Theories swirl about the ongoing popularity of tactile toys. Some speculate it’s a pushback against the isolating nature of electronic toys. Others point to the dwindling time kids spend outdoors. Whatever the reason, plush continues to maintain its grasp on children’s imaginations. As the following four toy stores illustrate, soft playthings remain in demand with other hands-on diversions such as games and even craft items posting strong returns.
The word Mischief Toy Store in St. Paul, Minn., uses to describe its merchandise selection is “rebellious” and that extends right down to its plush inventory. Their number one seller is a novelty plush item known as a Purrito from Hashtag Collectibles. Purritos are cats that come wrapped up in little blankets styled to look like a burrito. The 2,000-square-foot store situated in a quirky old Victorian house also has success with another cat-centric plush item known as Pusheen. Based on a female cartoon cat, the name stems from the word puisin, which means kitten in Irish. “Pusheen, Purritos – they’re all really popular with middle schoolers especially. They drive the demand. We try to have a good selection plus all of the newer models so they can keep adding to their collection,” said Manager and Buyer Abigail Adelsheim-Marshall.
Offbeat creatures are clearly plush trend-setters. A blobfish, water bear and an axolotl are a few examples of other creations from Hashtag Collectibles that post strong sales at Mischief Toy Store. In fact, the blobfish plush were in such demand, the shop sold out and only just managed to get them back in stock. Budgies from the Squishable line are another hot seller. Mischief Toy Store keeps fans up-to-date on its plush selection via Instagram and through its bi-monthly newsletter. As for overall toy trends at Mischief Toy Store, which has twice been named Best Toy Store in the Twin Cities, Adelsheim-Marshall said: “Kids want new and different things that they’re not going to find in more mass market stores. They want to be surprised. They want novelty and they want an exceptional play value – something that is going to challenge them in a way that they’re not used to.”
Location is everything at Kazoo & Company Toy Store in Denver, Colo. Since the store is situated inside Denver International Airport, this naturally impacts the kinds of toys and plush customers will buy. “It’s always about portability – size and weight type situations,” said Owner Amanda Waters who has operated the business for 11 years. In terms of plush, Beanie Boos do very well for the shop – the small ones that are not on the clips, Waters hastens to add – because they can easily fit in a purse or carry-on. “It’s such a different animal here,” she said, and she wasn’t referring to the plush. Only ticketed passengers can access Kazoo & Company Toy Store plus the 1,600-square-foot space is tucked up in a corner and not that easily found. Potential customers must be on an hour and 45-minute layover at least. “Otherwise, they don’t have time to either find me or shop. It’s a different deal because what I want to appeal to them is price, portability and uniqueness. I want it to be something they don’t find in big box stores.”
The shopping experience at Kazoo & Company Toy Store must be efficient and ever mindful of people’s time and flight schedules. “I don’t carry things that need explanation because those don’t really sell. I need things that are simple and straightforward. Games don’t do very well for that reason,” said Waters. Travel games are the exception because people will opt for portable versions of old favorites such as Tic Tac Toe, chess, checkers and 4 in a Row. The store doesn’t carry electronics or anything that plugs in or needs batteries. Waters did have a very good run with putty and slime although she admitted it has declined considerably. If there is any trend she sees emerging, it centers around plush. “I do see people looking for fuzzier, softer plush – squishy pillows they can take on the plane and use in other downtime settings.”
The squishy, soft trend continues at Child’s Play which has four stores in the Washington Metropolitan Area or the DMV – a common nickname for the region encompassing the District of Columbia, along with various districts within Maryland and Virginia. “Sensory toys continue to sell really well – anything from the Squishable brand is popular. Squishmallows from Kellytoy are selling like crazy as well,” said Simmie Kerman, vice president and plush buyer for all four stores. She continues to see interest in flip sequin products that both Ty and Creativity for Kids produce. “And then of course Jellycat. We always sell Jellycats!”
Overall toy trends at Child’s Play are wide and varying. Blind boxes continue to be extremely popular according to Steve Aarons, president and toy buyer. Games continue their growth pattern overall with an emphasis on strategic games for the 8-year-old and up market. He also expects to see renewed interest in looms. “It’s been eight or so years since Rainbow Loom had their big moment but it is something that is starting and I expect to be in more full force as 2020 proceeds.” He speculated there is a whole new crop of kids coming up who will be keen to discover how fun it is to create friendship bracelets and more. Finally, while other stores have noticed declining interest in fidget spinners, they remain strong sellers at Child’s Play as does Nee Doh by Schylling. Perhaps it can be chalked up to the stellar customer service provided by well-trained staff members, which Aarons identified as the key to selling more toys.
Every kind of plush sells at Figpickels Toy Emporium in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. “Ty products, sequined items, the big, puffy, squishy ones – all of them,” said Devin Sommer, director of operations at the 2,800-square-foot store. “We’re in a tourist town so a lot of people are traveling and they get the big fluffy ones to sleep on. And there’s definitely some tactile fixation going on because the sequined varieties are very big for us too.” Sommer senses the tide is turning towards unplugged play and more family games – at least it seems so in their community. “Especially during holiday periods, people put their phones down and want to communicate with each other and play. Which really makes us happy!”
Figpickels Toy Emporium strongly believes in giving back to the community and in a round-about way that is how it sells more toys. Every year, many non-profits, churches and schools approach the business asking for donations. Naturally, there is a certain amount budgeted for philanthropy each year and that is when this family-owned business sits down and decides where to place its priorities. “We try to determine what is going to be most meaningful. Not necessarily what is going to provide the biggest return on investment but more ‘What is going to help uplift the community as a whole?’ Because the better the other businesses do and the better small families do here, then the more they can come shop with us. And the more they shop here, the more we can give back and it kind of feeds itself,” Sommer concluded.