Start Licensing’s Ian Downes takes his Looking Out skills to Frome in Somerset, and finds an independent toy retailing gem.
This week I was able to extend the reach of my Lookout to Frome in Somerset. During my trip there I visited Ellenbray Toys & Stationery.
Ellenbray is a member of the Toymaster buying group. I believe there are around 216 Toymaster badged stores in the UK. Toymaster is a group of independently owned retailers selling toys, but work collaboratively through the central Toymaster buying team to source product centrally. That said, each store chooses the stock they choose to sell their own way and reflecting local demand.
Toymaster’s stores are very much part of the local community and support their local community where they can. I certainly felt that community ethos when I visited Ellenbray. It is located in a small shopping centre in the middle of Frome and is in relative terms a large store. As the name suggests it combines a toy shop with a stationery shop – both shops are distinct but connected so you can shop both on your visit.
I visited Frome on a Sunday lunchtime and it really hit home to me how important a shop like Ellenbray is to the local community. Given it was Sunday a number of shops were closed and also, not unsurprisingly, there were a number of empty retail units in the town centre.
Ellenbray had the feel of a destination store which was a key part of the Frome retail fabric. While I was there I noticed a couple of families make a beeline for the shop and my assumption was that this was part of a weekly routine. The youngsters going into the shop with their parents seemed to be excited and ready to buy. If shops like Ellenbray weren’t in towns like Frome it would be a real loss to the community. In this context shopping locally and local shops have a real value.
The Toymaster model seems to be a positive and proactive one in regards to supporting local community minded retailing. But it was also good to see the strength of Ellenbray’s retail offer and its depth.
Licensing and licensed ranges featured strongly throughout their ranges. As an aside, shops like Ellenbray offer licensing and licensed products a great route to market, but also an opportunity to have a local high street presence plus a platform for promotions. Given Toymaster’s community ethos there is probably scope for IP owners to work collaboratively with them at a local level.
Ellenbray seems to have forged good links with a range of toy companies and made good use of branded displays with a number of dedicated product bays. The store was well presented and easy to navigate. The brand experience started before entering the store with one of the on street windows being packed full of product including Pokémon, Bluey and Bing.
A good lesson here is that products sell product. Ellenbray was also making good use of Toymaster’s centrally created assets and selling messages – for example window stickers flagging up that they stocked the ‘Hottest Toys’. Well known licences and licensed ranges obviously help a store like Ellenbray compete and attract custom.
Within the store as noted Ellenbray is making good use of support and assets from suppliers. For example it had a Ty branded ‘ship’ in the centre of store full of Ty product including licensed lines. Another example of using supplier supplied display materials was a Top Trumps sales rack. Fully stocked and well merchandised, the Top Trumps range included a number of licensed lines. The Top Trumps display is a really well presented one and when well stocked as this one was I am sure it is a very effective selling tool.
Top Trumps is a great example of a well established trusted brand that has blended licensing well into its core range and has a product that is well priced. It is certainly the sort of product that suits a retailer like Ellenbray where customers return and are often buying items to suit a specific budget or purpose (pocket money prices and gifts for parties).
As noted earlier Ellenbray seems to buy carefully in a focused way but in depth. It clearly knows its customers and being part of the local community I’m sure helps with buying decisions. There was a good presence for classic character brands such as Thomas the Tank Engine, but it doesn’t ignore more contemporary trends and opportunities such as Funko. There was a Pop! vinyl Funko FSDU in-store and it was clear that fan driven merchandise was certainly on the shop’s radar. This includes IP sourced from the gaming world. It was also good to see suppliers like Casdon in-store with products such as the Henry vacuum cleaner role play product. A reminder of how brands can crossover into the toy world through categories like role play.
Another category supported in depth was arts and crafts. In this area there was a blend of licensed and non-licensed lines coupled with different price points. The shop had picked up on new opportunities in this area such as Crystal Art Buddies range that features brands like Star Wars and Guardians of the Galaxy. It was also good to see brands like Playmobil supported in-store. Playmobil promotes its range through a free catalogue given out in store – an old school way of promoting a brand and a range, but one that has a real value I think and contributes to the brand experience. Playmobil has a good selection of licences these days including Asterix and Naruto, but also sets such as Back to the Future. It was also no surprise to see a lot of space given over to LEGO and, of course, within this range licensing plays a significant part.
Ellenbray/Toymaster seem to have found a way of leveraging licensing effectively and engaging with global brands proactively while retaining a community ethos. It is a really good mix and results in a shop that provides a really enjoyable retail experience. It is also a reminder of how retail can be at the centre of a local community and economy.
I wish shops like Ellenbray well. They are working hard and providing a really good service to the local community. They are also a great showcase for licensed products. One other point to note was that the staff were friendly and welcoming. A small detail, but this can really add a positive note to the retail experience.
Ian Downes runs Start Licensing, an independent brand licensing agency. His Twitter handle is @startlicensing – he would welcome your suggestions for what to look out for.