comes with a two-bedroom cottage and commercial office, with planning to extend, in a stunning courtyard setting.
In a pretty Norfolk village, this four-bedroom family home is surrounded by landscaped gardens, with even a self-contained annex for guests.
A few miles from the seaside at Perranporth, this four-bedroom farmhouse sits amongst nine acres of idyllic grounds - including a lake and two barns used as holiday lets.
This five-bedroom home is arranged over three floors of a converted Victorian hospital, offering spectacular views of the Pentland Hills - only three miles from the city centre.
This four-bedroom detached home comes with grounds that span to approximately 2.5 acres, as well as two large patio areas and a double garage.
This four-bedroom cottage is a Grade II-listed town house, well-located for the thriving market town of Nailsworth.
A four-bedroom apartment on the ground floor of a stunning period property in North Yorkshire, with two kitchens and a large south-west facing garden.
This high-spec two-bedroom home is part of a smart collection of new flats at Beaufort Park and has a large decked balcony that's perfect for summer drinks.
Capitalise on the fabulous views of Trevone Bay by taking two homes and creating one spacious boutique B&B. Just a cliff-top walk from Padstow.
Overlooking a golf course, this six-bedroom Edwardian detached home spans four storeys and retains many period features including the original, operational servants' bells...
On the edge of the city, this six-bedroom home comes with an outdoor swimming pool and a large garage block that has annexe potential.
In a Grade II-listed manor just outside of Bath, this three-bedroom home is arranged on two floors with a skylight in a vaulted roof line.
Open the living room's bi-fold wooden doors to reveal a retro-style kitchen, and a conservatory leading to a paved garden at this three-bedroom home.
A Grade II-listed, four-bedroom home, in a charming Somerset village, with a two-storey studio that could be converted into a holiday cottage
A modern four-bedroom Victorian home, within walking distance to the high street
A luxury apartment in the Gothic mansion of Wyfold Court in Kingwood, offers six bedrooms spread over three floors and a turret
This school conversion, near Stockwell Tube, oozes New York loft style. The one-bedroom flat features double height ceilings and exposed brick work
This six-bedroom Georgian home is on three floors with open fireplaces, a two-oven Aga, an annexe, and cottage gardens with outbuildings and a car barn
High Crest House covers an impressive 9384sq ft, with almost three acres of grounds including a tennis court and summer house enclosed by electric gates
A six-bedroom farmhouse with separate accommodation in converted stables. Situated in the village of Church Aston, within walking distance to the market town
A two-bedroom flat with under-heated walnut floors and bespoke built-in storage. The Tube and Clapham Common are a short stroll away
A refurbished seven-bedroom townhouse with staff quarters, cinema room, superb gym, steam room and plunge pool
A minimnalist four-bedroom home designed to the highest spec, featuring glass walls and a kitchen space lit by a glass roof