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.

Toy-shoppers-scour-local-store-shelves-as-bargain-hunters-turn-out-very-early-2

 

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

 

 

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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…

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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)

Take Back Childhood

Our good friend in the toy industry Melissa, of Melissa & Doug fame, has started and continued with her mission of Taking Back Childhood and letting kids play. We couldn’t agree more and are helping her in this mission locally right here in Lake Zurich, Il. We recently held the first of 3 Take Back Childhood days in which we allow Toy Testers(kids) to play with several toys and allow them to express themselves about the goods, bads, complexity or boredom with a toy. It isn’t necessarily the toy we are testing but rather the play patterns and creativity of the child. So, what did we find out?  Our own Katie H. conducted the play date on June 12th from 10 am till 4 pm with a variety of toys and interaction with kids from 3-12. Here is her write up to Melissa and Doug;

Take Back Childhood

M&D Take Back

Dear Melissa and Doug,

I was responsible for the Take Back Childhood initiative at the Lake Zurich Learning Express Toys. I personally wanted to say that, as a student majoring in neuroscience and studying early learning and development, the goal of this initiative is extremely important and I am glad that your company understands this and created this event.

Most of the kids we got in for our event were a little too young to really get into filling out the lab notebooks (although we had a few) so I just gauged where their interests were and took some notes on what they liked and what they didn’t.

Construction Set in a Box-

Many kids loved this set and enjoyed being creative with it. Some of the kids tried building cars and others enjoyed creating little houses and buildings. One issue that some of the kids had and that one parent pointed out was that some of the screws were a bit difficult to screw into the blocks. One parent commented that wood shavings would come off when they tried screwing the pieces together.

Perfect Pasta Playset & Food Cart-

The Perfect Pasta Playset was an instant hit with many of the younger kids ages 3-5. The kids loved that you could stuff the lasagna with different fillings and that the playset seemed very “real”. We also set out the Food Cart Playset for the kids which the kids and parents really loved. The kids enjoyed mixing and matching the food items.

Magic Set-

The magic set was less popular with the kids. The younger (4-6 yrs) kids found it too difficult to understand the tricks, but they enjoyed watching them being performed. The older (7-9 yrs) kids found the tricks too easy and simple and were not interested. The toy was a great item for the younger kids to watch tricks being performed and might be a good toy for younger ones to “grow into” but it was not enough to keep the older ones interested.

Stamps, Markers, and Crayons-

We rolled out a big sheet of the Melissa and Doug easel paper on our table and the kids really enjoyed drawing all over the table, using the stamps, markers, and crayons. We set out a couple of the stamp sets that we carry for the kids to play with and the kids really had fun.

I hope these notes are helpful for you and your company. Our customers really enjoyed this event and I am happy that I got to be a part of it.

Best, Katie Harbeck

Now Katie is 20 years old and she gets it despite growing up in a tech/social world through her middle school and high school years. The fact that she gets it, gives me great hope that the Mom’s and Dad’s to be of the future will indeed embrace this mission and kids will get back to playing, creating, inventing and socializing with others. Kids talking to kids not just texting.

If you want to learn more about the Melissa & Doug Mission to Take Back Childhood visit this link.  https://www.melissaanddoug.com/our-mission.html

So, until next time, let’s all play this summer and experience a little childhood again.

Best Regards,

Rick

 

 

 

Getting Ready for Christmas

holidayFBIcon

Never can start too early!

A lot of work has already gone into the 2017 holiday season and it must, if you are going to pull off a solid and profitable year.  It all started in February at Toy Fair in New York when we debriefed after the 2016 season and scouted for new and unique toys for this year. Then over the last 2 1/2 months our Corporate buying team, with store owner input, has developed our secret Santa list that will be transformed into our fall and holiday catalog pieces. Of course this all must be done while managing the current business and forecasting some products sight unseen. There is risk and you never bat 1000, but…..working together with our vendor partners, knowing our customers, gaging the economy and developing exclusive products we are confident in our ability to hit a homerun. It is our 30th year for our Franchise and my 21rst Holiday season and together we have done pretty well serving our children and families around the country.

There is risk, however, and that is why the toy industry is so difficult. I often quote, if it is so easy, why don’t you see a lot more toy stores?  So, managing risk, while adeptly jumping on hot trends and products, is a formula that yields good results. Take the latest Spinner craze—this started overnight in March and hit a peak in late April and while strong has people saying when will it end?  Some retailers aren’t even in yet.

SPINNERSQUAD (1)-page-001

So, we will now start executing our buying, staging deliveries, ads, pricing and promotions all gearing us to be successful with our strategy of best Team, best Products, delivered in a WOW experience. Let me end with, I am very excited about the toy pipeline–it is strong, unique and working with the top toy companies in the world, I am confident Santa will deliver in 2017. Now on to Easter/Spring 2018.

Best,

Rick

3 Biggest Changes in the Toy Biz

I was thinking the other day about the day we opened in August 1996 and how chaotic it was then—-well little did I know 21 years later what chaos really is!  But, for those who thrive on it, this is the business for you.  Here, I list my 3 most powerful changes seen in this industry from my viewpoint.

  1.  The customer is now in the palm of your hand. That’s right, social media (namely Facebook for us), has allowed us to connect, compete and even beat most toy retailers in speed, direct communications and loyalty to our main consumer. Our location alone has over 32,000 fans and we can text some 2600 directly with news, specials, alerts and sales. Speed and directly communicating has changed the way and who we can compete with.
  2.    Vendors, or as I like to refer to them(Partners), have never been more important to team up with to help each other. When I first started I was told what to sell and how to sell and pretty much at what price— today, we work together, many who call to discuss products, consumer needs and wants and also how we partner together– I am just a little old toy store, but when working together, we move a lot of product.  Here are the key attributes of a high volume toy; Gender neutral, right price point, collectible/addons, no batteries(generally), and kids want to use their own money(not just a gift). It helps too when schools ban toys, the kids want them more!!!!
  3. The categorizing of specialty toys vs. mass retailers is over. Kids don’t care who sells the toy or what labels we put on retailers. To be relevant today you must carry what kids want and by that very fact these 2 labels go away. Yes, margins and sales strategies vary, but as the CEO of your market you need to pull the right levers in pricing, product, placement and  promotion.  Value pricing has never been more important and the term keystone so out of date.  I am a toy retailer, making memories for my customers through 3 basic strategies–a great Team of toy experts, great Products(that kids want not what I want to sell) and finally, delivered in a WOW presence that invites kids and adults to return. A true treasure hunt in a physical location–a toy store.
  4.  calico cutie
  5. Thanks for reading and until next time…………………….spin on (the latest hot toy craze- spinners).