Playing Around with Sound
Trends in Musical Instrument Toys at Toy Stores

The sound of music is sweet for children of all ages, and toy stores find musical instrument toys a very harmonious part of their merchandise mix, according to the shop officials interviewed for this article.
At Kid Stop Toys in Scottsdale, Ariz., Owner Kate Tanner described her store’s top-selling musical instruments as Mukikim Rock n’ Roll pianos and drum sets. From a drum set available in a spectrum of colors to a hot pink piano keyboard, the line has some exciting options for kids, Tanner related. “Karaoke machines were big sellers this spring as well. Parents were looking for non-screen time for children, and things for family time together. Parents want to make it fun,” she reported. “This spring, for us, due to our location and weather, our top sellers were all of our active toys” which included musical instruments.
The 3,600-square-foot store has no musical instrument demos out on display currently, she explained, due to the coronavirus.
In Cincinnati, Ohio, Brian Daly handles buying and merchandising for King Arthur’s Court, a 13,000-square-foot toy store owned by Jason Parnell. Daly said that the store, which includes a 3,000-square-foot play area, is making a “real push right now to do more with musical instruments. We want to get in some more unusual ones, like congos and bongos; and we are thinking of bringing in a kid’s bag pipe. We will put it on a giant stuffed animal in the window, using it as a cool way to sell the store itself. He explained that presently the store carries more traditional musical instruments. “But why not do something different, something they haven’t seen before to spark their imagination and creativity, rather than just saying ‘here’s a tambourine?’ Not that there is anything wrong with tambourines,” he laughed.

A musical instrument toy being held by Owner Autumn Ruhe of Mildred & Dildred. Harmonicas and kazoos are the store’s most popular instruments for this Tucson, Ariz., store, according to Ruhe.

Current top sellers are a Melissa and Doug brand Band in a Box. “It’s a top tier, high-quality traditional set that comes in two different varieties. It’s kind of a classic. As musical instruments, the sets are in the league of a 1960 Corvette – they bring back good memories and are still attractive today.”
Like Tanner in Scottsdale, Daly does not have musical instruments open for kids to try because of the pandemic. “We have made such a huge push to have toys out for the kids to play with in the past, we even built a stage in the store for kids to play on, and then the pandemic hit and that won’t work so well at this moment. We normally would let the kids get a hands-on feel for the musical instruments especially.”
Selling more musical instruments is, for Daly, “mostly a split between the displays in the store and suggestive selling. But I think it’s also about finding new items that spark the imagination so much that when someone walks by and sees it, it stops them in their tracks because they haven’t seen anything like that before.”
In Tucson, Ariz., at the 1,400-square-foot Mildred and Dildred, Owner Autumn Ruhe said, “Our most popular instruments are the harmonicas and kazoos. They make a really good little pick-up item. We also carry a ukulele by Kala, that has color chord maps for four different chords that make it easy for kids to start playing right away, and that is a good seller as well. For younger kids, we do well with the Manhattan brand musical toys, such as the chicken and llama xylophone and drum all in one. They have a really cute design.” Design and quality are the key for the sales of these instruments, she said. At present, the store does not have musical toys available for children to touch. “Normally, without the pandemic, we have a xylophone toy and one of the ukuleles out for the kids to get a feel for them.”
Ruhe noted that musical instruments are “not a category that I am super focused on, so selling more of them has no real strategy. If people come in and say they are looking for musical instruments, we have a small section for toddler music, and one for older children. Separating the musical options into two areas is probably the biggest thing to improve sales for us.”
Stacee Wion, owner of Spielwork Toys in Portland, Ore., described her top-selling musical instrument toys as varied. Their appeal is uniform however: “We try to keep all of our instruments tunable, not just something for looks and to be on-trend, but something that can actually inspire musical sense and ability, so that children can move on to more investment-style instruments later as the grow.” The store offers items such as “Remo floor drums, congos, and hand drums; Green Tones ecologically-minded instruments; and DaGo brand, which has a beautiful quality, using birch and high-end plastic. They even do an electric synth. They have a full percussion set as well, which includes a small xylophone, and they offer an upright electric piano and ukulele. We also sell some higher-end instruments from First Note, which is a real instrument company that we buy for children. They have real guitars and ukuleles.” At a lower price point of just $20, she carries “a very cute wooden classic xylophone from Schilling.” Babies are not forgotten either. “We love the Hava sound block sets. Every block is highly textured for sensory learning, and each has a different sound and function. Children can associate textures with sounds. It’s a German brand that has been around a long time and is very focused on conceptual and sensory learning.”
Like other stores nationwide, Wion’s play area is “totally packaged up right now due to the pandemic.” Normally the store has Touch Bells for toddlers available for children to experience among other musical toys.
To sell more musical instruments in her 1,300-square-foot store, Wion relies on “staff knowledge, suggestive selling, and display. It helps to normally have a sampling of musical toys in our 300-foot play area. For now, I would say display is the most important; we have a waterfall table that is all musical instruments that are pyramided. It looks very magical, it draws you in and makes you want to play it all.” As to her staff, she added, “My staff is very educated as to what is appropriate musically and developmentally. They know the quality of our products, in terms of the longevity. They can reassure parents that they won’t be tossing out a musical toy after children clank on it a few times; and what products help build the musical senses.”
Also in Portland, Ore. is Grasshopper. Manager Meagan Ruyle said the store’s best-seller is the Loog guitar. “They sell great, and it’s so popular that right now we’ve even run out of it temporarily. For younger hands, we do well with rhythmic toys from Manhattan Toys, including a morocco and a mini-washboard. Also, although they are not really instruments, a musical record player and tape recorder from Fisher Price are strong sellers.”
The reason each of these sells well is due to their quality and visual appeal, she said. “The Loog guitar comes in cool colors. You can hang them, they are that attractive. They are an actual 3-string guitar that comes with an app and flash cards, so children can learn guitar chords at a young age. You can find ukuleles like that, but a pre-guitar such as this is more unusual. The shaker toys do well for us because they are fun and good for little hands to hold. They are inexpensive, but of good quality.”
Ruyle has a few musical toys on display outside of their boxes, but “our xylophone is placed higher up, so that children can’t reach them. It’s one less thing we have to disinfect right now, but you can see it.”
Selling more of these musical toys is primarily about display, she said. “We have our own display area in one place, and we cross merchandise it with cute books, and we make it very inviting but separate. I will also recommend musical toys, especially as baby presents, which people may not think of on their own.”
In short, the dulcet sounds of musical instrument sales are audible at toy stores throughout the United States.

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