The Cuyahoga County Public Library toy lending library in Ohio has seen average monthly borrowing levels grow from 1,177 in year 2008 to an estimated 1,818 for 2010. Certainly, a major driving force behind this increase is the economy. At times of tight finances, family money managers think about borrowing toys rather than buying them, just as they think about borrowing books from the library in lieu of purchase.
Recently published findings from researchers at University of Canterbury in New Zealand find that worldwide, another motivation to use toy libraries is developing: Families want to avoid wasteful consumption, even if they have ample funds to buy toys. Children outgrow their toys almost as quickly as their caregivers manage to schedule garage sales.
Designers, producers, and retailers of toys can improve their profitability by serving these and other motivations of the staff and users of toy libraries.
- Favor sturdiness and fundamental fun over flash-and-dazzle. Each time an item is returned, toy library staff scrub it clean before lending it out for the next child. Sturdiness is essential. In addition, the more flash-and-dazzle in the toy, the more likely it is that something will go wrong. Richard addressed the charm of solid construction in What makes a great toy? and listed candidates for fundamental fun in How about a “Great Toy List” instead of a “Hot Toy List”?.
- Help prospective buyers find you. Emboss the toy with a URL or other information to facilitate the search for a supplier. Many toy library users want to give a toy a try, and then they might decide to buy it. Their experiences have confirmed what researchers at Georgetown University and University of Maryland-College Park say: Consumers are tempted to buy products with unnecessary features, but tend to be happier with products that are simpler to use. The child—and the parent, for that matter—may go gaga over the multifunction, multi-noise toy, but the ardor can quickly cool. Once they find a toy from the library that has lasting appeal (well, at least until the kid’s next birthday), make it easy to buy the toy.
- Attend to special needs. A distinctive achievement of toy libraries has been the enhanced integration of children with disabilities into childhood play activities. Toys for children with special needs are expected to carry higher profit margins than toys for a mainstream audience. This is both because of the expertise required in design and the narrow target markets. Turn that narrowness to your advantage. Market to lekoteks—those are toy libraries that serve children with disabilities. Lekoteks and other toy libraries serving special needs children are regularly on the lookout for the right items to purchase for their collections.
- Be an information resource. Toy libraries are repositories not only of playthings, but also of knowledge about how to get the best when selecting and using toys. The libraries hold special events and publish newsletters about toys. The University of Canterbury research found that two motivations for toy library users are to exchange ideas with others who care for and about children and to advocate for responsible practices in the toy industry. By positioning yourself with toy libraries as an expert on these topics, you’ll maintain the goodwill necessary for a continuing fruitful business relationship.
Sue Kirschner, pictured above, heads up the expansive Cuyahoga County Public Library toy lending library program and serves on the Board of Directors of the USA Toy Library Association. Sue contributed substantially to this post. I used the photo of the doll’s wheelchair and guide dog courtesy of Pattycake Doll Co.