October 2008 | Vol. VII - No. 10
TDmonthly’s Top-10 Most-Wanted Science and Nature Toys
Bugging Kids, Indoors and Out
With additional reporting by Sharri Hefner, Terri Hughes-Lazzell, Chris Lundy, Claudia Newcorn and Brenda Ruggiero
Parents were grateful for the opportunity to turn kids out of the house for active play during summer, but opportunities to bring the outside in topped sales numbers for the year so far, more than 60 specialty toy retailers told TDmonthly Magazine about science and nature sales. Insect Lore's Butterfly Garden gathered perennial favoritism, as did Fascinations' Antworks. Scientific Explorer carried the banner for budding scientists around the nation. Here are the top 10:
This net habitat (almost like a Chinese lantern) encloses caterpillars, food and the setting for a caterpillar’s eventual metamorphosis. It requires mail-sent larvae. “The Butterfly Garden not only shows actual insect metamorphosis, but it does so in just three weeks' time. Many other animal habitats can take up to six months for any changes to occur. This makes it a perfect item for kids who have short attention spans and is an ideal science project for any classroom,” John White, marketing director of Insect Lore, told TDmonthly.
— Fred Rosenberg of On the Park in Kingwood, Texas, named this as his No. 1 seller in May 2008, with sales of 50 to 60 units monthly. “I just can't keep them in stock right now,” he told TDmonthly. “We have a display on our counter with the real butterflies so people can see it go through the process,” said Kim Emigh, VP of e-commerce at Growing Tree Toys in State College, Pa.
— 25% of 64 retailers surveyed in August 2008 named this as their top-selling nature toy, reporting average sales of 12 per month. Five of 38 retailers named Insect Lore’s butterfly habitats as best-selling science and nature products in late summer 2009. In an August 2010 survey, 21 percent of 43 specialty retailers said Insect Lore is a top-selling science and nature brand. Five retailers specifically cited Butterfly Garden as a best seller.
— As of 5/21/2012, the Butterfly Garden had spent more than 1,600 days in the top-100 best-selling toys and games at Amazon.com and has 4.4 out of 5 stars from 461 reviews.
AWARDS: 2010 TDmonthly Top Seller
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 3975 (added 7/18/2005)
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With this indulgent kit, girls can transform a bath into a frothy fizzing sea of color and fragrance. They can make colorful, fragrant bath soaps, fizzers and oatmeal scrub while learning the science behind gels, fragrance and more. This kit “is not about being a stick figure or a beauty queen, but rather about relaxation and learning….While mixing and matching custom fragrances, kids can learn about the science of smell. While whipping up a fizzy bath ball, kids learn about how acids and bases react,” said Elizabeth Rives of Scientific Explorer, who created the kit for the company while still a college student. Launch date: February 2003.
— Mary Porter, owner of science center The Curiosity Zone in Ashburn, Va., told TDmonthly, “Our best-selling toys are our science kits [from Scientific Explorer], especially Spa Science.”
— “Scientific Explorer. Anything at all sells well,” Carolyn Meyer, owner of Blue Turtle Toys in Dayton, Ohio, told TDmonthly.
— “The line we do best with is Scientific Explorer, because it's a complete kit and it's easy to understand,” said Greg Bonner, owner of Heights Toy Center in Little Rock, Ark.
— Annie Ricks, owner of My Imagination Station in Hattiesburg, Miss., told TDmonthly her best-selling item for tweens is, “Spa Science, by Scientific Explorer.”
— Want this? As of 05/06/2011, this product was available for purchase at Magic Box Toys.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 10409 (added 12/5/2006)
Based on a 2003 NASA space shuttle experiment to study animal life in space to test how ants successfully tunnel in microgravity, the nutrient-rich, nontoxic AntWorks™ Gel promotes healthy colony growth while viewers watch ants live and work to create series upon series of intricate tunnels. This easy-to-care-for set includes a magnifying glass, extreme zoom lens, tunnel starter tool and instruction booklet with fun ant facts. U.S. Patent pending. The transparent gel allows for “better representation of ants’ intelligent and architectural ability,” Gary Armstrong of Fascinations told TDmonthly. “The gel is also their food and water source. Ants are the perfect pet. They don’t need any care.”
— "We sell quite a few ant farms from Fascinations," said David Campbell, owner of Amazing Toys in Great Falls, Mont., when discussing science and nature best sellers with TDmonthly in summer 2007.
— Two of 29 retailers TDmonthly spoke with said ant farms from Fascinations are best-selling science toys with customers. They sell about half a dozen ant farms from Fascinations each month.
— “We can't keep them in stock,” remarked Jude Larene, co-owner of Izilla Toys in Seattle, Wash., of the AntWorks kits in his store. Of 64 retailers surveyed in August 2008, 12 percent named Antworks as a best-selling science and nature product.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 674 (added 12/1/2004)
This 42" bamboo butterfly and fish net has a 10" metal frame. Box price: $7.50; pieces per box: $10.00; price per piece: $0.75.
— Michelle Deutschmann, owner of Kaleidoscope Toys in Falmouth, Mass., told TDmonthly in August 2008 that she had sold more than 200 butterfly nets since the beginning of summer.
— Ten percent of 64 retailers named nets as their top-selling nature toy in summer 2008.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 10815 (added 12/27/2006)
Snap Circuits make learning electronics easy and fun. Kids follow the colorful pictures in the manual to build exciting projects, such as FM radios, burglar alarms, doorbells and more. Parts are mounted on plastic modules and snap together with ease. “Children can play with this kit for hours and hours and still have not completed all the projects the snap circuit kits have to offer,” Walter Larsen, national sales manager for Elenco, told TDmonthly.
— One retailer said in summer 2007 his store sells 25 Elenco units monthly. Five percent of 64 retailers said in August 2008 that Snap Circuits are a best-selling science product, reporting average sales of six units per month. Four of 38 retailers echoed the same a year later. “They’ve gone back to this game six or seven times,” between January and July 2006, said TDmonthly's homeschooling mom Susan Ledford.
— Any time TDmonthly asks specialty storeowners about top-selling science toys, Elenco's Snap Circuits heads the list. This simple electronics kit appeals to both girls and boys. By making science fun and easy, Snap Circuits earned a TDmonthly Classic Toy 2007 award.
— As of 12/17/2012 this product had 4.8 out of 5 stars from 575 reviews on Amazon.com. Cons: One user said that her grandchildren were "not all that interested" in the Snap Circuits, and told her that they would prefer LEGOs on their birthday.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 5252 (added 10/27/2005)
Watch the incredible metamorphous from tadpole to adult frog. Grow A Frog™ includes aquarium, growth food, pet handbook and certificate. Just mail in the certificate and a live tadpole will be sent directly to you! Ages 6 and up.
— “I often have to point the kits out, as [kids] are transfixed by the aquarium,” Richard Stoecklein, owner of The Toy Factory in Jacksonville, Fla., said in summer 2008 of the live Grow-A-Frog display he has kept on his counter for many years.
— Five percent of 64 retailers said in August 2008 that Grow-A-Frog is a top-selling science and nature item.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 15397 (added 9/25/2007)
Backyard Safari Bug Vacuum by SUMMIT PRODUCTS
Other products from SUMMIT PRODUCTS
Children discover the adventure just outside their door with the Backyard Safari Bug Vacuum! This cool, interactive toy captures insects by battery operated vacuum suction power without harm, into a plastic capsule. The live bugs can then be viewed and studied through the magnifier in the capsule. Children can either release the bug back into the outdoors or transfer the bug into a habitat.
— “The bug vacuum — those guys sell really well,” said Pat Cooley, owner of Cooleykatz Toys in Livermore, Calif., in August 2008.
— Forty percent of 64 retailers across the nation, from Alaska to Florida, said that bug observation and collecting items headlined their summer sales in 2008.
― As of 9.23.2010, this product had 4 out of 5 stars from 10 reviews on ToysRUs.com and was listed No. 5 in best-selling science and nature toys. PROS: Durable, interactive, engaging and educational.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 659 (added 11/30/2004)
Sea Monkeys Sunken Treasure by EDUCATIONAL INSIGHTS INC.
Other products from EDUCATIONAL INSIGHTS INC.
This Sea Monkeys kit comes with everything one needs to get started raising these living, swimming ”micro-crustaceans.” After treatment with the included water purifier, sprinkle the pouch of dormant Sea Monkey eggs into the tank, and watch the new pets appear and grow. It comes with a “growth guarantee.”
— “Another thing that sells really well is the Sea Monkeys. We sell a lot of those, and we had one of those on display,” Pat Cooley, owner of Cooleykatz Toys Livermore, Calif., told TDmonthly in August 2008 when discussing popular science and nature toys.
— “Kids still get so excited about those little kits,” said Janet Gregory, owner of Over the Rainbow Toys in Anchorage, Alaska. “A lot of adults seem to be drawn to them, too, because of the nostalgia factor.”
― As of 9.23.2010, this product had 4 out of 5 stars from 9 reviews on ToysRUs.com and was listed No. 10 in best-selling science and nature toys. PROS: Entertaining, educational, interactive and easy to use.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 20423 (added 9/8/2008)
A simple introduction to the complex and fascinating world of magnetism, Dowling Magnets’ Assorted Magnet Box contains a variety of basic magnets in different shapes and colors, a shoelace, and a handbook with magnet information and fun facts.
— “We have a huge homeschooling community, and kids are fascinated by magnets,” observed Jacque Flagg, owner of Jacques Inc. in Bryan, Texas, when discussing best-selling science products in August 2008.
— Of 64 retailers polled in Summer 2008, 4 percent listed magnets as their top-selling science item.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 20424 (added 9/8/2008)
This science introduction kit for younger kids includes a color-mixing laboratory where kids can turn their favorite colors into soft crystals, capture a rainbow in a test tube and become color-mixing detectives.
— “Scientific Explorer kits, especially My First Science Kit” are a top-selling science item at Tom’s Toys Inc. in Great Barrington, Mass., Owner Tom Levin told TDmonthly in August 2008.
— Seventeen percent of 65 retailers said Scientific Explorer was their top-selling science kit supplier.
— In late summer 2009, five of 38 retailers told TDmonthly that Scientific Explorer, or a specific kit in the line, accounts for their best-selling science and nature products, though one retailer showed concern about the brand’s expansion. Our best-selling line is Scientific Explorer, but that remains to be seen now that they are all in the Barnes & Noble bookstores,” Diana Nelson, owner of Kazoo & Co. in Denver, told TDmonthly.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 3565 (added 5/12/2005)
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Writer's Bio: Marie Raven has a long history with the specialty toy industry as a family business. In addition to freelancing for TDmonthly Magazine, she writes creative and technical material for various other businesses. Read more articles by this author
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