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July 2004 | Vol. III - No. 7
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Naughty and Nice Novelties from Toysmith


Bill Smith, owner of Toysmith, a large novelty toy distributor with over 20,000 customers and 2,000 items, started as an engineer for Boeing. He later accepted a position as vice president of an educational supply catalog company in Seattle before he discovered his passion for toys at a fair thirty years ago. Now in its twenty-third year, Toysmith employs 150 full-time people and maintains a modern warehouse in Auburn, Washington.

Smith states, "Our business to retailers is primarily driven by sales activity of 100 reps from fourteen principal groups. These groups carry our product lines along with other companies they represent into the specialty retail segment of the market. Their focus is primarily toy stores, gift shops, museums, zoos, aquariums, and educational dealers as well as variety and general merchandise retailers. We often refer to our range of customers as ´from the Smithsonian to Sam´s Car Wash.´"

Smith has seen an increase in accounts stocking novelty toys, such as hobby stores and a department store chain. "Even as little as two years ago, no one would have seen department stores as a target market for novelty toys. In terms of actual products, there is a definite trend toward classic, nostalgia, and a sort of ´naughty but nice´ group of products."

He believes the novelty toy business stays strong because it doesn´t change. "It offers products of high interest and play value at recession-proof low price points," he says. "Novelty toys are subject to multiple sales as party favors, generating deceptively high sales per square foot at among the highest profit margins in any retail environment. These are also the items that kids can buy with their own money and items that generate sales from customers who might otherwise leave without buying anything."

Their bestsellers are as varied as their product mix. Immediate play value and long-lasting fun is a winning combination. Miniaturization takes themes from Zen to bowling and captures the essence in a 4"x4" acrylic box. Their Life in Miniature series remains strong. Products retail in the $1-$5 range. Puzzles, activity kits, and Bella Bistro cookware ranges from $10-$25.

Pinky balls, harmonicas, paddleballs, baking powder-powered subs, rocket balloons and horseshoe magnets are also popular. In the adult category, whoopee cushions, potty putty, splat tomatoes, egg balls, goos, and slimes filled with disgusting objects like body parts, worms, and flies round out the list along with novelty bath items. Although their products target ages 5-10, Toysmith reaches adults with their timeless gift items. Some customers have been with them for over twenty years.

"Toysmith´s ability to develop and supply novelty items for very specific uses has brought significant business from publishers to whom we supply components for curriculum materials from science experiment kits to object lessons and craft activities for vacation bible schools," Smith explains.

Over the last three years their business to multi-door, multi-tier retailers has seen a substantial increase. Their acquisitions include Garden at Home, DaMert Company, Tangent Toys, OzWest, and BC Bones, providing new market opportunities in specialty catalogs. In addition to wholesale distribution, Toysmith offers promotional products for events and businesses, orders ranging from a few hundred to several hundred thousand. This division provides presentation materials, corporate gifts, and incentive prizes for library reading programs.




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Writer's Bio: Julia Ann Charpentier is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and an editor for book publishers. Read more articles by this author

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