How to Grow Gift and Toy Sales at Baby Stores

By Karen Appold

Now that the holidays are over, foot traffic at your store has probably slowed down. And Mother Nature certainly isn’t helping, with her chilly temperatures, snow and ice. So how can you warm up your sales in the dead of winter?

One way to boost sales is to stock toys and gifts that people love. For Keenan DeHarpport, buyer, Retroactive Kids, Seattle, Wash., that means carrying Milkbarn products. “The company makes onesies, swaddle blankets, burp cloths and other items in a very soft material with the cutest prints,” she said. “They are are by far our best-selling baby gifts.” 

In addition, the Bolli Squishy Rattle Ball is a newer item that has done very well. “It’s a tactile toy made of flexible silicone with little plastic discs in the middle that rattle when a baby shakes it,” DeHarpport said. “It’s dishwasher safe and safe for teething, which parents love.” 

Keenan DeHarpport, buyer, Retroactive Kids, Seattle, Wash., photographed with Apple Park onesies. Milkbarn products are also popular for the store.

Another new and popular item is the Oli & Carol line of natural rubber teethers that come in animal, fruit and vegetable shapes. “Olive the Deer,” which is shaped so that it can be worn around a baby’s wrist while teething, and “Kendall the Kale” are its best-sellers. Barcelona, Spain-based Oli & Carol’s products are handmade with 100 percent natural rubber and are hand-painted in Morocco with natural pigments. “Our customers love to support eco-friendly and socially responsible companies, and these teethers satisfy that need, all while being adorable and functional,” DeHarpport said.

For Martha Ogburn, owner, Barefoot Baby Boutique, Salisbury, Md., books make great gifts at her 600-square-foot store. “I choose books across a spectrum that visually appeal to me,” she said. 

Clothing is another top seller as a gift item. Ogburn has found that shoppers are seeking out apparel made from natural yarns. “If an item is not organic, the fibers might be saturated with chemicals, which is concerning to moms,” she said. “Many mothers today have read studies that say that harmful chemicals can easily absorb through a baby’s skin and affect their neurological development. They don’t want to add any toxins to their baby’s nervous system.” Ogburn said these moms are being very wise and cautious. In particular, hand-knitted hats and booties made from cotton, bamboo or wool are popular. 

Nicole Myers, owner, Polka Dots and Denim, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, said in general, Melissa & Doug products sell well at her 900-square-foot store. All of the company’s products are educational and geared toward learning the alphabet, numbers and colors. Also, the brand has a great reputation. Catch & Count Magnetic Fishing Game, an interactive game that teaches numbers and colors, and hand and eye coordination, and Flip Fish Plush Toy, a colorful baby toy with gills that flip over to reveal hidden pictures, are among customers’ favorite products from this manufacturer. 

Buckle Toys, which teach motor skills, hand and eye coordination, dexterity, colors and counting, are also popular, Myers said. All of the company’s products contain buckles, hence the name.

At Bambi Baby, West New York, N.J., Elvis Ortega, manager, said Barbie merchandise from Mattel, such as teethers and dolls for up to age 12 months, sell well for infants. He said the brand does well due to name recognition. 

“Coming home outfits” for newborns leaving the hospital, which include a onesie, shirt and pants, are also hits. “Our store has been here for 45 years, and customers know we have a large stock of these outfits,” he said. Wubbanubs, a pacifier containing a toy, also fly off the shelves. 

Display Tactics 
Creating attractive and organized displays can also boost sales. “We keep all of our baby stuff in one area, so when people come in looking for something to bring to a baby shower, it’s easy to guide them to the baby section,” DeHarpport said. “A lot of people come in on their way to a party, so we try to make their whole experience as quick and simple as possible. Directing them to one area makes the experience feel less overwhelming, allowing them to see everything we have to offer for an age range they’re shopping for without having to wander around our entire 1,000-square-foot store.” 

Retroactive Kids recently added a rack to hang some onesies and blankets on at the front of the store to highlight them. “We hang certain pieces together to demonstrate how they might go together in a set,” DeHarpport said. The rest of its baby clothes are folded on shelves in vintage cabinets, which creates a cute and classic aesthetic. 

Knowing its clientele well allows Retroactive Kids to guage what products appeal to them. For instance, Plan Toys sell well, especially when staff explain the company’s sustainable manufacturing methods. “Our customers like to know that they are supporting environmentally and socially responsible practices with their purchase,” DeHarpport said. 

The buyer for Retroactive Kids with a toy display. Oli & Carol products do well for the shop.

Myers said her store is organized by children’s sizes, so a customer can walk in and immediately go to a rack or area they need to go to. Each area is identified with signage. 

Ortega likes to display outfits on mannequins to give shoppers a preview of how an outfit will look. They are used both in showcases inside the 18,000-square-foot store and in window displays.

Ogburn recommended removing items from plastic packaging, which cheapens products. “People like to touch and feel products, that is why they come to a boutique instead of shopping online,” she said.

Provide Great Customer Service 
For DeHarpport, getting an idea of how much help a customer wants or needs is the first step to providing good customer service. “Some customers have a pretty good idea of what they’re looking for and just want to be pointed in the right direction,” she said. “If we don’t have an exact item, we can show them something similar. Other customers have no idea what they’re looking for, so we show them several options and help them narrow it down. It’s important to not only show customers what we have, but to also teach them why certain toys make great gifts, such as this one teaches color recognition and fine motor skills, this one teaches cause and effect, and this one is portable and easy to clean.”

Ogburn tries to find out something about a baby’s parents, which might help her suggest a product. For example, if a parent is a teacher, they might be drawn to an educational product. If a parent is a pilot, she would recommend apparel with a helicopter design. If the family has a dog, they will probably find clothing with pooches appealing.

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