By June Allan Corrigan
It’s not unusual for new parents to suddenly begin remembering all the toys they used to enjoy playing with as a child. Which explains the ongoing popularity of classic toys – items like Hot Wheels, Barbie, and long-established board games – or as Stephanie Forgie, owner of Toys N More in Reno, Nev., noted, “Anything that has served the test of time tends to do very well for us as parents try to bring a sense of their childhood to their own offspring.
Classics aside, the current best-seller at Toys N More are fidget toys. Forgie chalked it up to their affordability and the fact that kids just love getting the latest sensory gadget and trading them with their friends. Interestingly, Tangle – the twisty, fidgety art toy that has been around for 40 years – is finding a new audience inside the 8,000-square-foot store . “Tangle is circling around to the younger generation,” explained Forgie, which would seem to indicate there is room for a little bit of nostalgia even amid the hottest trend.
Squishmallows and the more food-centric Squishables rank among the top-selling plush at Toys N More, although Ty products continue to hold their own. “The original Beanie Babies are making their way back around and I can’t keep Beanie Boos in stock,” said Forgie, whose customer service philosophy centers around the idea of having fun. To achieve that, Toys N More always has plenty of samples on the floor. It also stays on top of current plush and toy trends via word of mouth and the latest news from vendors. For instance, Shashibo shape shifting cubes were a recent recommendation that continues to do very well. “Again, they fall into that fidget category popular with kids, but they also capture adults’ imagination.”
Bicycles are a top seller at Le Jouet, a specialty toy store in Metairie, La., in business for 54 years. Customers will also find a wide selection of toys from brands like Mattel, Fisher Price, Brio, Bruder and more inside the 6,600-square-foot retail space which has an accompanying 14,000-square-foot warehouse. “From classic to hard-to-find toys to the latest trending in advertisements, we have it all,” said Buyer Mary Wood. “People love that they can call us up on their way to a birthday party and say, hey, can you find me a gift for $20 and wrap it up – we offer free gift wrapping year-round – and they can just come in and pick it up.”
That kind of service is indicative of Le Jouet’s philosophy concerning customers. “The customer comes first all the time. If somebody comes in, we make sure we acknowledge them. We make sure they feel welcome and stay on top of what they need,” Wood elaborated. In terms of plush merchandise, Ty products are a consistent best-seller as are selections from the Jellycat, Douglas, Aurora World and Wild Republic lines. “It’s hard to say which one is number one because they all sell so well here. They’re all very well made and super soft whether for infants or older kids. We have a big variety.”
Le Jouet remains in constant communication with its sales reps to stay up to date on current trends in plush and toys. Word of mouth plays a role too. “We read the catalogs and watch for advertisements. I also have two small children and other staff members have grandchildren so going to different parties and being around different kids, we can see what they’re wanting and what is trending,” Wood concluded.
At World of Mirth, a toy store for kids of all ages in Richmond, Va., the top-selling plush line is Jellycat and has been for a number of years. “We love them. We love the quality. They have a good weight to them plus they always use amazing fabrics,” said Owner and Buyer Thea Brown. Next in line are Douglas cuddle toys which feature a slightly lower price point. “Douglas animals also tend to be a bit more realistic which definitely has its customer base.”
As for toys, World of Mirth is experiencing strong sales with Fat Brain. “Customers love the bright colors plus the fact the toys are multi-functional and their kids are learning without even realizing it.” Brown’s 3,400-square-foot store has also found great success with the eeBoo line of puzzles and cooperative games which they’ve carried for over 20 years. “They work with lots of different artists and the artwork is always amazing and high quality. We love that almost everything from eeBoo is made out of recycled materials.” Although customers definitely help World of Mirth stay on top of trends, Brown is always scanning Instagram and magazines and seeing what is going on in other sales streams. “I’m checking out food and design magazines, for instance, to see what kind of colors are coming up and building off of that. The colors will always move over to the toy world.”
World of Mirth’s customer service philosophy centers around play. “We want everybody to come in here, have a great time and be a child. Whether you’re an actual child or a grown-up, we encourage that inner child to come out,” said Brown. “We also strive to treat people like we want to be treated.” Since the store has been around for almost 30 years, Brown believes it is essential to move things around constantly and to place new, top-selling items in a prime spot. “The store itself is very bright and can be kind of its own character sometimes so we need to make sure we merchandise in ways that are eye-catching.” She also knows plush is never going to sell sitting high on a shelf. “People want to feel the texture and weight of it. When somebody takes a plush and holds it, gives it a hug – probably eight times out of 10 it’s walking out the door with them.”
Legacy Toys, with five locations in Minnesota and one in North Dakota, is seeing many requests for soft, squishy plush these days which means Squishables, Squishmallows and Ty Squish-A-Boos are flying off the shelves. “I think kids and people in general are looking for that comfort type of item and those fit the bill,” said Chief Operating Officer Peter Cpin. Classic toys such as Barbie and Hot Wheels continue to be popular even as Legacy leans more into fidget toys. “Last year we saw interest in fidget toys surge – we couldn’t keep them in stock – and it’s never faded. So much so we’ve created some branding around the idea and now have fidget islands featuring all of our fidget toys. We’ve made some fidget blind boxes and even carry a teddy bear that has a popper feature built into its stomach!”
To increase sales, Legacy Toys works on keeping as many displays as possible at kid eye level and by continuing to rotate the selection often. “Week to week, we try to keep it fresh and in people’s faces. It’s interesting how customers will notice things they didn’t when they were in just last week and all we did was move it.” Legacy Toys’ customer service philosophy is to be a problem solver in any scenario. A crying child? Parents or grandparents in need of a birthday present? “We try and solve the problem with some fun and hopefully have them come out looking like a hero in the end,” Cpin concluded.
At Myriads Toys & Games in Dagsboro, Del., plush sales tend to be quite seasonal, according to Ryan Stuckey who co-owns the business with his wife Ksenia Litvinova. Bunnies and chicks from Molang, a South Korean toy line were popular this Easter and at Christmas time, Elf on the Shelf barely stays there. Since their 900-square-foot store is close to the beach, mermaid plush does well and there’s a fair amount of interest in timeless classics like Peter Rabbit, Raggedy Ann and Andy as well as plush tied to movie releases.
In the toy department, Myriads Toys & Games has witnessed parents wanting to go back to the basics with items such as dollhouses – and kids clamoring for those kinds of toys too. “And when I say basics, I mean 1980s stuff,” says Stuckey. “I just assumed that growing up with all the latest gadgets that kids would find enough entertainment from smartphone games and the like, but the lesson is people crave stimulation and novelty. If you only grew up with smartphones, going back to an older, more analog type of toy becomes new and interesting.”
Knowing your market is key to selling more toys and plush, according to Stuckey. “And really being an advocate for the product. Something I like to keep in mind when making suggestions to people is there are lots of cool experiences and toys out there that may resonate with a lot of different people but they just don’t know it yet. It’s my job to help people find fun experiences and who knows where it will take them?”