Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Land of Misfit Toys?

As a parent and the owner of a toy company, I watch with keen interest as every new holiday toy catalog floods my mailbox. In flipping through the respective catalogs of mega-retailers Target & Walmart, I must admit that I became a bit agitated. No, it wasn't because of their aggressive "Rollback" prices or their $350 worth of coupons, it was the toys themselves.

You see, as an independent, specialty toy retailer, Fat Brain Toys sells very different toys than what I saw in these catalogs. While I know that WE stock thousands of quality toys & games, I was troubled to think that most of America will only see what is on the shelves of these prominent retailers. And that's a real's why:

1) So much of mass market retailing revolves around licensing, TV characters and movie tie-ins. It makes sense, kids identify with what they're watching on TV and seeing in the movies, so it's an easy sale. But what happens when the character fad fades? And why is Mickey Mouse playing a guitar anyway? In today's "disposable toy" mentality, maybe it's just assumed that the toy will make it's way to the trash can long before the interest in the character fades.

But we look at toys very differently at Fat Brain Toys. First, we sell toys that are inherently that don't need a silly character slapped on the side to make it entertaining. Second, we seek out products that are such high quality that they can be passed down from one sibling to the next, or maybe even one generation to the next!

2) I was frankly kind of disgusted to see the number of violent and provocative toys displayed throughout these retailers' catalogs. Don't get me wrong, as a kid, one of my favorite activities was dumping out a pile of army men on the floor and waging epic (though miniature, green plastic) battles. But as with so many things in life, it's all about moderation.

Rather than filling little Bobby's insatiable imagination with toys that trend towards violence, how about filling some of his time with crafts, science kits, brainteasers, or construction-based toys that encourage creativity and problem solving.

3) And what happened to variety? Each catalog is basically Barbie, Elmo, Star Wars, Cars, and Leap Frog sandwiched between a cover emblazoned with each respective company logo. While these retailers may be selling the "hot" toys, they sure aren't selling the innovative ones!

It's a little known secret that most good toys start out in the specialty market, then once proven successful are rolled out the next year as the "next big thing". If you're looking for variety and innovation, step in the door of your local specialty retailer and you'll be exposed to a toy world that you may not have known even exists!

So this year, think outside the "big box" and instead choose to "shop small"! In it's second year, American Express OPEN is sponsoring "Small Business Saturday" on Saturday, November 26th. It's an opportunity for people across the country to come out and shop to support their favorite local businesses. Click here for more details about Small Business Saturday:

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