museums&MORE Winter 2012
2012 Trend Outlook

What will 2012 bring for the specialty store market? A little birdie – make that a trendy owl – let me in on a few tips and tricks to help retailers prepare for the year ahead. While the items that sell best in one store might not sell well in another, a few constant themes will hold true.

Naturally Wise
Customers are continuing to look to connect with nature, and that’s reflected not only in the material of the items they purchase, but also in actual look and theme. While animals in general are always on trend, look for owls to remain a wise choice. Their appeal is gender and age neutral, and young and old, male and female are swooping in on this trend.

“Nature has been a timeless trend since our company started in 2004,” said Jennifer Tatham of Night Owl Paper Goods. “Critters and florals provide a quiet calm that we all need in our active lives. Owls keep getting cuter and more playful, and this year we’re adding more gifts that can be shared with close friends and family such as recipe books and picture frames.”

“If you’ve got a young girl, be sure to include some owl-themed presents under the tree this year,” added Stephanie Carver of The Orb Factory. “Owls are seen as both smart and cute, which is a perfect combination for any girl. From jewelry to clothing, we’ve been seeing owls everywhere.”

Marc St. Pierre of Cool Jewels added that owl jewelry and feather fashion is especially hot. They have various new styles and trends coming to market, including a large line of new earrings, fashion necklaces and bracelets, and complete new lines of souvenir styles catering to wildlife, sea life, dinosaurs and celestial themes.

Social Standing
In order to be at the top of anyone’s list, you have to make the most of your Internet presence. Facebook and Twitter are free, and your website is an invaluable resource, one that both retailers and manufacturers need to make the most of.

“Social networking is a very effective way to market a store or a distributor, and reaching out to the worldwide public and branding is essential,” said Ramona Pariente of Safari Ltd. “A good example is a store located in North Florida that ships our product worldwide to fans that don’t have a local store selling Safari Ltd. toys. Stores are already creating social networking events and promotions for new arrivals, which in turn generates interest, branding and eventually sales.”

Kevin Ward of Global Crafts agreed that when products get talked about, they sell. He suggests that retailers create social media spaces – such as Facebook pages – for consumers to engage in discussion, ensuring that sharing is enabled and made easy on websites and encouraged within stores. Example strategies could include putting share buttons on product pages or QR codes in stores.

In addition to promoting a product, store or event, it’s also a good way to interact with your vendors and peers, sharing concerns and ideas with each other.

“Getting our product out of the box and into the consumers’ hands as much as possible is extremely valuable, but not always possible, especially for kits with over 300 separate pieces, or a chemistry experiment that might take several hours to complete,” said Kim Hammann of Thames & Kosmos. “Sites like Facebook and Youtube provide a fun, accessible and relatively inexpensive way to demo and promote product, show off stores, and speak directly to the retailers’ target markets – the moms, dads, grandparents, and teachers.”

The Orb Factory’s Carver said that without social media, they would never hear from the people actually using their products.

“Social media allows me to interact with the parents who are sitting in their living room working on these kits with their kids,” Carver said. “It’s always amazing when someone leaves a comment on our wall to let us know what they liked, or even what they didn’t like!”

As retailers, you have the power of social media to do the same thing – to promote your store, to build a community and to interact with the vendors and customers that help build your success.

Kid Kits
Parents are always looking for products that can serve as more than just a souvenir on a shelf, which is why do-it-yourself items and project kits are increasing in popularity – for both boys and girls.

“This year, we really want to focus on creating some quality craft kits aimed at boys,” said Stephanie Carver of The Orb Factory. “Parents are always telling me about how difficult it is to get their sons crafting. Our crafts stimulate creativity while teaching pattern and number recognition, something that is important for children of both genders.”

Carver added that they’re using their new Curiosity Kits line to create items like Cardboard Adventures, a set of kits where children fold and snap together pieces of cardboard to make Knight and Gladiator armor.

“I think boys will happily work on a craft project, but they want to see a finished product that has a fun secondary function,” Carver added. “Their joy is in the completed product, whereas girls tend to find enjoyment in the process.”

Kim Hammann of Thames & Kosmos agreed, adding that in their market, they’ve been seeing a lot more products that are branded as science kits, but are not science experiment kits.

“Instead of performing experiments that illustrate a scientific principle or phenomenon, these kits offer more of arts-and-craft, building-based activities with scientific themes, like making a robot model,” Hammann said. “These types of kits sell well as toys because they offer more instant gratification.”

More for the Money
Consumers are more careful than ever on how they spend their money, and successful retailers will help them see the value of the goods they have to offer.

“I believe the general market will remain difficult and that we need to continue to add additional value to consumer purchases,” said Global Crafts’ Ward. “While a large segment will remain focused on price, we can create value by adding social values such as recycled, natural or Fair Trade.”

Denise Cabrera-Wright of Rio Grande agreed, adding that consumers want to go green, making sustainability and value the bywords of the retail industry for 2012. This will take a variety of forms, but a good example is the large increase in base metal options.

“Non-precious metals make jewelry an easier sell than ever before,” Cabrera-Wright said. “Wood, reclaimed metals, recycled-fiber papers, boxes and totes are all hot with the ‘go green’ market, and of special note is are products made with sustainable silver.

“Chain sales will continue to grow in momentum,” she continued. “While they have always been a convenient and easy way to sell charms and pendants, chains in a variety of non-precious metals will fly off shelves as customers continue to look to buy budget-friendly gifts and souvenirs.”

Thames & Kosmos’ Hammann said that there is a lot of competition to get the sale, and the market is dividing.
“On one side, we have more sales of the smaller, lower price point ($15 to $35 retail) kits to physical toy stores who have higher overhead and limited shelf space,” she said. “On the other, there is a strong high-end market for more expensive science kits, which seem to sell more successfully through e-commerce channels.”

Their 2012 lineup will include a new line of smaller, less expensive kits they hope will appeal to specialty toy stores and those customers. In addition, they’ve been developing and improving the various sales tools they have to offer, including “cheat sheets” with a summary of selling points for sales staffs.

“When it comes to added value,” Hammann said, “the greatest asset a store can offer is an educated and engaged staff.”

Home Grown
According to a 2010 Harris Poll, American consumers not only want to support local businesses, they want to support “Made in America” products. Researchers found that more than 60 percent of American consumers want and make an effort to purchase products made in this country.

“Our customers are increasingly requesting items that are made in the USA,” said Nancy Hall of Steven Lewers & Assoc. “In fact, some are dropping entire lines made overseas and replacing them with American-made lines. All of our products, including displays, have always been designed, printed and manufactured in the U.S. We now reflect this on each item, at our customer’s request, with the “Made in USA” logo flag placed in a prominent location next to the UPC SKUs.”

So while American-made products are listed as a trend, the continued interest and popularity in these items and that designation has (happily) become somewhat of a permanent fixture in the retail landscape.

By Abby Heugel
Managing Editor

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