Retailers Weigh In On Plush
November 1, 2002
In the minds of many retailers, plush
lives in two groups. There are the licensed collections of Disney®
characters and Sesame Street® creations. And then there
are brands like Gund® and Manhattan®, known
for making stuffed creatures with huggable bodies, soulful faces,
and fur so soft it is worthy of a monarch's touch.
Finding the proper mixture of cute,
pleasingly tactile, and unique is what Sonya Kalajian of the Learning
Express feels is key to success. But since the first Teddy Bear
came on the scene in 1902, stuffed animals have suffered all variety
of indignities, from pink fur to funny costumes. While some retailers
see appeal in bold colors, many feel that fewer gimmicks make it
easier to move the product.
"Facial expression is a big
deal," says SmilesAllAround.com owner Christina Durboraw,
adding that earth tone colors and more plumpness and huggability
make for better sellers. Durboraw also recognizes that plush purchases
are very much of a hands-on impulse buy, and therefore tough to
market via the Internet.
To facilitate sales, most retailers
keep prices in an accessible range from $20 to $75. But, says Durboraw,
parents will never scrimp on gifts for the kids. And sometimes that
can lead to stupendous purchases.
Aardvarks to Zebras is Sarah
Rassmussen's shop in Cleveland Ohio. Rasmussen has found a niche
specializing in life-like stuffed animals of the exotic sort, and
she says during the holidays a $300 order of stuffed Emus and plush
Vultures is not unusual. Big giraffes go for $2000, and when one
sold last year Rasmussen was understandably "thrilled."
Economic blips do affect plush retailers,
and many are already feeling the pressure of the oncoming Holiday
season. Of course the smaller shops must fight to be noticed by
manufacturers, but the recent dock lockout on the West Coast has
also created an unusual, bittersweet effect. Lack of incoming product
has left merchants with sudden shortages, but that in turn has launched
an early buying spree.
The plush industry at large - responsible
for almost 10 percent of all toy sales - has seen a 40 percent decline
in sales in the past two years (unitymarketing.com). Much of the
decline is thought to have coincided with the waning of the Beanie
Babies craze, however, and the sales now seem to be leveling
off to more conventional numbers.
(To read about a hot new market in
plush, click here)
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