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What do you look for in a Retail Toy Store?

10 | 07 | 09

I work with several retailers in my Mentor program and am focusing specifically on my toy stores today.

I'm looking for your thoughts on what, besides price, you look for when shopping at a toy store? Not looking at why you use an online store but a bricks and mortar.

Is layout important? Is cleanliness? Places the kids can try them out? Any places you would avoid? How about your experiences with Toys R Us, FAO Schwartz or others? Do they earn your business? Do you look for a specialty toy store in particular? Why or why not? Do you only go to one you always have? If you said their "customer service" was great for example, what did that mean?

Please use the comments section and thanks for your help!

Here are some I just received off Twitter:

  • from a dad, "Oh man, please, a good/current store directory at entrance so I can get in and out."
  • from a dad, "Find that I care much more about store appearance WRT toys than groceries. Big boxes seem empty/creepy/dirty/sad in Boston."
  • from a dad, "Amazon is go to for toys (price/selection/reviews) but still go to stores for last minute. Location/convenience is key so mom&pop get biz."
  • from a mom, "Aside from price, a 'tester' option for ur child to play b4 purchase wld keep me coming back. Toys r an investmnt 2."
  • from a dad, "Interactivity."
  • "hate box stores. I prefer smaller, clean stores with unique, educational and creative toys. things not found at the boxes"
  • "I don't pick the toy store-kids do. What I look for is irrelevant. My perfect toy store was here in town but failed."

Here are some I've gotten from my Facebook Fan page:

  • from a mom,"layout is so important. there is a local toystore that i love, it's all educational, but they have so much stuff crammed everywhere that every time i turn around, i'm bumping into something - not a great feeling with a two year old and a 6 month old!"
  • from a mom,"I look for a cozy, inviting atmosphere (soft lighting, great wall colors). Enough open toys for the kids to try out, and educational toys."
  • I have a lot of thoughts on toy stores. I happen to live in Germany, so my experiences might not be completely applicable to the American market, but I travel a lot so I know the major toy stores in the Boston area, as well as a number in Canada and some in Asia.

Store layout is important, but if it is a small scale store, it doesn't need to be overly thought through like a supermarket. There should be clearly defined sections, such as board games, educational type toys, books, teddy bears, active toys, electronic toys...the bigger the format, the clearer the differentiation.

I am not overly fond of major branded sections. In a large scale format I understand it, but I don't necessarily want a giant barbie section next to a giant hot wheels section, or a special "parker brothers" section in the board games. In small to medium scale formats, those sort of hyper branded areas tend to only promote the image of the brand, and not the image of the store.

I like to shop at stores with their own profile. It is the job of the buyer to determine a "pre-selection" and tell me a story....establish a profile....give me a reason to go to this store, adn nto to go online. If I am looking for the newest Mattel product, i might as well go online....but if I can go have the "special toy store" experience, that is why I go into a store.

Toy stores have the ability to enchant parents and children. A selection of toys should be available for play, there should be areas where children can play so that parents can look around in peace. I like designs that evoke a cuddly childrens playroom, and not the sterile big box that is Toys R Us. I want to wander in without any particular purchase in mind, and find 4 of 5 things I could imagine my daughter falling in love with, buying 2 or 3, and keeping the others in mind for the next big party.....a store that offers me that will be a place I will keep going back to.

If the buyer has done their job properly and made a pre-selection of only the best toys for their store, then the sales force should be properly schooled in the assortment. They should know what they have, what makes those things special, and be able to quickly engage customers and point them to the items that best suit their desires.

Presents is another thing i often find myself buying in a toy store and an area where I am often disappointed at the ability of the sales staff to give me the pointers I need. I am a typical man, who gets sent to pick up a present for a birthday of some friend of my daughters that I often don't know all that well....

I walk into a store and say, "I am looking for a present for a 5 year old girl, and I am looking to spend no more than $20"
I am sure that this sentence "I am looking for a present for a _ year old _____, and I am looking to spend under $____" probably happens at least 20 times a day....but sadly stores never really have a fitting answer....I mean show me 3 things that are popular with that age bracket in that price bracket, and you have a sale wrapped up in under 5 minutes.....but they rarely have the necessary suggestions. I want to buy something I am pretty sure that kid will like, it can be the most popular items for that age group.
A good mix of well known national brands, and items that are a bit more quirky also gives a store the necessary profile....don't just follow what has the biggest national advertising budget....you probably have to stock those too, but develop a profile...have good salespeople who know what they are selling, and selling toys to kids and parents should be a breeze.

If it is a fancy looking store, make sure you feature some price point items to make sure the people don't have sticker shock, or think that the store is going to be way over their budget.....also make sure the salespeople don't try to overreach on the upsell...parents will always come back to a place where their kids had a great experience, but if they spend too much the first time, they will feel the place was too expensive."

More from Facebook:

"One interesting statistic to get would be on what % of weekends does an average family of 3 kids have a birthday party to go to. I suspect it's around 50%. That means we're ALWAYS buying birthday gifts. Some for people we like, others for people we don't, others for people we really don't know. Point is, it just takes too much time to shop for each individually. So, as is the case with many things, the gifts go to the lowest common denominator - gift cards. Specifically, target gift cards. For Andrew's birthday, over half of the gifts he received were target gift cards. They're just too easy and you know the recipient can find something they like there. I joke with other dads that target gift cards are the new currency of kids.

This failed toy store in Morgan Hill... It was perfect. It was relatively small but had shelves crowded with all the kinds of toys that parents love - rocket ships, games, dinosaur projects, well-made dolls, etc. The mood was relaxed. There was a minimum of bright pink and the latest Disney star paraphernalia. Perfect. But the children were ho-hum on the toys. I remember being there with one of my kids on our night out. They looked through the store and after a while decided they wanted to go to Target - there was nothing there that they really liked. So we went to Target and their eyes lit up and had a tough time deciding between all of the "great" toys which made me wince (cheap plastic stuff, Disney branded stuff, etc.)

Why did they fail? I think because they forgot who the customer decision-maker is. It's the child. Even if it's not immediate (child in the store with the adult), it's still the child when he opens the gift, casts a quizzical look, and then dives into the other gifts.

If I was starting a toy store, my main strategic goals would be:

(1) Have the toys that kids want. Emphasis on kids. (2) Be convenient for parents (location, hours)"

AUTHOR Bob Phibbs

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