museums&MORE Summer 2013
Museum Store at The Children’s Museum of Atlanta

A smart place to play

The Museum Store at The Children’s Museum of Atlanta is certainly not one of those, Don’t-touch-the-merchandise” stores. Instead, store staff encourages guests to bang on the xylophone and shake the maracas, pretend sword-fight and — if you’re a toddler — dump over the bin of spinning tops.

Why? Because it’s fun!

“We are a relaxed, hands-on and interactive toy store filled with hundreds of items we want our guests to touch,” said Krista Martinez, retail and membership manager. “It’s important to allow and facilitate play between the grownups and children with the toys.”

As downtown Atlanta’s only dedicated toy store, the store carries educational, fun and unique toys that aren’t readily available in big-box stores, including toy lines from around the world — Germany, Italy, Canada, Sweden, England and Japan — and offers many toys made in the U.S.A.

The store doesn’t offer a lot in the way of Atlanta souvenir merchandise or sports-branded items since there are plenty of local shops around town that do. Instead, staff focuses on being able to provide truly unique and educational toys that a child can bring home to remember a special trip to the museum.

“We’ve found it’s hard to compete with the prices of large retail, big box and online retailers,” Martinez said, “so we offer items that cannot be found at those retailers and make shopping a memorable experience.”

Leap Into Learning
The store itself is located at the entrance/exit to the museum, and at only about 500 square feet, the retail area often spills outside the main store into the entry corridor. It is well-stocked and doesn’t feature large displays/signage, opting instead for more simple display methods — basic color buckets, clear acrylic bins, etc.

“We let the merchandise speak for itself,” Martinez said. “The museum is super high-energy, so we like that the store is a little more down-tempo and calm.”
Martinez tries to incorporate as many aspects of the museum into the store itself so that children can “bring the museum home” with them.

“One of our exhibits, ‘Leaping Into Learning,’ has a large water table where the children go fishing and develop their motor skills,” Martinez said. “They are given raincoats and magnetic fishing poles. They think that they are just having fun, but they are also improving their skills.

“We sell these same raincoats and fishing poles in the store so that they can continue learning at home,” she continued. “We also sell special sand that we use in the sand tables in the museum. We carry items that engage children in fun and imaginative play while providing educational lessons.”

The store caters to infants/toddlers by carrying items and toys that promote dexterity, hand-eye coordination, color/number recall, spatial reasoning and other skill-building — yet fun — products. Puzzles are offered for all age ranges — from chunky wooden puzzles that show shapes and colors for little ones to 500-piece puzzles of the world for the older set.

Unique science kits are popular for children 6 and up and deal with themes such as weather, magnets, creating science experiments from common kitchen products and more. The store carries a variety of games that teach children about spending, dealing with balance, recognition (like I-Spy’s), games that promote team-building and cooperation and language learning items, such as French and Spanish bingo and flashcards.

“Apparel, especially T-shirts, sells the best in our store,” Martinez said. “I think grownups (especially grandparents) see the value in bringing home something that can be a constant reminder of a fun trip to the museum and Atlanta.

“We also sell tons of our magnetic fishing poles — I can barely keep them in stock; our moon sand — we sell the natural color that we use in the museum, as well as different colors; adorable kid-sized umbrellas and, of course, candy and Dippin’ Dots,” she continued.

The store also has a small table set up in the middle of the store with bins of “budget/field-trip-friendly” items that tend to be 25 cents to $2. Martinez feels it’s hard on chaperones, and even those grownups who aren’t looking to spend a lot, to wander through an entire store looking for something inexpensive, so they try to make it as easy as possible for them.

“We make these items readily accessible to our guests and they can be reached by children and grownups alike,” Martinez said. “Our fieldtrip table, for example, is at a perfect height for little ones. They can dig into bins of spinning tops, rainbow Slinkies and mini horses and keep lots of demo toys around the shop: xylophones, puzzles, Fisher-Price record players, etc.

“We also remove needless packaging from items — items seem to sell better when they aren’t all individually wrapped in cellophane,” she continued. “You can see them better and touch/play with them.”

Toy Experts
The store sales associates, known as “Toy Experts,” help the guests with purchases by suggesting age-appropriate toys, answering questions about different products, ringing up the purchases, etc. They also provide information to the guests about the museum and the downtown Atlanta area.

“The Toy Experts and I work closely together to provide interesting toys and merchandise for the store,” Martinez said. “If they see something that they think would be a good fit, I research it and order it!”

Martinez spends a lot of time researching items online, pays attention to publications and speaks with her reps to know what’s really hot right now and what’s moving.

“I visit other toy stores in the area and when I’m traveling, as well as other souvenir/attraction spots in our downtown area,” she added. “We’re located right across the street from Americas Mart, so I also head over there when I can.”

Martinez said they’ve seen a slow decline in the amount of plush they sell. About five years ago, the store really pushed plush and kept a lot on hand. Now staff hears grownups constantly saying, “No more plush! You have too much!” They have seen an upswing, however, in children’s books and puzzles, as well as interest in items that are made in the U.S.A.

Since the store is so small, they don’t have a lot of space for large displays. Because toy packaging tends to be rather colorful, they opt for more simple display methods to avoid visually bombarding the guests and try to keep the items kids will want to touch and play with more at their level and items that the grownups might be more into at their eye level.

“We have a lot of demos of our toys around so that kids can get a chance to play with them and see if they like them,” Martinez said. “It’s fun to think of the store as our ‘Sixth Exhibit’— one last stop for fun and educational play before they leave the museum.”

Why? Because it’s fun — and a smart place to play.

By Abby Heugel
Managing Editor

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