Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Toy Fair is coming...t-minus 19 days and counting. The 2008 American International Toy Fair is the largest gathering of toy manufacturers and sellers in the US.
I can assure you what the big topic at Toy Fair will be - toy safety. Clearly, 2007 was a year like no other in toy history and, despite the thinking of some in the toy industry, I don't think toy safety is an issue that will pass quickly from the minds of consumers. I get the impression from the 2008 catalogs that are slowly arriving that toy manufacturers are jumping into the topic of toy safety. (The HaPe catalog arrived today with two children on the cover with "HaPe celebrates" and "being eco-friendly" signs.) I am sure that we will see many manufacturers introducing hundreds of products that are certifiably safe, or eco-friendly or guaranteed to be lead-free. I can tell you that products that will instill confidence in my customers as far as their safely is one of the big things I will be looking for at Toy Fair. Quality matters today more than ever before. People want to make sure that the toys they buy will be safe for their children to play with.
An interesting aside about Toy Fair is that it is an industry trade show. Every kid I've ever told about Toy Fair is shocked (shocked!) to hear that you have to be 18 to get in. My son's opinion is "well, that's stupid." I'm sure they imagine a vast array of toys waiting to be played with. While it is fun, it's a lot of work and a lot of walking. I think I read somewhere that walking the floor of Toy Fair is akin to walking something like three miles. Plus, there's tons of vendors that have products you have no interest in.
Also, my internet radio side project, YoYoRadio, will again attempt to do a live broadcast from Toy Fair on Monday night, February 18th at 9:30 pm - East Coast time. It will be the third year we have attempted to do a live broadcast from Toy Fair and, if successful, the first to actually go live. Worst case scenario, we tape the show for future broadcast. The show will be broadcast from the location (as yet T.B.D) of the annual YoYoNation Toy Fair party. It's always a blast, so if you're in the area, you should try to make it.

Dr. Toy on hiatus

According to Playthings magazine, Stevanne Auerbach, aka 'Dr. Toy,' announced yesterday that the awards she annually gives to toys (Dr. Toy's seal of approval) will not be given in 2008 while "while she focuses on reorganizing the Dr. Toy organization, and exploring new business prospects and opportunities."
Dr. Toys seal of approval is always something we look for when we purchase new toys each year, so for us, she will be missed. Check out the full article here.

Do you own this toy?

Mattel has yet to recall this toy medical kit. Why should it? Apparently, the red and green versions (kits with other colors tested OK) of the blood pressure cuff contain 4500 to 5900 parts per million of lead, about eight times the federally allowable amount of lead in paint. Alas, the cuff is not painted, it's plastic and the federal law only covers those items that are painted. So, technically, they're legal. Check out this New York Times article about the brouhaha.

In more Mattel related news, remember this post about Mattel's attempts to make their workplaces a better place for it's employees in their factories in China. Part of their attempt was to make the entire process transparent - to allow the public to review it's efforts. Well, they've issued a follow up report, available as a pdf file here. It's pretty interesting.

Monday, January 28, 2008

If you promote it, people will shop

A recent survey by the Independent Business Forum shows that in communities that promoted "Buy Local" campaigns, sales for independently owned businesses were up an average of 2%, as opposed to those in communities that did not promote "Buy Local" campaigns where they were up only .5% 82% of the 1382 nationwide independent businesses surveyed said the fact that they were locally owned and independent matters to their customers. Read a summary of the findings here.

Hey Ugly!

Yea, I'm talkin' to you. If you haven't discovered Uglydolls, what the heck is wrong with you? When I first saw them at Toy Fair a couple years ago, I thought, "those are just about the dumbest thing I've ever seen." (FYI, here's the dumbest thing I've ever seen at Toy Fair) Well, paint me purple and call me Susan, cause these ugly critters are hot. We've sold hundreds of the attractive-challenged toys! Why? Well, they're so ugly, they're cute, plus they're ultra soft and each toy features a wonderfully wacky tag that describes them. Pictured above are the newest of the Uglydolls which are (Front row, L to R): Poe (a dragon who hates to fly and loves Chocolate ice cream), Babo's Bird (Babo can't stand birds, but his is his), Plunko (a business man) (Back row, L to R): Puglee (she's super smart!) and Ugly Ghost (found way out beyond the back exits of Uglytown). First scheduled to arrive? - Poe!

Lego Batman Video Game

In more LEGO news, apparently LEGO Indiana Jones is not the only video game coming out this year to support LEGO products. LEGO Batman is slated to arrive in Fall of 2008. This should be interesting, because LEGO Batman hasn't been the best selling of the licensed lines LEGO has produced. Actually, it's somewhat similar to the way Star Wars LEGO was selling before the advent of LEGO Star Wars. Check out the game trailer below:

Happy 50th Birthday, LEGO!

Apparently, today at 1:58 PM (er 32 minutes ago), LEGO turned fifty! I'm not sure how they pegged an exact time on the creation on arguably the most successful toy in history, but someone did. Check out this article on about the last fifty years of LEGO. Click the timeline above for a bigger (more readable) version.
It's funny, we get lots of people who come in and ask what happened to the big bulk boxes (or tubs) of LEGO that didn't make just one model. LEGO still makes 'em, but only a couple. 99% of their sets go to make a specific model nowadays.
As many people who come in looking for the old fashioned bulk sets, we get at least twice as many looking for specific sets - usually Star Wars. Since Star Wars I, LEGO jumped into the licensed toy arena. As mentioned on this blog, you can now get Indiana Jones LEGO as well as Batman, Spongebob Squarepants and of course Star Wars LEGO.
Regardless of whether LEGO is in the form of a set that makes a specific toy or a bulk box, the beauty of LEGO (and all construction toys, really) is that the kids can tear it apart and make whatever comes to mind. Keep that in mind if you buy a kit to make one model, challenge your child to take that model apart and make something entirely different. It's one way to help them learn creative thinking.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Ty finally pulls Jammin Jenna doll

Remember Beanie Babies? We sold thousands of 'em. Piled 'em up high when we opened at our new location ten years ago. We had a dedicated following that would call every day to see if we got the latest batch of Beanie Babies in. Our UPS driver said people would ask him if he had any cases from Ty on his truck, then they'd come in and ask for the latest shipment, as they already knew it was here. Ty had a gold mine in it's hand, and they knew it.

As often happens when everybody and their brother wants what you sell, Ty it's products. I remember calling for customer service, and being told that "you don't call customer service, they call you." I also vividly remember running a sale on Beanie Babies, where we advertised them at $1 off the suggested retail price. The next day, my Ty sales rep calls and informs me that "we're in big trouble" because we advertised them at a sale price. I tried to tell her that, by law, we can sell them at any price we want to. She threatened to take us off the "priority shipping list" and said we broke the rules. I asked her to fax me these rules so I could show them to our lawyer. Funny, she didn't have them in writing.

Anyhow, to make a long story short (too late), Ty today finally relented in pulling their Jammin' Jenna doll - which, according to the state of Illinois, had too high lead content. Unlike virtually every other toy company who had toys recalled (most of which bent over backwards to try to save face), Ty fought the recall and left the toys on the shelves for weeks while legal solutions were explored. Apparently, they are replacing the vinyl red shoes on the dolls with ones made of cloth. Check the full story here.

Nice. Ty wanted to save money while leaving toys that were at the very least allegedly tainted in the marketplace.

We stopped selling Ty years ago, and are thankful now that we did.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Wham-O Founder Dead

Richard Knerr, the guy who brought you such crazes as the Hula-Hoop, the Superball and the Frisbee, died on January 14. Mr. Knerr was 82 and died from complications from a stroke.
The Hula Hoop was the original 'fad' item - selling 140 million in the first two years alone! Despite the sales, Wham-O would only profit $10,000 from the sales of Hula Hoops thanks to having a mountain of stock left after the fad died out.
Check out this article on the New York Times web page. (Registration required). Don't wanna register? Then don't.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Twenty-Five Thoughts from a Locavore

OK, I cribbed this entirely from my latest Tales from the White Dog Cafe newsletter. A 'locavore,' by the way is (according to the newsletter) "one who eats locally produced food." The White Dog Cafe is a well-known Philadelphia restaurant that has a rep for being big enthusiasts for promoting locally owned companies. I learned of them while watching a CSPAN speech given by Ben (or Jerry) from Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream.

In the latest issue (which you can download here, if you're interested), they list "25 reasons why going local is important." Obviously, some are restaurant centric - but most apply to all kinds of businesses. And, by the way, if you've never been to the White Dog, I heartily recommend it.

So, here's their list:

1 - Locally owned businesses provide unique character to the streets of our towns and cities.
2 - Buying local builds community wealth, while buying from chainstores drains capital from our community.
3 - Local merchants - the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker - provide personal relationships that enrich community life.
4 - Supporting local musicians, artists, writers and artisans strengthens our creative class and builds local identity.
5 - Producing basic needs locally builds regional self-reliance, reducing our dependency on long distance supply routes, easily disrupted by climate change and the rising cost of oil.
6 - Buying locally produced products cuts the carbon emissions of transport.
7 - Eating local food strengthens family farms and increases food security for our region.
8 - Buying local renewable energy such as wind power and biodiesel increases our energy security while protecting our environment.
9 - Localizing clothing productions decreases imports of this basic need, building self-reliance. Let's legalize hemp, the natural fibercrop for our region.
10 and 11 - Food from the industrial system has been modified to extend shelf life for long distance shipping and conformity of size and color, while reducing flavor and nutritional value. Food grown locally is more nutritious. And it tastes better!
12 - Fresh beer tastes better, too, and eliminates preservatives needed for shippoing.
13 - Locally owned businesses make larger charitable contributions to community causes as a percentage of their sales than do chain stores.
14 - Supporting and honoring local heroes builds community pride and encourages civic activism.
15 - Engagement in local politics - supporting candidates, running for office, and taking a stand on local issues - builds responsible government that protects our place.
16 - Local independent media covers events important to our community and provides views independent of large corporate ownership.
17 - Local knowledge - the history of our place, understanding where our water, energy and food comes from, and where our garbage and waste goes to - supports wise decision making that protects our natural environment and culture, and builds a healthier and happier region.
18 - Investing locally through local banks, credit unions, and The Reinvestment Fund, puts our capital to work locally, providing a "living return" - the benefit of living in a healthier community and stronger local economy.
19 - Drinking local tap water cuts out wasteful plastic bottles, long distance shipping and the draining of aquifers in other communities.
20 - Buying from locally owned companies brings economic control to our communities away from distant board rooms where decisions are not always made in the best interest of local communities.
21 - Buying local spreads ownership, wealth and power more broadly, which builds a stronger democracy rather than concentrated wealth and corporate rule.
22 - Buying from local producers allows greater transparency. Whether tracing contaminated spinach or children's toys, local production allows exact identification and first hand relationships with producers who reside in our own community.
23 - Local traditions - festivals, parades and annual gatherings - provide collective joy. (Like the Mummers Parade and White Dog's annual New Years Day PJ Brunch). Having fun doesn't mean we have to burn carbons and dollars travelling to exotic vacation destinations. We can create fun at home.
24 - Making a commitment to a place and taking responsibility for its care and well-being is personally grounding, meaningful and satisfying.
25 - Being a part of a local community brings a sense of belonging and security that money cannot buy.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

It's Pinewood Derby Time!

If you're in Cub Scouts, chances are your Pinewood Derby race is coming up soon. Traditionally starting after Christmas and running until April or so, the Pinewood Derby is the signature event for most Cub Scout packs. Mitchell's has been selling a huge selection of Pinewood Derby cars and supplies for years. We sell everything from the official kits from Cub Scouts to all sorts of decals, weights and hop-ups to get your Pinewood Derby car in gear.

In a related note, Pinewood Derby is also well known for the varying levels of involvement by dads in Cub Scouts. You have the vast majority of entrants who work as a parent/Scout team to get the car into shape. Then, there's the hardcore entrants who go all out to win the Derby. They even made a movie about it!

Going all the way to the end of that extreme, check out this ebay auction - which takes all annoying Scout involvement out of the process and leaves it in the hands of a former GM Engineer who sells kids the opportunity to win the race. Nice. What kinda of lesson is that? Check out the testimonials from those who bought their way to the victory lap.

What's new with Thomas?

Thomas the Tank Engine, always one of our staples, had a bit of a rough year last year. RC2, the company that makes Thomas, started the big round of recalls when they recalled some Thomas wooden train items. RC2 took a hit, both in the public eye and with sales. I know what you're thinking, "why should we trust them?" Well, they've installed a new 'Multi-Check Safety System,' in which they promise increased testing of raw materials and finished products, tougher certification programs for contractors, mandatory paint control procedures, increased random inspections of manufacturers and suppliers and zero tolerance for compromise on specs. Read the whole plan here.

Now, how about new stuff? Well, happily, Thomas is coming out with new stuff for your Thomas layout - some are already here, some are coming later. Sir Topham Hatt car (top)arrives next month. So does the Oil Derrick (left), which looks really neat. Keep an eye on our Thomas department for the new arrivals.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Delaware State Yo-Yo Contest / East Coast Classic

If you've been in Mitchell's, you know we know yo-yos. It's one of our specialty departments. We host weekly yo-yo club meetings on Fridays from 4 till whenever. Tyler Severance (left), who runs our yo-yo club meetings, won the US National and World Championships in his division (5A or counterweight division). Plus, we host the Mid-Atlantic Regional Yo-Yo Contest each year (one of eight Regional yo-yo contests in the United States).

This Saturday (January 12th) is a yo-yo contest to be held at Aldersgate United Methodist Church (five doors down from Mitchell's) Tyler has set up this contest, recruited the judges, solicited prizes and done most of the work associated with running a contest. The contest is open to yo-yoers of all skill levels and ages. There will be a 'Ladder' contest, which involves working your way along a trick list until your second miss. The trick list starts with the most basic of tricks (the sleeper) and moves up to very difficult tricks. There will also be two expert divisions for yo-yoers to compete for prize money and the title of Delaware State Champion!

Yo-yoers from around the country are coming in, with Dave Poyzer and Seth Peterson ( in town to film for their latest video release and former Duncan team member Spencer Berry in town. Some of the best yo-yoers in the country will be on hand - so if you're in the area, you should check out the contest. Saturday, from 10-5 at Aldersgate United Methodist Church. For more information, check out the official ECC website.

Mitchell's will be on hand to sell all sorts of yo-yos, including the official debut of Tyler's signature edition yo-yo - the Train Wreck. Only available at Mitchell's, this yo-yo from Saturn Precision Yo-Yos will be $94.95.

Indy, Anyone?

So, back when Star Wars Episode I came out, Lego jumped into the licensed toy market by making a bunch of Lego Star Wars sets. We jumped on em and had tons in stock. Guess what? They didn't sell so well. They weren't as bad as lots of the other Star Wars toys that came out, but sales for them weren't so great. Lego whittled down the collection and moved on.

End of story, right?

Guess again. For the past several years, demand for the Lego Star Wars toys has increased dramatically. Each year, we've been sold out of stuff early into the Holiday season and have not had an ability to reorder due to overwhelming demand. Why? My guess is the interest was driven by the hugely successful Lego Star Wars video games that emerged the last couple of years. The games let kids play using the Lego sets and in the form of the Lego Star Wars characters.

So, now Lego has just released sets to accompany this year's release of the latest Indiana Jones movie. The movie is set to come out on May 22nd. Those LucasArts folks aren't dummies - there's a video game set to come out as well with Lego Indy Jones (video game trailer below). We're stocking the Indy Lego stuff (it has yet to arrive), so we'll see if the demand for Indy Lego matches that for Star Wars Lego.