Two businesses with very different approaches discuss the festive market

East London and West Essex Guardian Series: Martin Cleminson says Christmas is not a good time for his business Martin Cleminson says Christmas is not a good time for his business

Despite tough economic conditions, selling toys before Christmas should be as easy as mince pie, right? Zachary Norman spoke to two independent retailers to find out.

Martin Cleminson runs Martin’s Toys & Memorabilia, a second-hand collector’s shop in Wood Street’s indoor market.

Bestsellers in his stock, which he describes as “anything you can think of from the 1950s to now, for five-year-olds to 75-year-olds”, include toy cars and trains and toys and products from film franchises like Star Wars and Batman.

But, despite toys dominating the Christmas lists of thousands of children, the 55-year-old said the festive period is a difficult time for his business because of his emphasis on second-hand goods.

“I’m not like Toys R Us,” he said.

“It’s collectibles. I sell some toy cars that have been chipped and have had a life, and some pre-World War II tin plate toys.”

He says he stocks up on board games for families looking to enjoy group activities, but adds that children are rarely interested in older toys.

“To be quite honest, what I do, because it’s second-hand and collectible, Christmas is usually a bad time,” he said.

“Competing against something like an Xbox is getting harder and harder. I see parents come in with their children and they say ‘I had that when I was a boy’ and they try to get their children into it and off the Xbox and to play with a friend so they can communicate and play together like they did years ago.

“I hear it all the time and parents are trying to introduce them but it doesn’t work for a lot of kids.”

So if a ‘classic’ toy shop struggles at Christmas, what about a more modern-focused enterprise?
With big-name gifts such as an Xbox likely to dominate, a Walthamstow toy shop caters for parents looking to challenge traditional gender-based toys.

Helen Long has run the Edufantastic shop in Walthamstow’s Orford Road for six years having previously launched a mail-order toy business in 2003.

She says Christmas is her busiest time of year, with top-sellers including scooters and dolls houses.

But she says the shop has a particular approach to choosing stock.

Mrs Long has worked with a group called Let Toys Be Toys, which calls on retailers to stop selling particular toys for boys and girls.

“Parents are fed up with having a pink section and a blue section in toy shops and pushing boys towards toy guns or whatever,” the 43-year-old mother-of-three said.

“We try to get things that are interesting and grab the children’s imagination regardless of gender and we try to have really unusual toys that people can’t get everywhere.”

These items include chemistry sets, wooden toys and storytelling puppets.

“The only way you can compete and survive as an independent toy shop is by having things that are unusual and different,” Mrs Long added.

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