By Susan Mease
Toy stores, because of the very nature of the product they sell, must figure out attractive and effective ways to show off products that often don’t lend themselves to lining up on shelves. In addition, many of their customers are kids, a demographic not known for neatness. On top of these challenges, many toy stores are tiny spaces chock full of fun merchandise. So, how do they make it work?
At Whippersnappers in St. Simons Island, Ga., Tracie Beane, the 20-year owner, said her best-selling toys are Crazy Aaron putty and Mix-Ins slime and the manufacturers supply a counter stand for the putty and a cardboard display for the slime. Beane was in retail before she bought Whippersnappers and said you must visit lots of stores and “adopt” creative ideas. She has wooden swings hanging in the windows and through the store holding plush, books, and more. She’s not a fan of putting plush in baskets and bins as she said it gets crushed. She displays it on shelves but admitted “you have to straighten constantly.” Beane organizes the store with sections by age, girl/boy, games, and seasonal. Crafts are a big seller in the 1,200-square-foot store too.
Up in St. Paul, Minn., Millie Edelsheim has owned Mischief Toy Store for about three years but has been in retail for about 20 years. She said her display technique is “trial and error – keep doing it until it works.” Her best-seller is Speks magnetic balls which are aimed at age 12 and up; she pointed out that she has a lot of things for big kids. Edelsheim agreed that plush is difficult since it demands to be touched and you constantly have to pick it up; puppets are displayed on a rack but still end up all over the store. Edelsheim uses stacked towers of baskets for small things and shelving for others. Her store is most definitely not organized by gender as she feels they are more progressive than that. They have a big selection of board games that do especially well during their long winters. She also does particularly well with sensory toys such as slime and putty from Crazy Aaron, ToySmith, and Pinch Me (which is scented).
The Pumpkin Patch in Ames, Iowa, has been in business for 41 years; Emily and Alan Munson own the 4,800-square-foot store and their daughter Sarah Mesenbrink is sales manager. Perhaps not so surprising for a business in a college town, all the staff have some type of background in education and most have master’s degrees. Emily Munson said, “We feel this is important for our staff to be knowledgeable about age appropriate books and toys for children to offer superior customer service.” She identified the stomp rocket as one of their best-selling toys. “This is such a fun item for all ages and has been a favorite among our customers for many years. We have one out on display for anyone to try out in our store. It launches high into our store. Children and adults have fun trying out the stomp rocket! Our Thames and Kosmos science kits are also very popular. We often do demos to demonstrate how they work.”
When it comes to display, Munson said they just enjoy displaying the merchandise in creative ways and “how we display our items changes often as we have new shipments of toys weekly! We display all our plush items throughout the store in different shelving units. We tend to organize these items by category and then have matching books next to the plush. This helps our customers navigate through the store in a more efficient way. We organize all our merchandise by category. We have two levels packed full of a wide range of items. There is truly something for everyone (adults included)!
Munson said one reason the store has been so successful over the years is the emphasis they place on customer service. “Customers are able to try any of the toys out and we have a very friendly return policy. We also offer free gift wrapping on any item.” The Pumpkin Patch offers princess birthday parties upstairs in a private party room where they handle all the setup, clean up, supplies, party favors and treats. In addition, they offer private etiquette classes as well as public classes for children aged 4-16. The content taught varies depending on age group.
Susan Deininger owns Kandy Kids Toys & Gifts in Swarthmore, Pa., another college town and a reason she puts an emphasis on books. However, her best-sellers are tactile toys like ToySmith putty, especially the triple layer version, and Calming Putty which is very new. Deininger graduated from the Philadelphia College of Textiles in fashion design so she has a trained eye for color and presentation and said her husband is visually very good as well. She described her small store as shaped like a bowling alley with an aisle that goes in a horseshow around the store, so she tries to keep everything visible from that aisle. She displays games at the front of the store, arranges them by age, and tries to keep it stocked so the area always looks full. Plush is displayed in a variety of areas and she tucks them in here and there. She has a big red, white, and blue basket where she piles plush, but she also keeps a few down low so kids can grab them and say, “Mommy, I love this.” Deininger has owned Kandy Kids for three years but previously owned a children’s clothing and toy store in another town. She said her location in a college town is the reason this one has been so successful. Deininger also takes advantage of her in-house focus group of her 13 grandchildren, ages 3–20, as testers for new products.
In New York City’s West Village, right across the street from Bleecker Playground, is Teich Toys and Books, owned by Allison McGowan (Teich is her maiden name) since 2014. The store is designed with a life size wooden toy train along the perimeter of the store. Shelves are recessed inside the “train cars” and people can sit inside the engine car that protrudes into the store. The book area is in the train depot, complete with a vintage train station bench. She organizes the 1,000-square-foot store in broad categories: Baby, Building, Puzzles, Games, Science, Arts & Crafts/DIY, Books, and Music. McGowan said that “one of our best-selling items is the Mukikim flexible roll up piano and we have it out on display for shoppers to play with. We have it on a lower shelf so kids can easily play with it. We also sell a lot of building toys like Tegu and Magna-Tiles so we give these products lots of space on our shelves so customers can easily see them.” There are also a couple of areas that change based on seasonal items, such as holiday merchandise or summer toys. The store shelves within each of these areas are constantly changing, but they try to organize based on the general categories.
McGowan pointed out, “Everybody who works here helps out with merchandising and we share ideas. A couple of our employees had at one time owned their own shops, and one employee used to do window design for some of the famous 5th Ave. stores, so our team has a lot of experience and a great eye for design. We all adhere to the old retail rule of thumb ‘if something’s not selling, move it.’ It’s amazing how just moving something to a new spot can suddenly make it visible to customers. Good merchandising is incredibly effective in terms of sales. I think too much of any one product, even an inexpensive item, makes it appear less special. We like to have just a few, and sometimes only one, of any item out on the sales floor at a time. While this means we are constantly restocking the shelves as things sell, the result is our shelves can showcase a lot of merchandise without feeling crowded. It also underscores the idea that the store is curated, with each item carefully chosen.” They display plush in two places in the store. The first is lined up above the train caboose which is the baby area. They sit them on the rail that forms the top of the caboose cab. They also put plush on the platform directly behind the counter. In addition, they always style the windows with plush. “Stuffed animals bring life and humor to a window display.”