Heading into the busy fourth quarter toy-selling season, toy stores had lots to say on what’s hot and what’s not! Four weighed in on what’s been selling in their stores.
Color Wheel Toys in Albuquerque, N.M., is a full-service store that pops up September through December each year in a different retail space in the same neighborhood. “Between 1,200-1,500-square-feet is ideal for me because I have room enough for merchandise plus all the areas I set up to test and play with things,” said Proprietor Keri Piehl, who is now in her third year of presiding over an obviously well-timed enterprise. “Part of my motto is keeping things that are perennially popular. I don’t chase trends like Target or a place with more mass market appeal. I like to sell things that will last for an entire sibling group and possibly for generations.” Nevertheless, Piehl is a fan of currently trending sensory items – such as squeezable balls with different textures inside, compounds like kinetic sand and Foam Alive, putties, doughs and slimes, as well as mermaid sequin pouches and slap bracelets. “All that kind of stuff is really popular here. I don’t claim to be a professional sociologist but I think it’s a push back against tech. Kids are starved for sensory input because all that screen time doesn’t provide it.”
Due to Color Wheel Toys’ seasonal nature, Piehl doesn’t typically carry big-ticket items. “Honestly, the most expensive thing I have in here is an $80 art easel!” She has some Circuit Blox sets that retail for approximately $50 and large stuffed sloths priced at $52. “I wouldn’t have these items in here if they didn’t sell but my sweet spot is $20,” she said, noting that Albuquerque has a lower socioeconomic status compared to other urban areas. Puzzle cubes in the vein of Rubik’s Cube, wooden bamboo puzzles, and 3-D hand-held puzzle cubes continue to hold kids’ interest, according to Piehl. Items like Perplexus – the 3-D ball-in-a-maze puzzle or labyrinth game enclosed in a transparent plastic sphere – is popular. “If I get phone calls for it, that’s how I know it’s a trend.”
The element of surprise is still a big draw at Snoozy’s Kids in Birmingham, Ala. “We’re on the tail end of it but kids still love buying blind packages – an item in a bag where they’re not exactly sure what they’re getting,” said Owner George Jones. Lego, LOL Surprise Dolls, Lucky Fortune Bracelets and many other different manufacturers are all doing this type of thing now. “Even Da Bomb Bath Fizzers have surprises inside their bombs and kids love those. It’s the excitement of the new – getting those surprise-type items and finding out what it is.” Lego products in general continue to post extremely strong sales for the 3,500-square-foot store. In the infant category, Snoozy’s Kids can hardly keep Fat Brain Toys in stock. Jones also raved about Glo Pals – liquid-activated, light-up sensory toys – “You drop them in the tub and they illuminate!” Being a specialty toy store, he was at first reluctant to stock Ty products but now he counts them among his best-sellers. “Ty continues to be so innovative with their items. Being such an impulse piece, kids and parents don’t worry because they’re not crazy expensive. It’s that little treat-oriented item that works surprisingly well in a specialty toy store. We’ve probably re-ordered eight times this year already.”
As for higher-ticket items, Micro Scooters that start at $100 on up to $140 are good-sellers at Snoozy’s Kids. Lego City and Speed Champions Series sets can run upwards of $200 and those always find a customer base, especially around holiday time. Jones hopes to start a trend this year where shoppers will truly come to appreciate the difference a specialty toy store can make. He has introduced special promotions such as Fall Preview Days and relies on social media to get his message across. “You come into a store like ours, you’re going to find something that you didn’t even know existed. Because the makers only sell to specialty toy stores and we sign agreements that you will not find our items online. And of course, we wrap it, we’ll take it to the car, we’ll do all that kind of thing for them at no extra charge. That’s the trend we’re trying to establish – that small retailers still have a viable life in a shopper’s world and in their purchasing.”
A charming brand of toy known as Maileg is a top-seller at Rhen’s Nest Toy Shop with locations in Savannah and Atlanta, Ga. “They’re novelty gifts you don’t usually find in toy stores but they’re beautiful heirloom toys,” explained John Bonaccorse who co-owns Rhen’s Nest with his wife Christina. “They are slightly on the pricey side but when given as a gift, they are just absolutely stunning in person.” On the flip side, modestly priced Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty is also a very good seller at Rhen’s Nest 1,400-square-foot Savannah store and the 1,000-square-foot Atlanta location. “It’s just an eye-catching putty that has a lot of different properties that people enjoy, especially kids. Kids love things they can fidget with.”
Since Rhen’s Nest is a specialty toy shop that eschews mass market toys, Bonaccorse finds it hard to gauge toy trends. “Toys that give parents an alternative at the dinner table to not simply hand over the iPhone, are typically what sells,” he said. Arts and crafts kits have proven to be popular, especially those from the Ann Williams line. He and his wife are also big fans of Haba, a German manufacturing company known for high-quality toys and games. “Haba has the best board game selection for children from age two on up to about seven. If any parent is trying to raise a genius – Haba is the way to go. Their games also help kids learn how to lose – which is a good thing too,” he concluded.
Non-screen toys are in demand at FUNdamentally Toys, an independent toy store in Houston, Texas. “People want things that are interactive, that get kids outside,” said Owner Cliff Moss. He’s seen a real uptick in musical instrument sales such as ukuleles as well as a 3-string guitar called a loog. Advanced science kits including equipment like microscopes and telescopes are also selling well. There’s a revolutionary new game called Turing Tumble that has become a favorite at the 3,000-square-foot store. “It’s really awesome. And then, magnetic toys – things like Magna-Tiles and Geomag are popular. Our top-selling toy is this little cube thing called a Shashibo which is short for shape-shifting box. It’s basically a kind of magnetic fidget toy that’s good for ages six to adult.”
Micro Scooters are among the most expensive items at FUNdamentally Toys but they are consistent best-sellers. “People come in looking for them. They do the research online and then they find out we’re the ones who sell them. They like the instant gratification of buying one right here rather than ordering it and having to wait for it to arrive,” Moss explained. He has witnessed toy trends come and go but always knows he’s onto something when people call about an item several times a day. “Mostly the trend right now is surprise things. Things with an air of mystery involved such as blind bags. Every company is coming out with some kind of blind bag surprise item because kids just love them. There is that little buzz they get from opening a package and not knowing what’s inside,” he concluded.