Is Experiential Play a Threat to Toy Play?

Toys don’t just compete with other toys. They compete with any other entity that sells play. That means theme parks, apps, video games, arcades, bowling alleys, pinball machines, miniature golf courses and more. It is, therefore, a bit ominous that the Millennial generation of parents prefers experience over product. In other words, on the simplest level, they would prefer to spend their money on going to the Sloomoo Institute in New York City to buying a new toy.

And of course, you want to know what the Sloomoo Institute is. The Sloomoo Institute describes itself as follows: “The Sloomoo Institute is an experience. … Awaken your deepest emotions with our engaging slime experience that will undoubtedly unleash the inner child in you as you interact with a variety of slime textures, colors, and consistencies that evoke joy, excitement, and ASMR.”

And what, you may ask, is ASMR? I looked it up, and it stands for, as you undoubtedly knew, “autonomous sensory meridian response.” describes it as ASMR as “a feeling of euphoric tingling and relaxation that can come over someone when he or she watches certain videos or hears certain sounds.

How do we compete when we don’t even know what they are talking about? And the Sloomoo Institute appears to be just the tip of the iceberg. According to a Wall Street Journal article by Kate King, “A Couple New Yorkers Capitalize on ‘Slime,’” there are “…between 250 and 300 experience-based businesses nationwide this year compared with 130 in 2019.”

You are probably aware of some of these experiential play sites: The Museum of Ice Cream (New York City and San Francisco), the pop-up Candytopia (currently in Phoenix, Philadelphia, and Miami), the Makeup Museum (New York  City) and the Happy Place (Los Angeles), just to name a few.

Tickets for the Sloomoo Institute cost $38.00, the equivalent of 4 Spiderman action figures or 5 Barbie Fashionista dolls. For middle and lower-income families, the ticket price comes at the expense of purchasing toys.

Of course, these experiential play environments also sell physical products. 20% of their revenue comes from selling toys in their gift shops. Some, however, have moved beyond the on-site gift shop. The Museum of Ice Cream has created flavors that are now being sold by Target and Safeway.

So, here is what I think.

Physical product toy companies should be opening experiential locations that allow children to play with a toy in a way they cannot replicate at home. For example, a toy car company might allow a child to bring their vehicles and compete on a giant multi-story race track with other children. A company that sells action figures could open a spot that lets a participant wear a full-size version of, for example, The Hulk, and tear down over-sized foam buildings.

Another recommendation is to keep your eye on experiential concepts that appear to lend themselves to products. License their brand and build out a line of toys.

Don’t sit back and let experience trump product. Figure out a way to compete and become even more successful.

What do you think?

One thought

  1. COVID19 could make parents think twice about “hands on” environments. It could not only impact amusement parks and
    other “experiences”, but could disrupt specialty toy retailers that promote hands on try me sections.

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