Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Uglydoll for the connoisseur

We just got in the Uglyverse limited edition OX - in six fresh & exciting colors! Why is he limited? Cause they only make them in 2009, after that, he's histoire, mes amis. Since he's limited, he's more money, right? That's where you've gone wrong, mister - OX, limited or not, is still a paltry $19.99 - just like his regular old version. Plus, the colors are nice and springy! Get your Uglyverse OX today!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Delaware 'Toys that Teach'

I was honored to be selected to appear as a member of the 'Panel of experts' for a high school class project on Tuesday. Erin McNichol, art teacher at Ursuline Academy (and daughter-in-law of Catherine McNichol, a longtime Mitchell's employee) asked me, as well as seven other 'experts' to help evaluate her students projects .
I got to hear nine separate presentations from one junior and 19 seniors from Ursuline Academy for girls and Salesianum Academy for boys.
I'd give you details from the presentation, but these projects were not just class projects - they're serious pitches for products these students hope to get into the system - so I am sworn to secrecy.
I saw several projects that I thought were awesome, and I'd love to carry their items in our store if they get that far. I know from talking to some of the other judges that they were impressed with some of them as well. Hopefully, you'll be seeing some of these cool new 'toys that teach' at YoYo Joe's.
The group shot above includes students Christen Martinelli, Ben Mancari, Alexis Rushton, Christene Zane, Nick DeMichiel, Thatcher Howell, Brian Kelly, Kelley Doogan, Dan Wham, Joe Potts, Lauren Batemen, Annie Carter, Ethan Essick, Casey Parker, Kevin Shishko, Katherine Kneubuehl, Megan Krieg, Brian Debbrecht, Derek Slesinger & Wynn Koval. The picture also includes the experts - Maxine Gaiber - Executive Director of the Delaware Center for Contemporary Arts, Sarah Willoughby, Executive Director of the Greater Wilmington Convention and Visitors Bureau, Carole Katchur - Museum Store Buyer & Manager for Hagley Museum & Library, Connie Cordeiro - Buyer/Manager for the Delaware Art Museum, Saralyn Rosenfield - Family Programs Manager for the Delaware Art Museum, Mariah Romaninsky - Tour and Outreach Coordinator for the Delaware Museum of Natural History, Eliza Lugar from the soon to come Delaware Children's Museum and yours truly. Finally, Erin McNichol, the person who put it all together is smack dab in the middle.

Thanks again to Erin for including us. Erin tells me the News Journal is doing an article about this program.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Five questions with Stephanie Oppenheim

I'm gonna start periodic segments called 'Five Questions' on YoYo Joe's. I'll ask five questions of people in the toy business. For our first entry, I exchanged e-mails with Stephanie Oppenheim - a child development expert and publisher and co-founder of the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio. She is a leading consumer authority on children's media and a mother of two. She also authors a wonderful toy blog here.
If you're not aware, the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio picks through thousands of toys annually and awards the best of them with their platinum seals. Unlike many other toy award programs, they do not charge a fee to test toys. I have talked to several manufacturers who assure me that the Oppenheim awards are the most prestigious and that some of the other awards will give out an award to anyone who pays the submission fee. They also introduced a requirement last year that the toy companies must provide proof that the toy being evaluated has passed US safety requirements.
Thanks to Stephanie for taking the time out to answer my five questions.

Joe - When evaluating a toy for the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio, what are the three most important things you look for in a toy?

Stephanie - Toys have to be fun and engaging. Over the years we’ve seen so many toys that are marketed as “educational” and good for your child, but if the game play isn’t fun, it doesn’t matter what the packaging says the toy will deliver. We also look for toys that are age appropriate. Of course, if something is on target for its intended audience, it goes along way to making it more entertaining. And of course we look at safety—which has obviously taken on new meaning in the few years. While we are not a lab, we have been troubled by a number of safety issues that parents can easily detect at home- these include toys with small parts, smelly toys, splintery toys and toys that are too loud.

Joe - The CPSIA is set to take effect on February 10, how will this new Act (in it's current state) change the way toys are sold in the United States?

Stephanie - The new law, when it is phased in completely over the next few years, establishes what parents believed was already happening in the industry. So many consumers believed that because toys are intended for our kids that they were already tested before they hit the toy shelves. While the current regulations are confusing and costly to toy makers, in the end the toy supply in this country will be safer.

Joe - What was your favorite toy when you were a kid?

Stephanie - My sandbox. Ironically I didn’t play with too many toys as a child. I loved my bike (a boys Schwinn with a banana seat) and just about anything my older brothers played with. We used to see how far the Hot Wheels tracks could go in our house. Given my mother’s background, there were lots of props for pretend, a toy kitchen, a work bench and big appliance boxes (that usually became space ships). I got one Barbie doll (with amazing go-go boots)—but my brothers pretty much shamed me out of playing with it. Unfortunately for my mother, the gorgeous dollhouse my folks bought me didn’t get a lot of play time. I was much more about whole body pretending—so costumes were always great fun.

Joe - The best toy store in the world is ________

Stephanie - When I was little my family would go the FAO flagship store in NYC, and I was always amazed by the toys they invited you to play with in the store.

Joe- What was your favorite toy of 2008?

Stephanie - Too many!! Our year end Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Awards started out with twenty toys when we started making award lists in 1990. Now we have more than 50— due to ties in certain categories....but really it’s a way of keeping peace between my mother and me! Every year we worry that there won’t be enough new great toys to write about—but somewhere around mid July, we realize that we have another great list of innovative products to share with our readers.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Worst Toy at Toy Fair 2009

This is my third year to name the 'Worst Toy at Toy Fair.' Previous winners included Rubik's Revolution and the Carmen Electra stripper pole.

Actually, this was the second worst toy I saw at Toy Fair this year. The first was so offensive, I dared not even post it! So, this will have to do. New, from Outset Media, it's the Fart! game. Complete with cards marked with titles like 'Silent But Deadly,' 'Duvet Lifter,' 'Eggy Stinker,' and 'Pant Ripper.'
Look, I know that farting is natural. And it comes with a 99-track CD chock filled with fart sounds. And yes, it is the funniest thing in the world for boys aged 4-97, but come on, really? Do we need nicknames for specific kinds of farts? Do we really want to encourage farting and talking about farting with a group that doesn't even need a good excuse to talk farts? Hey, boys are gonna talk about farts, they're gonna fart, they're gonna giggle when you say the word 'fart,' - it's all good, but I do not wanna play a game called Fart! thank you very much.

YoYo Joe's makes Forbes

Well, kinda sorta. A mention, anyway. It's an article about the Toy Safety Bill (CPSIA) that took effect on February 10th. When I told her, Emily quoted one of my favorite quotes from the world of the arts,"This is the kind of spontaneous publicity, you're name in print, that makes people. I'm in print! Things are going to start happening to me now."

- Navin R. Johnson, AKA 'The Jerk'

Al Roker loves kids books - who knew?

I admit it, I don't watch the Today show. I actually don't watch any morning tv, so I only knew of Al Roker in that he was a host on the show. I had no idea he was such an advocate of kids books. He has Al's Book Club for Kids, kinda like Oprah's Book Club - but for kids. The website is chock full of interesting stuff - read the first 20 pages of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, see question and answer videos from authors like Kadir Nelson (just won the Silbert Medal for his book "We Are the Ship"), Kate DiCamillo, author of “The Tale of Despereaux,” and Eoin Colfer - author of the “Artemis Fowl” series as well as lots of other stuff.
Al's latest choice? - The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart.

Cool new toys - Playmobil Egyptian Pyramid

Each year, guys from the Mitchell's train department would head out to Nuremberg, Germany to see the train building. They'd stop by the massive Playmobil booth to pick up the latest German Playmobil catalog. Why? Because Playmobil would debut their newest toys in Europe, then roll them out in the US the next year. So, if I wanted a sneak peek at next year's Playmobil items, all I had to do was to get a copy of the German catalog and see what was new.

Now, with the magic of the internets, we don't need no stinking German catalog to see what's coming next year, we just point and click, baby!
All this is a lead up to introducing an upcoming theme for Playmobil in 2009 - the Egyptian Pyramid theme. I took a couple pictures of the pyramid. It is awesome looking, like all their toys. Rich in detail and with cool little features, I'm sure it will be a hit.

Who you callin' Ugly?

OK, I admit it. I'm somewhat of an Uglydoll fanboy now. As I've told you before, I was not a fan of the Uglydoll when I first saw them at Toy Fair. But, how things have changed. The little booth I first saw at Toy Fair keeps growing and the hype keeps getting bigger on these soft and comfy plush toys. As I mentioned last week, Ethan and I headed up to Comic Con last week but left before David Horvath, one of the creators of the Uglydolls, appeared. We grabbed a couple copies of his book, Bossy Bear, in hopes that I'd see him at Toy Fair. 

I kept stopping in at the Uglydoll booth to see if I could catch up with David, and finally, on the second day, I stopped in when he was there. He was kind enough to talk with me for a couple minutes about his blog, and then he signed one of the books for Ethan, one for YoYo Joe's and a Babo keychain. He also posed for a pic with Emily and I. 

One of the toys I expect to be in demand from Toy Fair was initially made available at Comic Con, but is now shipping to all retailers who ordered them. It's Uglydoll action figures! Packaged in a blind box! (For those not in the know, a 'blind box' is a marketing genius' way of saying 'you have no idea what you're getting so you will probably voluntarily purchase two of the same figures so we make more monkey, muhahaha') We'll have Uglydoll action figured in a couple weeks. 
Long live Uglydolls!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Cool toys at Toy Fair - HaPe Musical Quadrilla

One of the most popular things for people to play with in our store is the Quadrilla display. It's a cool wooden marble run toy that lets the marbles choose their own path down a circular tower of blocks. All day, we hear the plunk of marbles dropping into the display and rolling down the wooden channels.
HaPe showed off the newest incarnation of it's Quadrilla line at Toy Fair. This is the same basic system, but adds little metal plates where the marbles drop. The metal plates look like what would result if someone took apart a xylophone and placed the metal parts on a Quadrilla set. Each plate makes a different tone, so the marbles dropping down make a pleasant song that never repeats. It even seems like someone with a lot of time and imagination could actually write a song that could be played out by dropping marbles in a sequence.
It looks really fun!
This display was at their booth at Toy Fair, which Emily and I visited on Monday while they were celebrating their anniversary with champagne & cupcakes. It's a tough life, playing with toys and eating cupcakes, but someone's gotta do it, right? This display will not be available at stores, but we should have some kind of display showing it off when it becomes available.

We totally stole this picture from the blog from Toy Fair.

Ty 'retires' Sasha & Malia dolls

It's no secret that I'm not a big fan of Ty. When they were king, they ran roughshod through their retailers. Now that the pack has swallowed them up, they seem to be out of ideas and have resorted to gimmicks to stay in the news.

Their TyGirlz line (no, they're not Bratz, they TyGirlz, there's a BIG difference) features dolls that are 'not' based on real life people. The line includes 'Happy Hillary,' 'Precious Paris,' and 'Bubbly Britney,' but no longer 'Marvelous Malia' and 'Sweet Sasha.' Ty insisted the dolls, which were introduced in January and featured brown skin and brown eyes, were not based on President Obama's daughters. It was just a coincidence that they were introduced in the month that a newly elected President took office with daughters of the same name, right?

A spokeswoman for the first lady mentioned that the dolls were inappropriate and that they should not be using “young, private citizens for marketing purposes.” Several weeks later, they've decided to 'retire' the dolls without comment about why.

The sad thing is Ty gets more out this by the publicity than they ever would have with sales, so the gimmick worked.

Update (2/19) - The New York Daily News is reporting that Sasha & Malia dolls are selling for as much as $3,000 on ebay. Ugh. Some of that money should be going to a charitable cause, no?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Playmobil hits a nerve

File this under, "give me a break."
According to this New York Times article, one Playmobil set has hit a nerve with lots of people reviewing the toy on Amazon's web site.
The Airport Security Checkpoint set was made by Playmobil from 2003-2007 as part of their Airport theme. The toys, made for children 4 & Up, were apparently too realistic for some parents, who viewed the set as an example of our 'security state' in a post 9/11 world.
One review states "I applaud Playmobil for attempting to provide us with the tools we need to teach our children to unquestioningly obey the commands of the State Security Apparatus, but unfortunately, this product falls short of doing that. There’s no brown figure for little Josh to profile, taser, and detain?"
Wow. All that from a toy showing people getting their luggage scanned?
The set was part of a much larger airport set, that included such controversial sets as the 'Ground Crew' or 'Luggage Transport' pieces. Apparently, these sets weren't as offensive.
Seriously, it seems as if some people have lots of time to post biting commentary on a kids toy. Hey, I've seen toys that deserve such feedback, but come on, it's just an accessory to an airport set. And it's not even available anymore, except apparently at exorbitant prices on Amazon...thanks largely to the publicity surrounding it's silly reviews.
For fun, check out the reviews page at Amazon on this item.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Toy Fair - Day One

Yesterday was a long day. Emily and I went to a concert on Saturday night - which ended around 1 am. After we got home (around 2), we got a good 4 hours sleep before we woke up to head up to Toy Fair. Add in walking the Toy Fair floor for 9 hours, 2 hours of the ASTRA party....we were a bit tired. 

Anyhow, back to the Fair itself. To me, there was a noticeable lack of traffic in the aisles. There seem to be much less people at Toy Fair this year. The ASTRA Party With the Stars was a big change from last year, with much fewer people than last year - hopefully that's just an effect of cost-cutting, rather than less retailers being a part of the show. 
We decided recently to take part in a catalog program (YoYo Joe's catalogs!) and have specific items to get into our store that are included in the catalog. So, we have a lot of buying to do at Toy Fair. So we put in maybe 7 aisles yesterday (out of 40 ish?). We have a lot of work to do over the next two days! 
We saw lots of new toys that we'll be getting - some of the highlights include some awesome party games from Buffalo Games, the new musical Quadrilla from HaPe and the new Uglydoll action figures. We also ordered Bakugon and Tech Decks for the first time. 

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Is Lego recession-proof?

Sure looks like it, Lego's US division reported a record 38% increase in sales last year, claiming a staggering 73% share of the US market for construction toys. Check out this article at Bloomberg.

Seriously creepy toy

Mattel is apparently pushing their new toy - the Mindflex - at Toy Fair. What is it?
Oh, just a way for you to telekinetically control the flight of a foam ball, that's all.
Check out this video for mind-controlled awesomeness.

Lego Video Camera?

This photo was taken at the Nuremberg Toy Fair this week. It is apparently a prototype of a video camera that Lego is considering making. Oddly, it does not seem to have any connectivity to actual Lego bricks. There's an article on Wired and one on Gizmodo about the camera

Toy Fair Preview

One toy that's already garnered a lot of press is the Bernie Madoff action figure put out by a company called Modelworks. Outfitted in a devil's getup, I'm sure he'll be one of the toys that end up on national press coverage of the event.

The other theme that seems to be likely to recur with many vendors is the price of toys. Most companies that have announced any changes to their plan for new toys for 2009 talked about making sure that the less expensive toys are the main focus for production. Perhaps the big price toys won't be as represented at Toy Fair. With the status of the economy, price has become a more important factor for many people.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Toy Fair 2009 is Almost Here

Each year in February, I head up to New York for the New York International Toy Fair. It's held at the mega huge Jacob Javits Center (Comic-con was in about 1/4 of it last week). It's our chance to check out the upcoming toys for 2009 - to see what's new from companies we've dealt with and what's interesting from ones we haven't. Emily and I are heading up for the second year (at Mitchell's, I'd go alone) and it should be an interesting Toy Fair - what with the economy, the new toy safety laws and all.

We're headed to the ASTRA 'Party With the Stars' event on Sunday night. We went last year, and it was a great time. Nothing like walking around FAO Schwartz (closed to the general public) with a drink in your hand.

Hopefully, I will be posting from New York on cool new toys - if not from New York, then when I get back.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

We have met the geek, and he is us...

Our hero, Ethan, flanked by a couple of huge Uglydolls

So if you'd told me back in college that I would spend a day ten years later (OK, you got me, 20 years later) heading to a comic convention, I'd have sworn
1 - that you were mistaken
2 - you to secrecy and 
3 - just sworn
Nonetheless, my son Ethan and I headed up to New York today for the New York Comic Con and it was a lot of fun. 
It only occurred to me to head up there several weeks ago when I kept seeing Comic Con mentioned - first it was at Uglydoll creator David Horvath's Uglybog. Then, I saw that author of the wildly popular 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid' author Jeff Kinney was planning on being there. Finally, I saw that Mo Willems, who is one of our favorite young child authors, was appearing at Comic Con. I talked to Ethan and asked if he might have interest in heading up, and he was game. 
After reading about how some people waited in line for upwards of four hours to enter the show on Saturday, we decided to leave early. We left at 6 am and met little or no traffic on the way up, getting from our house to New York in less than two hours. 
We found out when we got there that, due to our registration as a 'professional' (store owner), we didn't have to go in the line that the general public entered (aka 'The Cattle Call') - we had our own entrance - which had little or no line. We totally could have slept another hour or so. We stood in line behind Marvin Law - a comic book artist from Toronto, who was awesomely nice. He showed Ethan his portfolio. 
We got in and were inundated by schwag. Free books at one booth, free trinkets at the next, posters here, piles of it. Plus, there were tons of people dressed as their favorite characters as well as the walk around characters. Ethan got his picture taken with a Stormtrooper, with a couple mondo Ugly Dolls and several unidentified super heroes. We also got books signed by Jeff Kinney (see his pic with Ethan)
and Mo Willems. Both Kinney and Willems were kind enough to sign a book for YoYo Joe's. We decided not to wait around for David Horvath, as we figured I might be able to catch up to him at Toy Fair. We did notice the table where he signed autographs on Saturday. We noticed a little nick out of the corner of the table, and saw that David had added his own artistic license to how it appeared.
It was a lot of fun.

On the way home, Ethan said "boy, we saw a lot of geeks today, " to which I replied, "what are you talking about? WE were geeks today!"

Friday, February 6, 2009

Nothing says 'I Love You' like an Uglydoll

Well, to be honest, just saying 'I Love You' probably says it better than an Uglydoll, but giving an Uglydoll is a whole lot uglier!
Uglydoll's are, in my son's terms, "beast," as in "whoa, that Uglydoll is beast!" Yes, they're ugly - that's the point.
When I first saw them at Toy Fair four years ago, I was all like "yuk, those things will never catch on." And I wasn't alone! Creators David Horvath and Sun-Min Kim pitched the original Uglydolls to big huge toy manufacturers and they passed on them. They decided to create them on their own and now they've developed a fanatical following. Heck, even President Obama's daughter made news by taking one of them to school in her first week at her new school.
My favorite part of them? The tags. They're awesome! Silly and funny at the same time. And they're soooo soft - great for kids & adults alike. Plus, they've got a great backstory - originally created as a gift during a long distance romance between Kim & Horvath.
YoYo Joe's carries both little Uglydolls and big ones. Come in and check them out, they're in the front of the store in a big trashcan (yep a trashcan). The little ones are in a little trashcan (duh)
For the whole romancy schmancy story of Uglydolls, read this NY Times article.
Check out David Horvath's toy geek blog here.

Legobama Inauguration

In case you missed it, there was a little Inauguration a couple weeks ago. When I say 'little,' I mean little. Legoland in Cali has created an Inauguration in Lego that's just plain amazing. Check out this video.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Hans Beck, founder of Playmobil, dies.

The man who invented one of the core toys of specialty toy stores in the United States, has died at the age of 79.
According to the Playmobil website, in 1971 Beck was asked to create a system toy for his employer, geobra Brandst├Ątter. Beck created the signature Playmobil figure - the 'clicky.' At just under 3 inches tall, it was the perfect size for little hands. The figure was also articulated, allowing for both the arms and legs to move. The hands were shaped in a kinda U shape, allowing for the clicky to hold things like tools, swords and more.
Apart from a Dutch customer, buyers at the 1974 Nuremberg Toy Fair reacted hesitantly, but soon the demand exploded for the classic toys. Beck always worked under his motto "no horror, no superficial violence, no short-lived trends," which is why you've never seen 'Star Wars' Playmobil figures.

The clicky figures remain remarkably similar to the ones he initially designed. More than 2.2 billion of the clicky figures have been produced and popularity for the toy has only grown in the last year. Still made in Europe, Playmobil has bucked the trend to move manufacturing to China.

Playmobil has established a somewhat fanatical following, with websites like Collectobil, Playmofriends and Just For Klicks. There is even a Facebook fan page with over 150,000 fans. There is also a category dedicated to Playmobil on ebay, where people pay hundreds of dollars for old and rare sets, like this 1990's era Western Train Set (at Mitchell's, we sold piles of these - we still put one around our Christmas tree).

My favorite Playmobil set? I remember when we first were getting Playmobil at Mitchell's in the 1990's and they sent over some displays. One of the displays was a Playmobil bulldozer set - which included the bulldozer, a construction clicky and, of course, a six pack of beer. Ah, those Europeans. Drinkin' beer and drivin' bulldozers. Yee-ha!

Playmobil is much larger in Europe, where it enjoys a reputation much like the huge toy companies in America - comparable to Hasbro and Mattel.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Toy Safety Bill put on hold

Faced with hundreds of interpretation questions, the CPSC has decided to shelve enforcement of the controversial testing and certification portion of the act.
Certainly, those of us in the toy industry are all for greater toy safety, the last thing in the world we want when selling toys to kids are to put objects that are not safe into the hands of children. But this act, as written, would put costly testing requirements into an industry, like most others, is in tremendous difficulty right now.
As previously stated, it would effectively put an end to locally hand-made childrens products.
Hopefully, the act can be further refined over the next year, as it's stay of implementation is one year.
You can read the full text from the CPSC website here.