The Entertainer is a unique retail business – like a signature that cannot be copied. The company is here to create memories for every child whilst delivering outstanding customer service for both children and adults. Here, RLI spends some time with Gary Grant, Founder and Executive Chairman to discuss what drives the business forward and what the future looks like.
The concept of The Entertainer as we know it today began in May 1981, when Gary Grant and his wife Catherine took over the Pram and Toy Bar. Sensing an opportunity to make the shop into somewhere children and adults alike could come and visit to have fun, find something to ‘entertain’ their time and want to come back to again and again, Gary has not looked back since.
The mission behind the business is simple, become the best-loved toyshop in the world – one child and one community at a time.
Today The Entertainer operates 172 stores up and down the UK including key locations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. They have 33 stores in Spain, with all except one currently operating as Poly. The first rebranded Poly store opened as The Entertainer last month, with plans in place to eventually rebadge all of the Poly stores.
The company also purchased The Early Learning Centre brand two years ago and they have around 260 of The Early Learning Centre franchised stores around the world, with many of these franchise partners now opening The Entertainer franchised stores as well.
Even before the onset of Covid-19, the company had gone through a year of disruption, largely because of the uncertainty surrounding Brexit. Then came 2020 and as Grant puts it, it was a year that was completely unprecedented.
“To give you an idea, in the 13 months up to the end of April this year, we’d been closed seven and a half months out of 13,” explains Gary Grant, Founder and Executive Chairman of The Entertainer.
“Fortunately the government support has been outstanding and that is the only way I can describe it. We endeavoured to maximise our income and minimise our outgoings and that has been the primary objective of every department within the company. Whilst this is something we always do, we had to do it last year as a matter of urgency whilst creating safe environments for our staff to work in and for our customers to shop in.”
The launch of the rebadged The Entertainer store in Valencia is the brand’s latest store ‘opening’; meanwhile in the UK they are relocating and renovating their Shrewsbury site. For now it is very much a watching brief due to the ongoing uncertainty Covid-19 has created.
Grant says that the lockdown has altered people’s buying habits and even today with shops open, their online sales are creating double the turnover they were in 2019, however he does say that since reopening, the excitement to have stores open again has been fantastic and customer response and performance has been exceptional.
Moving forward, the primary focus at the moment is to grow their Spanish business. “We are doing two things in Spain – we are refurbishing and rebadging our stores and secondly, we are looking for new store openings in areas where we are not represented.”
Back in the UK, a part of the business they are growing is their curated partnerships. So currently they have around 140 toy stores inside Matalan, and this successful partnership has been running now for four years. They are currently in a middle of a trial with Asda and that has been running for nearly four months now, with initial results looking good. “We are also working with other retailers who are looking to have a toy presence without the commitment of having to set up buying teams who don’t understand the market. We work with suppliers and licensors and we are very well placed to put together ranges that will suit most types of retailers where there isn’t sort of competition or clashing of our current stores and of partners that we are already working with,” says Grant.
When discussing social media, the Founder and Executive Chairman explains that, for The Entertainer, it is a really positive medium and an excellent way of quickly communicating with its customers and keeping in touch with them and advising them of upcoming events and in-store specials.
“At the end of the day, it is all about making sure we are keeping the customer central to our decisions. We want to be an outstanding retailer and we want people to feel positive about us. Our objective is wherever we can, be the very best that we can, in order that our customers have the very best experience when interacting with our business, be that in-store or online,” Grant concludes.