Kids Halloween costumes..Chapter 2

BBC Watchdog returned, as promised, to the horrendous accident of Claudia Winkleman’s daughter.

They stated that they had contacted every Chief fire officer in the UK showing them the flame tests carried out on a number of fancy dress items . Then they were asked for their opinion. Apparently, the overwhelming conclusion was that the current regulations were insufficient.

They had also approached a number of high St national retailers asking for their approach for Halloween 2015. A few said they would not now  sell such items, others said they were reviewing their policies. Having said that, from seeing the list, I don’t think a number of them actually sell costumes. There were a number of significant players ie discounters, who I suggest were not approached and were probably bigger players when it comes to kids costumes.The further announcement made was that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, was now looking into the efficacy of the current norms.

Should you want to find out what retailers were involved, I suggest you watch BBC Watchdog on iplayer (may 21st).

Nobody can argue with any of this. Yet, I find it quite extraordinary that it overlooks the cause of this accident – the flame. I suspect the chief fire officer’s remarks were and would have been included as part of his conclusions, but were edited. The reality is, that had there been no naked flame, this would not have happened. Whereas, the poor child could have been wearing any manner of clothing and still have been burnt.

The action of the multiples may create another dilemma for our industry. Over the last four years many independent retailers and online operators have kept away from inexpensive kids costumes and left them to the multiples. However, if they are going to offer them for sale or dramatically reduce their offering, there maybe a pent up demand. As to whether you fulfil that demand is, of course, up to the individual operator. If you do decide to do so then may I suggest that either via your web shop, or your store staff, you highlight the dangers of the naked flame. To repeat my last blog , naked flames and small children , in clothing of any type,  are a dangerous concoction .

Safety and Halloween kids costumes…..

During Halloween 2014, there was the very sad  and distressing case of the injuries endured by the daughter of Claudia Winkelman(TV Presenter).

For those who are unaware, her daughter was wearing a  witch’s costume that touched a candle and as a consequence she suffered horrendous burns.

Quite rightly Claudia has now brought it into the public arena as she does want anyone else to have to go through this terrible  experience.

The vast majority of the Party market supply base is very aware and conscientious about product safety. This is not purely altruistic but also commercial. Much of the supply base big and small are family businesses and they are very aware that they design and supply a great deal of product that is deemed to be used by children. Within the EU we are , in this case fortunately, policed by a variety of EU regulations designed to protect children. The majority of which come under EN71 toy regulations for flammability.

Certain sectors of the press and media have taken this to task saying it is not strict enough. They are using the regulations for night wear . Yet no clothing is inflammable. The tests involved measure the rate of burn. The test for nightwear is tougher than that of the toy regulations. So the initial reaction is that maybe they have  a point. What is being overlooked is that, as far I am aware, no other form of everyday clothing have any regulations whatsoever and this includes school clothing. They are not subject to any flammability tests nor any other test for that matter.

What caused this horrendous accident was the naked flame. Dark winter nights, small children and naked flames are not a good mix and are repeated once again on Guy Fawkes night the following week.

Apparently, the surgeon taking care of Mathilda (Claudia’s daughter) felt that there was a mini epidemic of this type of accident. Accident statistics showed in 2014 there were 94 incidents involving injuries from burning or melting clothes , 21 were children under 18. Fortunately, it is not quite  of epidemic proportions and we  need to keep them as low as possible,but it will never be possible to eliminate them .

On Thursday, May 14th, the BBC Watchdog programme conducted an emotional but balanced interview with Claudia. Her reason for agreeing to the interview was to try and ensure that no other parent or child should have to go through the same experience . Watchdog then carried out a rather lopsided investigation. On Thursday, May 21st, they are inviting the fancy address industry representatives to respond.

If comprehensive research by the EU found that there is  cause to relook at children’s fancy dress regulations, then I am sure that no established supplier in Europe would baulk at meeting the relevant norms. But the reality is that any form of clothing if exposed to a naked flame is dangerous. One way eliminate this hazard, without waiting for the EU to conduct meaningful research, is to ensure there are no naked flames anywhere near children. Hence, if you are in any doubt during Halloween 2015, make your customers aware of the dangers of the naked flame.

As a safety footnote, not just flammability issues, all major suppliers within the costume and party sector have departments within their organisations ensuring that where relevant all product meets or exceeds the relevant regulations. However, I am very aware that there is counterfeit product coming    from the Far East via some very grey importers on the edge of the industry. This is also true of some traders on eBay and Amazon.  A plea to all online retailers and  bricks and mortar retailers that if you are offered any product from  a source you don’t know and the deal looks too to be true. It probably is. Don’t hesitate to ask for genuine certication and make sure it is upto date. Most of the product within our industry comes under EU norm EN71. The major exception to this rule is cosmetics which come under the norms for cosmetics. However, I will come back the problem of counterfeiting in a later post.

Festival and carnivals 

In the coming edition of The Progressive Party magazine, there will be a section on summer festivals.

A couple of years ago in the very same magazine, my wife (Julia Brett) wrote an article highlighting the tradition of carnivals in the UK. That tradition often goes further back than many European countries yet it is very underplayed.

That said there are still hundreds of carnivals and festivals throughout the UK especially in the summer months. It is one of the areas where local party retailers can outwit the Internet. Local retailers should have the ‘local’ knowledge that no online operator can hope to provide. This would be especially true in parts of the south west where there is a huge tradition of local festivals. Many of which  were originally started by purveyors of historical oddities like ‘cure all’ elixirs. They created the festivals in order to bring potential customers from outlying rural areas.

There used to be numerous street festivals in London only dating back to the fifties and sixties. Yet many of these have diminished over recent years. The suggestion would be that the local party store could be a fulcrum for re-establishing these events. The timing is right. Many of these areas are very multicultural and as few of these events have any religious implications, they would be great ways  of developing community cohesion. Notting Hill carnival  was created out of a community wanting to establish it’s identity. Now it is one of the worlds largest.

Many of us in the supply side, who have any knowledge of the European market are envious of the  carnival season. In this months Progressive Party , the editorial recognises this opportunity, even though there is an odd comment about whether our weather is suitable. Not quite sure,to what this refers, as most of this happens in Northern Europe, in February and outside, where it can  be  a flipping sight  colder than it is here (sorry Jacqui!). Where we do currently fall down is the quality of our dress up. Particularly in Germany hundreds of Euros can be spent on buying very well made product. Part of the reason is that the wearer is going to be celebrating outside in early February!

Whilst there is no tradition of this form of carnival in the UK, there is no reason what so ever that we could not try and introduce it. After all we introduced Halloween, we are starting to embrace Oktoberfest , we have taken on Diwali and Eid , and now we are enjoying ‘day of the dead'(see banner image) Bring on pre lent carnival, it may have catholic and pagan origins , but so do we!

The real cost of online delivery …

The competition for ‘etailers ‘ delivery contracts is intense and very aggressive.

I am very aware, that there are some big online players, within our market, who have some extraordinary deals on parcel rates. The question is how long will this continue?

December 2014 saw the demise of City Link. Yodel despite increasing volumes is still unable to make a profit( or make their customers happy!)Amazon has just doubled the order value that a customer has to buy to get free delivery. This , of course, is one way to move customers to Prime, but there is evidence in the U.S. that Prime is yet to make any money.Ocado took ten years to make an operating profit. The company’s entire ‘raison d’être ‘ is logistics. 

The consumer is beginning to expect ‘free’ delivery. Within every market, when a critical mass is achieved , aggressive players enter the market to achieve market share. Some succeed and of course some fail. As more fail, the remaining players can increase their margins. The question will be , can free delivery be sustained?

Perhaps, more relevant in the party market is will the online players be able to sustain their current delivery options or will they have to consider reduced margins. A third option is looking at the products they sell and eliminating those that do not fit into the costing model. For example , currently there are many party items that have a too lower retail value for them to be sold online as the courier cost, plus market place commissions and VAT make the selling price prohibitive. I believe Amazon now have a minimum charge of £0.40p . If you include operating costs, distribution and VAT this makes any item retailing under £2.50 very difficult to sustain. Should shipping costs increase substantially then this will push up the sustainable retail price point. Some High Street retailers might cheer at this, assuming they can survive on products at this price level.

This may not be a question that has to be considered now, as the current climate attracts aggressive courier pricing. But there will be a point in the not too distant future, where this element of the complex structure of online costing will have to be reconsidered. One possible outcome, is that more players will look at click and Collect options as this would reduce multi point deliveries. However, the other side of this coin would be that the courier market would shrink, leaving less players offering higher costs !

Some consumers would say click and collect is a bit like going to a shop…..something for the independent party retailers to think about…..