Loyal Customers Kept Specialty Afloat for Holidays
Shoppers Braved Economy and Snow to Show Support
Despite the gloomy economy, only two of eleven specialty toy-store owners told TDmonthly Magazine that their holiday sales were slower than expected. Everyone else's responses ranged from "okay, considering ... " to "much better than expected."
"It was the best December we ever had," said Fred Rosenburg, owner of On the Park in Kingswood, TX, whose store has been open since 1996. Rosenburg had initiated a novel idea to woo customers: He didn't charge for sales tax.
"People were coming in and thanking me for 8.25 percent off, whereas if I'd put 20 percent off, they wouldn't have thanked me," he shared with TDmonthly. "People are desensitized to discounts," he added, since they assume that "40 percent off" means that the store was overcharging on the item by 40 percent in the first place.
Though Fred had come up with the idea of knocking off the sales tax, it was his staff's interpretation that really sold the customers. They told shoppers, "The owner is paying your sales tax for you." In a shaky economy, such a gesture made an emotional impact and generated a lot of good publicity. It also led to bigger ticket sales, Fred believes. He sold approximately 150 Plasmacars in December and couldn't keep Corolle's Interactive Lia in stock, either.
Sari Powazek, owner of The Doll House & Toy Store in Scottsdale, Ariz., also had a "great season," despite the fact that the local intersection was under construction, slowing traffic from September to December. Bob and Mary Sisson of Kazoodles in Vancouver, Wa., were on their way to a stellar December when "the biggest snowstorm in 40 years" shut down their town the last weekend before Christmas. Nevertheless, December 2008 is a little up from last year, said Mary.
Fred was among three retailers who noticed that his customers were pointedly showing support for small neighborhood businesses. Dave Campbell, owner of Amazing Toys in Great Falls, Mont., shared, "People did say, 'We come here to make sure you stay.' "
Some store-owners were disappointed that specialty staples such as Plasmacars and Blokus are now mass-market items, with the former being sold at Costco and the latter now under the Mattel label. Others, however, know that when a specialty item moves into a big-box store, that just clears room for newer, more innovative toys and games. Just check out TDmonthly's new Notable and New Toys - Specialty Only articles each month, and the new home page of ToyDirectory.com.
As for the economy in 2009, Fred knows what he wants the government to do: "Give the [bailout] money to consumers and let them decide who to help. We're a consuming nation, so we can't manufacture our way out of [the recession]; we have to purchase our way out of it."
Here are the toys that customers purchased for the holidays 2008:
(No manufacturer paid to be included in this article. All products listed were chosen by editorial staff without regard to the company's relationship with ToyDirectory.com/TDmonthly Magazine.)
Wholesale Price: (Log in to view) MSRP: $29.95Age Range: 3 and upLaunch Date: September 2005Gender: Boys And Girls
This set includes an 8" vintage-style pixie elf, a keepsake storage box and a children's picture book with a rhyming story that tells how the elf helps Santa out by watching children's behavior by day and reporting it to Santa at night. The elf is designed to be placed throughout the house during the Christmas season, creating a hide-and-seek activity for the whole family. Launch date: September 2005.
— “Elf on the Shelf is doing really well since we put those out five or six weeks ago,” remarked Janet Gregory, owner of Over the Rainbow Toys in Anchorage, Alaska, in November 2008. “We just brought them in in November. [We] sold 24 last month, and 24 already this month,” Terry Myers, owner of Kaleidoscope Toys in Round Rock, Texas, told TDmonthly.
— In a December 2011 survey about books, 2 out of 12 retailers named Elf on the Shelf their best-seller. "We sold 18 already, in just a couple weeks," Andrea Scartozzi from Hardware Toy Center in Paoli, Pa., told TDmonthly. William Meredith, owner of Learning Express in Cary, N.C., agreed. "Elf on a Shelf is our number one item. It has been for years!" he told TDmonthly.
Where to Buy: Smart Kids Toys; Kazoo Toys; Escapade Direct
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 17594 (added 2/18/2008)
MSRP: $100.00Age Range: 3 and upGender: Girls
Corolle’s 17", multilingual baby doll communicates in French, English, Spanish or Italian. Through a simple, well-hidden and secure battery system, little girls can activate Lia’s language skills using different Corolle charm bracelets. Specific, gentle touches and tickles to Lia result in endearing, realistic responses. She is dressed in velour pajamas and a cap. Accessories include a bib, bottle, pacifier, teddy bear and charm bracelets. AAA batteries are not included.
― “I like working with … Corolle as I can order only what I can use for the time period,” Owner Patti Tepper-Rasmussen of Learning Tree Toys in Oklahoma City, Okla., told TDmonthly in spring 2007.
— “I think people want more interactive dolls,” said Nellie Fais, owner of Toy Magic in Bethlehem, Pa. Twenty-seven of 62 retailers said in spring 2007 that Corolle is their best-selling doll brand, with sales ranging from six to 25 units per month. Corolle’s Lia and Lila are best sellers for Brain Station and Tree Town Toys in Ann Arbor, Mich., Owners Hans and Tricia Masing told TDmonthly in fall 2007.
— Interactive Lia is a precious baby doll from a company that’s popular with specialty retailers. She earned a TDmonthly Top Toy 2007 award for educational value, as she speaks pertinent baby phrases, such as “I’m hungry!” in four languages. Her little baby voice is as pleasant as her pretty pink outfit and accessories. She’s much more than the average baby doll, and vanilla-scented at that.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 12707 (added 5/8/2007)
Wholesale Price: (Log in to view) MSRP: $99.95Age Range: 3 and upSKU or Item #: EZY-001Launch Date: May 2007Gender: Boys And Girls
This self-propelling, three-wheeled ride-on toy cruises smoothly and silently along the ground, similar to the movement of a snake. The rider simply sits in the seat, feet-first, and propels with an easy back-and-forth leg movement, demonstrating a special combination of physics properties that fascinates most first-time observers. There are no chains, no motor and no batteries. The product comes packaged with extendable axis rods (S, M, L), so it can grow with the child. “Awe-inspiring physics” and “the strong, long-lasting steel tube frame and overall quality construction” really set this product apart, according to EzyRoller President Denis Allais. Launch date: May 2007.
— Anyone can sit back and get a workout with this sleek and sporty, three-wheeled ride-on toy that moves fluidly with back-and-forth leg motion. Its long, low-set and adjustable design differentiates it from other ride-ons, as do the properties of physics that bring it to life. Such stats have garnered the Ezyroller a TDmonthly Innovations 2007
— Jeanette Lauture of Aunt Jean’s Toys & Treats in Montclair, N.J., told TDmonthly
in summer 2008 that the Ezyroller is a hot seller in her store. “This New Zealand outdoor ride-on toy is very innovative and has longevity for kids 3 to 14 years of age,” she said. “I’ve been selling it since October of ‘07.”Where to buy: SOUTH
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 11949 (added 3/16/2007)
Wholesale Price: (Log in to view) MSRP: $19.99Age Range: 8 and upSKU or Item #: 00291Launch Date: February 2008Gender: Boys And Girls
In this challenging game, players roll two dice, add the dots and find the best combination of numbers to shut two rows of nine tiles. Players cannot touch tiles in the second row unless the tile in front of it has already been shut. The goal of the game is to shut all the tiles and close the super box. Awards: TDmonthly Top Toy 2009. Launch date: February 2008.
Where to Buy: Poopsie's; Aunt Jean's Toys
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 18256 (added 4/4/2008)
Wholesale Price: (Log in to view) MSRP: $22.95Age Range: 3 and upSKU or Item #: 90008Gender: Boys And Girls
This dartboard set includes six balanced darts that feature N-35 Neodymium rare earth magnets and the lightweight, durable Doinkit material that keeps the darts flying perfectly true. The darts will work on any magnetic dart board.
— Owner Elaine Hackney of Boing! JP’s Toy Shop in Jamaica Plain, Mass., told TDmonthly
in summer 2007 that she has been selling lots of these dart boards for years. “The quality is great. The holding power of the magnets is great. The price is right,” she explained.
— Doinkit Darts have been “unbelievable” for Piccolo Mondo Toys of Portland, Ore., Owner Michelle Smith told TDmonthly
at the end of 2008. JoAnn Farrugia, owner of JaZams in Pennington, N.J., reported sales of about three dozen per month of Doinkit Darts in a March 2009 survey of best sellers.
— “The [Doinkit] Darts sell really well for kids and adults,” said Lauren Obenour, manager of Portland, Oregon’s Green Frog Toys
, where the product is among the best-selling sports and outdoor toys, as of spring 2009.
— Doinkit Darts are a “longtime best seller” at Totally Thomas Toy Depot in San Diego, as reported in July 2010 by President Cynthia Wyatt. “The rare earth magnets in the darts are super strong, stay put, and don’t bounce off. They’re very safe and don’t damage your walls. Nothing but fun!” she said.
Past Videos: ASTRA 2008
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 14606 (added 8/13/2007)
Monsterpocalypse is a fast-moving, action-packed strategy game played with high quality collectible miniatures portraying the most fearsome giant monsters ever imagined. Each battle takes place in a city, which opposing players construct by placing models of buildings on a city map. Players will then build their force from their respective collection of models. Each force will consist of a giant monster model, and several supporting units (tanks, flying vehicles or creatures — depending upon which of the themed factions you decide to play). Purchasing Booster Boxes will expand your collection, giving you more tactical options and abilities to better suit your strategy. Launch date: October 10, 2008.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 20753 (added 9/25/2008)
MSRP: $109.95Age Range: 4 and upSKU or Item #: D11189Gender: Boys And Girls
This 150-piece game set allows kids to construct their own racing system. It includes instructions for 30 raceways as well as track, connectors, loops and two cars in a reusable storage bin with handles and a top that locks.
— Products by DARDA, including this set, are best sellers at Kazoodles in Vancouver, Wash., Co-owner Mary Sisson told TDmonthly in early 2008.
— Racing sets were best sellers at Twirl Toystore & Playspace in Taos, N.M., in early 2009, according to Owner Molly McMullin. “They are a great example of how having a demo out to be played with makes all the difference in selling,” she told TDmonthly. “Our salespeople all love showing people how to get the most effective run out of the pull-back cars.”
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 17226 (added 1/28/2008)
The Baja Scout is full of spunk, eager to take Miki Flinders and a second Adventure Guide cruising the dunes. Baja Scout is a companion to the Discover Rig as part of the Sidekick line of smaller, pump-action powered vehicles, including the Rally Racer car. The Sidekick vehicles activate electronic light features only.
— Sprig Toys is a best seller at Tales & Toys in Venice, Calif., Owner Elizabeth Ryan told TDmonthly in fall 2009. "It's all selling well," she said. "We're hard pressed to keep it in stock; I keep ordering every couple of weeks."
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 19302 (added 6/10/2008)
Wholesale Price: (Log in to view) MSRP: $34.99Age Range: 3 and upLaunch Date: September 2007Gender: Boys And Girls
This environmentally friendly tea set includes a tea pot with lid, a sugar bowl with lid, creamer, four cups, four saucers and four teaspoons. The set is constructed of bio-plastic made from renewable, sustainable resources in order to help decrease fossil-fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions. Starch-based bio-plastic is ultimately biodegradable. "We do our best to make environmentally friendly business decisions, given today's available technologies from product development to packaging," according to Laurie Hyman, a partner at Green Toys. Green Toys also produces all of its products in the U.S. which cuts down on transportation costs and CO2 emissions. "Green Toys products are ideal for parents looking to make environmentally conscious decisions when it comes to shopping for their children," stated Hyman. Launch date: September 2007.
— “One of my new favorite toys is the Green Toys tea set and cooking set,” said Michelle Smith of Piccolo Mondo Toys in Portland, Ore., at the end of 2008.
Past Videos: ASTRA 2009
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 14495 (added 8/7/2007)
Children can easily make music on this solid wood instrument by sliding a song sheet under the strings and plucking the string above each note. It comes with tuner pick, a spare wire and 12 songs, including “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and “Rock-a-Bye Baby.”
— “The Music Maker is really popular,” said Steve Ellerhoff, manager at Finnegan's Toys and Gifts
in Portland, Ore. Ellerhoff was part of a January 2010 survey of 48 retailers concerning their best-selling musical items.
— “The Music Maker, made by European Expressions, is popular because it's a no-brainer musical instrument,” Steve Shelton, owner of Magical Moon Toys
in Logan, Utah, told TDmonthly
in early 2010. “[Kids] can follow along right out of the box.”
― “One day we got in six, and sold three the first hour they were in the store,” said Mary Sisson, co-owner of Kazoodles
in Vancouver, Wash. (see her talk about the Music Maker in the attached video).
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 14531 (added 8/8/2007)
Wholesale Price: (Log in to view) MSRP: $11.95Age Range: 2 and upSKU or Item #: 57970Launch Date: June 2006Gender: Boys And Girls
This action toy helps keep kids fit as they simulate and learn how to skate, surf and snowboard without getting wet, cold or sore. Children can twist it, kick it, flip it or pop it as they play. The board measures 21” by 5.25” and comes in red, yellow, green and blue. “This product is the first of its kind. The boarding industry never had a plastic, functional, inexpensive toy — a 21st century toy,” CEO Bob Ellis of GarageCo Toys told TDmonthly
. Launch date: June 2006.
— It’s very simple, yes, but the Yo Baby Practice Board received a TDmonthly Innovations 2007
award due to its usefulness as a training tool for very young children, propelling them to develop board-sport skills they can use later in life. It’s perfect for use on carpet in the home, and can easily travel anywhere.
— “We're doing well with Yo Babys, [and] ordering a case a month,” said Connie Hoeft, owner of C R Toys
in Kearney, N.E., when asked about her best-selling sports toys in spring 2009.
— “We do really well with the Yo Baby practice boards. Last year, we went through a lot of those,” Lauren Obenour, manager of Green Frog Toys
in Portland, Ore., told TDmonthly
in March 2009.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 11555 (added 2/21/2007)
In addition to the colorful sheep, hare and bear hand puppets, this set includes a die and a memory game for one to four players. It encourages role play, language development and comprehension of rules. Launch date: 2008.
— Lisa McMartin, co-owner of Wonderment Inc.
in Minneapolis, told TDmonthly
in late 2008 that HABA is one of her most-liked vendors because “they'll take individual orders in their dating program." Nearly 10 percent of 52 retailers named HABA as one of their favorite suppliers.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 21679 (added 12/10/2008)
Imported from Germany to the U.S. in 1995, this European designer game is thematically nonviolent, elegant in game play and visually appealing. Players must collect and trade resources, such as wood and sheep, and build the best settlement on an island. Moves require strategic planning, and negotiating and trade are crucial elements of the game.
— "The Settlers of Catan is extremely popular with boys over 12. It's a great game that’s a combination of Risk and Monopoly," was the analysis provided by Leanna Halbrecht, owner of Animations in Teaneck, N.J.
— "I'm having a lot of interest in Settlers of Catan and its expansion packs," added Amy Barrett, owner of Lasso the Moon Wonderful Toys in Helena, Mont. “Games such as Settlers of Catan … are becoming more popular,” said Owner David Campbell of Amazing Toys in early 2009. — This game has been exciting kids — and specialty retailers — for years. Its long-running status as a top seller earned it a TDmonthly Classic Toy 2007 award.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 2230 (added 1/18/2005)
The fast-moving word game consists of 144 ivory-like letter tiles in a zippered banana pouch. Players place the tiles face down on the table and randomly select 21 tiles. They turn their letters right-side up simultaneously and proceed to form as many intersecting and interconnecting words as possible, rearranging their own letters as many times as desired throughout the game. Awards: TDmonthly Top Seller 2007
; 2009 TOTY Game of the YEAR, 2006 Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal; 2007 iParenting; 2007 Parents' Choice Recommended; 2007 Dr. Toy Best Products. (Read Review
— This product has been making the TDmonthly
Best-sellers lists since 2007.
— As of 05/13/2011 this product had 4.8 out of 5 stars from 456 reviews on Amazon.com.
— Eight of 66 retailers vouched for its best-selling status in May 2008; seven of 63 did in Sept. 2008. Shani Watmough of Planet Toys in Rockland, Maine, said her store sells 60 per month. Fifteen of 38 named it a top-selling game in Feb. 2010.
— As of April 5, 2010, Bananagrams had spent 570 days in the top-100 best-selling toys and games on Amazon.com.
— According to owner Brett Sommer of Figpickels Toy Emporium in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, “It was the 2009 game of the year. The brilliant packaging definitely helps this product."
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 8301 (added 6/19/2006)
Breyer’s Bluegrass Bandit model is a replica of a champion Tennessee Walking Horse of the same name. The 1:9 scale sculpture is hand painted with great attention to detail, and no two are exactly alike. Bluegrass Bandit is part of Beyer’s Traditional line.
— “I sell a lot of Breyer horses … 20 to 30 per month. We're in horse country,” explained Mike DiAndrea, manager of The Hardware Centre
in Paoli, Pa.
— “People are still into collecting them,” added Greg Bonner, owner of Heights Toy Center
in Little Rock, Ark.
— Retailers reported average sales of 20 Breyer horses per month to TDmonthly
in August 2008.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 20781 (added 9/29/2008)
MSRP: $8.30Age Range: 30 and upLaunch Date: April 2008Gender: Girls
These twin doggies, William and Fiona, join the cute cast of characters that make up the Calico Critters world. They love to play in the sandbox together, and wear pastel blue and pink outfits.
— Calico Critters are strong sellers at Piccolo Mondo Toys in Portland, Ore., according to Owner Michelle Smith, who spoke with TDmonthly in December 2008.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 20552 (added 9/19/2008)
This licensed vehicle is outfitted with folding mirrors and a cab that tilts up to reveal the engine. The container features a hinged rear and is removable, so that other similar units can be put in its place.
— “Their deliveries are good, accurate,” Manager Rosie Morris of Whiz Kid Toys in San Luis Obispo, Calif., told TDmonthly of this preferred vendor. “They’re quick to fix problems, if we have any. And the quality is great.” Nearly 4 percent of 52 retailers named Bruder as a favorite supplier in late fall 2008.
— “They sell pretty evenly across the board. It's a strong category for us,” Michelle Deutschmann, owner of Kaleidoscope Toys in Falmouth, Mass., told TDmonthly of her die-cast vehicles, 75 percent of which she orders from Bruder, during a July 2009 survey.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 21915 (added 12/19/2008)
Killer Bunnies is a fast-paced, action-filled card game, in which players must try to keep as many Bunnies alive as possible, while eliminating opponents' Bunnies. The problem: Opponents are armed with weapons and will stop at nothing to keep players from winning the game, which can get dreadfully vengeful, horribly nasty, hilariously messy and just plain fun. Killer Bunnies are back again and sporting new Specialty Bunnies, which make taking double turns a snap. The Violet Booster Deck adds another 55 cards to an existing set, plus a clear 20-sided die.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 7324 (added 3/27/2006)
MSRP: $69.99Age Range: 3 and upSKU or Item #: PC020Launch Date: February 2005Gender: Boys And Girls
The Original PlasmaCar continues to intrigue and fascinate. Powered by kid power; no batteries, gears, or pedals needed. Just sit, put your feet up, and turn the steering wheel to propel yourself forward. The patented safety seat design places riders in a safe, comfortable position and minimizes tipping. Moves up to 6 mph on any smooth, flat surface. Supports up to 220 lbs. Visit www.plasmacar.com to see all the wonderful colors available.
— In a March 2015 survey, two out of 10 retailers told TDmonthly that Plasmacar is a best-selling outdoor toy.
— As of 05/13/2011 this product had 4.5 out of 5 stars from 122 reviews on Amazon.com. Cons: Does not work well on surfaces that aren't completely smooth.
— This top-seller in specialty stores earned a TDmonthly Top Toy 2007 award for its distinctive aerodynamic design and ease-of-use. TDmonthly believes it has the potential to become a classic due to its fresh, contemporary appeal and application in a child’s formative years.
Awards: 2012 Parents Choice Awards Recommended, 2009 Green Parents List Check Mark, 2009 DisneyFamily.com Top Action Figures and Toys for Toddlers, 2009+2008+2005 The National Parenting Centre Seal of Approval, 2008 iParenting Media Toy Award, 2008 Fat Brain Toy Award Active Play, 2006 TIA Outdoor Toy of the Year - Specialty Toy of the Year, 2006 Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award, 2005 Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal Award, 2005 Dr. Toy Best Vacation Products, 2005 Creative Child Seal of Excellence, 2001 International Patent Fair, Hong Kong Gold Medal
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 3829 (added 6/28/2005)
This toy is a skateboard that kids sit on and control by swinging the handlebars from side to side.
-- Parents are happy with the safety of this ride-on, since it is low to the ground.
-- This toy has nostalgic value. A review on Highlights.com stated, “I had this when I was a kid. I wore the wheels off I rode it so much…it was my most favorite lasting toy.”
-- Robert Slye, owner of Toys Ahoy, named this product as a top seller for his store.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 3263 (added 3/21/2005)
MSRP: $34.98Age Range: 5 to 11Launch Date: April 2006Gender: Boys And Girls
This magnetic construction set features 108 powerful magnets permanently encapsulated inside 18 jewel-toned square Magformers and 12 triangle Magformers. The magnets rotate to their attraction position upon contact, so Magformers always connect regardless of their polarity. Watch in amazement as Magformers "form" into three-dimensional structures. Magformers received an Oppenheim Gold Award as well as the 2007 Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award. The product’s “magnetic connector concept allows the end user to create quick, magical 3-D models,” President Larry Hunt of Rainbow Products told TDmonthly
. Launch date: April 2006.
— Lynda Blankenship, owner of Smart Toys & Books
in Knoxville, Tenn. told TDmonthly
in late Spring 2011 that Magformers were a best-selling construction toy.
— Magformers are a best seller at Piccolo Mondo Toys in Portland, Ore., Owner Michelle Smith told TDmonthly
in Dec. 2008. “We have them on a play table,” she said. Magformers have been best sellers for at least a year at Pufferbellies in Staunton, Va., Co-owner Susan Blanton said in September 2009.
— Mike DiAndrea, manager of Hardware Centre
in Paoli, Pa., told TDmonthly
during an April 2009 survey that he sells between 100 and 150 sets of Magformers per month. Magformers are also a best seller at Golden Apple Learning Store
in Pleasanton, Calif., Owner John MacDougall told TDmonthly
in August 2009.
— Want this? As of 05/10/2011, this product was available for purchase at Smart Toys & Books
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 7571 (added 4/14/2006)
Now even the tinest Baby can have a Zoobie. The Baby Mashaka plush toy un-Velcroes to become a comfy pillow, then unzips to transform into an infant-sized blanket. The blanket even features fuzzy "comfort corners" to stimulate Baby's interest in textures. Release date: 2008.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 20531 (added 9/18/2008)
ALISON MAREK is an award-winning writer, director and cartoonist whose work has been published by Fairchild Publications and DC Comics (Piranha Press), broadcast on Showtime and other cable networks, and viewed worldwide in film festivals. See her short films and print work on www.alisonmarek.com. Watch her nefarious villains in the web series www.MuggsMovers.com. Get inspired by her cartoons "Daily ARFFirmations to Unleash Your Inner Fido" at www.ARFFirmations.com. Phew! And then ... Read more articles by this author
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