June 2007 | Vol. VI - No. 6
Stix and Bonz Make for Piece-ful Building
Retailers Vouch for Open-Ended Construction at a Lower Price
It’s always time to build, so specialty toy-store owners are on the lookout for new construction sets, according to a TDmonthly Magazine survey of 39 retailers. Magnets are in, five retailers said, metal may be out, and free-form sets seem to have an edge over themed offerings. In the mix, manufacturers’ newest items include everything from an artsy sculpture toy to a foam castle fit for a princess.
Besides the builds that made TDmonthly’s Top-10 Most-Wanted Construction Toys list, specialty toy-store owners identified other products that keep things constructive.
“[Bonz by Curious Toys] is the greatest toy I’ve seen in years,” raved Dean Nelson, owner of Wizard Kids Toys in Toledo, Ohio, about the whimsical interlocking construction pieces.
And Cheryl Richmond, owner of Punkin Doodles in Havre, Mont., noted that she sells a fair amount of CoinStruction by Educational Insights. “You use coins to build little figures,” she explained.
Customers generally seek free-form items, such as buckets of LEGOs, as opposed to build-one-item kits, asserted Nellie Fais, owner of Toy Magic in Bethlehem, Pa. Open-ended Fiddlestix by Poof-Slinky are especially popular during the holiday season at Dancing Bear Toys & Gifts in Frederick, Md. ”We have an event featuring them, and they jump dramatically — maybe [to sales of] 10 a day,” said Owner Tom England.
Some building sets may be ready for demolition: “Our customers don’t like the metal construction kits anymore,” noted Susan Castor, owner of Pentwater Toy Box in Pentwater, Mich.
Richmond noted that higher-priced large Erector sets are not selling that well: “The preference is for sets with four or five models to build rather than 15 or 20.” Owner Angel Stahl of Angel’s Toy Barn in Greensburg, Pa., said that “smaller, lower-priced items, under $30” are selling better than expected.
“We don't see repeat customers on the Erector,” agreed Linda Hays, owner of Hopscotch Inc. in McMinnville, Ore. “We see that as an indication that it's probably not being used once they get it home.”
Although LEGO’s popularity isn’t fading, its supply is, said two retailers: “LEGO has been very disappointing this year, only shipping about one-fourth of their stock — 60 or 70 units,” Nancy Streeter, owner of Eureka Toys in Newburyport, Mass., told TDmonthly.
Three retailers expressed concern about an overall shortage in the construction category. Owner Dennis Hofsetter of The Toy Store in Atlanta noted that “there is a huge need for someone to enter that market.”
Some companies are taking advantage of the gap. New kits include natural wood Timberkits, distributed by MK and Company; ShapeScapes by Remarkable Toys, which feature colorful organic shapes; Stack & Stick’s fitted-wood building kits; Q-Ba-Maze’s free-form marble run and Bridge Street Toys’ hydrodynamic building sets.
And Nomaco Inc., a long-time supplier of foam noodles for swimming pools, is branching out this fall with the launch of Planet Foam Dreambuilders Foam Construction System. Jeff Slater, director of retail and corporate marketing for Nomaco, pointed out to TDmonthly that 80 percent of LEGO sales are themed products, so Nomaco made sure that Dreambuilders — with three themed sets and one free-form set — lends itself to both specific and open-ended play.
Read on to see more creative construction options recommended by retailers and manufacturers:
DragonBonz joins a series of colorful, anatomically incorrect and interlocking construction pieces that enable children to assemble whimsical characters from their imaginations. It includes 55 construction pieces and is compatible with other Bonz sets. Specially designed hooks allow any DragonBonz character to “fly,” using lengths of monofilament included in the package. Featured pieces include a bright green and blue dragon head with moveable jaw, translucent orange tongues of fire, rattling snake tails, a teal chrome sword and six poseable eyes.
— "What makes it so innovative and distinctive is that it's not electronic but it's totally modern!" Susan Holden, head of Curious Toys, told TDmonthly. Launch date: February 11, 2007.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 11007 (added 1/8/2007)
This 34-piece set includes unpainted, quality beech wood blocks in various shapes. The blocks provide freedom of form and freedom of inspiration for play without boundaries and are suitable for both children and adults. They allow the creation of unique and sophisticated shapes, such as that created when the top of the triangle is stacked on top of the square. They may also be used for rehabilitation support. “Tsumiki is high price but with high quality,” President Hidemi Tada of Tadatora Inc. told TDmonthly. Launch date: February 2004.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 12222 (added 4/6/2007)
Q-BA-MAZE 20-Pack Cool Colors (blue, green, clear) by Q-BA-MAZE INC.
Other products from Q-BA-MAZE INC.
Designed by a former architect, Q-BA-MAZE (kyoo-ba-maze) is a construction system of interlocking cubes that form pathways for rolling balls. The system uses just three kinds of cubes and is easy to learn, but is also endlessly fascinating because the cubes attach in many different combinations and the action of the balls is so unpredictable. It is part art and part science, and even adults can enjoy it as an interactive desktop sculpture. “We believe in the value of design: product design that inspires creative play for children and adults; packaging design that uses resources efficiently, stands out on the shelf and demonstrates the product in the box; and web design that provides lasting value beyond the box with helpful videos, interactive tools and printer-friendly PDF instructions,” CEO Andrew Comfort told TDmonthly. Launch date: May 1, 2007.
— “We picked up a new toy called Q-Ba-Maze and those have been really, really popular,” Alicia Smith, owner of Juneau’s Imagination Station in Juneau, Alaska, told TDmonthly in May 2008.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 12039 (added 3/22/2007)
Fiddlestix is a classic rod and connector toy that stimulates creativity and provides hours of fun for kids. Pieces are made of select hardwood with a non-toxic finish and are easy to manipulate.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 8789 (added 7/28/2006)
Young Architects Brick and Mortar Construction Kit ? White House by EDUCATIONAL INSIGHTS INC.
Other products from EDUCATIONAL INSIGHTS INC.
Amateur architects can build this replica of the White House with this kit that includes bricks, mortar, a mini wheelbarrow, a trowel, an L-shaped ruler and an instruction book. The mortar dissolves in water, making it possible to build the structure again and again. “Wooden building sets like Brick and Mortar are good,” Dean Nelson, owner of Wizard Kids Toys in Toledo, Ohio, told TDmonthly in spring 2007.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 7579 (added 4/14/2006)
iggiBig Deluxe Building Blocks by TOP SHELF HOLDINGS LLC
Other products from TOP SHELF HOLDINGS LLC
This award-winning building block set includes 48 painted hardwood pieces, drawn from architectural styles from around the world. With Russian domes, Roman arches and Middle Eastern towers, children can build their own "global village." The blocks come packed in a sturdy storage crate.
— “This set is bigger, brighter and more vibrant, and includes a greater variety of styles than other building blocks and architectural blocks on the market. Since it includes many architectural styles all in one set, it stimulates a child's imagination while exposing them to different shapes and styles,” Owner Matthew Peake of Top Shelf Holdings told TDmonthly. “We also have gone more up-market in terms of material,” he added about the iggiBig line. “We use rubberwood whenever possible.”
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 11986 (added 3/19/2007)
These rubberwood kits allow children and adults to create “mechanical marvels in natural wood.” Each set includes two layers of components packed in covered plastic trays, a parts list, sand paper, glue and visual instructions. Paint and a battery kit may be added to customize a model. The company requires a minimum wholesale order of 12 pieces. Launch date: August 2006.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 11952 (added 3/16/2007)
These large, foam bricks encourage hours of imaginative play, stimulating a child’s spatial reasoning as well as gross motor skills. This set includes five large blocks (16” x 8” x 4.25”), six medium blocks (12” x 8” x 4.25”) and five small blocks (8” x 8” x 4.25”) in random eye-catching colors. “These are the biggest soft foam interlocking blocks on the market today,” John Olari of Play Soft told TDmonthly. Launch date: April 2, 2007.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 11789 (added 3/6/2007)
This building blocks set includes everything kids need to construct a complete section of Brickadoo City: building bricks, water-soluble cement, wooden building elements (doors and frames), a trowel, a mixing bin, a base plate and a foam card with press-out figures and materials. The white bricks and water-soluble cement are made of natural raw materials that don't contain any harmful substances. The bricks are paintable, and each box contains several sacks of cement, enough for four to five playing sessions. Launch date: May/June 2007.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 11753 (added 3/1/2007)
These simple but finely made cubes combine natural beauty with educational value to provide comprehensive play value. As with all HABA wooden blocks, they're designed and finished with precision to allow for an aesthetic and productive play experience. Motor and learning skills are developed as kids master how to handle and piece these blocks together.
— "I really love — and people come to me for — the HABA," said Amy Barrett, owner of Lasso the Moon Wonderful Toys in Helena, Mont., about wooden toy best-sellers in her store.
— "HABA has all-wood products and games for children of all ages," explained Brandy Lindstrom, manager at Little Blue Choo Choo in Scottsdale, Ariz.
— Eight of 51 retailers told TDmonthly that HABA wooden toys were big sellers among their customers.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 11308 (added 1/31/2007)
It’s easy for young hands to snap together these colorful chunky Kid K’nex pieces. Rockin’ Robots kit includes an idea guide, as well as a handy case, making storage and on-the-go fun a snap.
― “K'Nex … has very good deals for the specialty market,” Bill of Tutoring Toy told TDmonthly in spring 2007.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 10572 (added 12/8/2006)
In this beginner’s version of the classic wooden building set, the pieces are big, but are specifically designed for little hands. It also comes in “School” and “Farm” versions.
— Lincoln Logs was among the best-selling classic toys for Sylvia Pudtice, co-owner of Giggles for Kids in Suwanee, Ga. She added, “What makes them so popular is that mothers and grandmothers like them, so they buy their kids something they had as a child.”
— Lincoln Logs was also a best-selling classic for Roberta Kennedy, owner of Abracadabra Toys in Greenville, N.C.
— Seven of 27 retailers told TDmonthly that Lincoln Logs was a classic best seller. Most said that the toy’s success was because of the ability of parents and grandparents to pass on the joy of the product to younger generations.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 9731 (added 10/23/2006)
CoinStruction Super Set by EDUCATIONAL INSIGHTS INC.
Other products from EDUCATIONAL INSIGHTS INC.
Piggy banks were never this much fun. Kids will watch their pennies and nickels grow into fun designs using CoinStruction's connector clips. They just connect two, three or four coins together with the color-coded clips, and sets can be combined for even more building fun. Each set includes color-coded clips needed to build the featured item and step-by-step illustrated directions and guidelines for creating their own designs. The Super Set includes more than 1,300 clips to make the robot, helicopter, dinosaur and submarine.
— "I sell quite a bit of what they call CoinStruction. … It's probably more an educational type toy, and for people who collect quarters," said Cheryl Richmond, owner of Punkin Doodles in Havre, Mont., in spring 2007.
― Owner Nellie Fais of Toy Magic in Bethlehem, Pa., told TDmonthly in spring 2007 that Educational Insights has great customer service. “When I call, they always respond and can deal with any situation,” she said.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 12688 (added 5/7/2007)
This 1,174-piece set allows children to create a stylish urban brownstone, complete with a working garage for storing their modern car. It features unique LEGO pieces like doors, windows and flowers. It includes step-by-step instructions for building and rebuilding three different homes from one box of parts, plus photo inspiration for many more. Launch date: August 2007.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 11583 (added 2/23/2007)
Fun Bricks is a colorful construction set of 100 pieces and elements of top-quality plastic, including a platform to build the bricks on to create many fun construction objects.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 11921 (added 3/14/2007)
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Writer's Bio: Julie L. Jones has written articles for both newspapers and magazines. Before joining the staff of TDmonthly Magazine, she worked as a communications writer and provided editorial support for a market research company. Read more articles by this author
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