Sunday, June 29, 2008

Thomas the Tank Engine vicously attacks boy!

A toddler who broke his leg when a giant Thomas the Tank Engine ball pool collapsed won about $13,000 when his family reached a settlement with The Early Learning Centre, the UK facility where the incident occurred.
The Early Learning Centre had initially offered the parents of the toddler a $30 refund, but no apology, so they sued.

For the whole story, click here

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Lego Secret Vault

Check out this website -, it has a big section of it dedicated to their recent trip to the Lego factory - I am supposing it's in Denmark, since I didn't see a location listed in the article. At this factory, they store one of each and every set that Lego has ever produced - 4,720 of them - from the fifties to today. Check out the article here, which features a nifty video of some of the sets and lots of pictures.

Old Rock Em Sock Em Robots commercial

Found this on YouTube. It kinda goes along with this post about the Marx Toy Museum closing last week.

ASTRA Conference wraps up

I got back last night after attending my first American Specialty Toy Retailers Association (ASTRA) Conference this past week up at Foxwoods, Connecticut. I learned the following things over the past couple of days:

1 - Compared to Toy Fair, the ASTRA show is the hands-down winner. Sure, it's kinda comparing apples to oranges, but the intimate nature of the show, the seminars that addressed specialty retailing, the more relevant manufacturers at the show all made it a better event for me than Toy Fair. Now you're not gonna replace Toy Fair - it is what it is, but ASTRA has done a great job in presenting something that any independent retailer should try to get to.

2 - The seminars were wonderful - easily worth the price of admission in and of themseslves. I attended the opening session with Rick Segal, the web session with Don Hays, the two profit sessions with Al Bates and the closing session with Bob Phibbs. All were on the mark as far as relevance to my situation. I wanted to attend a couple other sessions and had a difficult time choosing between sessions, but ended up attending the sessions I thought I should go to instead of the ones I wanted to go to. Plus, I attended the impromptu ASTRA Mac users group meeting, led by John MacDougall of the Golden Apple Learning Store in Pleasanton, California - which was a nice little breakout meeting to compare notes on using Macs in our businesses.

3 - Driving TO Foxwoods at 3:30 am on a Sunday is vastly quicker than driving FROM Foxwoods at 1 pm on a Wednesday afternoon.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Truly Terrible Toys

I present to you the first in an ongoing series of posts identifying what I consider to be 'Truly Terrible Toys.' Remember, it's just my opinion, your results may vary, results not typical, some shrinkage may occur.

Anyhow, my submission for today is the 'Fire Footbag.' Footbag is the generic term for Hackysack (which is a brand name). These folks have come out with the 'Fire Footbag,' a footbag meant to be ignited and kicked around. How does it get flammable? By soaking it in paraffin oil. Then lighting it. Then kicking it. Isn't there a chance that oil might adhere to your shoes, socks and/or you? The answer on their website is "Although very uncommon, certain synthetic fabrics may lite quite easily. Wear only cottons or wool while FireHacking to ensure safety. Shoes do not usally burn, however, shoelaces have been a common casualty." Oh, and the main page lists that these 'extreme' footbags are for "NO PU@%IES - NO POSERS" Ummm...ok....

To be fair, the website insists these are not for minors and specifically says they will not knowingly sell them to minors.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Live from the ASTRA Convention

So, I drove up to Foxwoods, Connecticut today to attend the ASTRA (American Specialty Toy Retailer Association) Convention. We've been members for several years now, but I'd never made it to one of the conventions. It's being held in the MGM Grand at Foxwoods Casino - which is a incredibly gaudy complex located in rural Connecticut. It's a massive facility, holding at least three casinos, hotels, restaurants, night clubs and more. I have to say, it seems like a pretty incongruous place to hold a convention that's aimed at generally small retailers. Plus, I'm not a gambler, so the whole casino thing seems kinda dopey to begin with. Oddly enough, there seem to be tons of families here. What do the kids do when mommy and daddy are working their way through the college fund?

Anyhow, I digress.

I drove up from Wilmington, Delaware today. I left around 3:45 am and got here just after 8, in time to attend the opening of the show, which featured a seminar by Rick Segal.

In the opening comments by ASTRA President Kathleen McHugh, she stressed that, despite the economy, this is their biggest ASTRA convention ever – with more registrations than ever as well as more retailers having registered than ever before. It leads me to believe that there is a demand for locally owned specialty toy stores in America.

The first session was with Rick Segal. Rick comes from a retail background, having worked in his family’s business for over 25 years before persuing his current career path as a speaker. He has written eight books on retailing and has achieved the Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) designation – apparently only 7% of the members of National Speakers Association have qualified to be recognized as CPS speakers.

Rick speaks fast and covered a lot of material. He gave a good speech – titled 7 Essentials for Successful Retailing. His speech was directly mainly at the retailers in the audience, as he speaks from a retail point of view. Like his books, Rick stressed differentiation. The need for your business to differentiate from it’s competitors. What is your store known for? Is it known for anything? Stress it, in your advertising, your communications, your store image.

What are the seven essentials?

According to Rick, they are:
1 – Shopping
In order to be a good buyer for your store, you have to shop. Shop your competitors, shop stores that are not competitors, shop online. See what others are doing, how they are doing it, whether it works for them.
2 – The Why of the Buy – the Picker, the Buyer and the Price
What kinds of merchandise to stock and why
3 – People
It is easier to get good customer than it is to get good people.
4 – Advertising and Promotions
Where and how to do it. 87% of customers come through word-of-mouth advertising.
5 – Selling and Service
Selling is Service and service is selling.
6 – Ecommerce
According to Rick, “This is the most lucrative time for small business to succeed than any other time in history”
7 – Knowing the numbers through Point of Sale.
Do your homework. Track your sales, How much does each customer spend? How many items do they purchase? Which days are your busiest, which are the slowest. It’s all in yoru POS Info.

I’ve read his book – The Retail Kit for Dummies, and it’s good. I would encourage any retailer to check it out.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Buy Less Toys!

What's that? Buy less? Am I not a toy retailer? Is my livelihood not dependent upon how many toys we sell? Yep, sure is.

Then why, for the love of Mike, would I advocate buying less toys? Am I a sadist? (duh, I'm a retailer)

Well, actually, it's thanks to a wonderful article by Pamela Paul over at the Huffington Post website. She argues that the vast number of toys our children get throughout a year devalues their play value and potential educational value. She makes a good argument. Read it here.

China's Toy Export grown slows significantly

Although still up by 3% from January through March over last year, the growth rate for Chinese toy exports was down from a 24% growth rate for the same period last year. Chinese exports to the United States were down by 5.8% for the first quarter vs the same period last year. Major factors include the toy safety scare for Chinese toys and higher production costs in China. To read the story from Playthings Magazine, click here.

Mice in F.A.O. Schwartz

Hopefully, when you inhabit a space, you don't have to deal with any critters inhabiting it with you. And if, by some chance they do, you certainly hope that none of your customers see them. And if your customers do, you hope that they don't happen to be members of the media in the media center of the United States. And if they are, you are F.A.O. Schwartz.

A couple weeks ago, a New York Daily News reporter spied (and photographed) three mice (no word on whether they were blind) in the famed New York toy store. I'm sure it's much ado about very little, but after the KFC thing last year, you can't blame people for freaking out when there are rodents seen inside a retail establishment.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Barbie vs. Bratz smackdown!

So, it turns out the dude (yes, dude) who designed the Bratz dolls was working for Mattel (Barbie) when he did. What's more, he used the Mattel fax machine to fax designs to MGA Entertainment (Bratz) and enlisted the help of Mattel co-workers in designing the dolls. Mattel didn't seem to care too much about it until the Bratz franchise helped erode Barbie's share of the market. Now they're mad. And they're going after MGA.

Check out the soap opera here.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Marx Toy Museum ends era in Erie, PA.

Back in the day, Marx was one of the biggest toy manufacturers in the world - creators of such legendary toys as Rockem Sockem Robots and the Big Wheel. Marx closed it's doors back in 1975, but many of the toys produced in Erie, PA, lived on at the Marx Toy Museum.

Sadly, the museum had to close it's doors and are auctioning off much of it's collection this weekend in Erie. For details, check this article.