Sainsbury’s is making its first foray into toy retailing by testing Early Learning Centre pre-school toys in six stores.
The company confirms the test, but refuses to comment further.
J Sainsbury’s hypermarket chain Savacentre already sells toys but, according to toy industry observers, most food retailers have repeatedly treated toys with indifference, despite having a customer profile ideally suited to buying them.
Jon Salisbury, publisher of UK and World Toy News, says toys have the disadvantages of going in and out of fashion, often in a matter of days, with the added factor of seasonality, which means shops must be drastically reorganised at Christmas.
He says: “Toys are a hassle. It’s a low-margin business and a product can be dead within two days. But they can get phenomenal critical mass – there’s nothing like a hot toy. Also, pre-school toys for the nought to five age range are not as seasonal.”
The initiative, if successful, will challenge Safeway, which is one of the few retailers to sell toys as a serious concern, with a well-defined range of pre-school toys.
Salisbury says: “Asda and Tesco can’t make their minds up on toys. They have a tactical presence, except at Christmas. They also sell everything, not just pre-school toys.”
Early Learning Centre has about 200 stores of its own in the UK and will be looking at tapping a new source of revenue from this deal with a major retailer.
It is under pressure from Mothercare, which bought Children’s World last year, and has started selling nursery goods such as prams, and character merchandise such as Thomas the Tank Engine goods.