Toy store displays appeal to a wide customer base by featuring toys and games for the young and young at heart.

July 8, 2023
Children visiting Hilton Head Toys have plenty of choices for spending their allowance money, including plush, beach toys, colorful souvenirs and more.
Photos by Caitlyn Ryan

When kids walk into Hilton Head Toys bearing a Ziploc bag full of saved coins and folded up dollar bills, Lilia Mainer knows they have been anticipating a trip to the toy store. And that they have the latest fidgets and goodies in mind.

“Impulse toys bring them into the store, and that leads to more sales when the kids and their parents look around and shop the displays,” says Lilia Mainer, store manager of the shop, which has locations on Hilton Head Island in Harbour Town and Coligny Plaza shopping centers.

Owner Scott Lee says, “Watching them wander around the store searching for and seeing different items and finding the toy they want to have for the vacation experience is really cool — especially when they’ve saved up their money from chores. They put a whole lot of thought into it and you can see the appreciation on their faces. You know they will take care of it and enjoy it.”

Hilton Head Toys stocks the shop with lots of items in the $5 to $20 range that can cater to the young “allowance money” crowd. And the longtime shop — it opened 47 years ago and Lee is the fourth owner — carries trendy toys like Spikeballs and Neoballs, popular brands like LEGO and Playmobil, and classics like puzzles, plushies, books, dolls and trinkets.

Every year, Hilton Head Toys changes out 40% of its inventory to keep the shelves fresh and full of the latest items. And the shop’s offerings span all age groups.

“We keep puzzles and board games, and we have mugs and tumblers at the register for parents because when they’re buying for their kids, they see those and it results in another sale,” say Lee and Mainer.

A toy treasure trove

When selecting products to sell at Hilton Head Toys, store management considers all the variables. For instance, if vacationers’ cars are jam-packed with luggage, there won’t be room for super-sized stuffed animals. And if it’s a rainy day on the beach, families are looking for a way to enjoy their time indoors until the weather breaks. “We have toys and games for long car rides that are appropriate for travel,” Lee says.

Beach toys are popular for all ages — games like Surfer Dudes, Bucketball, Spincopter and Tiki Toss. Plus, there are plenty of sandcastle building supplies like buckets, shovels and molds.

For younger kids, “the more gross it is, the more they like it,” he says of slime and anything that has the word “poop” on the packaging. Fidget toys are fast sellers like Pop-its or squishy balls. “They love to squeeze them and there are different textures and colors,” says Lee.

Mainer says fidget toys in the $6.99 to $12.99 range that can keep kids busy on flights, car rides and in restaurants are big sellers. “They’re looking for items to keep their kids busy,” she says of the parents.
Hilton Head Toys’ wide selection of known brands like Mattel, Melissa & Doug, Calico Critter and Barbie have universal appeal.

“Our movie-themed toys change out every year,” Lee says. But staples that stay the same are items like beach frisbees, balls, goggles, rafts and other water toys.

Boing! JP’s Toy Shop draws in children with fun toys and games.

Last-minute purchases are key, and a low price point with positioning by the cash register make “little things” an easy grab-and-go sale. “We have little rings, tattoos — small items, and we also stock soft drinks in that area that can focus on the teenager or an adult that is shopping with a child.”

Hilton Head Toys does 80% of its business during the summer months, so Lee plans and refreshes inventory accordingly. He attends the Toy Fair in New York City with a goal to completely change out up to 40% of his kids’ products to ramp up for the busy season.

In late July or early August, Lee stops ordering new toys to display. “We let it sell down through the fall and go down to a smaller inventory in the winter because there are not tons of children on Hilton Head at that time,” he explains. “So, we put stuff on sale in the winter and move it out, which allows us to get the inventory down so we can refresh come springtime.”

Lee consults with wholesalers to find out what’s trending. “It’s a big shopping spree and we go vendor by vendor, relying on them to know what the trends are going to be because they’ve done test trials on what will be hot so that helps us make decisions,” he says.

The store is structured with themed displays. “We have an area where it’s all about the water and sections for family games, stuffed animals, building like LEGOs or Playmobil, dolls and so on,” says Lee. “By putting similar toys in a section, it’s easy for kids to find what they are looking for and see the choices. For example, all of our Mattel cars and trucks are in the same zone.”

Mainer adds, “The companies do a good job of offering colorful displays that promote their products.”

Finding a balance

Kim Mitchell was working in corporate finance and wanted to do something smaller in her neighborhood. “I was looking for my next move in life, and I was lucky enough that the toy store came for sale,” she says.
Twelve years later, Mitchell continues to bring toys to the Jamaica Plains, Massachusetts, area at the 1,100-square-foot Boing! JP’s Toy Shop. And although she encourages her staff to lean into their strengths, “everybody has some level of responsibility for everything here.”

Still, there are a few people at the store who naturally gravitate toward creating displays. “They know they are empowered to move things around if they will look slightly better,” Mitchell says.

The store groups merchandise by category, and there aren’t boys’, girls’ or by-age displays. For example, all of the art and science kits are grouped together, with younger kids’ selections displayed along the bottom. This way, toys are grouped vertically by age so the items are at eye level to the kids they target. This allows shoppers to more easily familiarize themselves with the store, which is consistent throughout.

There is something for everyone at Shananigans, including the babies.

The toy store primarily serves children from baby through age 12, with top sellers including LEGO, arts and crafts kits and games. During COVID single- or two-player games sold well, as did games that were geared toward adults.

“A lot more older people, 20 somethings, 30 somethings, were looking for things to do. The adult game section — older strategy-type games — became a bigger focus for me.”

She says it’s always been a challenge, “How do you keep kids interested in games when phones become the focus?” The interest in games might drop off in the 12-20 age range, “But once they are adults, they seem to be coming back around to the concept of playing — puzzles, games and LEGOs.” LEGO isn’t just for kids anymore. The brand is also targeting the adult builder, Mitchell notes.

Even with customers coming back to games as 20-somethings, targeting aspirational and core customers is a challenge. “I am always trying to balance that floor space,” she says.

While the majority of the products are still for kids, it’s the parents who are the core purchasers. Grandparents are increasingly shopping at the store too, according to Mitchell.

Grouping by vendor, with similar boxes together, makes it easier for the customer to take things in, she says.

Something for everyone

Shananigans is the only toy store left in Baltimore’s city limits. The store, which is open seven days a week, has been owned by Flora Stelzer and her husband Barry for the last 17 years.

Flora Stelzer says she feels a responsibility to please customers. “I try and keep my eyes open to what people will like. We try really hard,” she says.

The result of always trying to satisfy customers has resulted in a store that Stelzer says “is different from other stores, but we are not different. We carry things that people have in toy stores, and things that they don’t have in toy stores.”

“Impulse toys bring them into the store, and that leads to more sales when the kids and their parents look around and shop the displays.” — Lilia Mainer, Hilton Head Toys

This emphasis on keeping the merchandise selection wide instead of deep assures there is something for everyone, making for a rewarding shopping experience for a variety of customers.

For example, Stelzer recalls that in February a woman had come in to buy her husband a game as a Valentine’s Day gift, while other shoppers visited the store for teachers’ gifts, and grandparents were buying nostalgic toys such as marbles and jacks.

“There are lots of different things that adults like too that they want to play with their grandchildren,” she says.
When it comes to displays, Stelzer has sections for “up to 12 months” and “up to 2 years-plus.” The rest of the store is by category, such as science, arts and crafts, Playmobil, outdoors and more. The store offers merchandise for infants through senior citizens.

“Kids come in after school for candy,” she says. There are also a wide variety of gifts and novelties from companies including Tokidoki, the Unemployed Philosophers Guild, Accutrements, Magna-Tiles, Crazy Aaron’s Putty, Hot Wheels, Matchbox and more. Customers can also find everything from Bobbleheads, earrings and card games to novelty socks, mugs and blind boxes containing collectible characters.

Best-sellers include Playmobil and games. “I’m hopeful that everybody can find something,” Steltzer says.
She does the buying and gets help from sales reps. “We are very lucky in this area, we have really nice sales reps that are really helpful,” she says.

Stelzer is also not adverse to asking shoppers what they want, and listening to people with insights from other parts of the country. “I’m happy to take advice from anyone who has it to give,” she says.