HUGE Thank You to 3 Groups!

Where did this first quarter go?  Wow what a great one it has been. Coming off a very  good  sales year in 2017 we wanted to get out of the gate strong in 2018 and mission accomplished.  This will be our best first quarter sales performance ever (22 years) and the strongest March performance ever!!  Wait–not what you are thinking?

I contribute this performance to 3 main groups;

  1. Great new product and smaller toy/gift vendors allowing us to try their products in store early and with demos. I must highlight 4 we are trying right now with success;  Chatty Snaps, a Chicago based company with a great back story and simple product that allows you to express yourself; The Animoodles, my favorite Toy Fair pick, once I saw it, played with it and could see the potential to have a soft and cuddly building toy that allows creativity and promotes communication; Makeup Eraser, broadens our age range and with tweens growing in importance and Mom’s needing to pick up gifts, this fit the bill; Squeezamals, another Toy Fair like but  would the squishy trend stay alive? It has and this new entry has rocked- zooming to our #1 toy in 2 weeks. WOW!
  2. The Toy Man.jpg
  3. Our team of experts — this crew gets it! What it takes day in and day out to perform at a high level. Selling, Merchandising, Training, Demoing, Receiving, Inventorying, and Marketing.  They do it all and understand they are part of something special. They WOW me!
  4. Jess Jenna
  5. Our fans– so many are commenting that they appreciate our daily toy updates, safety announcements, sales/events and new new new products that are on trend as well as tried and true best sellers. We take this seriously and securely especially with our 2700+ text audience. We value this info and respect it.
  6. katie 1

did not mention any other retailer or toy/gift competitor. Or the rapid growth of on line toy sales. The fact is, retail has changed and will continue to change dramatically but with the right partners(vendors), a team that shares the vision and customers who want to and have a reason to come inside a store, the other noise doesn’t matter. I suggest independent toy stores stay focused on your vision, but do it very well, and we all will continue to grow.

Till next time.

Rick    

BLUE Sky

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Toys R Us –One retailers perspective.

I have not seen much written yet from a retailers perspective around the liquidation of all Toys R Us stores. I can understand why Walmart, Target, Amazon and other major retailers would not speak or even speculate on this subject. They really can’t gain much but my hunch is they will be prepping for an even bigger surge of shopping on line this holiday season.

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So what does an independent toy store think? To be honest, it’s a mixed feeling. On a personal level (after 22 years of competing with them) I feel like our model and strategy has won, however, I too shopped there when my kids were little and they are pleasant memories. Bikes, strollers, Teenage Mutant Turtles and dolls were on our list.

But, here’s the way I really feel. The customer votes with their dollars and despite the debt or any other reason people are saying they went bankrupt doesn’t matter. The sales were not enough to compensate for their organizational structure and business model. Smart(?) people, but bad model. If I were to arrange my business like they had, I would be long gone. Nobody would care either. That’s business.

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But, even without the debt overhang, the Toys R Us model was relatively easy to compete against. On one hand they wanted to be price competitive on line (and somewhat in store) and they kept saying “we want to have a great in store experience” but they did not execute. Now, I am a bricks and mortar toy store (we sell on line but modestly) and I know how hard it is to execute the in store experience. Every day, every customer, every transaction— very hard.  But I also know I have no choice because if you aren’t great at one thing and get caught in the middle like Toys R Us, you will loose. They lost.

This current situation actually wants me to work harder, finding new ways and ideas to up our game and provide a new type of in store toy experience. We have a solid plan of best team members (educated, incentives, friendly, compensated), curated product selection (but also stocking what kids want and stressing new toys first to shelf), and all done in a WOW environment.  But, I know we need to do more. YouTube, social media, sourcing directly from China, and a wider age range of gifts is allowing us to widen our age range and have gifts for 1-103 years!  The product pipeline is solid from what I see.

popsocket

The bottom line for me–  keep executing but continue to morph and adapt to kids and Mom’s. Some new retail breakthroughs will occur and we are ready because we have no debt and are ready to invest.  Thank you Toys R Us for even more motivation. I can’t wait to see how the great independent toy retailers will evolve over the next 5-10 years. Come along for the ride. A new generation of kids will experience an even better toy experience creating many memories.

tpw-love-this

 

 

 

 

This is what your child thinks of V-Day

Valentine’s day is around the corner! You and I know what Valentine’s Day is all about. But does your child understand Valentine’s Day?
Studies show that most kids think of Valentine’s day as a great time to get chocolates and toys. (We both know, I’m all about the toys.)
However,
This can be an exceptional time for teaching the importance of Valentine’s Day.
What makes Valentine’s day so important is the core values that we teach our children. We want to teach them how to appreciate the ones they love, respect themselves, and respect others.
“How do we do this?” you might ask. Easy!
We lead by example.
Treat your child how they should treat others and how others should treat them!
Have you ever seen that video of the father taking his little girl on a date? (It is so adorable, if you haven’t seen it, click here). He did it to teach her how a man should respect her one day.
The Best First Date
Maybe we can all come up with a similar exercize that would teach to our children these values and be very fun!
Hope this gives you some great V-Day ideas!
Stop on by sometime to talk Richard. We would love to have you!
Your friend
-Rick the Toy Man

What type of Toy Shopper are you?

It is becoming a little clearer to me that the toy shoppers of today are splitting into two camps.  The price/convenient/mundane shopper that just wants to get the birthday party gift(or holiday) quickly and be done or they simply want to satisfy their child by what they see on YouTube and not hear about the whining.  Versus, parents and toy shoppers that look at a birthday party (or holiday) and say, “what can I do to make the child feel special, maybe learn a few new skills, and/or personalize this gift to the child.” The latter obviously takes more time, effort and perhaps dollars.  This doesn’t mean they won’t let their child have the HOT TOY FAD but that is usually secondary to the purpose of purchasing a special gift with forethought and research so they can give that perfect gift.  After all, there is a set amount of birthdays a child has– you can’t increase or go back in time.

tay bank

Personalization takes some effort by customers–some make the time & effort.

hatchimal cover

Hot Toy Fads come and go –usually quickly.

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Now if my assumption is correct on the divergent toy shopper profiles, what does that have to do with toy retailers?  Well, I believe two distinct segments can survive and grow over time– the convenient/low price model and the curated product/service model. We obviously fall into the latter and find it is working, and working well. Yes, you must have what kids want, but just as importantly, you need knowledgeable team members to help the toy shopper find that special gift or assist in making it special. If you examine the toy industry, Amazon is clearly in camp one and seems to be leading the pack with Wal-Mart. Those retailers stuck in the middle– try to deliver convenience, low prices, stock mostly what’s hot, but usually have way too many toys, are losing.  My experience at Learning Express Toys (the national Franchise toy leader) and my interactions with ASTRA (American Specialty Toy Retailer Association) clearly show that both ends of this customer split can and do co-exist together. In fact, we need both. My job as a retailer is to then execute better than any other retailer through our strategy of Best Team, Best Products, in a WOW environment. Since we embarked on this strategy 5 years ago, it has truly paid dividends to the surprise of many. I hope that if you read this, regardless of which toy shopper profile you fit, remember to make birthdays and holidays as special as you can for your own children, relatives, friends and even perhaps those less fortunate. May you have a safe, fun and rewarding 2017 holiday season.

Rick

 

 

Have Toys and Gifts merged?

It’s Labor Day today but when you love what you do, it’s a labor of love, so we are at our toy store and doing some thinking. The toy industry has made a major shift this year from toy giving to gift giving. The top selling products for 2017 (January thru August) bear this out. Only 3 of our Top 10 product ranking would be legitimately called toys as we know it. The other 7 ranking SKU’s would traditionally be marked as gifts.   Let’s take a look;

TOYS VS. GIFTS

  1. Fidget Spinners
  2. PopSockets
  3. Fidget Cubes
  4. Thinking Putty
  5. Laser X Tag  (toy)
  6. EggMazing Egg Decorator
  7. Logo Loops Headbands
  8. Bashminton activity game (toy)
  9. ClipCase personalized
  10. Hatchimals (toy)

There are two main reasons I see for this change in dynamics over time. The first is fashion has trickled down to kids at an earlier age– take PopSockets, our top customers are middle schoolers and high school aged kids followed by adults. Multiple purchases are made by the same customer to fit their style of the day.  The second is we (toy stores) have met the needs of our customers better by opening up space and stocking products for tweens, older kids and adults– in fact we had to. The aging out of kids for toys at a much earlier age caused traditional toy sales to fall thus the need to expand our reach to higher age points. This has worked.  The Spinner craze only amplified this by the wide range of ages purchasing the fidget products from 5+ to Grandparents.

spinner girl

Will this trend continue?  Well for the holiday season you will see the trend toward mostly toys in November and December as toy giving is the main purpose(Christmas and Hanukkah), but I strongly suggest that the product mix you see in successful stores will be a blend of toys and traditional gifts going forward. After all, it’s the customer that dictates what we stock and right now it has fashion written all over it.

Until next time.

Rick (The Toy Man).

 

 

 

Summer Doldrums? Not here.

So far, 4 of these are turning into Top Toys. Build Bonanza, Little Live Pets, Fingerlings and SmartGurlz.

Learning Express Lake Zurich Blog

The doldrums is a colloquial expression derived from historical maritime usage, which refers to those parts of the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean affected by the Intertropical Convergence Zone, a low-pressure area around the Equator where the prevailing winds are calm. Here at Learning Express Toys we are anything but calm.

Why?  To get ready for the holidays all the planning and execution needs to be done by July. Orders placed, ads designed, events planned and sale dates noted. Staffing of the team needs to be geared up and planned as does the space to store stock so we won’t run out on December 24th. Training dates are set, vendor shipments confirmed and testing of new toys is all underway for a solid, if not very good 2017 holiday season.

holidayFBIcon

The year has started off with a bang. The fidget Spinner craze was one of the largest and certainly…

View original post 248 more words

Summer Doldrums? Not here.

The doldrums is a colloquial expression derived from historical maritime usage, which refers to those parts of the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean affected by the Intertropical Convergence Zone, a low-pressure area around the Equator where the prevailing winds are calm. Here at Learning Express Toys we are anything but calm.

Why?  To get ready for the holidays all the planning and execution needs to be done by July. Orders placed, ads designed, events planned and sale dates noted. Staffing of the team needs to be geared up and planned as does the space to store stock so we won’t run out on December 24th. Training dates are set, vendor shipments confirmed and testing of new toys is all underway for a solid, if not very good 2017 holiday season.

holidayFBIcon

The year has started off with a bang. The fidget Spinner craze was one of the largest and certainly the quickest spike in sales we have ever witnessed. Even in July Spinner sales are in our top 5 sellers. Then came Squishies, a collectible soft toy in differing shapes. Huge in Japan for 2 years now and making its way to the US. This also has been strong for us over the last 2 months. But, wait!  The toy pipeline is solid for the next 12 months. In fact, I can’t remember a time that the pipeline has had this much quality and potential. Here is what we see;  “get your pens out or iPad to make notes for Christmas”

Build Bonanza aka Lego tape— building tape for 3D builds. Up, down and across any surface. Lego Tape

Magic Fairy and Wizard Wands from Cepia Toys–a real WOW.

Pink wand 2 pkg

Little Live Pets expansion of turtles, birds, babies and plush.

LLP 1

Fingerlings-a UK Top Toy by WowWee Toys coming to the US.   Fingerlings are adorable Baby Monkeys that are curious about the world around them starting with you! fingerlings

 

SmartGurlzSmartGurlz Siggy is a self-balancing, dual-wheeled robotic scooter fashion doll teaching girls to code.

Siggy

Zipes speed pipes– Speed Pipes is the first ever toy where vehicles speed through pipes instead of on top of tracks. R/C.

zipes

So there you have it. A great year shaping up in the toy market but remember, it’s always the kids that decide what will be the big winners. That’s why we plan, research but listen everyday to our customer–kids!!  See you in the store.

Rick (Toyman)