Stores expect parents to be focused on good value in their toy selections

Oct 10 2010 - 3:45am

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(Courtesy photo) Cupcake bakery for Squickies
(Courtesy photo) Cupcake bakery for Squickies

HACKENSACK, N.J. -- For the toy industry this Christmas, good things could come in small packages, retailers, manufacturers and industry experts said Tuesday at the event that has become the annual start of the seasonal sales race.

Tiny, collectible toys with names such as Squinkies and Zoobles, and with prices less than $10, are selling out already and will drive parents to make multiple trips to toy stores in search of them.

Those extra trips are likely to boost sales of all toys, said Jim Silver and Chris Byrne, editors of the online toy magazine Time to Play, who presented their holiday toy showcase in New York City.

The event draws executives from the top toy companies, and more than 100 media outlets, including a large contingent of mommy bloggers (and a few daddy bloggers) who review toys on their websites.

This year, like last year, Silver and Byrne said, the name of the game when parents go to the stores will be value. "Parents want to buy a toy that the kids are going to play with," Silver said. An $80 toy that a child plays with will be considered a good value, while a $10 toy that the child tosses aside would be considered a waste of money.

But some of Silver and Byrne's picks for this year's hottest toys fall in the $10 and under category, and those are the toys that stores can't keep in stock. Squinkies, by Blip Toys, are rubber figures sized to fit on the tops of pencils that sell for $6.99 for a set of 12. Slightly larger, but selling out as fast, are Zoobles by Spin Master ($4.99). Those are plastic balls that transform into creatures when they are placed on magnetic platforms.

Spin Master Vice President Harold Chizick said the toys are in such demand that the company is talking to retailers about having them air-shipped from the factory in China.

Another toy on Silver and Byrne's list that's selling out is the Monster High dolls by Mattel Inc., fashion dolls that tap into the current tween craze for vampires and werewolves.

Neil Friedman, president of Mattel Brands, said his company built the Monster High phenomenon on the Internet, launching a website even before the dolls were in the store. Web-isodes featuring the dolls have racked up more than 2 million downloads and online music videos with the dolls have posted 1.7 million downloads.

Friedman said he expects the company to have a banner year because of the level of innovation in its products.

"It's probably the best line we've presented" in terms of innovation, he said. Friedman said Toys "R" Us' strong performance last Christmas was good for retailers. "When they have a good year, we usually do, too," he said.

Sales at Toys "R" Us stores open at least a year increased 4.6 percent last December, topping rivals Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Target Corp.

Sean McGowan, toy industry analyst and managing director at Needham & Co., said 2010 is shaping up to be Mattel's "strongest growth year for revenue that they've had in a long time." McGowan said.

McGowan said 2010 also could be another year when small toy companies create the most hot-toy excitement -- similar to 2009, when a little-known company, Cepia LLC, produced the runaway hit Zhu Zhu Pets.

"The lesson of Zhu Zhu Pets was there aren't just five toy companies," he said. Newcomers such as Blip with Squinkies, and The Bridge, which is selling Justin Bieber dolls, could prove to be winning players, McGowan said.

The top job for Wayne-based Toys "R" Us this year will be to beat the competition when it comes to being in stock on the hottest toys.

Last year, Toys scored big when it was the only retailer to have the best-selling Zhu Zhu Pets robotic hamsters in the final weeks before Christmas.

Toys Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jerry Storch was at the Time to Play event this year, but would not tip his hand on whether he thought there was another Zhu Zhu Pets situation this year. "It's a little early" to say if one toy will be this year's Zhu Zhu Pet, Storch said, adding that he expects that there will be multiple high-demand toys. He also said he didn't want to tip off the competition about the toys that are selling out.

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