Question: What could be more fun than the joy small children, babies, and parents experience from toys and gifts? Answer: Selling more of these terrific items. Store owners and staff discuss the trends they are currently seeing in toys and gifts, the ways in which they encourage shoppers to add a toy or gift to another purchase, and the changes stores have made due to the pandemic.
At Cookie Pot Children’s Boutique, in Gladstone, Ore., Owner Liz Banta described her top sellers in these categories currently as “fun Easter baskets that have toys in them like bath bombs, or Tattoo pens, and dinosaurs, wind-up toys, and things like that. We typically have smaller items that are great for stocking stuffers during the holidays, quick birthday gifts, all kinds of very affordable items,” she related. “They do well for us because of price-point generally, and right now people are also trying to support local shops when they buy gift items.” According to Banta, while Jellycat stuffed animals, books and puzzles also do well, these small giftable items are her top sellers.
To get shoppers who may have stopped in for an apparel item interesting in adding a toy or gift to their purchase, Banta again focused on price point. “With so many affordable toy items, people can come in for clothing and easily pick up a fun toy for under $10. Then, everyone, parents and kids both, leave happy.” She also boosts interest in toys by promoting on Instagram and Facebook, which Banta cited as her main source of advertising.
The 800-square-foot shop, which focuses on a mix of new and primarily consignment clothing, offers only brand-new toys and books, and has made changes due to the pandemic. “We were not huge on social media prior to the pandemic, but we use it a lot more now. We transitioned to posting online in Instagram and Facebook and made it much easier for people to use electronic purchasing from home,” Banta explained. “We also offered at-home Santa and Easter Bunny visits, where the characters brought gifts. And shoppers could purchase items for delivery, and we offered a general package for an Easter basket last year.” She said the store did well with its unique character visits. “We did about 35 Santa and 30-50 Easter Bunny visits,” she noted. “We also began to offer curb-side pick-up. November and December were the best months we have had so far, and our business has been amazing actually.”
The big gift and toy trend at Lil’ Chic Baby Bug Boutique in Tucson, Ariz., is a pacifier with plush attachments. Owner Darrial Hellpap said, “That kind of pacifier keeps kids busy while soothing them.” The pacifiers feature detachable plush toys for easy cleaning. She added, “I also sell rattles, but the pacifier sells the most. I also do well with nipple balm for pregnant women. I think those both sell well at least in part because of my affordable price point on them; the items are more expensive elsewhere. Also, it’s the specialness of these items: the plushies can attach to all pacifiers and the Nipple Crack nipple balm, well, the name brings you to it and it’s really a necessity for breast-feeding moms.”
Hellpap said store positioning is key to boost sales of these items as add-ons to other purchases. “I have the pacifier plushies up near the counter near a display of bows. The nipple balm I keep over by the kids’ clothes, and I cross-merchandise them between our maternity clothing side and children’s clothing.”
The store first opened in the middle of the pandemic after the lockdown began to lift, Hellpap said. “I expected it to be slow, but between advertising and my location, the fact that I’m the only type of store like this in the area, things were slow, but that helped. I also do curbside pick-up for my store, and I usually have only one person at the counter.” She also performs rigorous cleaning and sanitizing precautions at her 1,200-square-foot shop.
In Scottsdale, Ariz., at Kidstop, Owner Kate Tanner said outdoor toys are the big trend in toys and gifts at her store. “Being in Arizona, we are blessed with great weather, which has led to a 50-60% increase in outdoor toy purchases during the pandemic. Scooter sales have really gone up. Really anything for active family fun does well.” Tanner revealed, “It’s really so nice to see parents interact with their kids. I think people are tired of Zoom and tech, and when we post email blasts on family fun items, we see a lot of response to that.”
Currently, Tanner sees an “explosion for Easter baskets. We do custom baskets and we have an Easter basket buffet table, where parents can grab a shopping basket and start picking things like little Jellycat bunnies. I think the talk of running out of toys because of issues at the port scares people, and they’re more inclined to stock up when we honestly don’t know when the next shipment of an item is going to come in.” To preclude some port issues, Tanner is storing items in anticipation of shortages at the end of the month in Easter items.
Other popular gift items include baby clothing. “That has hit in the last 30 days. Coming out of the holidays I was pretty nervous because baby clothing was getting crushed by COVID-19, but it has come back.” She added, “For us, the idea of shop local really helps us to sell all of these things. We had some magazine articles written on us that we are still here, which also helped, and the shop-local love has been huge. People want that expert customer service, they want our recommendations.”
Tanner encourages add-ons of gift items simply by the items she carries in her 3,500-square-foot store. “We really don’t have to do anything. Our store has become known as having gifts and fun for all ages. We even have a gift section in the store. That includes some fun adult items, like a Chirpy Top that you put on top of wine bottles, and they were the biggest hit here in December. We have giraffe blankets for babies and adults, whiskey flasks for dads, Spongelle bath sponges for the kids, and in adult styles, we have a buffet table of Easter items. We like to do quirky, fun things. When you gift someone something from here, they will remember you.”
As far as pandemic changes go, Tanner said website updating was her key to sales survival. “We were very fortunate and blessed that we went to a new website when we got our PPP loan. We loaded about 3,000 toys on website in four weeks, and that helped us limp through last April to July on our old site. Then we launched a new site in November, ditching the outdated, four-year- old site. If your website has plugins or things like that, you have to make sure that you are updated to the nth-degree. As easy as it is to build a website now, there is no reason to sit on old- fashioned, cookie-cutter websites anymore. The baby industry always brings in a millennial panel to its conferences, and I will never forget a woman saying at one that ‘we judge you by your website.’” Tanner elaborated, “People are looking to see if it is a custom site that is a representation of the store, not just something basic. Your website and social media are big.”
But, for Kidstop, Tanner finds the biggest pandemic change to be a very positive one in terms of customer relationships. “The biggest change is how nice people have become. They are thankful for simple things like us carrying toys to their cars for curbside, and they are thankful for seeing us on Facebook. People say thank you a lot.”
In Laguna Beach, Calif., Allie Bennett, owner of the 550-square-foot Little Freebirds, said the pandemic year has been challenging, but despite that, “People always have a heart for little children.” She reported, “One new trend is in Legacy books, they’re very sweet, and I have seen people wipe away tears for these books. I think they offer hope.” Additionally, she finds items such as little Jellycat toys with books and ecologically sound Green Toys, do strong sales, as well as little trucker hats. “They’re well-made and, COVID or not, there is a lot of sun here, so the hats remain really strong sellers for us as gifts.”
Encouraging add-on sales means cross-merchandising for Bennett. “We always cross-merchandise everything. On mannequins, I have layered brands in clothing and always include toys. My mannequins have headbands, hats, sunglasses, everyone is fully dressed. I have a mannequin right now that’s wearing a Mimi & Maggie dress, a headband, glasses, and holding a Jellycat stuffed dog.”
As far as pandemic changes, Bennett asserted, “We do social distancing, and we have hand-sanitizing dispensers at our door and register to use and to buy; we sell masks, nice cotton ones for little kids. And if people need masks here to shop, we offer them. We didn’t find curbside pick-up to be that great for us. People either wanted to come in, or they did not. We offered it, but very few people called up about it.” Bennett said the shop also offered Facetime visits for shoppers. “I feel like a lot of my customers really didn’t want to jump online and do ordering. But by the same token, they didn’t want to buy from just everyone. They knew what we had. When they knew they were going to spend money, they really wanted to spend with someone they knew. I have been here in the community for a long time. They would rather call and do a Facetime buy, and I would bag, box, bow and they would come into the store for pick-up.” Above all else, she said, “We definitely had to pivot this year.”
In short, while gift and toy items at baby and children’s stores remains strong overall, one of the main takeaways in this category is that buyers want to shop local, rely on good customer service, and will support stores offering both – even in pandemic times.