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.
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.
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.
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.
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.