No Liv Dolls for Speciality – Big Box Only

Posted by jim on October 26, 2009 under Consumer Experience, eCommerce | Be the First to Comment

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.

The Gormiti are coming! The Gormiti are coming!

Posted by jim on April 8, 2009 under Consumer Experience, Toy Trends | Be the First to Comment

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!

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.

L.A. Ink plus Mattel Toys Equals Totally Stylin’ Tattoos Barbie?

Posted by jim on March 10, 2009 under Consumer Experience, Toy Trends | Be the First to Comment

Amazing!  I didn’t see this one coming:

totally stylin' tattoo barbie

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….

Less Consumer Choice Often End Result of Down Economy

Posted by jim on February 26, 2009 under Consumer Experience, eCommerce, Economics | Be the First to Comment

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.

The Year the Walmart Stole Christmas

Posted by jim on December 19, 2008 under Consumer Experience, Economics | 2 Comments to Read

Or probably better entitled, How Walmart Bought Christmas for Good in 2008.

The Grinch Ain't Got Nothing on Walmart

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…..

Hannah Montana Stock Rising as Christmas Approaches

Posted by jim on November 22, 2008 under Consumer Experience, Toy Trends | Be the First to Comment

The National Retail Federation released their 2008 top ten toys list for boys and girls Wednesday, and Hannah Montana is up four spots this year to number 2.  While Barbie has kept her top spot, Hannah Montana is still on the rise.

We are featuring a few different Hannah Montana toys this year.  From JAKKS Pacific, we have two items:  the Hannah Montana Holiday Singing Doll (who doesn’t wanna hear Miley Cyrus sing “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree over and over?) and the Hannah Montana Pop Tour Guitar Video Game (with the popularity of Guitar Hero, why not?).  We also have the Hannah Montana Girl Talk game from Hasbro, which incidentily is Made in America, on sale at 20% off for only $11.99.

Hannah Montana for Leapfrog Didj

Hannah Montana for Leapfrog Didj

Also, we have the Hannah Montana game for the LeapFrog Didj.

The number one toy in the Boys category for the National Retail Federation is Video Games.  We are featuring the LeapFrog Didj this year and hoping that parents will look for a learning alternative when they are filling this wish for kids this year.  LeapFrog has made great strides with this handheld gaming system.  It has superior graphics, more arcade-like playability, and the unique ability to customize game play and learning skills.

Toy Boutique Fundraiser Tells Possible Story

Posted by jim on November 13, 2008 under Consumer Experience, Toy Trends | Be the First to Comment

We just finished our toy sale from November 2-4 to raise money for the local chapter of Youth for Christ. For an Internet toy retailer like us, not only are these sales great to help raise money for local charities – they also provide a unique opportunity for us to interact with our customers face to face.

I learned a few things – or possibly was just reminded of them – as I wandered the sales floor and spoke with customers.  For one thing, Melissa and Doug products really sell when they can be touched and seen up close.  They really capture the imagination.  I remember seeing their new lines two years ago in NYC at Toy Fair and getting excited about them.  Unfortunately, the Internet has become somewhat saturated with their product.  In person though, it is an easy sale.  What I did not realize was that people still love stuffed animals – and the bigger the better.  The Melissa and Doug plushes ranging from dogs to dinosaur, from $20 to $100, were a huge hit and some major eye candy at the YFC boutique.

Next, I was very encouraged by the response to the Leapfrog Tag.  If you haven’t seen it in person or watched it in action, take a look at this clip from the Leapfrog YouTube Channel.  I will be shocked if this doesn’t make the Top 5 toy list this year.

Learning How to Play Hot Spot

Learning How to Play Hot Spot

Another manufacturer whose product has become a bit saturated on the net is ThinkFun.  Formerly Binary Arts, ThinkFun hit it big years ago with Spin-Out and then Rush Hour.  This year we had a great time showing folks how to play my newer favorites: Hot Spot and Pete’s Pike.  And they sold as a result.

Finally, books always sell pretty well at these type of events.  This year we are featuring We Both Read books by Treasure Bay.  These are innovative books for children and parents to read together.  The left page is read by the parents, the right by the child (which is written based on the respective grade level.

But the best part of the whole 3 day event was getting to speak, face to face with consumers and tell them why we bought certain product, show them how to enjoy the games we’ve chosen and really just to connect on a personal and emotional level.

If you would like to learn more about Youth for Christ, please visit the national chapter’s web site at www.yfc.org or our local chapter at www.cdyfc.org.

Technorati Profile

Is Bakugan now Bakugone?

Posted by jim on October 29, 2008 under Consumer Experience, Toy Trends | Be the First to Comment

Bakugan Battle Brawlers have made pretty much every top toy list for Christmas 2008 including Time To Play’s Most Wanted List, the Toys “R” Us Fabulous Fifteen,  and the Toy Retailers Association Dream Toys for 2008 – just to name a few.  Fortunately, we started carrying them earlier this year and gave the toys some prime real estate on the front cover of our Christmas toy flyer.

The only problem, and this is no small obstacle, is that in typical Hot Christmas Toy fashion there now appears to be a shortage.  Our inventory has dwindled down to practically nothing.  I have been begging my supplier for almost 2 months, but still no stock replenishment.  The excuses have even lost any flavor – now it’s just “who knows with this company” and “still nothing in”.

Bloggers have offered the new term “Bakugone“.  Parents are already lamenting the scarcity.  I did find this update from a CBS affiliate in Miami, CBS4.  Apparantly, Spin Master – the manufacturer responsible for this phenomenon – has “increased production to 300,000 Bakugan a day” (apparantly the word Bakugan is like “deer”) and Spin Master “is air freighting everything to their North American distribution centers as quickly as possible.”

One can only hope.

Toy Retailers Victims of the Malachi Crunch

Posted by jim on October 22, 2008 under Consumer Experience, Economics | Be the First to Comment

For those who didn’t grow up watching Happy Days, the Malachi brothers were two demolition derby drivers whose infamous move was the Malachi Crunch.  Well, this year it’s not Fonzie who’s getting the squeeze, it’s the toy retailers.

Over the past year, manufacturers have seen rising costs due to the increasing prices of raw materials and labor as well as safety concerns.  But don’t feel bad for Mattel and Hasbro, the two largest toy manufacturers in the world.  They just pass the costs onto the retailers.  Normally, I would say don’t feel bad for the retailers, because we’ll just pass the costs onto the consumers.  But, not this time.  Consumers are scared.  The extortion of the American people on Wall Street and the lack of hope relative to the election of either presidential character, I mean candidate, is causing parents to panic and plan to cut back this year for Christmas.

So who really loses?  Again, poor Mattel, in the face of rising costs, “profits grew by a sluggish 1 percent, to $238 million“.  How about Wal-Mart or Toys “R” Us?  They are playing the same game as usual, loss leader items to lure you into the store and then charge more on other products.  This leaves two losers this year, the independent retailer and the consumer.

The independent retailer now has to shrink margins in response to low price demands and the increased costs from manufacturers.  As a result, retailers cannot take as many chances, so they do not buy as many “risky” items from smaller manufacturers.

The consumer loses big because they now have less choices.  Going to Wal-Mart and Target, the consumer is limited to only the toys that these stores carry – the “top sellers”.  In the interest of saving money, they settle for lower priced toys that their kids didn’t want.  Even when the consumer goes to speciality retail stores, there is not as much alternative product because of the risk factor for the retailer this year.  Certainly, this will put some small, independent retailers out of business this year, which will mean even less choice for the consumer in 2009.

Toys “R” Us Banking on Traditional, Insincere Marketing Tactics to Attract Consumers

Posted by jim on October 18, 2008 under Consumer Experience | Read the First Comment

All right, so another post from me bashing Big Box Toy retailer Toys R Us….  But, bear with me.  Here’s the quote from Toys “R” Us Senior Vice President:

“At Toys”R”Us, we love kids, and we want to help parents make a big deal about their children this holiday season.  Our new campaign shows parents looking for the perfect gift and incredible values that Toys”R”Us has something special for every child and every budget. It also reminds everyone about the magical experience in stores by bringing back the famous, ‘I’m a Toys”R”Us Kid’ jingle.”  See Market Watch for more….

If Toys “R” Us is truly so concerned with helping parents make their kids happy, why don’t they revamp their service rather than changing their advertising pitch and reviving their old jingle?

This is how I think of Toys “R” Us.  And yes, I sometimes go to Toys “R” Us because we don’t stock and sell every toy brand in the world and sometimes my little girls have their heart set on a toy for Christmas or a birthday that I can’t buy direct and don’t have in stock.  In any event, I always thought it would make sense if you could walk into a toy store and say to someone working there, “I have to buy a present for a seven year old boy, can you help me pick something out?”  The clerk would then respond with, “Sure, how much do you want to spend?  Oh, yes, would you like this, that or we have this over here….”

Actually, we have a local toy store around the corner from our warehouse (yes, I go there too) and you can do pretty much that.  But, try that in any Toys “R” Us and you’ll get a blank stare.  As a matter of fact, try this one (this is my favorite).  “I’m looking for a certain item by this manufacturer, do you have it.”  Response: (Employee pointing) “I don’t know, if we have any of those they would be over there.”

That’s the Toys “R” Us I know.  No nostalgia there.  No love for kids – no help for parents to show them how to make a big deal out of their kids.  Just another big box with a bunch of disorganized stuff on the shelves.  Always employees that know little or nothing about the product and care little or nothing about the consumer.  Most likely this way not because of the employees themselves, but because of another large corporation that believes in spending a lot more money on marketing trying to convince the consumer they care, rather than training employees to do just that.