• Aurora

A Look at Getting Creative to Sell Imaginative-Play Toys

July 30, 2018 No Comments

Employee Keenan DeHarpport, Retroactive Kids, Seattle, Wash., photographed with a medical toy kit and plush. The imaginative play Schylling’s Children’s Broom Set is the best-seller at the store.

As a 9,000-square-foot store that carries a wide selection of Lego and Playmobil products, Sir Troy’s Toy Kingdom in North Canton, Ohio, has become a destination for people far and wide.  Legos are the store’s most popular imaginative play item and Sir Troy’s Toy Kingdom also carries every set that Playmobil manufactures. The Breyer Collection of model horses is also an attraction. 

Other stores also do well with imaginative-play toys. Mary Kost, manager, Once Upon A Time Inc., Rocky River, Ohio, said Melissa & Doug role play sets promote imaginative play. They allow children to imagine becoming doctors, astronauts, pirates, ballerinas and more. The 3,000-square-foot shop also carries Little Adventures’ princess, fairy and superhero costumes and accessories along with Elope’s kids’ headwear, so a child can be king or queen or whatever they desire. Puppets from Haba, which are bright and colorful, and realistic puppets from Folkmanis also invite creative play. 

Books are among Kost’s best-sellers in the imaginative play category, because they are filled with adventure. Plush, which becomes real in children’s hearts, share in a child’s everyday life. Building blocks provide an open canvas and can help children with problem-solving skills. 

Troy Cefaratti, owner of Troy’s Toy Kingdom in North Canton, Ohio, doing what is called the Lego Firewalk. This 9,000-square-foot store carries a wide selection of Lego and Playmobil products.

Spectrum Toy Store, Chicago, Ill., sells toys primarily for children with autism spectrum disorder. These children may have difficulty with play skills, specifically imaginative play, said Jamilah Rahim, owner. Therefore, the shop has dedicated an entire section to products that promote play skills. This includes, but is not limited to, life skills toys such as child-size household cleaning items, ovens, play foods, mailboxes, irons and ironing boards, dress-up dolls and shopping carts.

One of Rahim’s top sellers in the imaginative play category is Melissa & Doug’s Let’s Play House! Dust! Sweep! Mop! “Children love to imitate and this allows them to help mom and dad,” she said. “There are not many toys that encourage cleaning.” The set looks identical to real-life cleaning supplies—only smaller.

Beth Reyes, co-owner, Retroactive Kids, Seattle, Wash., reported that another cleaning set—Schylling’s Children’s Broom Set—is a hit. In fact, it has been the best-seller for young children for the entire 13 years that the shop has been in business. “Little ones love to mimic adults, so when they see their parents sweeping, they want to help,” she said.

Retail Associate Barbara Sambrook and Manager Mary Kost with Corolle Dolls at Once Upon a Time, Inc. Dolls are just some of the many toys that promote imaginative play at the store.

PlaSmart Build Your Own Fort kits also sell well at the 1,200-square-foot shop. “Making blanket forts is such a classic childhood activity,” said Trisha Gilmore, co-owner, Retroactive Kids. These kits include hooks, suction cups and other tools that make hanging blankets easier and less frustrating.

Like others, Tammy Clower, co-owner, Giggle Monkey Toys, Dahlonega, Ga., said cleaning sets—as well as gardening sets—are popular because kids see adults using these items. “Children like to imitate adults and are excited when there are real life items in their size,” she said. 

Puppets and finger puppets, another top seller in Giggle Monkey Toys’ imaginative category, are just plain fun. “Kids can act out stories and make up their own stories,” Clower said. “Children enjoy the magic of moving a puppet’s mouth or just enjoy the cute critters on their fingers.”

Children love Calico Critters’ animals and the tiny little pieces that come in the sets. “Imaginations literally run wild as children play with the critters in the Calico Critters’ Treehouse and in other settings,” Clower said.

Increasing Customer Interest
To increase customer interest in imaginative toys, Sir Troy’s Toy Kingdom features a large Lego city with trains running through it which it changes frequently. The shop also has a play area, offers workshops and hosts special events such as “superhero” or “Star Wars” day and game nights in which customers can try out board games. The shop also attends local events such as fairs. 

Kost tries to increase sales of imaginative toys by being knowledgeable about products. She’s happy to discuss what skills a toy promotes, what age range it is best suited for and why it would interest a child.

Spectrum Toy Store allows families to play with toys before purchasing them. It has a dedicated area for customers to sit and play with products.

Tammy and John Clower, owners, Giggle Monkey Toys, Dahlonega, Ga. Cleaning sets—as well as gardening sets—are popular sellers at the store. Photo credit: Horn Photography and Design, Dahlonega, Ga.

In addition to providing customers an opportunity to demo products, Clower has information posted in the store about the benefits of play and the importance of role play. “This is just another way to reinforce what I talk about with adults who are making the purchases,” Clower said.

Reyes said it’s important to train the staff to sell. “Some toys do not sell themselves,” she said. “Customers need to be educated on the value of imaginative play. When staff is excited about a product, they can more effectively pass that excitement on to the customer.” 

Taking Stock of New Toys 
Sir Troy’s Toy Kingdom recently began selling Gamewright games. They have been so popular, that the store is already placing its second order. “The company makes a variety of games for multiple ages, some of which require strategy and decision-making,” Marks said.

With Colorforms making a resurgence, Sir Troy’s Toy Kingdom is now stocking them. “This compact toy is a great travel item in the car,” Marks said. Again, because parents recalled playing with Colorforms when they were young, they drum up a sense of nostalgia. 

Clower likes to rotate items such as different styles of tea sets and different price points of dolls at her 1,100-square-foot store. She also likes to rotate inventory so that regular customers see new items to add to their child’s collection. “We stock items based on personal preferences, customer requests or recommendations from other toy store owners and sales reps,” she said. 

Retail Associates Sarah Yannie, Jan Novak and Dayni Mahar photographed with Folkmanis Puppets at Once Upon A Time, Inc., in Rocky River, Ohio. The store does well in the imaginative play category.

Rahim’s 750-square-foot shop will soon be carrying Little Helper’s real-life washers and dryers that come with detergent, and Little Helper’s child-sized vacuums modeled after real vacuums that actually turn on, make a vacuum sound and can pick up small items.

A new product, 3D Colorables by Ooly, have done well for Gilmore. These sturdy paper products come flat so kids can color them in however they choose. Then, they inflate them to play with them. They come in a fun variety of shapes and uses—dragons, unicorns, vehicles, swords and shields, wearable masks and wings. “These toys encourage artistic creativity as well as imaginative play,” she said. 



    • “The last hour of the last day of the show, a lady came in carrying our ad from Souvenirs, Gifts & Novelties (SGN). She placed an order for the customized surfboard plaques, but then I also up-sold her a floor display of Dean Russo dog signs.

      “So, [one,] the ad brought her into the booth, and [two,] the order ended up three times larger than it would have been. If she didn’t see the ad, she wouldn’t have been in the booth. She reminded me ‘See, your ad worked,’ ”
      – Tim Smith, SJT Enterprises, Inc., Westlake, Ohio

    • So, so excited about the article. We got our copy and we are over the moon. I would like….three more copies if possible. The Old City district wants one, …my manager, and we want to frame one!!

      Thanks again. It really was awesome!
      – Never Too Spoiled, Philadelphia, Pa. 

    • “We always enjoy Souvenirs, Gifts & Novelties magazine and are happy to share our stories. I learn something from it every time I read it and share it with our gift shop staff regularly.”
      – Beth Rich, Zoo Superintendent, Tautphaus Park Zoo, Idaho Falls, ID

    • “We have been in business since 1988 and a part of our success has been the use of trade magazines such as yours. Being far away from most trade shows, these magazines are a great lifeline for us who can’t just drive to a gifts show. So thank you for being there for us with insightful articles.”
      – Malia Johnson, President, Malimar Inc. dba Sedona, Honolulu, HI

    • “…Because of our budget, I am unable to go to market, so your Souvenirs, Gifts & Novelties publication serves at a great tool for me to see what is new and trending in the market, and I have tried many new products because I’ve seen them advertised in your magazine. Thanks again.”
      – Nancy Cole, gift shop manager, Booth Society, D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery & Archives, Spearfish, S.D.

    • I just received my copy of SGN Magazine, and I was delighted to see [Natalie Hope McDonald’s] article about us. Thank you for featuring my shop in such a lovely way. It means a lot to me as a small business owner.” 
      Heather Mohorn, Momo’s Tree House, Philadelphia, Pa.

    • “Thanks for your magazine. I really enjoy it and learn from it monthly.”
      Susan Michener, Admission/Gift Shop Manager,  The Montgomery Zoo, Montgomery, Ala.

    • “I wanted to take a minute to not only tell you how much I use and enjoy my copy of Souvenirs, Gifts, and Novelties Magazine, but to share with you some good news about my husband’s and my business Her Majesty’s English Tea Room. We recently won the prestigious Icon award from Americasmart Atlanta. …Thank you again for a magazine that is a little bit like a work book. My husband and I both go through it in detail, always picking up a display idea, new product, or tip.”
      Jacqueline Gillam Fairchild, Her Majesty’s English Tea Room, Dunlap, Ill

    • “Thank you for your wonderful magazine. I love getting it and we do a lot of business with your advertisers. I know that their marketing money is limited, so I make sure to mention that I saw them in Souvenirs, Gifts & Novelties magazine. Win-Win-Win. Everybody’s happy!”
      Steve Fegley, Director of Retail Operations, the Science Museum of Minnesota

    • “The March/April 2017 issue just arrived and it really made our day! Thank you for featuring the LA Maritime Museum’s Sea Chest Gift Shop. The article was very well-written, and our assistant buyer is thrilled to see her photo included!”
      Marifrances Trivelli,
      director and store buyer,  Los Angeles Maritime Museum,  San Pedro, Calif.

SGN width=