Part 3: “Toy Deserts;” What Can be Done?

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In my last two postings (“Toy Deserts” Part 1 and Part 2) I have explored a charge by New York Times columnist Ginia Bellafante that parts of America, mostly underprivileged,” consist of “toy deserts” where a variety of  educational toys are largely unavailable.  She believes that Mass Merchandisers, with their focus on lowest price, highly promoted toys from large manufacturers have failed to provide the variety of educational toys that are important in developing skills and knowledge.

In my mind, whether Ms. Bellafante is correct or not in her analysis, it is beside the point.  We all know that too many Americans think the toy industry consists of the limited number of products they see in a Wal-Mart or Target.  That is not good news for an industry that possesses over a million individual SKU’s. 

Companies like Leapfrog do indeed provide great products with fun and high educational value.  In fact, a product made by a smaller company is no indication that it is a quality product.  What is the issue, I believe, is providing the American marketplace with a variety of choices that reflect the depth, the breadth and the magic of a great industry.

So, what can be done to correct the situation?  What we cannot expect is for retailers to make decisions that do not make sense in a free market economy.  Mass Merchandisers and Specialty Toy





 retailers have to follow Peter Drucker’s admonition that the ultimate goal of any business is to continue to exist.   

With that in mind, here are two suggestions each for the mass merchandisers and the specialty retailers:

  • What if big box retailers were to begin to once again take chances on products?  I am not talking about going crazy but maybe mandating that an additional 1 to 3% of buying dollars be directed towards great new products that develop young hands and minds? 
  • In the same vein, what if big box retailers were to allocate an additional 1 to 3% of their advertising dollars on promoting these products?
  • What if the independent specialty toy industry was to make it part of its mission to seed toy stores in underserviced areas?
  • What if the independent specialty toy industry was to go to the Gates Foundation or some other philanthropic organization to provide capital incubate these stores?

These are my ideas.  What are yours?

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