How to Sell Big StuffMay/June 2005
by Kari Anderson
Four years ago, Trace Boley began her online store, Un4Gettable Toys. Because she focuses on “toys that have stood the test of time,” about 70 percent of her product mix consists of ride-on toys. “By far, our most popular large-motor-play items are spring horses,” she says. “For years, Hedstrom was the major manufacturer of spring horses until they went out of business last year. Fortunately, Radio Flyer came along with their first spring horse just in time for the holidays, and their Liberty spring horse was our hottest-selling holiday item.”
Trace believes that parents’ nostalgia is a big driver in her sales of spring horses. “A parent will tell us they want one because they had one as a kid and want their own children to have one,” she explains. “When we began searching for spring horses, we realized that they were very difficult to find.”
Health concerns have also contributed to the increase in interest in her large-motor-play toys. “I do believe that there is an awareness about childhood obesity that prompts consumers to look for toys that encourage large-motor-skill development,” she notes. “We especially hear grandmothers talk about this issue. They want to buy their grandkids toys that encourage them to get out from in front of the TV!”
Trace says that the supply has not yet caught up to the demand for these types of toys. “I would definitely say the demand is higher than the availability for quality large-motor-skill toys,” she adds. “I’m astounded that more manufacturers aren’t jumping on this demand.”
The “wow” factor
Kelly Smith of Learning Express in Carlsbad, California, says that grandparents shopping at his store gravitate toward large-motor toys around Christmas time, when they’re searching for an impressive gift. “Grandparents and other relatives looking for a ‘wow’ gift buy most of these types of toys,” he says. “Parents do not seem to be purchasing these items for their own children.”
Kelly’s most popular large-motor-skill toys are plush rocking horses and his wooden Harley Davidson motorcycle. “These are back-to-basics type of toys that do not require batteries to have fun on. Many of our customers want their children to delay being inundated with electronic gizmos and instead want their kids to have fun in an ‘un-manufactured’ way,” he says.
Like most retailers, Kelly says space is an issue when it comes to displaying these larger toys. “We display them off the sales floor so that floor space is not taken up during busy shopping days,” he says. “We always have one sample assembled, so we can retrieve it and show interested customers.”
“Where do I put this stuff?”
At Kids’ Ketch in Lewes, Delaware, Teresa Ford has tried a number of different ways to display her large-motor toys, but finds the challenge difficult. “I am in a constant dilemma about how to display the larger items,” she admits. “Tricycles are our best-selling large-motor toys, but we also carry scooters, wagons and rocking horses. If they’re on the floor, children are tempted to try them out. If they’re put up high, they aren’t easily accessible and sometimes go unnoticed. Though Kettler and Radio Flyer both offer display racks, I haven’t yet tried them since I carry only portions of both lines. I would like to be able to make a statement that I do carry a good selection of these toys, yet they seem to be dispersed throughout the store, therefore reducing their impact.”
Get it off the shelf
Dave Sutherland, owner of Mill Toy Works in Keene, New Hampshire, says where a product is displayed has a definite impact on sales. “Our absolute best-selling large-motor toy is the Big Dig from Reeves,” he offers. “When we bought the store five years ago, the demo and a boxed item were kept on a top shelf. We put them on the floor where they should be, and sales have climbed every year. We even have customers insist on buying the demo if we run out.”
Other popular large-motor products at his store include Tube Travel from Ryan’s Room and RC2’s John Deere ride-ons. Dave has seen an increase in sales of these larger toys. The fact that more of these types of items have been introduced to the market over the past two years has helped.
Despite his belief that large toys need to be on the floor and accessible, he does admit to having a space and storage crunch which affects his buying. “Our lack of space forces us to buy in small quantities,” he explains. “This probably hampers sales a bit since we usually look for programs that offer dating or free freight allowances. When we run out, we may wait until our next savings opportunity comes along before we can stock up.”
Figure your freight
Diane Hale, owner of Playnix stores in Colorado, warns other retailers to take the cost of freight into account when ordering extra-large items. “It’s only profitable if you can afford the freight,” she notes. “For example, if you’re only ordering one large piece, the freight might run you 25 percent, so ordering the product may not be worth the 15-percent margin you’d end up with. Instead, build the cost of freight into the cost of the goods, and do the math.”
Because Diane has a 14,000-square-foot store, she has plenty of room for larger items like trikes, scooters, and even playhouses. Still, she likes to keep them in sight but out of reach. “We have them on high shelves, so customers can see the large-motor toys, but they can’t handle them,” she explains. “Otherwise kids ride them around and knock into things, so we try to keep them off the floor.”
Because people often want to handle a product before they buy it, this arrangement doesn’t always work as planned, so when Diane’s staff hears someone playing with a ride-on toy, they head to the section and keep an eye out. “Safety is crucial,” she adds. “You have to think of the pregnant mom walking around the store. You don’t want a mother getting hurt by somebody else’s child. You also have to protect the other kids who are there as well as your displays. We also have customers who are in wheelchairs, so we have to keep the aisles clear of these larger items.”
At Little Dickens in Lynchburg, Virginia, owner Danny Givens admits that while his large-motor toys are still popular, it is a struggling category because of competition from video games. “Electronic activities are being done by younger and younger kids, so the bigger traditional toys are having to compete more,” he says. “However, it is still a strong category for me due to the small group of tenacious, mindful and smart parents who want their children to grow up well-balanced.
“I see parents who are sick and tired of kids sitting in front of the TV,” he continues. “Whenever the weather permits, they want their children out moving about, socializing with others, jumping and running. I think grandparents like these types of toys because it reminds them of how they played when they were younger. They can’t relate to a small human being sitting for prolonged periods of time watching TV or playing video games.”
Parents want active options
Jules Mason of Mason Corporation, the company that makes the Flying Turtle, is also seeing the trend of parents wanting to pull their children away from video games and get them engaged in exercise and social interaction. “It is important that large-motor toys are on hand year-round, providing indoor and outdoor accessibility,” she says. “With the popularity of video games and the alarming trend in childhood obesity, I think more parents are trying to provide active entertainment options for their children.”
Because she knows stores are limited on space, she recommends that retailers and manufacturers work together to create attractive, space-saving displays. “With suggestions from our retailers, we created a lightweight, compact and functional display rack. Not only does the rack bring the product up to eye level, it also makes the product accessible to buyers who want to ride it for themselves.”
Jules encourages retailers to allow test-riding in their stores because some larger toys have unique methods of propulsion that a customer may not understand unless they see and try it. Once a product is demonstrated, it can sell itself.
Demonstrating and explaining a large-motor toy is key, according to Greg Keeton of Kettler International. “Our tricycles sell best when a retailer can explain why a Kettrike is worth their customers’ hard-earned cash,” he said. “Parents appreciate how innovation and durability can end up saving money in the long run.”
Innovation and safety are two features he’s seeing parents and grandparents gravitate toward more. Tricycles that can function as strollers and hobby horse-type bikes that train a child to balance are just some of the examples of how manufacturers are combining various styles of ride-on products to create something new.
Combating the space issue
Greg also has suggestions for how to tackle the floor-space challenge. “Many stores have a very small footprint and just do not have the floor space for our larger ride-on toys,” he admits. “Because of this, we now offer a rack that can display a car or tractor and four trikes in the same floor space that displayed two tricycles.”
Catalogs and websites are two more ways to garner sales of larger toys. Greg explains, “Having a catalog available near the merchandise will allow customers to browse at their leisure and can create repeat business and loyalty. The Internet also seems to be a good means for selling larger items. We are definitely seeing more retail stores starting websites to capture this part of the business. With good search-engine placement, there can be great rewards for the store that can dedicate the time to get a website up and running.”
TIA’s Outdoor Fun Event Showcases Big Toys
by Heather Merrell
Toys that can be played with outdoors mean big business to mass retailers like Toys “R” Us, Radio Shack, Target, Wal-Mart and QVC. That’s why the Toy Industry Association’s (TIA) second annual American International Outdoor Fun Showcase, scheduled for May 17 and 18 in Phoenix, Arizona, is expected to be bigger than last year’s inaugural event.
The show, originally called the American International Outdoor Toy Show, was renamed “Outdoor Fun Showcase” to reflect more accurately the true nature of the event. “It is a preview not only for spring and summer toys but a wide range of outdoor products for the youth market,” said Marian Bossard, TIA’s director, event operations. Attendees will see a variety of play equipment, including pools and inflatable items, scooters, skates, boats, sports gear, gardening sets, bicycles and tricycles.
The 2004 inaugural event featured over 50 exhibitors and was attended by 70 mass market and alternative retailers. Organizers expect this year’s event to be even larger. The show’s schedule includes time for outdoor demonstrations, where exhibitors take their products and “go outside and play,” giving retailers a chance to preview the products in action.
There is no admission fee for the event, which TIA describes as “a business-building opportunity for mass merchants and long-lead retail buyers.” The products showcased at the event will be category lines for spring and summer 2006.
Will specialty retailers, who do not have to plan their purchasing decisions a year in advance, find the showcase helpful? Maybe, particularly if their philosophy is to “leave no stone unturned” in the search for good ideas, unique products and the latest trends. Others might find good ideas elsewhere. “We attend Toy Fair in New York and the smaller, rep-based Western States Toy and Hobby Show in Pomona each year,” said Kelly Smith of Learning Express in Carlsbad, California. “We usually get a pretty good idea of the toys in this category that we want to carry by attending those two events.”
Following the 2005 Outdoor Fun Showcase and being held at the same venue will be ToyCon, TIA’s annual meeting and conference, which is only open to TIA member companies. ToyCon 2005 is scheduled for May 20 through 22.
More information on the Outdoor Fun Showcase can be found on TIA’s website, www.toy-tia.org.