4 minute read

Opinion - Letter from America

Four reasons why January toy sales will continue strong

After 20 years working at A.C. Nielsen/D&B Research Company, Rick opened the first Learning Express Toys franchise in the Chicago area in 1996, and then became a sub-franchiser, opening nine more stores. Although leaving the corporate environment behind, he has combined his expertise in data and numbers with a passion for the toy retail space. In his first column of 2022, Rick is in an optimistic mood…

Richard can be reached on LinkedIn or by email at LE45@sbcglobal.net.

Looking ahead to the new year, of course we will still have to trade alongside the usual big box retailers, Amazon and perhaps the relaunch of a new Toys R US. However, I truly believe that there is room for all of us, and that the indie sector has an important role to play in the overall toy market, meeting the needs of consumers by making our stores better than ever. Here are the reasons why I think the indies will continue to flourish:

• Gift cards – sales of gift cards are up over 180% vs 2020 and 73% higher than 2019.

As the fidget craze and Squishmallows trends exploded, many parents and grandparents let kids decide what to purchase themselves. With some items in short supply, the easy and safe answer to what to gift a child was to give a gift card. The average value of our gift cards in 2021 was $30.80, up from $28 in prior years. With this tremendous increase we are sure to see more traffic in the month of January, and that also bodes well for additional sales opportunities.

• Squishmallows - Jazwares, along with Kellytoy, unveiled an expansive consumer products licensing programme.

The plush brand sensation is set to expand into certain categories that favour the indie sector, namely Arts & Crafts, trading cards, pool floats, candy and others. The trading cards are due to hit at the beginning of January and will propel sales, both amongst collectors and among newbies to the brand. This should create newsworthy events in the media and also gain traction at many retail outlets, all adding up to provide great visibility for the brand. We see indies benefiting greatly from these launches; I’m expecting it to be similar to the great years we had with the Shopkins brand from Moose Toys.

• New product launches.

There were several brands which we deal with that had planned to supply us with new product introductions in Q4 2021, but due to production issues and the supply chain crisis, were unable to do so. They now plan to launch these items at the beginning of 2022, with more excitement generated at the New York Toy Fair in February. While I would like to name a few examples, in deference to the suppliers, I will only say that 3-4 of these introductions were slated to be in our holiday catalogue and had to be pulled due to availability. As we thought highly enough of them to be selected in our top holiday items, we are still excited to see them come to market in 2022.

• Functional fidgets.

Here in the states, we are seeing the emergence of a new evergreen category of fidget type toys that are both useful and functional - not just for amusement or for making a TikTok video. These toys are genuine tools used for focusing, concentration and reminds me, as an older person, of pencil doodling. We all did it in school as we tried to stay focused, engaged and work off some energy. Now, items such as large popits (20x20 size) are being used as a math tool. The new Zzzopa Ball from P.M.I. Kids World is a dual use product, both fidget toy and play ball. In the last six weeks of 2021, we sold over 500 units from our very first shipment of Zzzopa (that’s almost $6000 USD). The consumer is embracing multiple functions for more play value throughout this growing category.

So, fellow toy owners and shops everywhere, we will take lessons learned from 2020-21 and look forward to making our shops even better as we compete with the bigger retailers. Time will tell, but I like our chances if we follow the three simple foundations of toy retailing: great teams, great product, served up in a ‘wow’ environment.

Happy New Year!