5 Suggestions for Fixing the Toy Industry

In my last two postings (“What’s Wrong with the Toy Industry” and “The Toy Industry’s Never Ending Cold”) I have written about a toy industry that seems to have lost its mojo.  It’s one thing to point out the problems; it’s another to propose fixes.  So, here are 5 ideas:

 1.      Hollywood, Super Heroes and Toy Sales

The Hollywood super hero movie machine has done a powerful job of selling tickets.  It used to do a great job of moving toys off the shelves as well.  The result was a virtuous circle in which the movie launched the action figure and the toy sustained the interest in the home.  That way, when the next movie came out, the fan would return for more. 

An ability to drive ticket sales without the accompanying ability to generate sales at retail is therefore not only bad for toy manufacturers and retailers but is ultimately bad for the movie studio.  A gradual receding of action figure heroes from store shelves, as is happening now, is going to mean an eventual drop-off in movie ticket sales;  The virtuous circle become a vicious circle.

Bottom line, Hollywood needs to sit down with manufacturers and retailers and figure out how to create a seamless selling cycle that works for everyone. 

 2.      Take Me to Toys “R” Us

Toys “R” Us is more important to the entire toy industry than any other retailer.  Why, because there is simply no other mass market retailer as committed to selling toys than Toys R Us.

So, if I may be so bold as to give advice to the CEO of Toys R Us; I would suggest that whenever someone comes to him with an idea he ask them this question:  “Will it make a child beg to go to Toys R Us?”

3.      Return the Magic to Toy Retailing

When I visited the Japanese retailer, Yodobashi Akiba, I was struck by the variety and depth of inventory.  I was also struck by the number of people shopping the store.  Is there a connection between the two; I think so.   Variety + Inventory = Consumers.

4.      The Fight for Play Time

The toy industry lives and dies with how much time a child has for play.  The loss of play time (recess is down to 15 minutes a day in many school districts and children  now have 8 hours less free play time a week than they did 25 years ago) is killing the toy industry.  The loss of time coupled with competition from  a myriad of ways to play is eating at the economic base of the industry.

The industry lives or dies with play time.  That is why it is essential that the industry and its members advocate for play as an essential element in creating mentally, emotionally and physically healthy children.  The research is there that supports this notion and the toy industry should be making the case.

Will it be perceived as cynical; yes, by some.  The reality is, however, that you can have more than one motivation for doing good…in this case a societal good and an economic good.  And frankly, is an economic necessary.  It’s not a time to be demure.

5.      The Big Can Help the Small

It may seem absurd to think of a large company helping out a small, innovative competitor but hear me out.  A large company, by investing in and providing resources to a small one, can improve the product landscape at retail and make for a more exciting retail experience.  That in turns leads to a healthier toy industry and more sales for everyone.

It can also, if the deal is right, lead to the larger company being in a front row position to purchase the smaller one should it desire to do so.  That’s good business.

So, those are some of my ideas.  What do you think?


4 thoughts

  1. Some interesting observations Richard. It is an “industry”, and we have industrialized everything, including child’s play. I make a number of lines of educational building kits and I usually usher the WalMart and ToysRus out of my booth at toy fairs. Their bottom line is creating money per square foot of shelf space, and for the innovative and unusual, this is not a comfotable place. Innovative products take thought and time, and most people want their kids to do things quickly and easily (tragic really). Fact is the best place to be is in the neighbourhood stores, and medium size chains. They actually embrace innovative, and thoughtful toys, and worry less about $/sq/ft. And you have great relationships with people, rather than think about churn. Big companies that have approached me have always wanted me to dumb the kits down, and have them made more cheaply. To be honest if T.R.U. went out of business we’d see more success of the neighbourhood shops that support the small and innovative products that don’t make huge profit (or numbers) to wow people and we’d see less “industrialization” of kids play. I guess that horse has left the barn…
    Anyway, “fixing” the industry has to consider what “success” of the industry looks like – does it look like massive chain stores churning more plastic crap, (another branded superhero toy and backpack, just what we need) or the independent neighbourhood store embracing innovation, and a good communuty place to be.

  2. Hello Richard,
    Very interesting comments, as every day we see children on the street outside trying to play games by themselves. By running around on scooter’s or with a soccer ball or large water pistol etc, and when we speak to them they are very keen to find new ways of playing games. They know we work from home and design children’s games and are keen for us to show them any latest ideas. We have had anything up to 20 kids in our modest front garden playing several activity & other board games that we have both produced & some prototypes.
    Our fast & easy to learn form of games play works every time and that’s the key. Make it fast & simple, easy to understand & last but not least important feature is “The Appleton Way” of simple games play. The trouble is we cannot launch our games into the market place through lack of finance & experience in the toy industry. Sue is a teacher and myself an average middle aged man with no qualifications to write home about. However we our both Christian Ordained Ministers who have a small home grown business that tries to promote wholesome games in a crazy mixed up world that has lost it’s way. The large toy companies are the bigger fish and usually eat up ones like ourselves, so how do small fish live alongside these monster fish without being eaten up?

  3. Thanks for another thoughtful post, Richard. As a small toy maker, #5 is especially interesting to me, though I also think unlikely. What we are doing, though, in a similar vein, is working together with other smaller toy companies to share experiences, challenges, resources and more. We view each other as collaborators, not competitors! There’s plenty of business for everyone.
    I also have high hopes but also some fear about Toys R Us – recent news about their financial situation is not promising.
    We need more of this creative thinking in the toy business. Unfortunately, for such an inventive industry, it’s often averse to new ideas!
    Ryan Hamilton
    Geared for Imagination

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