The Toy Store, whch is based in the Gulf region, is planning to launch in the UK. Retail Week takes a look at the business and who it is.

Why are we talking about this now?

The Toy Store’s owner Gulf Greetings made some bold claims last week about its plans to launch in the UK and has made no effort to hide its intention to take on one of the biggest names in toy retailing, Hamleys. It is looking for stores in London and has already found three potential sites, including one right in Hamleys’ territory on Oxford Street.

Gulf Greetings says that UK toy stores, including Hamleys, have lost the “magical feeling” they used to have. It plans to bring that back, and says it is confident that The Toy Store will begin taking market share as soon as its doors open here.

London is the key target for The Toy Store, and it plans to launch before Christmas. The retailer is also eyeing UK-wide expansion, and has said it could open around 15 stores.

Who is The Toy Store?

Founded in 2004, The Toy Store now trades from 11 stores with another three scheduled to open in 2014. It targets prime shopping centres for its stores across Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and UAE. The retailer prides itself on in store theatre, including product demonstrations, competitions, workshops and pantomimes. It enables shoppers to ‘play before you pay’ and believes in having a wide range of toys rather than a big volume of the same products, stocking 20,000 SKUs.

Its flagship store in the Dubai Mall covers 25,000 sq ft and it operates three ‘express’ format stores which trade from 3,500 sq ft each.

The offer targets babies, toddlers and teens.

How might it fare in the UK?

Gulf Greetings has set out some admirably ambitious plans. But Conlumino research director Matt Piner says it should exercise caution. The toy market has had a rough ride in recent years as more enticing electronic gadgets and consoles prove irresistible to kids and nimbler etailers take more and more spend from the shops.

He says: “It’s quite an odd decision at the moment, as the toy market is struggling in the UK. We’ve seen a lot of specialists shutting down and big online players like Amazon have been responsible for taking market share.”

Piner says that The Toy Store’s decision to focus on the experience and entertain shoppers is a good one, but it will remain a challenge to get established in what is already a shrinking sector.

Is this a new global brand to watch out for?

There are big plans for The Toy Store in Britain, but even bigger plans worldwide, with the retailer eyeing Turkey and Morocco as well as the UK. Gulf Greetings is managing the UK launch itself, but everywhere else it is enlisting franchise partners. Piner believes the London stores will be used as a way of establishing the brand for a global rollout – as Hamleys has done.