Chatting with the Industry Specialty Toys & Gifts spoke with specialty retailers and manufacturers about marketing strategies, what’s selling, and how they’re facing the challenges of the specialty toy market.
What are the biggest challenges facing the specialty toy industry, and how do you manage these challenges? Clower: One of the biggest challenges facing our industry is finding a way to convince potential customers that specialty toy stores offer intrinsic value that cannot be gained in big box stores or online channels. Being able to see, touch, and play with items in our stores provides the customer with assurances that the product he or she chooses is right for his or her circumstance. The knowledge we can share about the benefits of specific products and the value of play in general can only be found in specialty stores. Another challenge we face is convincing parents to limit screentime. The research seems to be clear that kids need to be active in their play and that unstructured playtime is important in child development. I feel certain that we are not the only store owners who see young children—sometimes even in a stroller—entering our store with a phone or tablet in their hands. Trying to manage these challenges in our store is obviously difficult. On a day-to-day basis, we try to make sure that we are providing a quality experience with many demo products for customers to try. If we don’t have an item open, we will open it if a customer is interested. We greet every customer as they enter the store
Thea Brown Buyer and General Manager, World of Mirth, Richmond, Va.
and we always try to engage the children. I am always telling customers that they never know what will fly over their head or roll under their feet! Our goal is to have customers leaving our store with smiles on their faces and new knowledge about the importance of play. Fisher: I think the biggest challenges currently facing the specialty toy industry are keeping foot traffic up, and offering differentiation from online and mass-market channels. Without question, consumers have more avenues for purchasing than ever before. Fast delivery of products purchased online and price discounting both online and in mass-market stores are formidable forms of competition. Successful specialty toy retailers need to think about what they can do to differentiate themselves from this competition. Well-trained salespeople who can educate consumers; heavy involvement in local community activities; in-store activities and promotions that entertain, educate, and reward consumers; and value-added services (delivery, gift-wrapping, loyalty programs, bundling, etc.), are just some of the differentiators that online sellers and big box stores cannot offer. Osborne: At Wonder Works, we see challenges as opportunities to grow and better
Melanie Clark Owner, Big City Toys, Mobile, Ala.
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the services we provide our customers. One opportunity is incorporating high-demand trend products in our stores. These are seen on TV, may incorporate tech items, and may be found in mass retail stores. Rather than boycotting these toys, we embrace them. We expand our variety, look for them at shows, read industry articles, talk with others in the industry to identify them, develop relationships with their manufacturers, and then incorporate them into our product mix. However, we still keep a strong focus on the unique toys that make specialty what it is. Our buying model incorporates a large variety of products at a lower quantity to determine “winners,” then zero in on targeted products for the key selling seasons. By doing so, we have seen our sales increase, staff and customers are ecstatic about the change, and we’ve built many new relationships in the toy industry. Quartin: The challenges are different for everyone. For the industry as a whole, it’s always tough when coming off of a great year where we saw industry-wide growth of 7 percent. I’m hearing more and more that online marketplaces continue to be one of the biggest competitive threats to the specialty toy industry. Brick-and-mortar stores are focusing a lot of energy on coming up with
John and Tammy Clower Co-Owners, Giggle Monkey Toys, Dahlonega, Ga.
Mike Fisher Vice President, The Haywire Group
Many of us are traveling to Denver for the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association’s (ASTRA’s) Marketplace & Academy trade show, and in...