By Alison Levin
Fun. That is what we all seek – adults and children alike. While the main focus of toy store and museum gift shop retailers is the children, there are plenty of fun opportunities for the whole family to enjoy together, especially when it comes to playing games, doing puzzles, and working on projects.
“In many ways, traditional games still sell the best for us,” said Candace Moreno, shop manager for San Marino Toy and Book Shoppe in San Marino, Calif. “Candyland, Monopoly, Yahtzee, and Jenga are all very popular games. These are your classics that parents grew up playing. The age range on these games is very wide, so entire families can enjoy together.”
Similarly, Jillian Wahlquist, vice president of Tom’s Toys in Montrose, Calif., finds that these classic, or “retro”, games are big hits in her store as well. “We look for unique games that you can’t always find everywhere. Winning Moves is a great brand whose games are the same as the ones you played as child, but often are updated and maybe have some new rules. It gives adults an option to play the games they grew up on, and to share those games with their families,” Wahlquist said.
Aside from the classic board games, toy store and museum gift shop customers are simply looking for fun ways that their families can bond with one another. “Our best-selling games right now are Tenzi and the Floor is Lava,” said Jeff Massey, gift shop manager at the Scott Family Amazeum, in Bentonville, Ark. “Tenzi is just a fun, fast dice game that is very simple to play and you can keep evolving the game for newer challenges. The Floor is Lava is another fun family game that the whole family can play,” remarked Massey, whose shop brings in about $300,000 annually, with sales rising each year.
On the other end of the spectrum, games that keep kids engaged and occupied on their own tend to be top-sellers at the Fairbanks Children’s Museum, in Fairbanks, Alaska, according to Meredith Maple, visitor services manager. Popular games at the museum’s gift shop include Magnatiles, House of Marbles mazes, and Tegu. All of these are games that encourage creativity and imagination, and are games that children can play on their own or with friends and family.
Speaking of activities that kids can do on their own, puzzles are another timeless activity. “We are the go-to place in our area for puzzles,” said Wahlquist. “Because that is something we are known for, we really like to give our customers a huge selection to choose from.” Wahlquist’s shop is roughly 5,000 square feet, so there is ample space for stock. Wahlquist has a close partnership with Ravensburger, so the majority of their puzzles come from this brand. “Ravensburger is a fantastic company with an incredible product line, so we have fabulous sales on our puzzles,” Wahlquist said.
For Moreno, puzzles tend to be geared more towards the adult market. “We carry a lot of Cobble Hill jigsaw puzzles and the most popular are about 300-500 pieces. These are great for the grown-ups, but families also like to work on them together, which is nice,” said Moreno. “The Cobble Hill family puzzles actually have pieces of three different sizes in the same box, so little kids can have an easier time working on a puzzle with their family,” Moreno described.
Craft kits are another fabulous option when it comes to buying a birthday gift or special treat for a child. At Moreno’s shop, DIY bath bomb kits are very much on-trend. “Most of our craft kits are geared towards girls, with Creativity for Kids and Klutz kits selling the best,” said Moreno. The same is true for Wahlquist, who raved about Creativity for Kids. “The packaging sells itself, truly. Their kits are very eye-catching and the price-points on these kits make them perfect for gift-giving,” Wahlquist said.
Because those visiting the gift shop at The Children’s Museum of Phoenix are fresh off of their educational experience throughout the exhibits, customers’ interest is piqued when it comes to more educational crafts. “We sell many clay kits, such as clay mold dinosaurs. Build Your Own Terrarium kits, and rock painting kits are popular, as well,” said Theresa Sanchez, retail manager. “However, what’s popular in our store tends to depend a lot on what we are most actively demonstrating at any given time.”
Hands-on demos remain one of the top ways to increase sales on any item. “We have many interactive demos around our shop, such as tables where kids can work on puzzles. If they can see first-hand how fun something is, that encourages sales,” Sanchez said. Aside from demos in the shop, Sanchez said that there is always merchandise that is available for sale placed around the museum. “This way, the kids can see what they like as they explore the exhibits, but everything is labeled so they know how to find it when they make their way back to the shop.”
Massey and Moreno also find that demonstrating products leads to higher sales. Said Massey, “To maximize sales, we have to have a knowledgeable team. We like to test out most of the games we sell and are not afraid to break one out and play one with the kids out in the lobby. Same goes for craft kits. We do a lot of testing around here.” Moreno also stated that her sales staff will often take out a demo edition of a game or craft so the customers can learn how to play with it.
Aside from knowledgeable staff who perform great demos, another way to increase sales is through sales and signage. “We occasionally advertise our discounts that are available to members of the museum,” said Maple, who also places signs throughout the shop to call attention to promotions. Wahlquist also stressed the importance of giving value to the customer, so her shop regularly offers promotions and sales. “The other way to increase sales volume is to just offer a great and unique selection,” said Wahlquist. “That is our main focus. Our products are always in stock and we have tons to choose from. There is no way that our customers are going to walk about without finding something; that is our priority.”
Are Craft Kits Gaining or Waning in Popularity
• “In our store, craft kits are extremely popular right now. The trend is definitely gaining. I blink and we are all sold out.” – Candance Moreno, San Marino Toy and Book Shoppe, San Marino, Calif.
• “For us, craft kits are pretty stable. They are always a great go-to for birthday party gifts, so they consistently sell. No real increase in sales, but they definitely are a staple.” – Jillian Wahlquist, Tom’s Toys, Montrose, Calif.
• “I think craft kits may be waning in popularity, due to just a simple lack of time. A lot of things these days are all about the instant gratification, whereas craft kits you have to devote time to. But it really depends on the craft kit and the level of excitement it brings.” – Jeff Massey, Scott Family Amazeum, Bentonville, Ark.
• “For us, craft kit sales were decreasing for a while, but I think they are coming back. We are seeing a slow rise in sales. However, it depends on the price point and on them truly being a bit more unique.” – Theresa Sanchez, Children’s Museum of Phoenix, Phoenix, Ariz.
Focus On Plush
Plush, a longtime staple at toy stores and gift shops alike, stands securely and adorably in place as a top-selling, go-to gift. For Moreno, the biggest sales in plush come from the Squishables line. “We offer all three types, 15-inch, 7-inch minis and the 3-inch micro plush. For us ‘comfort food’ Squishables are the most popular and it is the tween market that seems to love them the most,” Moreno said. Another hugely popular plush item for Moreno’s shop has been Flappy the Elephant from Gund. “We often suggestive sell, and everyone delights when they see the ears move and hear it sing. This is great for the ‘new baby’ market.” Moreno said there are no plans to add more plush to the shop in the near future.
At Wahlquist’s Montrose, Calif., toy shop, Ty plush animals are as popular as ever. “There are some newer, smaller Ty products that do well and also the sequined Ty plush is very trendy now,” Wahlquist said. The other latest trend at this shop are Surprizamals. These are little plush animals that come inside of a ball, so the recipient never knows which one they are getting until they open it. “The surprise element is a lot of fun for kids, and our plush demographic is between 4-8 years old, so they are the perfect age for these,” Wahlquist said. The shop is already so diverse with the amount of plush they carry that Wahlquist does not intend to add any new plush items anytime soon. Said Wahlquist, “it would have to be significantly different in order for us to consider adding something.”
Four to 8 is also the average age range for plush sales at Sanchez’s Phoenix gift shop. “The trendiest plush right now are the Squishmallows, which are extremely soft and cushy animals,” said Sanchez. “But we are always bringing new products into the store, and that includes plush. We have a buying team who handles that, and our 2019 product line has not been announced yet, but we will surely have some new plush.”
Massey finds that the plush trend in his shop tends to be anything unicorn or sloth related. Additionally, he is noticing that sequined plush seems to be taking off lately, as well. Younger kids visiting the shop, aged 2-7, seem more interested in the basic plush, with older kids enjoying the more fun, sequined items.“Right now we have a pretty good selection of plush items. We are always adding new things, though, and trying to keep on top of what is in demand,” Massey said.