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.

Today’s Lesson: Reputation Management

Posted by jim on January 16, 2009 under Economics | Be the First to Comment

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.

businesses pessimistic about '09

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

WSG 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.

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…..

A Web Site does not an E-tailer Make

Posted by jim on December 8, 2008 under eCommerce | Be the First to Comment

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]

Or this?

“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:

“A”

“.”

“X”

Now that’s what I’m talking about!  For more, go to Amazon.com.

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.

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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.

Betting on Hasbro

Posted by jim on October 19, 2008 under Economics | 2 Comments to Read

Sometimes in the toy business we actually make a good decision on what to bet on for the Christmas season.  Sometimes it’s a well informed, well researched choice of product that sells like crazy.  Other times it’s just a good guess or a hunch that pays off.  Of course, the flip side of this (that happens far too often) is the calculated risk that flops, or the educated guess that collects dust in the warehouse for two years.

Iron Man Mighty Mugg by Hasbro

Iron Man Mighty Mugg by Hasbro

As a speciality toy retailer, we have always believed in the importance of providing unique product that distinguishes us from “Big Box”.  So, much of our focus has often been on educational games, made in America product, small innovative manufacturers and award winning toys.  But, we have also always believed strongly in the consumer’s right of choice.  Relative to toys, customers often have brand preference, and rightfully so.  As a result, we have always tried to make sure we carried the brands that people wanted, especially at Christmas time, in addition to the rest of our sometimes eclectic offerings.

From the beginning, we chose to feature Hasbro toys prominently at Christmas time.  While Mattel is the largest toy manufacturer in the world with Hasbro the second, we have always felt more strongly about the brands and selection from Hasbro.  We have placed a couple of small orders with Mattel over the last couple of years but have not been enamored with their selection or with their customer service.  While we have had our issues with Hasbro, we have found their brands stronger, products more inventive and enjoyed the fact that many of their board games are still made in the USA.

In any event, it turns out that we are not alone.  While Mattel’s stock has plummetted this year along with the rest of Wall Street, Hasbro is one of less than 30 companies in the S&P 500 that has actually seen their stock rise in 2008.