In the world of Minor League Baseball retail, mini-bat and ball combos are a home run with kids. Store officials interviewed for this article said they are popular with children for their soft feel and bright, fun colors, while parents like the fact that the sporty toys are safe for all ages to play with.
For this article, where retailers in Idaho, Washington, Pennsylvania, and California were interviewed, SGN found that the sale of soft toys are among the current trends playing out at Minor League Baseball stores.
“Definitely, our mini-bats are best-sellers, along with our soft-feel baseballs that you can squeeze,” said Steven Webster, store manager at the Modesto Nuts Official Team Store in Modesto, Calif. “We have a couple of different colors, and we sell a ton of those.”
Anything soft is a winner in the toy department, noted Kyle McGilvray, store manager at the Tacoma Rainiers Official Store in Tacoma, Wash. “Those bat and ball sets are soft, so kids don’t have to worry about getting hurt or hurting somebody else by accident,” he explained. The Rainiers store also does a brisk business in cuddly plush toys, including miniature team mascots and 6-inch dolls.
Stuffed versions of the Idaho Falls Chukars — the official team mascot, which is also a local game bird — are popular with kids at the Idaho Falls, Idaho, Chukars Official Store, said Assistant General Manager and Merchandiser Josh Michalsen. Other plush also sells well, along with those colorful, soft-feel baseballs.
“In rainbow colors or black marble, with a Chukars logo engraved on them, they’re really pretty,” said Mickelson of the baseballs. Wooden toy bats, also in a variety of colors, are a close runner-up among fans.
Team logo hats are another favorite with kids as well as their parents, with a line of field hats selling best, said Michalsen. “The new travel league teams are also Chukars, so they’ll be able to wear them too,” he noted. Michalsen added that T-shirts are popular early in the season, when the weather is warmer; logo sweatshirts and hoodies sell best in winter.
Safety aside, price is part of the reason that mini-bat and ball combos, mascot plush and foam fingers sell so consistently to young patrons, said Michelle Grabert, manager at the Altoona Curve Team Store in Altoona, Pa. “They’re small items, and they’re all under $10,” said Grabert of the squeezable, all-ages collection. “Parents are willing to spend $5 on something that will keep a kid happy.” Team logo hats and T-shirts are popular for the same reason, she added: “It’s something simple and fairly inexpensive. In our market, you have to watch the price point.”
Grabert boosts sales of sports-themed children’s merchandise by keeping all toys in a dedicated children’s section. Mini-bats and plush are strategically positioned near the bottom of the wall, where tots can easily point them out to parents. “We’ve all watched kids try to get something off of a high shelf, and worried that they’re going to break something,” Grabert said.
McGilvray has a similar display technique. “When things are easy for kids to grab, it’s always more likely that the parents will buy it for them,” he noted. McGilvray groups children’s novelties and gifts together, with sports-themed toys displayed in a three-tier bucket system; the most tempting (and least breakable) items are in the lowest bucket, where no child can miss them.
While plush and mini-bats do well with kids of all ages, older children also gravitate toward Rainiers “stadium” baseballs — replicas emblazoned with the team logo and lively graphics.
Young Modesto Nuts fans similarly go for team baseballs in a variety of colors, Webster said. Red and black, the team colors, are popular, along with shiny silver. And patrons of all ages, from tots to seniors, snap up Modesto Nuts logo hats; a less expensive style branded with the team mascot has been a hit with budget shoppers online.
“We get orders from all over the world, because people love our Nuts logo,” said Webster. An energetic social media presence helps drive sales, he added, along with substantial support from Minor League Baseball, which supports the online retail platform and assists with promotion. Webster said it also helps to have a team store that is open all year-round, even when the baseball season is on hiatus. “We have people walking in at all times of the year,” he noted.
Webster’s sales team also resorts to a variety of strategies to promote sports-themed products. The store runs promotions on the field or in the dugout during games, and features videos of players hawking merchandise between innings. Webster said the Modesto Nuts have also experimented with flash sales, which have proven popular with price-conscious fans.
Savvy deployment of social media has also scored sales for the Sacramento River Cats in Sacramento, Calif., whose official team store has a popular website and sends out email blasts to a mailing list. As at other team stores, foam claws, mini-bat sets and logo baseballs are the top-selling children’s sports merchandise, Store Manager Erin Kilby said.
But cuddly, low-cost toys only go so far. Kilby said the store’s secret sales weapon is its savvy use of media. “At every game, the announcer does a spot where they film him in front of the store,” she explained. “He’ll talk about any item we want him to promote. And that really helps.”