18 Jun 2015

Sales slowdown at Poundland mirrors end of Loom Band craze

The end of a kids’ craze for bracelets made from plastic Loom Bands is blamed for slowing sales at Poundland. Now retailers are on the lookout for the next lucrative fad to cash in on.

For a while kids couldn’t get enough of cheapo Loom Bands. But like Cabbage Patch Dolls, GoGo Crazy Bones and the Rubik’s Cube, after a while children simply get bored, writes Business Correspondent Helia Ebrahimi.

Poundland, one of Britain’s biggest discount retailers, today blamed its slowing sales on vanishing interest in Looms. After 6m units sold, the kids have gone off twisting coloured bands into bracelets.

Loom Band bracelets on wrists (Getty)

For retailers, the effect of such sweeping crazes isn’t just cultural, it’s also a major driver of profits.

Poundland’s chief executive Jim McCarthy said the Loom Bands’ invasion generated the type of hype that “comes around once in a decade”.

In the first half of last year, sales at Poundland were growing at 15 per cent, helping the company take more than £1bn through its tills last year.

But just as the summer holidays hit, the rainbow sheen began to fade.

At its peak, the discounter was selling 728,000 Loom Bands a week. That’s now dropped to a paltry 2,000 – with overall sales at Poundland slowing to 3.5 per cent in the 11 weeks to 14 June.

The best thing that can happen for us is that a teacher bans something Toy shop owner

Rainbow Loom is the brainchild of Cheong Choon Ng, a Malaysian-born former seatbelt engineer, who in 2011 wanted to create something for his daughters to play with.

Poundland store (Getty)

Now Poundland has to rely on rather more boring products to bolster sales: cigarette paper, AA batteries and loo rolls.

Poundland may yet sell another million and a half garden gnomes as it did last year but it’s hard to see the delightful midgets matching the Loom fad.

What, though, is the magic formula that causes crazes and captivates children?

At toy shop The Entertainer, founder Gary Grant said Loom bands were the most explosive product he has seen in 35 years.

“It came from nowhere, but it captured both girls and boys imagination across a broad age range,” said Mr Grant. “For a while Loom Bands represented 40 per cent of our turnover.”

According to Mr Grant, fad toys are unexpected hits that suddenly catch fire and begin to take on a life of their own. Each year, some 20,000 new toys are introduced to the market, but only a small percentage have what it takes to engender a cultural phenomenon.

“Manufacturers would like to think they can control what becomes a playground craze – but in truth no one knows what the magic formula is,” said Mr Grant.

What many of these flash successes have in common is they are relatively cheap and often bought by children with their own pocket money.

They are swappable – so they need a market place like a playground where children become mini-traders who assign different values to the same product according to colour or type. Think back to football cards Pokemon or Top Trumps, or in the case of Loom Bands the yellow colour.

The more rare the toy, the more collectable it is deemed.

But the vital ingredient, according to Mr Grant, is getting banned at school. A number of schools in the UK and the US banned loom bands after pupils used them as weapons.

“The best thing that can happen for us is that a teacher bans something. Children then assume they should be doing it,” Mr Grant tells me.

Poundland must be hoping something else gets banned.

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