Well, this year is another transition year for us as we search for an identity as a “toy” company in this post-etoys era (I know eToys still exists, but let me tell you, the online toy market is WAY different from when we started!)
In any event, shipping costs are on the rise – and toys are volatile to choose – and the competition is extremely “price aggressive”. So, since businesses don’t want to make money anymore and customers don’t want to pay much for shipping, we are focusing on small, low weight, low cost – but unique – items. Like the Page Up….
This is a product from a French manufacturer that we really saw take off this year. In order to show you what it is, I share with you the fabulous graphic from the manufacturer’s web site, which apparently hasn’t been updated in several years:
Page Up Document Holder
So, that’s it! They are document holders – copyholders if you please – paper holders! People love them. They are inexpensive – they start at $6.95. They are cute, they come as fish, as animal prints, and they even have a Christmas Collector’s Edition:
Page Up Document Holder - Merry Christmas
You can use them at the office, hold up a recipe at home, kids can use them for homework, limitless ideas….
Sounds like a stocking stuffer to me!
There is nothing worse in my business than a manufacturer refusing to sell to me. I remember last year – begging – yes actually begging – Step2 to sell to us. Mind you, I am not talking about extending us credit. These are prepaid orders. Step2 informed me that they were not adding anymore “e-tailers” so they wouldn’t let me buy….
Well, after I explained to them that we “e-tailers” HATE the term “e-tailer”, I finally got them to make an exception and sell me product. Can you believe it?
Once again, we are in the same situation, besides this time there is no one available to beg. We have been purchasing Bakugan (a Spin Masters product) from a distributor in NYC for 1-2 years now. This year Spin Masters has come out with a pretty sweet new product called Liv Dolls. So, I contacted our supplier, told him to get me some product when he places his next order from the manufacturer. And, nope, they won’t sell it to him.
That doesn’t stop me. I call the manufacturer and, nope, they won’t sell to me either. Only available in “mass” this year. That’s ‘toy’ for ‘we don’t need your little insignificant store’. They tell me I can buy them from Wal Mart.
In any event, be careful this Christmas. If Big Box stores continue to dominate the toy market…. If they kill the category – it is only a matter of time before they select for you what toys you can buy. If the independents like us go away, there will be no more balance. Just check out this article in Time.
Well, I have to admit. I got into the online toy business at pretty much the wrong time. To be fair, I had a year – maybe six months of good timing. But, what followed, was not pretty. Christmas 2006 was great. Fabulous even. My first Toy Fair in NYC in 2007 was exhilarating. I thought Gile Toys had arrived….
Christmas 2007 ’til now…. Recap: Traditional Big Box and Online Big Box have DESTROYED the toy category…. For some reason toys have become a worthless commodity. We have had to reinvent, but that is nothing new for small business.
This Christmas season should be interesting. Toys ‘R Us has announced that they will be opening 80 smaller, temporary stores in malls across the country. While this may seem convenient for the consumer, it will actually mean less choices.
Anyways, we can continue the Toys ‘R Us conversation later….
Today, I am interested in technology. As I have become a bit disenfranchised with the Leap Frog line we have carried for years, I have been searching for THE technology toy of this season. Now that I have found it, I am as surprised as anyone that it has “Disney” in it….
Pre-order now! Shipping in November!
We have been waiting, less than patiently I might add, since Christmas, for more Bakugan inventory. I finally got word from our supplier that it should be arriving tomorrow.
We have the following items coming in:
Bakugan Booster Packs
Bakugan Starter Packs
Bakugan 5 Piece Card Boosters
Special Attack Bakugans
These will start appearing on our web site for sale as early as Friday, just check www.giletoys.com/bakugan.
Q: What’s more fun than creatures from an alternate Earth dimension known as Vestroia? (aka Bakugan Battle Brawlers)
A: That’s easy. Those crazy tribes from that distant island of Gorm. The Gormiti.
The Gormiti are Coming!
My ten year old nephew told me months ago that Gormiti was the next “thing”. I don’t think he’s into it – nor is he into Bakugan anymore – but he let me know Gormiti was coming. So being the opportunist that I am, I looked into it. And, I think he has a point.
Convinced that we needed this product, I searched far and wide to find a distributor. It turns out that Playmates Toys is the US distributor of this Italian born product. I found myself an old school distrubutor out of Brooklyn NY – and finally, product is on the way. We should have it up on the web site in a week or so.
In the meantime, check out Gormiti.com and YouTube.com.
Amazing! I didn’t see this one coming:
Totally Stylin’ Tattoos Barbie?
Before commenting, I thought I would go right to the source – the Mattel.com press release archive. I did a search for “tattoo” and nothing. Hmmmm….
Well, if you do a Google search, my favorite headline belongs to wagerweb.com (not normally where I go for toy news): Barbie gets a tramp stamp!!
This is my favorite photo: buzzfeed.com. Although, I think the “Indonesia” tattoo is worse than the “Ken”….
In any event, I am not going to comment about whether this Barbie is a bad influence on children or a sign of the apocalypse. Nor, am I going to say all these people up in arms are out of their minds. Too easy.
I just want to say I think it is an absolutely fascinating choice by Mattel. Turns out they are sold out almost everywhere….
Two weeks ago, Toys ‘R’ Us announced that it had acquired eToys.com (as well as BabyUniverse.com and ePregnancy.com). While Toys ‘R’ Us claims that eToys.com will continue to operate as a seperate entity from toysrus.com, this acquisition is another blow to the consumer. As smaller and mid sized toy retailers go bankrupt or get purchased, the consumer will see less and less choices. With fewer companies in control of toy retail, there is less opportunity for product variety, new manufacturers, innovation, etc. And, again, the consumer suffers.
It seems like the current situation with the American economy, coupled with the significant boost in regulations relative to the toy industry, is already resulting in, not the survival of the fittest, but the survival of the biggest. Unfortunately, small toy manufacturers and smaller independent toy retailers may be the ones who end up suffering the most. Hopefully, that is not the case in the long run. Because if it is, the end game is one or two corporations (like Wal-Mart – hint, hint) in complete control of the industry. When that happens, and it is a lot closer than you think, quality goes down, consumer choice goes down, and prices go up.
2009. The year of change.
Maybe more likely, the year of trepidation….
Certainly, all of us small business owners, or whatever you would like to call us, are a bit shell shocked as we start the new year. The 2008 economy performed dismally and most of us think 2009 will be worse.
So, I received a phone call about a month ago from a reporter for the Capital District Business Review. She was working on an article regarding the attitudes of business owners like myself relative to the economic state of affairs. I thought the article was very good in principle, so I let her interview me. I had a couple of previous experiences with this reporter, so it seemed like a good opportunity.
As we were discussing the current state of things, I began to open up about the concern I had for our business – especially the portion which depends on the local economy. Upstate NY is certainly leading the way these days as far as this economic downturn goes….
In any event, I am always incredibly wary of talking negatively about any of our business ventures. If customers feel your business is in trouble, they will most often stop buying from you. You would like to hope the opposite would be true, that people would rush to support a local business if they thought they were struggling — but that just is not reality.
Despite this concern, I spent about 45 minutes with the reporter explaining that indeed, like all other small business owners in Upstate New York (and the rest of the country) we are very concerned about 2009. This is the worst economy that most of us have seen in our lifetimes, so we would be naive at best to not be concerned. Of course, I explained – and was sure to repeat myself 3 distinct times – that I did not want to be featured in the article if it was not also added that our technology company enjoyed actual growth in 2008 and that our diversification efforts would help us stay viable. I emphasized the fact that this needed to be part of the article, because a business experiencing any growth in 2008 in Upstate NY was quite an accomplishment. And, again, no one every wants to appear in an article that describes one’s business as struggling.
SO, the article came out and my headshot ended up on the front page of the Capital District Business Review with the headline ‘Survival mode’: businesses pessimistic about ’09. It was explained that I was very concerned about our survival and there was absolutely NO MENTION of the growth of our technology business.
I proceeded to send a “Thank you very much” email to the reporter who immediately called and apologized. Apparently, they didn’t see it that way. They would now like to do another story on the positive sides of our business….
Finally, to the point at hand: Reputation Management. What do we do? Do we no longer talk to the press? I don’t think that is reality. While I do not agree with Brendan Behan who said, “There is no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary”, Brendan was an author and obviously not a business owner, I do think that you have to keep putting yourself out there and talking to reporters and trying to get your message out. When you have a flattering piece written by a neutral third party there is nothing like it from a marketing standpoint. Of course, you have to be careful and a little selective. For instance, it may not be a good idea for me to speak to this particular reporter again.
But beyond that, we were able to respond to this article through our company web sites:
Gile Companies Response
With these type of responses, hopefully we can reach the same audience that might read the article in the Business Review. That is certainly why it is important to regularly communicate with your customers through your web site, through blogs, through other social media and, maybe most importantly, through email.
These are all things we need to get better at. We need to regularly communicate with our customers and hopefully our prospects, so if this type of thing occurs we can contact them and spin it the right way before they even see it.
Perhaps even more importantly, with these avenues established and well-trodden, we can then better distribute good press like this article in On Point – The Gile Companies: Blending Buy Local Marketing and High Tech Products and take advantage of flattering publicity.
Or probably better entitled, How Walmart Bought Christmas for Good in 2008.
The Grinch Aint Got Nothing on Walmart
Only BJs’ and Walmart’s sales were up in November 2008 – while every other retailer in America was down. Let me repeat…. Walmart’s sales were up in November 2008 over last year. The sky is falling – we are heading towards another depression and Walmart’s sales were up. Hmmm…. Toy Industry is recession proof? Nope. Walmart is recession proof!
While the media has convinced everyone that the sky is actually falling, which certainly appears to be accurate, we also seem convinced that the only way a consumer can save money in these times is by shopping at Walmart. So, Walmart “lowers prices” on all these toys and, still, they sell more dollars than last year. While the rest of the toy retailers are down. Interesting….
Goodbye KB (although I think we said goodbye years ago, if I’m not mistaken). Goodbye Toys R Us. So long E-toys (didn’t we do that years ago too?). Adios speciality toy retailers.
Let me share a couple of stories. We put a particular item that featured a particular superstar – a no brainer, no lose, toy item – in our Christmas flyer (of which we had 30,000 printed). Retails for $59.99. My cost was $49.50. Not much markup, but a very nice, attractive item.
Big box is selling it for as low as $14.99! I have an email in to the manufacturer – that was ten days ago, still awaiting a response.
We carry LeapFrog Didj – a great new product this year with a minimum advertised price of $89. That means that NO ONE can sell it for less than $89.
Big box wasn’t moving enough.
So LeapFrog changed the map to way below our cost – now Amazon is selling at $49.99. Hmm….
Define Category Killer. One word: Walmart. Good for the consumer? Save Money. Live Better. That’s their slogan? Really? Save Money. Live Better. Has anyone ever set foot in a Walmart and felt like they were living better? Obviously, Walmart is talking about their customers, not their employees…. And are their customers living better?
If they are, it’s not for long. When the category is officially killed, how low will those prices be then? When Walmart is choosing the toys you can buy, and what you can buy them for – and no one else is around to balance…. Try to save money and live better then!
Speaking of saving money, when did that ever become the American dream? I guess that’s another blog entry for another day…..
There certainly is a lot more to being an E-tailer these days than selling products on your web site. And I am not alluding to adwords or affiliate programs or price comparison sites or anything of the sort. I’m talking about Amazon.
Amazon owns and buys so much of the online retail traffic these days that you can’t really have an e-commerce site without also selling your products on Amazon.com. Even Target has an Amazon.com store. If you google “Gile Toys”, an Amazon listing comes up in the top six results and you will see the adwords “Gile Toys at Amazon”.
Let’s face it. Amazon allows you to use their brand to move your products. How can any of us say no? But my point here is not to discuss the pros and cons of Amazon – or even give an inside look on the entire process. I don’t even want to discuss their buyer feedback process and system.
I simply want to share some of the feedback we have received lately on Amazon.com. Not the ones that say we are really great, just the ones that make me smile.
How about this one?
“Subliminal experience. The whole family experienced a life change. I only can kneel in the lotus and pray for future business exchanges. I bid you peace.”
[insert joke here]
“Extremely fast shipping and I know my nephew is going to go nuts over these. The only downside is that the box that it arrived in shows pictures of exactly what the item is–we’re lucky that the person it is for wasn’t at the house or he would have known what his Christmas present was. I prefer my packages to look anonymous (typical brown box, please) so I can keep holiday surprises a secret!”
Granted, we are sensitive to this – especially as a toy vendor at Christmas time, but you have to see the size of this product. To put this box, which is actually full of individual little boxes by the way, inside another bigger box, is a bit impractical to say the least. Can you say TMI?
Not sure why I think this is funny:
“I ordered these monkeys & they were delivered very quick & exactly what I ordered. I’m always leary about ordering online for the fact of not knowing what I’ll end up with, but was definately pleased!”
I guess anything with the word “monkeys” in it makes me laugh.
And, finally for the minimalist in all of us, how about these three:
Now that’s what I’m talking about! For more, go to Amazon.com.