Neighborhood toy stores have reason to celebrate this holiday season

Amy Saldanha already knows it’s going to be a great holiday season for her two Minnesota toy stores.

“Families are looking for joy more than ever,” said Saldanha, CEO and founder of Kiddywampus stores in the Minneapolis suburbs of Hopkins and Chanhassen. Its stores are already beating results from 2019, the last pre-pandemic holiday season.

Last year, Saldanha saw customers shop early because they worried about supply chain shortages. This year, “I think they just want to be happy,” she said.

While the nation’s biggest toy sellers – Hasbro
and Mattel
– worried about inflation and its impact on the holidays, smaller toy sellers – independent toy stores – expect to have plenty of reasons to celebrate this year.

Many independent toy stores had their best sales years in 2020 and last year, and are optimistic that the customers they acquired during the pandemic will continue to support them this year, according to the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association. (ASTRA).

Due to growing interest and support for local toy stores, ASTRA has this year expanded its traditional November event – Neighborhood Toy Store Day – into a month-long event, with a different theme for each of the four weeks of November.

Independent toy stores quickly realized they had to change and adapt when the pandemic hit. The upgrades they added helped drive record sales for many neighborhood toy stores during the pandemic, said ASTRA President Sue Warfield.

“Those who did extremely well realized they had to do things differently,” Warfield said. “They had to up their online game, they had to do some curbside, they had to FaceTime live from the store, do local deliveries, and they did.”

Independent toy stores also benefited from a shift in consumer sentiment during the pandemic toward local shopping and a desire to connect with store owners who knew their names, Warfield said.

“People say ‘I can come in and they know my kids and they know me,'” she said. During the pandemic, consumers “really needed to feel a sense of community and connection, and that’s really what specialty can deliver,” Warfield said.

ASTRA does not have the exact number of independent toy stores in the United States, but it believes the number has increased during the pandemic. The association has grown from about 600 members (a member can own more than one toy store) to about 800 in recent years, Warfield said.

The association estimates the number of independent toy stores, including stores that may also sell books, gifts or other items, at between 1,500 and 2,500.

Hasbro and Mattel Executives in earnings calls this month warned that inflation and economic concerns could cause consumers to spend less on toys and force retailers to offer discounts to boost sales.

Independent stores often have more protection against these concerns because their customers are less price sensitive, Warfield said.

“If you’re a specialist toy shopper, you tend to look more for quality and service than cost,” she said.

Specialized customers are looking for services such as knowledgeable staff who can recommend the right toy, gift wrapping and curated toy selection that will provide lasting play value, Warfield said.

“They don’t want to pay more than they should – everyone is price-conscious – but they are looking for that service factor,” she said.

Neighborhood Toy Store Month, which begins November 1, will feature four themes for the four weeks of the month: the first week will focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) toys, followed by crafts, of the family on game nights and “making room for the game”.

Last week’s theme, “Making Room for Play,” Warfield said, is meant to highlight how important it is to set aside time for play in children’s lives and how play can ease anxiety.

Warfield said she doesn’t expect the opening of 451 toy stores in Macy’s stores this month to have a significant impact on independent toy stores.

“Anytime you have more opportunities to buy toys elsewhere, it might take a bite out of you, but in the long run, they’ve already seen that,” she said. “We had Target
Amazon has had department stores come and go with toy sections for years, and specialty toy stores still survive because they focus on what they do best,” she said.

Kiddywampus owner Amy Saldanha believes smaller toy stores have an advantage over many retailers in that they can do things to build a real connection with customers.

“We can be silly and quirky,” said Saldanha, whose stores held a Halloween costume contest with a modern twist this weekend, asking customers to post their costumes on Instagram with a #kiddywampus tag.

Local toy stores, Saldanha said, can provide that “great experience” for a child — the trip to the neighborhood store to pick out a toy after getting a good report card, or for a special occasion, or to make their list. of holiday wishes. And parents know they can trust her when she tells them a toy will sell out quickly or that she has plenty in stock.

This connection with customers is why ASTRA and its members are anticipating a successful holiday season, Warfield said.

Before online shopping, a specialty toy store meant a store that could get exclusive products that were hard to find elsewhere. Now, Warfield said, “the specialized part is the feeling you get when you walk into the store.”