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Here come UK’s best toys

London, March 16: Parents beware. Paddington Bear is coming to a toy shop near you.

This is because Hamleys, Britain’s best known toy shop, is planning to open up to 20 branded stores located in Calcutta, Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and other cities across India.

This was revealed exclusively today to The Telegraph by Nick Mather, chief executive of Hamleys, who said: “Our plans to open in India are well developed.” He added: “In the last 12 months, I have visited India two or three times and am going out again in April. We are trying to find a partner and are pretty optimistic (of finding the right partner) sooner rather than later. Our strategy is to open stores under our own name, Hamleys, in all the big cities, including Calcutta.”

Mather stressed: “We have done extensive research with Ernst & Young and there is potential for large growth in the Indian toy market.”

The first stores are likely to be located in Mumbai and Delhi and cover about 20-30,000 square feet in area, which compares favourably with the 54,000-square-feet flagship store in London at 188-196 Regent Street.

The distribution of toys over seven floors in London provides an insight into how the Indian stores might look: 5th floor: Boys — action figures, vehicles and an open café; 4th: Hobbies — model kits, remote-controlled vehicles, model railways, Scalextric; 3rd: Girls — dolls, arts and crafts, Hello Kitty, Dress Up; 2nd: Pre-school — toys for young children; 1st: Games — board games, science, jigsaws; also a Build-A-Bear Workshop and Sweet Shop; Ground: soft toys — a wide variety of stuffed animals; and Basement: Interactive — lego, trading cards, gadgets and novelties.

Mather’s intention in India is to include top-of-the-range toys “at prices which won’t be more than those in London”. In the long term, he has not ruled out manufacturing Hamleys toys under licence in India both for the domestic market and for export to third countries.

In Britain, where the toy market is worth over £1.6 billion a year, a third of business at Hamleys is done at Christmas. “In India, there are many more festivals,” enthused Mather.

It has to be said that toys sold at Hamleys, founded in 1760 by William Hamleys, are not cheap. However, the brand trades on the fact that “people from all over the world come to Hamleys to buy the most wonderful toys and games and to experience the magical atmosphere. Come and see what makes Hamleys so very special”.

Now, Indian parents will be dragged by their children to Chowringhee, Bandra, Connaught Circus and whatever prestigious sites Mather and his management colleagues can find in India for their stores. “Brand awareness of Hamleys is already there because Indians can now afford to travel,” commented Mather. “Sophistication of the customer is growing quickly. Initially, we will have a tough couple of years but we want to get in early.”

He is reflecting on how Paddington Bear, with his battered suitcase and even more battered hat, will go down in India or whether it is more appropriate to substitute “an Indian version of Paddington”.

It is certainly the case that British children have a thing about teddy bears.

In Evelyn Waugh’s Bridgehead Revisited, Sebastian Flyte took his bear, Aloysius, to university, a tradition maintained to this day at Oxbridge.

Another favourite bear is Winnie-the-Pooh, created by A.A. Milne.

Mather will make Hamleys stores partly culture-specific and attractive to Indian children. “We will have lots of cricket,” he promised.

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