Dr Thomas Märtz: We view the current situation regarding the spread of coronavirus with a great deal of seriousness and prudence. We will take all measures at the central level to maintain a functioning business operation in this difficult situation, secure the existence of our trading partners and protect the health of our staff and business partners.
Do you expect that coronavirus will cause the decline in the toy trade to gain further momentum? Even before Covid-19, the situation wasn't particularly rosy if you asked around in the trade!
T. M.: We have to act in the here and now and decide on a day-by-day basis. Rest assured that we will do everything in our power to avert this crisis that is threatening the very existence of our brick-and-mortar trading partners.
Politicians are doing everything possible to minimise the economic consequences of the pandemic. How is VEDES helping its members to cushion any liquidity shortages?
T. M.: We are in close contact with our central regulator, the DZB Bank in Mainhausen, on account of liquidity support. In the wholesale sector, we will support our members very accommodatingly with regard to their back orders, for example by blocking and holding back orders or with longer payment terms. In this light, we also expect our industry partners to make a corresponding commitment. We all bear a great responsibility for the continued existence of the owner-operated specialist retail trade. And, naturally, we are also in touch with all the other German umbrella organisations – BVS, Mittelstandsverbund ZGV, HDE, etc. – in order to jointly achieve fast and efficient support for the medium-sized retail trade on a national level.
BVS wrote to the prime ministers of the federal states asking them to maybe grant toy shops additional opening hours in the pre-Easter period because consumers would then not be exposed to an increased risk of infection in heavily frequented toy departments of drugstores. Some might say that this is a bit hypocritical. In your view, is this demand justified?
T. M.: In view of the fact that some companies with a product range that goes well beyond their usual core range are abusing the coronavirus crisis for their own profit, I definitely see a need for government action! While the retail toy trade is suffering a considerable slump in sales and profits due to the prescribed closures, the drugstores will experience a gigantic boom at the expense of our members in the coming weeks. This will create a massive distortion of competition that could well cost many people their livelihoods – we cannot allow that to happen! We need a clear legal regulation stating that those shops that are still allowed to open should only be allowed to offer ranges of goods that cover basic needs – as is actually intended.
What advice would you give your retailers to help them get by in the next two or three months? The book trade, whether it's a matter of a small bookshop on the corner or the big chain store, is advertising the fact that you can continue to buy from them with confidence because they will deliver the goods either personally or by post.
T. M.: Our sales advisors are in constant direct contact with our members and support them wherever they can. We at the head office also communicate regularly with our trading partners via an online live stream. Since I am in personal contact with many retailers, I know that our members of VEDES and SPIELZEUG-RING are handling the crisis very prudently and calmly. If retailers want to expand their online activities, we will provide them with our digital shop solution in a way that’s quick and unbureaucratic. And you shouldn't underestimate the creativity of our retailers. Here too, innovative solutions can be flexibly found and implemented on site.
Stock prices are in free fall. The value of the VEDES bond has decreased significantly, more than the stock market as a whole. Will the VEDES bond recover and return to its pre-pandemic level?
T. M.: The situation on the capital markets is understandably characterised by a great deal of uncertainty and fear. As soon as people can see the light at the end of the tunnel, prices will recover again. I am firmly convinced that the toy industry will overcome the current crisis if we all act responsibly and in solidarity.
Dr Märtz, thank you for this interview.
Interview published with kind permission of the German trade journal planet toys international.
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