Winning With Game, Plaything and Plush Sales
Strategies from Children’s Museums, Gift Stores and Toy Stores

By Karen Appold

For Meg Hauser, visitor services manager, The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures, Kansas City, Mo., the best-selling playthings are reissued or reproduction versions of vintage and historic toys, particularly those displayed in vintage packaging. “These items resonate with our customers, because they speak to their childhood memories. Oftentimes, shoppers purchase these items to remind them of their own experiences or to share those memories with their loved ones.”

Tom Monsoon, Lark’s head toymaker, Ben Tentis, a staff member and Co-owner Scott Gray-Burlingame, shown in the shop. This year the store has seen an increased interest in cooperative games.

Nadine Shingleton, owner and co-manager, Playthings, Etc. Family Toys and Hobbies, Butler, Pa., said novelty toys are always the best sellers. Fidget spinners, Safari Good Luck Minis animal figures, Thinking Putty, a variety of Rubik’s cubes and Bright Bugz finger lights for illusions are all favorites. “These are great impulse items that bring a quick smile to someone’s face,” she said. “For us, it’s about making it a fun experience for everyone who walks through our door. Our mission is to encourage families to play together.”

Plush, Schleich figurines, jigsaw puzzles and books are very popular items for customers frequenting Lark Toys, a 21,000-square foot store in Kellogg, Minn. “Plush is perennially a comfort, a friend,” said Kathy Hume Gray, co-owner. “Animal figurines have long play value; jigsaw puzzles are an interesting way to spend some time alone or with a group; and good books teach, entertain and delight.”

Dee Clingan, visitor services, Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum Store, Winchester, Va., reported that best-selling playthings are what she calls pocket toys—small toys and fidgets—which are an easy impulse buy for parents looking to treat their child. With just 200 square feet of floor space, vertical space in the store is maximized.
At Earthbaby boutique in Sherman Oaks, Calif., Renee Kennedy-Powers, president, said she sells a ton of the U.S.-made ice cream cone shaped teethers called Baby SweeTooth at her 1,200-square-foot store. “They can go in the freezer and dishwasher, and are the perfect shape for little hands and tiny teething mouths,” she said. They come in five colors and are lightly vanilla scented.

Toys purchased at The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures often have a nostalgic vibe.

Tips to Sell More Games
Organization and groupings help shoppers find games that peak their interest. In its game and puzzle room, Lark Toys has designated the following sections: games for younger children; excellent family or cabin games; card games; dice and domino games; jigsaw puzzles (from easiest to hardest); word games; one person games; classic games (like chess, Monopoly and Sorry); mystery games; and complex games for older kids and grownups (Catan, Dominion, etc.). Tables have game demos and instructions. “We also feature a game or two on our main toy counter with a demo so that a staff person can show something new and fun,” said Miranda Gray-Burlingame, co-owner. “We listen to customer requests for games and buy them if they seem good. When we learn about new games, we are glad to try them. We play as many games as possible so that we can speak knowledgeably about them.”

Store associates at The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures’ gift shop blend traditional retail sales techniques with museum interpretation techniques in order to build upon the visitors’ experiences in galleries to provide educated recommendations for products that speak directly to their own memories. “We not only carry games, but also game-inspired home items such as a Scrabble board tea towel or a Battleship-inspired notepad and eraser set,” Hauser said. “Displaying these items alongside the actual games allows customers to not only recall their memories playing these games, but also to envision how they can whimsically infuse those memories into their everyday life.”
Shingleton hand picks the store’s selection of games, and then demonstrates them to customers. “Fun is contagious,” she said. “We show them our old and new favorites.”
At Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum’s store, the highly interactive environment is geared toward children. “It is absolutely essential to display our merchandise in a way that children can interact with the toys,” Clingan said. “We sell more items that guests can demo or play with at the store.”

Kennedy-Powers has several pieces of advices for increasing game sales. “Listen to your customers and follow trends,” she said. “Be active in your community. Use social media as much as possible. Go to expos and learn about everything you can in the industry. Ask for samples and review the products.” 

Meg Hauser, visitor services manager, The National Museum of Toys and Miniature in Kansas City, Mo., photographed with a puppet. The best-selling playthings are reissued or reproduction versions of vintage and historic toys. Photo credit: The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures.

Desirable Qualities in Games
Customers are interested in games that allow them to make memories with their loved ones. As a non-profit retailer in the attractions sector, Hauser has found that travel-friendly games are popular as they are easier to pack and transport.

Gray said some customers are looking for games from their childhood, while others want games that are easy to learn and are educational for kids. This year there’s been an increased interest in cooperative games. Games that teach are also popular, such as French Bingo and games about geography.

Timeless classic board games will never go out of fashion, Clingan said. In addition, customers are increasingly looking for educational games, particularly those that incorporate active or creative play.
New games aren’t as structured, Shingleton reported. They are easy to play, but are more open ended. “You take the play in different directions by making personal choices according to your own strategy,” she said.

Tips to Sell More Plush
In order boost plush sales, choose quality companies such as Douglas and JellyCat, Gray-Burlingame said. She also recommended displaying a lot of plush. “Try organizing plush in unique ways,” she said. “Watch what your customers choose and buy accordingly. Also, “Buy what you believe in … what you think has value for your customers. What you don’t stock speaks along with what you do offer in telling your guests what your store stands for, and what they can count on from you.”

Plush displays link storytelling products with comfort items. “This allows us to help our customers envision how their selections might fit into their own lives,” Hauser said. The sales team at The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures’ 350-square-foot gift shop practices asking open-ended questions in order to listen to visitors’ interests and offer educated suggestions for products. This allows staff members to connect on a stronger level with visitors and welcome them into the museum community and hopefully encourage a repeat visit or purchase.

Shingleton’s 4,500-square-foot store offers many varieties of plush at lower price points, making them almost an impulse item. “We also watch animal trends and color and style trends,” she said.

Plush is best displayed at child level and with plenty of selection so children can choose one that they find to be the most special, Clingan said.

Desirable Qualities in Plush
Hauser said customers gravitate toward unique plush items that represent nostalgic characters. Lambchop, Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy are among its best-sellers. Visitors also appreciate seeing plush dolls that represent a variety of ethnicities. “Offering such options allows customers to purchase plush dolls that they can identify with personally or represent the diversity of their loved ones,” she said.

Plush should be cute, soft, unique and safe. If you’re putting plush in a section with baby toys, make sure it’s safe for infants. For example, it should have stitched eyes and no small parts that a baby could swallow. This year, Lark Toys sold a lot of fantasy plush, such as unicorns, narwhals and mermaids. Dogs, North American wildlife, big cats and unique plush like chinchillas, porcupines, sloths and hedgehogs are also popular, Gray said. Make more sales by stocking what sells.

Kennedy-Powers said customers seek out plush that is made in the United States and is organic. They also appreciate good packaging.

Clingan said many plush lines do well today because they offer bright, fun colors, a cute factor and toteability. “I think customers are driven to collect plush, so lines which offer many variations on a style are even more popular,” she concluded.

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