Winter 2015
Little Shoppers, Big Sales By Sam Ujvary

Products that inspire creativity and imagination will never get old.

If there’s one thing that parents and grandparents will spend money on, it’s children. And while electronics are seemingly taking over the entertainment portion of childhood at times, those toys, games and gift items that spark unplugged creativity and imagination are how retailers can cash in on this segment.

Parents are looking to make playtime fun, entertaining and educational and gravitate toward items that can grow with the child, which enhances the value of the products.

Child development is a top priority for parents, and using products that aid in this process is a big plus. For Aurora, many of the plush lines incorporate sounds, tactile play, “learn to dress” and mild interactivity that appeal to parents and gift buyers.

boo“In 2015, we are greatly expanding our popular Aurora baby portfolio,” said Dee Dee Valencia of Aurora. “The award-winning collection Baby Talk, which features interactive small animals that rattle, make sounds and are stored in a stylized carrier, is back with new additions that help provide soft education critical to young age development.”

With disposable incomes stretched, parents are looking to get the most value for their money by choosing toys with more than one quality, which is why multi-purpose items like books, blocks, puzzles and finger puppets should always be in stock and cross-merchandised, when possible.

“Retailers can upsell books by carrying a range of plush to match different book characters that are being stocked,” said Christy Cook of Teach My. “By selling a book about dogs and a plush dog, the parents will be able to encourage reading, literacy and creativity by using the book and plush together to encourage one-on-one time and interaction.”

Adrienne Appell of the Toy Industry Association agreed that toys with an added component — whether it’s educational or serves multiple purposes, such as a plush doll that converts into a pillow — are enticing because they can be cuddly and played with in multiple ways. She added that retailers should be sure to communicate to shoppers any educational features a plush toy might have.

“Role-play toys have also become more realistic,” Appell said. “From kitchen sets to dress-up items that are appropriate all year long, families have an infinite number of choices. We’ve also seen a ton of construction and building toys geared towards the younger set. These hands-on toys do a terrific job of building the cognitive, social and tactile skills of little ones, which appeals to both parents and children.”

Different families will gravitate towards different types of products, so by having a variety of choices, you can ensure that you will have the right toy for every shopper that enters your store.

Teenage Trends

needleAnd those shoppers also will be teens and tweens, who require special attention. As children get older, they generally move away from things like plush and simple toys to those that tap into their creativity and inquisitive nature. Many of these items also bring learning skills into play — such as hand-and-eye coordination, critical thinking and artistic prowess — all of which can make learning fun without feeling like a chore.

Appell said games and puzzles, arts and crafts, DIY kits and science and tech toys are a huge hit with tweens and teens. In addition, anything tied to licensing and pop culture is popular among older kids who are starting to move away from imaginary play and long to feel connected with the outside world.

“Products that allow them to create and build, design and share and put their own stamp on are extremely popular,” she added. “Think arts and crafts, building and construction sets, etc.”

Jessica Moran from Artterro agreed that the DIY movement has a ton of momentum, with tweens and teens embracing products that help them make their own fashions, jewelry, books, toys and games.

Craft kits can be both trendy and timeless with titles that reflect current demands while relying on quality materials and open-ended instructions to encourage creativity and learning.

“Felting is such a growing trend right now, with teens and tweens loving the versatility of real wool felt that can be transformed into everything from scarves and purses to tiny miniature creatures, so we’re especially eager to showcase our Needle Felting Kit,” Moran said. “In addition, making handcrafted cards is also something we’ve seen steadily growing in popularity in recent years. Our Bookmaking Kit offers more than enough handmade, recycled paper and other materials to make several small books, plus cards, bookmarks and gift tags.”

Baby_16010BL-BD-Baseball_CRWhile tweens may outgrow certain items, like plush, Stephanie Carver of The Orb Factory agreed the crafting concept is still relevant, something they’re seeing with the popularity of their PlushCraft line.

“This line combines a childlike love of plushy pals with trendy designs and glittery fabric and allows children and teens to create cool pillows simply by using a stylus to fabric-by-number — no sewing required,” Carver said.

They also recently launched Pixel Pops, a line they will be expanding throughout 2015 that allows children to stick, stack and squish cubes to make their very own pixelated pet.

“It’s perfect for children who love Minecraft and Lego,” Carver said. “We love that it’s an 8-bit art craft that brings the wonder of online into the real world.”

Daniel Zampini of Gotta Getta GUND said in order to remain relevant to the teen and tween markets, it’s impossible not to consider the profound impact the Internet has had on the interests and development
of that generation.

“To that end, we’ve noticed that popular Internet personalities have become top sellers,” he said. “For example, our Grumpy Cat and Boo, The World’s Cutest Dog licenses have their origins exclusively in social media and are our most popular items.”

Show and Tell

elephantSo how do you attract the attention of both the parents and the children?

“Color is one of the best and most timeless ways to grab the attention of teens,” Valencia said. “Bright pink, purple and teal are always popular in products and displays targeted for girls, such as our Sea Sparkle collection. In addition, animal, gradient and mixed bright patterns pop at retail, and animal print in the correct color can appeal to both male and female consumers.”

Merchandising products so shoppers can touch and play with them and showing finished products are a great way to attract both children and adults. Completed demos of jewelry, for instance, show kids how cool it looks while adults see the value of it being a really nice finished piece.

“We also offer Play Day kits, which allow stores to run mini versions of our products with their customers,” Carver said. “This is a great way to get customers in your store, enhance a sense of community and introduce shoppers to new crafts.”

Moran said the best thing retailers can do is look for kits that are a little more open-ended. If the child/teen can make more of his or her own decisions and use his or her imagination, then they will have a much richer, more educational experience. Another tip would be to look for products that teach more than one skill and lead to further art exploration.

“We believe parents have a limited number of hours to interact with their kids and teach the basics,” Cook said. “At Teach My, we want to make it easy to find 20 minutes in a day to teach the basics at play time, bath time, meal time or on the go. As such, I would suggest highlighting the multiple qualities of a toy or gift item. Parents will take a second look if they feel it offers many different redeeming qualities.”

And while shoppers might be limited on time, some stores might also be limited by both square footage and budgeted inventory dollars. If so, implement a vertical merchandising approach in the area dedicated to these toys, crafts and games. Start with items targeting 4-to-6 year-olds at the lowest levels, since small children are literally closest to the floor, and work your way up through the age groups. This ensures product placement
at virtually all eye levels for each age group in a relatively limited space.

But whether it’s a toddler toy or teenage tech, engaging shoppers in creative play and educating them about the additional benefits can prove to be a very profitable experience for everyone.

Sam Ujvary

Sam is the managing editor of Gift Shop Pets, Museums & More and Party & Halloween Retailer, and is a contributing editor for Gift Shop Magazine. She has a copywriting background and has been in publishing for six years.

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