My Interview with Heather Smith, President of the Good Toy Group

Heather Smith runs The Good Toy Group, a Member-owned marketing cooperative and buying group for independent toy store owners. She is responsible for the overall leadership, evolution, and performance of the company, with oversight and direction by The Board of Directors who are all Member-Owners.

Day to Day, Heather manages the Office, Creative, Product Leadership and Board Teams through the annual production of catalogs and strategic projects. The main purpose of the Staff is to carry out the ongoing operations of the business and ensure the long-term success of The Good Toy Group. Heather earned her Master’s Degree in Business Administration from The Wharton School of Business, undergrad at the University of Pennsylvania.

Richard: You are the President of the Good Toy Group. Can you tell us about the Good Toy Group, its history, its current status, where it is heading, and where you fit?

Heather: Thank you, Richard, for the opportunity to share our story and how I fit into our history, present, and future!

“Good toys, Good stores, Good group!”

The Good Toy Group was ‘IMAGINED’ in the early spring of 1999, in response to a need in the specialty toy market for a holiday catalog. A group of 21 veteran toy store owners and friends met at New York Toy Fair to determine whether they could make their very own holiday catalog.“ We can do this!” and The Good Toy Group organized formerly as a member-owned cooperative LLC that year! Now 23 years later, we have built a community of 120 toy stores across the US & Canada, with nearly 200 storefronts devoted to bringing the best toys to children everywhere.

Our Members have won many awards and honors for their stores. They are leaders in the specialty industry and in the communities they serve. Their personal and our collective efforts continue to bring good toys to children and promote healthy play for children of all ages. My role as President is to spearhead our creative projects and mission with oversight and direction from our Board. We deeply value each and every Member, our vendors, Rep partners, and creative collaborators and endeavor to strengthen and sustain our industry for the future of children and the toy business world.

Richard: How is the Good Toy Group structured?

Heather: The Good Toy Group is a Member-Owned cooperative marketing company and buying group, with each Member being an owner. We work in teams of staff and members to accomplish our work, make a difference, serve our local communities and have fun doing it.

Richard: Can you describe a typical member? How does someone become a member?

Heather: Members own their toy stores and range in size from $500,000 in annual toy sales to well over $10 million. Each Member is unique and contributes their own brand to the whole group. Typically, a toy store will find out about us from their Rep, another store owner, current member or our trade association, ASTRA.

Interested toy stores can check out for open territories and apply.

Richard: What are some of the services you provide?

Heather: We offer print & digital catalogs (4 per year), social media and digital marketing support, member community, buying programs, toy business intelligence, special events (in-person again), and so much more!

Richard: The last two years have been a challenge. How have your members fared?

Heather: We rallied together in March of 2020 to first be declared essential as schools, stores, and communities faced a life we never expected. The Easter Bunny was granted “essential worker” status and our stores, some from their warehouses only began fulfilling needs to toys by car delivery, curbside pick up, fast-expanding websites, social selling at night from their kitchen tables, and honestly whatever it took.

We worked tirelessly and have come through as a group as fortified as ever. It brings tears to my eyes, the courage of our members, the willingness to hand-sell toys that families discovered offered so much play value and enrichment for learning, imagining, and growing through this.

We pride ourselves on testing every toy, and we couldn’t do that together, but 1000 zoom calls later…we’re happy to be back in person and being safe, conscious, and slowly returning to in store activities and timeless fun of a toy store.

Richard: What is the future of specialty toy retailing? Can we expect to see more stores opening?

Heather: We are having some of our best years yet. I feel we are having a moment where what we do and what the world needs are in sync. We expect to be working earlier and earlier to evaluate new toys and make choices for our catalogs. We love to support new vendors and toy ideas that enchant, nourish, and dazzle our little customers and families. And yes, I do expect to see new store locations for our Members and new toy store owners coming into specialty toys.

Richard: We always like to end with this question. Do you have a toy on your desk, and if so, what is it?

Heather: As I write this from Toy Fest West, I am using an OOLY Yummy Gummy Gel Pen, which are my favorite pens of all time, and carry a beautiful iScream rainbow make-up bag with me. Usually, I have a Squishable avocado, latest Douglas Cuddle Toy, and other snuggly plush close by in the office. My daughter loves Crazy Aaron’s Hide Inside putties and had a variety of fidgets near her throughout the pandemic. Playmobil shared a Star Trek item that’s coming home for my husband from Las Vegas emblematic perhaps of the theme of our company, industry, and world right now…”going where no one has gone before” and being a force for good…may the force be with us all…“good toys, good stores, good group”

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