museums&MORE Winter 2012
Plush Profits

There’s nothing soft about sales in this popular category

Unlike other giftable items, plush lends itself to every retailer and just about every customer. It’s a great impulse or add-on purchase and can appeal to those looking for everything from a cuddly companion to retail reminder of places they’ve been. Museums & More talked with several experts to let you know what this category will look like in the coming year.

What can retailers expect to see in 2012?
Tina Waldmier
Aurora World
Aurora is using a lot of realistic looking fabrics for our zoo/aquarium collections but also jazzing it up by adding in a lot of sparkle and bling. With our Fancy Pal Pet Carriers in particular, we incorporated LED lights and give a nod to top fashion with on-trend accessories and fun shapes.

Elaine Kollias
We’re always on the lookout for innovative plush that will reflect the real animal’s features and are launching a new line tailored specifically for kid’s hands – smaller than our main wildlife lines – with smaller pricing to match. We hope that will enable the consumer to purchase two pieces at a time at the same price as one piece.

Jason Glime
JAAG Plush
The trend is towards going back to the basics – high quality, realistic and durable plush products with colors and materials trending towards looking more like the real animal. We’re seeing more interpretive messaging in the hang-tag and being more of an educational product, along with being cute and cuddly.

Many of the specialty retailers are looking for products that are different then the mainstream retailers, and we’re getting lots of request for custom product.

Arete Passas
I think the trend of feature plush – plush with something more to offer – will continue to grow. We’re looking at how we can continue to bring convenience, comfort and convertibility to the category and will continue to add new licensed characters. We currently focus on literary characters like Clifford, Olivia, Very Hungry Caterpillar and Curious George. Next year we’ll add more licensed characters like Hello Kitty.

How can retailers maximize not only store space, but sales?
A lot of our customers are asking us to share artwork with their apparel suppliers and souvenir vendors to create a whole theme around a plush character or idea they have that fits their store. Cross merchandising with plush allows the retailer to have a higher ring per customer.

It’s important to use a theme and work from there, whether that’s seasonal, color or a pop culture trend. We have seen fun animal print displays with our realistic plush alongside our bright pet carriers, which double as a purse when the animal is removed, so it’s double the function for the same price.

Plush product needs to be shown in its various states. For example, if the product has a blanket inside it, the retailer needs to have one sample showing the plush with the blanket out of it. Wherever it is merchandised, having it demonstrated is a plus.

For something different, it can also be merchandised with fashion items to make color-coordinated statements or show in real situations – on a bed, in a chair – in any home setting.

Simply make them irresistible – tie-into current events, tap into nostalgia and highlight the product mix in appealing displays. I suggest that stores use vintage items and repurpose them to work in the store, like a rusty old red wagon. Cross-merchandising is the key. For function and education – merchandise with books, maps, globes, etc. For fashion, merchandise with accessories and lifestyle goods.

What price points have you found to be the most well received?
In most cases, plush is an impulse item and our customers have told us that the $20 price point is the threshold consumers are willing to pay.

We find the $7-13 price points overall are doing the best, but continue to expand on all price points. We want to cater to the customer with a little less cash and have greatly expanded our clip-on lines that retail for around $4, making them accessible for just about every consumer.

We also felt it’s important to fulfill the needs of the mid and upper tier consumer as well and have created two brand new lines. The Miyomi line features more than 60 realistic wildlife and zoo products at a mid-tier price point. The Signature Series will feature lifelike handcrafted wildlife and jungle products geared towards the high-end customer.

This can vary, but we’ve found that people do what quality and are willing to pay for it and that $34.99 has been acceptable if the value is there.

What role does social media play in the popularity of plush products and sales?
Many people shop online and do research for prices, but when it comes to plush, we’ve found that consumers need to touch and feel the product to make a purchase.

However, if they initially purchased the product in person and have had the experience of touching and feeling the item, then they are more likely to buy similar items on line.

Our No. 1 selling character YooHoo & Friends comes with a free online component where kids can learn about endangered animals, play games and download other fun and educational content. The information is printed on all our hangtags, but an informed retail staff is the greatest up-selling tool.

As far as social media, we have a large following both on Facebook and Twitter that allows us to identify and interact intimately with our core fan base. We can address problems, answer questions (cleaning, replacements, etc) and generate new ideas from them. We encourage and reward the interaction with contests and giveaways.

Peer Perspective

Linda Gardner, Buyer
Old Salem Museums & Gardens
Winston-Salem, N.C.
Narrowing down to the toy department category, plush accounts for approximately 10.4 percent of sales, with the majority being gleaned from more site-specific, historic and classic toys.

While we offer both large and small plush, the most popular price point is $6.50. We have found price point is critical and have had little customer response to pricier and eco-friendly product. We use custom displays and cross merchandise with books, coloring books, puzzles and small complimentary toys such as finger puppets and birdcalls.

Our strongest sellers are wolves. This could be the result of being a regional school mascot favorite (N.C. State) or a social response to the wave of Twilight genre books, movies and TV shows.

In terms of suggestions, we would like to see manufacturers add “Made in America” tags when possible.

Pat Byrne
Virginia State Parks
Richmond, Va.
Virginia State Parks has 33 parks with gift shops that vary in size from a small peg board on the wall of the park office to a gift shop located in the visitors center. Each park is unique and has merchandise that relates to their park.

What portion of our sales comes from plush products? Around 2 percent for all of the gift shops locations in the Virginia State Parks system, with some locations having a higher percentage of 5 to 15 percent. The idea price point is $5.99 – $9.99, with the exception being our State Park Mascot, a 12-inch Opossum from The Stuffed Animal House that retails for $14.99.

We sell wildlife animals that are native to Virginia and that can be found in our State Parks and feature books with plush, such as children’s books on wildlife-bear books with plush bears, team plush with our nature programs, plush owls with an owl program, etc.

I would like to see more realistic looking details on plush animals and have more North American plush available.

Julie Pedersen
Shaddow Domain
Idaho Falls, Idaho
Plush is a small percentage of our sales, but it is going up all the time. I find this interesting because we are a dark/metaphysical shop. Our plush runs from $14.95 to $29.95 right now, and our best sellers are around $24.95 but that varies. I try to keep like concepts together instead of keeping all the plush together; that seems to work better for me. So we shelve plush Egyptian icons along with all of our other Egyptian stock and stock baby vampires in an adorable coffin.

I’d like to see more creativity that stands alone instead of just more media related items.

By Abby Heugel
Managing Editor

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