On the evening of Monday 23 March, the prime minister announced a UK-wide lockdown. Schools and ‘non-essential’ businesses were closed, and people were ordered to remain indoors, permitting them to leave the house only for very limited purposes, such as shopping for basic necessities, or to enjoy one form of daily exercise.
At the time of writing, families across the UK have been stuck indoors – or in the garden if they’re fortunate enough to have one – for more than five weeks, waiting for lockdown measures to be lifted. Add to this the fact that both parents and children are having to quickly adapt to a new routine of home-schooling – with many parents also working from home as they try to also provide an education for their little ones. These are most certainly challenging times for all.
The world is facing a human crisis; many lives have been lost and the impact of Covid-19 has been profound, affecting all – not least those who have lost someone to coronavirus, but also the front-line workers battling the virus, the businesses struggling to remain afloat during these times, as well as individuals who are facing financial hardship as a result of the outbreak.
But in these times or great hardship, we are seeing great acts of kindness. Organisations have rallied support for fighting the pandemic; the proactive role that the toy industry has taken to help protect healthcare workers, and other front-line workers, as well as the resource that has gone into creating materials to keep families entertained and learning, has been profound and instrumental to the fight against coronavirus.
This situation has also allowed most people to slow down and take stock of the things that they have to be thankful for in their lives, such as more time for families to spend together.
Given these factors, it’s really quite unsurprising that many retailers and suppliers are reporting a surge in demand for toys, games and playthings. These products not only offer families a means of spending meaningful time with one another, but they also offer a great way to keep children both entertained and educated while they're unable to go to school and required to remain at home for a long period of time.
A month ago, Rachael Larkman, a toy buyer for John Lewis, told The Guardian that Lego sales at the department store had risen threefold in the past two weeks: “There is a growing demand from parents for toys which provide an educational element to play,” she said.
And on 1 April, the NPD Group published a report that showed that sales of games and puzzles were up 240 per cent in the UK, in the week ending 21 March 2020 compared to 2019, with Hasbro's Monopoly Classic taking the number-one spot in the top-ten best-selling games in this period.
Speaking of the figures, Frederique Tutt, Global Toy Market Expert for The NPD Group said: “Our figures clearly show that consumers are preparing for the coming weeks of isolation with a selection of family board games, outdoor and seasonal summer toys, craft kits and building sets. It’s interesting to see the classic games of Monopoly, Scrabble, Cluedo and Uno on this list. These ‘standards’ have shown us over and again that they can stand the test of time when reinvented and so it looks like they’ll continue entertaining generations of Britons as householders look to release stress and tighten family ties during these challenging times.”
The report, which highlighted that the biggest selling toy category in the first official week of lockdown was games and puzzles, winning a 21 per cent share of weekly spend across the entire toy sector (up nine per cent in the same week in 2019 – equating to growth in the value of 240 per cent), also mentioned the popularity of a number of other categories. Outdoor and sports toys took 18 per cent of all sector spend, up from 12 per cent last year, as parents prepared for anticipated good weather. Also, to keep the kids occupied, sales in the arts and crafts category almost doubled (up 97 per cent) with slime, dough and craft kits all making it into shopping baskets. Finally, sales of building sets rose 59 per cent YoY.
Speaking on behalf of Wilton Bradley, a company that recently donated a large stock of inflatable airbeds to NHS staff, Ross Bradley, International Sales Manager, said: “We think that the current situation creates a time for families to come together. At Wilton Bradley, we have some great products for ‘staycation’ and creative entertainment in arts and crafts, including Marble Art, Yarn Animals, Knitting Circle, and Sew Amazing. We also have a wide range of outdoor sports and toys, such as our Mud Kitchens and Garden Games.
“Over the last few weeks, the company has been working hard to ensure that our teams are safe in every part of the business. And I’m pleased to say that the company has adapted very well to working remotely in the building and from home.
“We are ensuring that our retailers are receiving good stocks to try and help meet the uplift in consumer demand.
“We would like to take this opportunity to send our well wishes to the industry.”
Image: A selection of Wilton Bradley's craft and crafts products
In a similar vein, Vivid Toy Group’s Marketing and Licensing Director Emma Weber, told TNP: “Vivid’s first priority it to make sure their team are safe and well and the company has adapted remarkably well to working remotely. Regular video calls and surprise visits from kids or curious pets have kept team meetings entertaining!
“Our portfolio offers a great and varied solution to home-schooling essentials, with Crayola through to boredom-busting games for kids and families. And we are ensuring that where possible, retailers are in good stock to help meet consumer demand.”
Image: Crayola Glitter Dots from Vivid Toy Group
Spin Master, a company that has been helping to fill the need for PPE for front-line healthcare workers by producing face shields from its game Hedbanz and shipping them where they are most needed globally, has also said that the company is adapting well and doing everything it can to meet increased demand in certain categories.
Writing to TNP after two weeks of homeworking during lockdown, Spin Master UK’s General Manager Sara Taylor, said: “Thankfully the Spin Master UK team is all doing really well. All UK staff are now up and running comfortably from home.
“Our team morale is being kept very high by daily VC meetings across teams, departments and even countries. We have implemented a weekly Breakfast Club meeting, and we’re also running virtual Yoga and HIIT sessions to help with health and wellbeing. Plus, morning coffee breaks are also being scheduled and we are all in regular contact via Zoom chat groups.
“Understandably, we are seeing strong online sales for categories like games, puzzles, activities and construction toys as parents look for ways to keep their children busy at home. We’re doing everything we can to ensure our customers are kept stocked with the items in most demand.
“We hope that families are able to take benefit from this additional time together, and that as an industry, we continue to work together to service them with products that help them create magical and memorable experiences from toys to games to entertainment to digital apps that will assist them through this difficult time.”