Stepping Stones Marketing Blog

Toyah Willcox performs to sell out crowd at Acapela

music promotion cardiffRock and pop legend Toyah Willcox has performed a sold out show at Acapela Studios to an audience of 200 excited fans.

Toyah was booked by Stepping Stones Marketing as part of their role in supporting the venue in managing the music bookings roster and promoting events.

Both the audience and the singer enjoyed the wonderful setting of Acapela – so much so that Toyah has confirmed she is returning to do another show in 2017.

Stepping Stones Run the Great North Run

Guide DogsNext weekend sees Stepping Stones Marketing take on the Great North Run in Newcastle. Forget the ice bucket challenge this is a real challenge!!

Director Dawn James together with son Matthew travel to the North East to take on the iconic run with a back-up team providing transport, motivational support, physiotherapy services and a shoulder to lean (cry on) at the end!

We are raising monies for Guide Dogs for the Blind  (a charity often forgotten about nowadays) who undertake incredible work. Every hour, another person in the UK goes blind, which means we need to train more guide dog puppies. Donations ensure that a guide dog puppy can receive traininJustGiving Homeg – from those tentative first days with a puppy walker through to more advanced training at guide dog school and eventually matching them with the right owner. All your donations will play a vital part in giving independence and freedom to blind and partially sighted people.

Please help support the team by visiting our Just Giving Page – click here


Mary Portas fails the high street – our alternative!

High streetThe government’s much heralded “Mary Portas initiative”, set up to find a way to revive the High Street has provided no benefit to the 12 towns that were given £100,000 each to assist in bringing shoppers back to the town centres.

A BBC Radio 4 survey conducted by the daily  “You and Yours” programme, revealed that the number of empty shops in the 12 towns awarded the funding had risen and no immediate benefit was realised. In defence of Mary Portas some of her ideas such as lower rates for small retailers just did not materialise. Some major retailers also spoke out at the time claiming her ideas to be little short of a publicity stunt. -See “Queen of Shops’ Portas bid to save High Street attacked as foolish stunt by retail chief who warns that 20,000 independent shops are in danger of closing”

Even more embarrassing is the fact that the Government has failed to undertake any research into the impact on the 12 towns….do you think they know it has not worked?

Well we have come up with a few ideas ourselves to put some life in the High Street and to raise footfall for independent shops. Creating a “Level Playing Field” is an important part in saving our high street – strangely this was in the Portas review, but really came nowhere near addressing the major issues. The main issues for independent shops include:

1. Amazon – their impact on the high street has been dramatic, but this is not surprising as they play by a different set of rules – make them pay tax on profits and sales like all other retailers. The fact they pay no VAT and corporation tax means that they can sell the same goods at up to 25% less than other “honest” retailers. It’s time to rectify this anomaly.

2. EBay and car boot sellers – The government needs to put as much effort into ensuring that all sellers abide by the HMRC rules – take a walk around a car boot sale and see the products for sale. Many may be selling off the contents of their garage but a huge number both online and at such events are running a business , again without paying the appropriate tax on profits and taking income from shop owners paying rates, tax and VAT!

3. Charity Shops – no one wishes to stop charities raising monies for good causes but when they receive beneficial rebates, don’t pay staff and now account for a good percentage of retail outlets in a high street – there is a real problem. Can you imagine what would be said if an independent shop put a notice in their window – volunteers required!

4. Online retailers – we all love shopping online but there has to be a level playing field. The UK public needs to make a decision on what they want – Do they want a high street or small out of town high street in the suburbs that is vibrant offering a real difference or are they happy to see our shopping street taken over by Bookies, Charity shops, coffee shops and burger stalls . The government in the past has levied a tax on certain sectors (financial services sector -IPT tax) and a tax on online stores (5% would seem reasonable) could revitalise the independent shopping sector. Is anyone making money online, Tescos have just confirmed that their online delivery service costs nearly 4 times the amount they charge and with other online retailers facing soaring delivery costs the bubble may soon be set to burst on online retailers

5. Supermarkets -Stop their domination of the local high street. Tesco Express and others have been allowed to dominate the local high street shutting down shops all around it, from bakers, grocers, newsagents, toy shops, off licences and on and on. Whilst the argument is they bring jobs to the local area, the reality is that other shops close so the net effect is a decrease in the number of shops. Some English councils have now approached the government to allow them to propose a Tesco’s tax to ensure the local economy benefits! To read more click here

6. Restrict the number of outlets in small suburb high streets that can be filled by “Turf accountants”, “charity shops” and “food outlets”. The councils will dislike it as will take anyone’s money in business rates but in the long term it will encourage unique quality stores to open.

Of course it may be that the UK public wish to allow all of the above and do not care about their local independent stores but I and many others have long given up on going shopping in the City Centre as there is nothing of interest to look at – one city centre looks exactly the same as another so why bother. If you feel strongly on any of the above please let us know or please send us your own suggestions and we will add them to the list!

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Marketing madness – It Must be Friday!

Sat in the office on a Friday can be very frustrating! Clients don’t ring – they are either away for a long weekend or they are waiting for us to send them work undertaken in the last week. So it’s quite nice to be able to get some quality time to yourself and get some work done….except for one thing – the dreaded sales calls that always seem to flood in every Friday.

“Did you want to improve your water supply – how about a water dispenser?” (no thanks I have plenty of water here, Wales is not a third world country -yet!) ,

“Just wanted to check your printing requirements, got any printing you wanted done?” ( no thanks, I am trying to encourage clients to go green!)

“Hello I have got a great service for you, I cannot tell you straight away what it is, but do you make foreign currency payments?” ( This one I particularly dislike as the phone call is always made by someone who you would not trust your mother’s laundry to – London based bankers with a high opinion of themselves! – sorry all foreign exchange brokers, but you must change your marketing tactics and attitude!!),

“Hi, I work for your local magazine and I have a great opportunity for you that works!” (No thanks, advertising does not often work , what do you mean how do I know? I am a professionally qualified marketing consultant so I know a little about this! Sorry did you hear what I said, I am a marketing consultant….and of course if I had been a doctor giving advice they would have stopped, but they don’t and continue to try to sell me advertising space!! )

and finally the one that never fails to phone on a Friday or indeed any other day of the week – ” Hi, Tony (Mark, Sue, Julie, choose any name you like – I have been contacted so many times) here from Wales’ largest credit report agency can I sell you some marketing data or how about checking your client’s credit history?” (No , No , No, take me off your marketing list and do not phone me ever again… steam comes out of my ears!! Strangely I don’t even have to be told who is on the phone , I now have a new inner sense that tells me it’s them ringing again….even if I wanted the service they were offering, I would never look them up as a matter of principle) .

So what is the lesson to be learnt here…..Possibly book Friday out and join your clients on a long weekend or if you are conducting marketing telephone calls – clean up your database and your telephone skills to make the customer experience more enjoyable!

Have a good Friday.

Website design – making sure your website can be seen

Take a look at what we are doing for latest customer Ahed Therapies. website design example

Fed up with their website being totally anonymous we have used our online expertise to ensure that their website is now beating all their competitors and being found on search engines across South Wales and beyond.

Quite simple to do if you know what you are doing…why website design companies don’t do this as a matter of course I will never understand…well actually we do , most website design companies do not understand how to do it as they are graphic designers not website coders. Or they do understand but because it takes some time to do it properly they don’t bother because most customers don’t understand what is required and they get away with it…

Oh of course it also provides them with an opportunity to get more money off their client when the website goes live and they have to undertake that mystical SEO work to get the website to be found!! Scandalous….get your website company to do what they should have done when they built your site and search engine optimise your site – !!

If you want to discuss why your website does not work as you would expect contact us today for a FREE review of your website.  View the Ahed Therapies story here

Forthcoming events we are attending

We love our music at Stepping Stones Marketing and we have a number of great concerts booked in over the coming month. If you have not got your tickets now is the time to make that call…if your not to late:mostly autumn

13th April – The Globe Cardiff – Panic Room

4th May – Motorpoint Arena Cardiff – Rick Wakeman

6th May – Colston Hall Bristol – Jethro Tull

9th May – York – Mostly Autumn, new album acoustic launch event……cannot wait for this one!

15th June – Gloucester Cathedral – Anathema acoustic concert… great venue !

September – Steve Hackett. Cardiff St. David’s Hall.

Tried to fit in Yes , but all the tickets at Bristol sold out!!

And finally if there is anyone out there who happens to have two Kate Bush tickets please ring me now!!!!!!!!!


300 new Asda stores – where will they go and do we really need them?

About time the planners in the UK asked some importanmt questions when Asda thinks that we need another 300 stores?

The likes of Lidl and Aldi are slowly bringing the big 4 too a halt, but Asda carries on regardless. Does anyone, live more than 10 minutes from a major supermarket? We don’t need an Asda everywhere especially when there are other stores already available.

The argument is that they will bring more jobs, well they don’t because small independent butchers, newsagents, toy shops, grocers etc. all close and the jobs are lost!

Let me know if you really need a new Asda store in your life! I certainly don’t!

3% Margin on branded toy sales? Whatever next?

A colleague told me a curious tale last week with regards to a toy shop owner he recently met when visiting his store. Two girls playing leap frog

Whilst walking round the store with my colleague , the owner suddenly stopped in his tracks and started to curse and rave about the product located in the prime position in the centre of the store.

“How much do you think we make on these toys?” Sensing the answer to the question was not going to be favourable as at this point the shop owner has steam coming out of his ears and nostrils, my colleague politely responded “I am not sure – 30-35% possibly?”.

The owner retorted ” I wish I did, can you believe I only get 3% margin and I spent £30,000 on the stuff at the Toy Fair!!!” Passing a handkerchief and a packet of Werthers to the shop owner (my colleague swears by them for all upsetting occassions) , my colleague asked the shop owner why on earth he stocked the product!?

“I don’t know, we always have and it seems like we should have the product available – even if we make no money on it…it’s not as if it brings people into the store – I guess I am just taken along by the welcome on the stand at the fair – my ego is always well massaged!!”

There is no need to accept such low margins on products as there are many excellent products available for customers with very high margins, also these products are not available in Tescos and the like and sell in great quantities. Our margins range from around 45% – 65% depending what price the retailer decides to sell the product. We also have some very fast selling lines that would outsell many big brand names and these are great secrets that our stockists keep well hidden to their competitors and order again and again in lareg quantities.

So perhaps now is the time to start reviewing the lines you stock and if you are selling items with such a low margin…..either give them the “old heave ho” or demand more discount!!! Or of course you could look for something unique and which has a strong consumer appeal with excellent margins. I look forward to hearing from you.




Supermarkets are ruining the independent retail toy market – why are we letting it happen?

A funny thing happened to me the other day, I was in my local supermarket shopping with my loved one for the weekly groceries – not something I do very often – and was struck by a very weird sight! shopping trolley retail store

Perusing the toy and gift aisles , as I often do, and moaning and groaning to myself at the ridiculous prices being offered, I spotted a familiar face at the end of the aisle with his shopping trolley overflowing with goods coming towards me. Immediately I could see he was not best pleased to see me and quickly considering whether he could slip away down the cooking and home utensils aisle without it being too obvious. My curiosity however would not let him get away and I made a friendly beeline for the surprised shopper cutting him off at the kitchen whisk and melamine cutlery stand!

“Hello” I said to the shopper with his full trolley, who happened to be the owner of a local toy store. “How are you doing, how is business”. I slowly looked down at his trolley and instead of this weeks groceries he had his trolley loaded up with assorted Lego items, board games and other toys. Embarrassingly he admitted to me that he was stocking up for his shop shelves as the supermarket were selling it at a price lower than he could buy it direct from the manufacturer.

What madness is this….retailers buying stock from a supermarket to stock in their own store. Am I surprised by this …! And I know that many toy shops selling big name brands are doing exactly the acquaintance is not alone in his weekly shopping trip to stock up his shelves!

So who is to blame for this ludicrous state of affairs? The supermarket, the independent retailer ….no I point the finger at the manufacturer and distributors of these toys who are allowing their goods to be sold at ridiculous prices …all for short term gains. At some point the independent retailers and other larger toy stores will say enough is enough and just walk away from these brands (or copy what they have and dump the manufacturer) and move to brands that are not stacked high and sold low! So is it not about time that retailers took up the fight and stopped stocking such brands – many of which only provide a very small margin on the goods sold.

And what about the toy trade press, what do they have to say about this ……well absolutely nothing. They cannot comment as the culprits (the big boys) who allow their products to be sold at such low prices (often under their usual trade prices) are their paymasters! I hope to see the trade press stand up for the small retailer soon…I won’t hold my breath!

Welcome to the Stepping Stones Marketing BLOG

Welcome to the new Stepping Stones Marketing blog, covering all aspects of marketing and the latest going ons in the toy and gift sector.Paul james -Managing Director Stepping Stones Marketing

We hope to provide some interesting and sometimes controversial views on marketing and business matters that perhaps others keep to themselves…if you have any comments that you wish to make please contact us today.

The blog is edited by Paul James, Managing Director of Stepping Stones Marketing Solutions and are personal views related from his own personal experiences!