Monday, March 31, 2008

Let's go surfing now, everybody's learning how...

...come on and safari with me

With apologies to the Beach Boys, the surfing I mean is web surfing. The Toy Industry of American announced the results of a survey of online activity amongst kids. According to their press release, "gaming is the primary activity driving the online experiences of all kids ages 2 to 14, with 76 percent of all kids on the Internet drawn to social and gaming sites, and education sites rivaling the attention of Tweens (9-12) and Young Teens (13-14)."

"More than one-quarter (28%) of kids who use social gaming/entertainment (SGE) sites have purchased either a physical item or digital content from these sites."

According to the release, "Moms are clearly instrumental in guiding their child’s online experience, and moms are the gatekeeper even for older kids, illustrating the importance of earning mom’s trust. The report cites examples of the site attributes that are trusted by moms and well as key values, with educational topping the list. "

What does this have to do with stores like ours that sell physical toys? Well, the success of toys like Webkinz that offer a physical toy along with online content - and the plethora of knock-offs aimed at that same market suggest that toys with some kind of access to web content could become more popular.

I dunno, I can't imagine kids getting all excited during Holiday gift-giving unwrapping an exclusive web code that allows a virtual toy ability to get some kind of virtual gift. Plus, IMHO, things like Webkinz limit the ability of a child to play creatively - they are somewhat forced into playing how the online game says they can play. Toys like Lego's are wonderful because they allow the child to build exactly according to the instructions or totally ignore the instructions and build whatever they want. Is this the future of the toy industry? I hope not.

You can check out the press release here. The entire report is available to purchase from the TIA people.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Hilarious piece on FAO Schwartz in 'This American Life'

I'm a big fan of 'This American Life,' a NPR show that airs each week. It's a show (now spunoff into a TV Series on Showtime) that focus' on one theme each week and presents 3-5 'acts' (stories) that are variations of the themes.

On the way down to Disney World, my wife and I listened to some of the podcasts of past shows that had backed up on my Ipod. Show number 347, 'Matchmakers' featured a often hilarious retelling of the experiences of selling ultra high-end Middleton Dolls at FAO Schwartz, in New York City. The storyteller is Elna Baker, an actress in NYC who took a job in the FAO 'Nursery' these babies to rich New York kids. When the dolls are portrayed on a TV show, the demand for the babies skyrocket. Listen to the podcast as the Ms. Baker relates what happens when rich white mommies are faced with a racial dilemma. You can listen to the show by clicking the link above and streaming it, or buy it for 95 cents. Fast forward the show to about 41 minutes - Act three.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Disney's version of a toy store

OK, so I need to come clean off the bat. I eagerly drink the Disney Kool-Aid. I swallowed the blue pill a long time ago, and have a special place in my heart for all things Disney - especially Disney World.

It's funny, cause in the rest of my life, I am not a big fan of gihugant companies who's goals are to take over the world and charge you an arm and a leg for the service. But, plop me on Main St. in Disneyworld, and I'm five years old again.

I just got back from Disney World. (If you're curious, it's about a 15 hour drive straight through from Kissimmee) While there, I visited two stores that Disney identified as 'toy stores.' I say identified because every store in the entire Disney owned megalopolis sells toys.

One, 'Der Teddybar' in the German pavilion in Epcot Center sells German toys only. We went in and saw a selection of Playmobil, Steiff, Schleich, Ravensburger puzzles and some more stuff.
It's not a bad toy store, but it really doesn't do the tradition that is German toys justice. It's nice that they went to the effort of merchandising German owned toy companies and all, but I thought that perhaps it would have been nice to show off some of the history of the German toys throughout the years and offer some toys from smaller German toy companies. There was nothing at Der Teddybar that I haven't seen in dozens of specialty toy stores before.

The other 'Toy Store' we saw was 'Once Upon a Toy,' in the Downtown Disney shopping area. Again, it was nice and all, but how many times can you look at a mountain of Disney toys before you get sleepy. They had a cool 'make your own' Mr. Potato Head section, but I'd seen those before.

Disney does so many things well at Disney World, maybe I'm being a bit too picky about the stores. Maybe it's excellence in doing all the other things magnificently makes it easy for me to expect everything to be done perfectly.

Oh, and off topic - if you're going to Disney World, I wholeheartedly recommend picking up 'The Unofficial Guide to Disney World.' We stuck to the touring plans in the back of the book and, on one of the busiest weeks of the year for Disney, we spent no more than 25 minutes in line for any attraction and rode everything we wanted to ride (including Rock N Rollercoaster twice). Easily the best $20 I spent for the Disney trip.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

My Uglydolls can kick your Uglydolls butt!

Boys dig Uglydolls. Curious, cause when I was a kid any boy caught playing with a doll would get his butt kicked three ways till Friday. Of course, I was a kid like thirty friggin' years ago, when they kicked your butt for having short hair and using the wrong curse words. Good times, but I digress...

The New York Times has an awesome article about the attraction of the Uglydoll for boys. I knew the minute I saw them that they weren't gonna sell. Happily, I was wrong and now I'm a big fan of the Uglydolls. At Toy Fair this year, I noticed David Horvath (co-creator of the Uglydolls) at the Ugly booth. I was too nervous to go introduce myself to him. I was thinking, "What am I gonna say? 'Uh...Hi David....I like your dolls'" I'm either not dorky enough or too dorky for that. Oh well. Check out David's awesome blog.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

A $350 yo-yo?

Surely you must be kidding?

Nope, and stop calling me Shirley. And what's more, it sold out in minutes. Anti-Yo, a boutique yo-yo manufacturer from San Francisco, released 75 of the BSP yo-yo. (I'd tell you what BSP stands for, but I'd have to wash my mouth out with soap - those naughty yo-yo manufacturers!) It's a magnificent yo-yo - made entirely of titanium with one half of the yo-yo covered in a zirconium nitrate finish. It's pretty much indestructible. Plus, it sparks when you 'walk the dog' on concrete.

Five retailers around the globe had them on hand to sell as the clock hit midnight Saturday night, and Mitchell's was one of them. We had four of the pricey playthings to sell and once we held a couple for Mitchell's Yo-Yo Club members, we had two that we put online at midnight. They were gone at 12:02 am. Similary, online yo-yo retailers YoYoNation and YoYoGuy sold out in minutes - that is minutes after their web servers recovered initial crash of their sites.

Can there really be 75 people in the world who would spend $350 for a yo-yo? Well, actually, there are more. Plenty of people in both store's online web forums were grumbling that they were not fast enought to scarf up the uber yo-yo.

Where will it end? A $500 yo-yo? A $1000 yo-yo? I certainly was not very comfortable ordering four of these, in the fear that we'd sit on them. Of course now I'm kicking myself for not ordering more.

Hannah Montana is bad for you...

...or at least her toys are. The CSPC has found that at least five and as many as nine Hannah Montana toys are over the legal limit for lead. Most of the toys seem to be vinyl accessories (like backpacks, wallets, etc).

Check out this report on the CBS page

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Prepare to be Domo-similated!

Domo is coming. Be afraid, be very afraid.

Well, OK, you really don't need to be THAT afraid. Domo is on his way from Japan to Nickelodeon for his own TV show. Play Along is releasing the brown furry box (furry box? reminds me of when our trash company was on strike and our boxes sat in the dumpster for weeks on end) in plush format to coincide with the debut of the show.

Sure, he looks very Uglydoll-ish, but I seem to recall seeing lots of Domo stuff at Toy Fair.

According to the Domo-kun Wikipedia page, "Domo, the main character, is described as "a strange creature that hatched from an egg." Domo-kun's favorite food is Japanese-style meat and potato stew, and he has a strong dislike for apples, due to an unexplained mystery in his DNA. Domo-kun is known to pass gas repeatedly when nervous or upset."

Sounds like a winner, no?

Thomas Land!

Yup, a theme park based on Thomas the Tank Engine. Opening this spring in the UK. Drayton Manor Park has set aside 6,000 square meters of parkland for Thomas Land.

There are 12 rides in Thomas Land, an indoor play area and the obligatory gifte shoppe (I added the e's since it's in the UK).

How long until Orlando breaks out with a Thomas Land? It makes sense, the 'Day out With Thomas' live events around the country always seem to be mobbed with people. In a related note, I'm off to the land of the giant rodent next week.

Check out the official website here.
Here's a link to a Times Online review of the park, featuring video and a hard-hitting interview with Sir Topham Hatt.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

ASTRA meets with co-sponsor of toy reform bill

According to an e-mail sent out to ASTRA (American Specialty Toy Retailers Association), ASTRA Prez Kathleen McHugh met with Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) to talk about the new federal Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) Reform Act of 2007. The act was passed by the US Senate and, according to ASTRA, "is expected to be signed into law in April following some minor changes that will happen in conference when the House and Senate meet to iron out the difference between their two versions. This is the bill that is most friendly to the toy industry, and one that attempts to establish federal standards that will supersede any state standards that are legislated around the country. "

McHugh met with Senator Durbin following a news conference he held at an ASTRA member store - 'The Toy Connection' in Crystal Lake, Illinois.

According to McHugh:
"Our meeting was productive and accomplished these things:

1) Senator Durbin promised to make sure that the language in the final federal law makes it clear that retailers cannot be held liable for safety violations committed by manufacturers. He agreed that this is an important distinction and he appears sincere in his support of our position on it.
2) Senator Durbin committed to making a strong case for strong language that will establish the federal law as pre-emptive of all state laws on standards. Surprisingly, he was unaware that there is legislation on toy safety standards pending in thirty states. It seemed clear that the information I gave him about the various state efforts was of considerable concern to him and underscored the urgency in making the pre-emptive language clear and effective. "

This is great news for the consumer, the manufacturer and the retailer. We need federal standards that protect our children from potentially dangerous toys and also to make it feasible for small companies to comply with one standard - instead of 30 different laws. Kudos to Kathleen McHugh, Senator Durbin and the hosts of the event, Dan and Ulla Koenig of The Toy Connection. Let's hope this gets done the way it sounds like it should.

Magnetic toys leave a bad taste in the mouth

OK, bad pun. Magnets are taking over where lead left off. It finally occurred to people that swallowing one small magnet from a toy is really no big deal. I mean, you probably don't wanna do it, but it will come out in a day or two after a whirlwind tour of the kids digestive system.
Once a kid swallows a second magnet, then there's trouble. Magnets have a habit of attracting to each other and that tends to wreak havoc with your insides.

Mega Brands recalled 2.4 million magnet toys this week following 44 reports of magnets coming loose from their toys. This includes 1.3 million of the MagnaMan action figures (above).

The other 1.1 million recalled toys are from their Magtastik and Magnetix Jr. preschool magnetic toys line (right) following 19 reports of the magnets coming loose from these toys.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Cool toy photos

You might recognize Richard Edson from character roles in such films as "Stranger Than Paradise," "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," "Platoon," or "Good Morning, Vietnam" (1987). OR, you might recognize him as the original drummer of punk legends 'Sonic Youth.' Either way, you'd probably not recognize him as an aspiring toy photographer (is there really such thing as an aspiring toy photographer?).

He just opened a show (on March 13) at the Los Angeles Center for Digital Art that features his photographs of toys. The show is titled "Beyond the Valley of the Micro-Bops" and the photos look like PAPO or Schleich figures photographed at a close distance. They're pretty cool photos. Check out his IMDB page here. Check out info about the show here.

Monday, March 10, 2008

C.E.O. of F.A.O.

Surely, there's a better job in the retail toy world than being the Chief Executive Officer of fabled toy retailer F.A.O. Schwartz in New York, but I don't know it.

The New York Times did a quick profile of Ed Schmultz, the current C.E.O. Check it out.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Pinewood Derby Steps out!

Pinewood Derby may have started with the Cub Scouts, but plenty of other groups use them as well. One, kinda edgy group that is staging a high-profile Pinewood event is the folks over at Threadless. If you've never heard of Threadless, they're the people that sell the really cool t-shirts over the web - it's a big community thing - people design the shirts, vote on the designs and then Threadless makes the shirts.

Anyhoo, they're staging the ThredLe Mans 48 hour race at their offices in Chicago on May 16th & 17th - you don't need to be present to win, and they're giving prizes not only based on the fastest racers - but the coolest ones too. They're promising "2 days worth of the most thrilling, electrifying, and nail-bitingly chaotic action to ever take place on a 40 foot thin strip of pliable wood."

Check out their ThreadLe Manss website here. If you're interested in Threadless, check out this video tour of their offices.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium on DVD

Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium, that movie that came out last Thanksgiving weekend comes out on DVD today. If you don't recall, it's a story about a magical toy store and it's 243 year old owner - Mr. Magorium. The toy store is awesome in the movie, plus it's magical. Honestly, the reason I went to see the movie was to see the store. The movie huh? Oh, yea, I was saying, the movie was not exactly riveting watching for me or my 10-year old, but I imagine the little kids would enjoy watching it.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Don't Mess with Elmo...

...especially if your name is James. Check out this CNN video of a Elmo doll that apparently says something like "Kill James" after his batteries are changed. That's one bad puppet.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Speaking of disturbing 1980's schlock, Cabbage Patch kids are celebrating their 25th Anniversary this year, and Play Along is planning to release retro versions of the Cabbage Patch dolls, hoping to attract the moms of today to what would have been a toy from their youth. Although I've never been a fan of Cabbage Patch kids, I did like the Geico commercial:

It's a Smurf-ademic!

Happy Smurfday! The Smurfs, love 'em or hate 'em, are turning 50. That's a long time for a society with only one female. Happily (or sadly, depending on your point of view), they're coming back. The original series is now out on DVD and a new, 3-D, movie is on it's way to your theater.

Click here for an NPR report on the return of the Smurfs.

When I was a kid, I couldn't stand the little blue creatures, and if forced to watch the show (I have a younger brother and sister) would audibly root for the misunderstood Gargamel to finally off the little buggers. Sadly, it was an unrealized dream....until UNICEF, shockingly, found a way to make it happen (see video below)

The final frame of the video apparently reads "Don't let war affect the lives of children."