The wooden toys category is unusual in that it encompasses products made of a similar material, rather than a similar mode of play. For that reason, this month’s selection of roundtable participants bring products to retailers that range from play sets to games to pianos. Though the toys comprise an eclectic mix, their manufacturers and distributors recognize that they all appeal to customers who demand style and substance over casual entertainment. What follows are highlights from a discussion on their niche in the marketplace.
TDmonthly: What unique attributes about your product set it apart from those of your competitors?
Larry J. Hotaling, president, Hotaling Imports Inc. (ToyShow): The play value is key. The moving parts on our wood products (such as the all wood, multi-tiered Papo Knight’s Castle) create this.
Tom Phillips, vice president of marketing, Front Porch Classics (ToyDirectory): Focusing on rich themes like pirates, baseball, auto racing and cultures from around the world, we try to create timeless games that are simple to learn, but can be played again and again. These games basically become interactive home décor and get families playing together more often.
Renee Trinca, president, Schoenhut Piano Company (ToyShow): The Schoenhut toy piano is a fine musical instrument and beautiful piece of furniture as well. The lovely toy-piano sound is what makes the Schoenhut charming and unique. Schoenhut´s Learning System, with its play-by-color teaching method, is designed to make playing fun and easy. It also works on adult keyboards, since keys on Schoenhut toy pianos are of corresponding width.
TDmonthly: What kind of retailer do you have the most success working with and what role have you played in keeping the relationship fruitful? Is region a factor?
Hotaling (Hotaling Imports): Specialty toy stores are most successful by far. In particular, the stores that set up a demo for in-store play seem to be the most successful.
Phillips (Front Porch): You will definitely find our products at specialty gift and specialty toy stores, but retailers from home furnishings to high-end department stores to independent bookstores are all finding success with our games. Because these games appeal to adults, they tend to do well wherever mom shops.
Trinca (Schoenhut): Our customers are a varied group — both small and large retail stores, on-line retailers and catalogue companies. We are in very close contact not only with the store owners, but their clients as well. If there is any kind of question or concern that a customer has, the store owner refers them to our 800 number.
TDmonthly: What improvements will you make in your product going forward?
Hotaling (Hotaling Imports): We will continue to develop wood products within the existing themes (such as Knights, Fantasy World and Tales and Legends) and to create new products (under new themes).
Phillips (Front Porch): Our biggest challenge now is to keep up with the growing popularity of our games. We are committed to the quality of our games, which limits how much we can do, but our goal one day is to see a game on every coffee table.
Trinca (Schoenhut): Improvements are made every year. The safety, durability and stability of our products are of the utmost importance to us. We take suggestions from clients very seriously and do everything we can to perfect our toy pianos.