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Debbie Skaggs, who has managed the gift shop at Baptist Health Louisville in Kentucky since 1988, said younger shoppers are buying up plush for babies in non-traditional colors such as gray, yellow and tan. “And it’s really very attractive, actually,” she said.

rom classic teddy bears to geese that sing nursery rhymes, plush toys are favorite gifts for every age. “And the softer, the better,” affirmed Kim Toppi, who sells armloads of plush as manager of the gift shops at Mercy Hospital in Portland, Maine.

Like Toppi, buyers at hospitals and gift shops around the country vouch for the enduring appeal of cuddly critters. Plush is so popular, retailers say, that selling it is mostly a question of keeping the toys in stock, visible and up to date.

Ty, the company whose Beanie Babies were a craze in the 1990s, remains the strongest single plush brand for many retail outlets. Managers and buyers cite the accessible price points - many Tys sell for well under $10 - as well as a fresh, visually appealing selection and an array of licensed characters,which currently include Doc McStuffins and Peppa Pig.

“Those have sort of taken over from ’Frozen,’” said Juanita Lewis, who manages and buys for the gift shop at the Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center in Torrance, Calif. Ty plushies sell well season after season at the 600-square-foot store - but the real bread-and-butter at hospital gift shops, said Lewis and her colleagues, are the stuffed animals sold as baby gifts.

“People always miss their cats and dogs at home when they’re in the hospital,” Lewis said, explaining the popularity of her big-eyed huskies and plush Siamese. Plush may not be the real thing - but for legions of American shoppers, it’s a cuddly refuge.

In the hospital setting, plush toys are sometimes used in place of cough pillows for surgical patients, according to Debbie Skaggs, manager of the Baptist Health Louisville gift store. Shown are Skaggs, Sandy Coffman, Jenny Ensor, Sarah Walls, Judy Clark and Dr. Kaplan in the store.

Pink and blue plush toys are reliable bestsellers wherever there are maternity wards, with prices averaging around $15, retailers said. And in some areas, the fad for all things gender-neutral has expanded the color palette. “The younger set, the ’Millennials’ are buying up baby plush in gray, yellow and tan, said Debbie Skaggs, who has managed the gift shop at Baptist Health Louisville in Kentucky since 1988. “And it’s really very attractive, actually,” she added.

Beyond baby gifts, plush toys are among the top sellers at hospital gift shops for a simple reason - they offer primal, universal comfort. Retailers said cuddly plush animals remind lonely patients of their cats and dogs at home; soothe elderly patients with dementia, who respond to the sensory stimulus; and support the incisions of surgical patients, who use plushies in place of official cough pillows. “You’re supposed to use a pillow when you cough,” Skaggs explained, “but a lot of them come in and say, ’I’d rather use a bear.’ ”

Well, who wouldn’t? Cuddly, ursine Teddy is the hands-down best-seller among animals, though elephants and owls are also big. Toppi said they all sell well as long as racks are well stocked. “The more variety, the better,” she said of her two Mercy Hospital shops, which ring up $135,000 in annual sales in 1,500 total square feet of retail space. “We definitely sell more that way. When supply gets low, we don’t sell. When we fill the racks back up again, they start selling again.”

Simple visibility is key, agreed retailers. Shoppers can’t miss the oodles of brightly hued plush at stores like Amy’s Hallmark, a large Honolulu, Hawaii, shop with seven-figure annual sales and a brisk trade in the popular itty bitty Hallmark line of plush collectibles.

Juanita Lewis, manager and buyer, Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center in Torrance, Calif. The bread-and-butter for the store are stuffed animals sold as baby gifts.

Featuring characters like Rainbow Brite or Star Wars, they sell for $6.95 each or $24 for a set of four - and they sit at eye level to catch the gaze of children.

Display also does the trick for Dean Schwindt, who along with wife Jeannine, took over the 30-year-old Monty’s Hallmark in Phoenix, Ariz., in October, 2015, renaming it JD’s Hallmark. “We have the smaller plush toys on a rack by the gift cards, and people buy them as an add-on gift,” Schwindt said of the under-$10 Ty critters. For stand-alone gifts, Schwindt’s customers - along with shoppers nationwide - spring for Cuddle Barn plushies, which can cost upward of $30 and feature musical accents. “They sing songs, they talk to you - people love them,” Schwindt explained of their appeal.

In Torrance, Lewis has also been surprised at how well the Cuddle Barn line sells at that higher price point. “We can’t keep them in stock,” she said. Balancing demand for the musical toys with a tempting display of lower-cost, impulse-friendly Ty animals is how Lewis makes sure her shoppers leave the store with plush of some sort.

Maybe because they’re just so lovable, plush toys are one area where shoppers tend to splurge. In Louisville, Debbie Skaggs sells plenty of $6.99 plushies – but another huge seller is a $110 giraffe that stands a whopping 5 feet tall.

“I’ve got the audience that wants it, so it sells itself,” said Skaggs of her plush assortment. “And let’s face it: People will always want plush for babies.”







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