COMMENTARY: Bath Time Is Play Time in My House

I’m a lucky mom (for many reasons), but in the context of this post I’m lucky because my kids love taking baths. It’s one less thing to fight about. However, the reason they don’t mind cleaning up is that it’s fun. It’s not the getting clean part they enjoy (Lena has tried to make me forget about that portion of the experience many times), but the playing. Entertaining a 4-year-old in the tub is very different from distracting an 8-month-old, but bath toys have come a long way since I was a kid (plastic cup and Dawn dish soap, anyone?), and I’ve got a whole array of toys to get the job done. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: AllerMates Help Keep Kids with Allergies Safe

As the mother of a preschooler with a newly discovered sesame allergy, I am somewhat unfamiliar to the world of epi-pens and the importance of teaching a young child to speak up for themselves in a potentially lethal—but seemingly innocent—situation. It’s scary to be told your child has a serious allergy, and that the next seed to cross her lips could cause her throat to close up. While nut allergies are a known condition that can trigger anaphylaxis with tongue swelling and the inability to breathe, sesame allergies are a somewhat new, albeit growing phenomenon. As a parent, it’s my job to keep my children safe, and to make sure that no matter where my daughter is or whose care she is in, she will not be in danger.

allermates.wristbandMy daughter’s pediatrician recently stressed to me the importance of teaching Lena to always ask whether there is sesame in any food she is given, and to always ask a parent or teacher if it’s okay for her to eat. However, she is 4 years old, and new to this allergy herself. She does not understand the potential consequences of eating sesame, and it is extremely difficult for her to remember and be held responsible for something so serious.

allermates.medcaseThis is why I was so enthusiastic when I was contacted by AllerMates, and introduced to the company’s expanding line of products for kids with food allergies. [Read more...]

Mattel to Acquire Mega Brands

logo_Mattel logoMattel Inc. and Mega Brands Inc. have signed a definitive agreement for Mattel’s acquisition, through a wholly owned subsidiary of Mattel Inc., of Mega Brands for $460 million.

The acquisition advances Mattel’s global growth strategy of building upon its world-class portfolio of brands by expanding into two of the fastest-growing toy categories. Mega Brands is the No. 2 player in the $4 billion construction building sets category with its Mega Bloks brand, as well as a competitor in the $2 billion arts and crafts category.

mega brands logoMattel’s portfolio of brands will complement Mega Brands’ flagship Mega Bloks brand and existing licensed brands, including Halo, Skylanders, Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, Power Rangers, Hello Kitty, and SpongeBob SquarePants. The acquisition will give Mattel the opportunity to broaden its relationship with its entertainment partners.

Mega Brands ranks among the top 15 toy companies globally in terms of sales, according to statistics published by The NPD Group last year. Additionally, the company achieved record sales of preschool construction toys. [Read more...]

EDITOR’S VIEWPOINT: Reaching Consumers at Home

photoConsumers want to shop local. They want to support their communities and their neighbors’ businesses. Moms and dads truly want to keep their hard-earned dollars in their hometowns whenever possible. Small Business Saturday has 3.3 million likes on Facebook. At the very least, people like the concept of supporting their local retailers.

“Sure, Jackie, easy for you to say. Show me the business.” Of course there are obstacles. If you’re not seeing the sales levels you’d like, ask yourself why. I believe one of the main reasons has to do with awareness and remaining top of mind with your community. Even if you are doing the mailings, coupon booklets, and Penny Saver ads, that may not be enough. You need to reach moms where they are spending their precious free moments of the day and, for many, that place is online, on social media.

My community has a group for local moms on Facebook (dads are welcome, but remain in the minority). It has more than 5,000 members who live in my town and actively seek advice from the group on everything from parenting to what to do with kids locally to where to eat and shop for various things. I’ve noticed that when the topic turns to toys, the first place group members recommend is Fun Stuff Toys, a local toy retailer in Seaford, N.Y. that caters to the community. If your community has a group like this, I urge you to join—not to constantly promote your shop (no one will appreciate that), but to be an active member of your community and a trusted source of information when the conversation naturally (and no doubt frequently) turns to “What toy should I buy for a child’s birthday party?” and “What should I do with my kids this Saturday?” You will remain top of mind for busy parents who may just need that frequent reminder that you are the best source for toys in your community. Once you have their support and awareness, loyalty to your store and all that you offer should come easy.

This column was published in the February issue of The Toy Book. Check back regularly for more toy industry commentary from Jackie. Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Toy Book as a whole. We hope that you will share your comments and feedback below. Until next time!

Hot for Spring and Holiday Travel—Customizable Flip Flops

Maui_Flip_Flops_W_Pink_Bloom_2__10997.1375240005.451.416Every now and then a non-toy item permeates space in toy stores due to its trendiness, appeal to kids, and, typically, its toyetic nature. Something about it makes it fun and kids have to have it.

Enter Lollz Flip Flops, from Wavewearco. Available in child and adult sizes, these flip flops allow users to customize their footwear with super easy snap-on/snap-off Lollz accessories, which include bows, flowers, buttons, etc. The company even encourages its customers to design their own Lollz for a unique look, with suggestions such as gluing on rhinestones, or painting them. The Lollz snap on and off easily, but stay on very securely.

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The idea for the line came from the owner’s personal experience. He couldn’t understand why his daughters insisted on bringing so many pairs of sandals on vacation, taking up precious space in their luggage. They insisted that their footwear had to complement their outfit. And so Lollz were born. With Lollz, kids can bring one pair of flip flops, and several accessories to change their style as they wish, even on the go.

 

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COMMENTARY: Keeping It Fresh for Kids Sends Them Running to the Store

So many toys and video games are introduced each year. Many of them succeed at selling in and selling through, others flop, but manufacturers who have the wherewithal to get involved with their customers have the opportunity to draw in more customers, and to get their currently satisfied customers talking about their purchase and even send them running back to buy more.

disney-infinity-figurines-300x229One company that I’ve recently noticed to be doing an excellent job at this is Disney Interactive, with its Disney Infinity lineup. Disney Infinity, in case you’re somehow unaware, is a video game with a physical toy component. The toys are figures of favorite Disney characters. When a gamer owns a character’s figure, they can transport that character into their game, unlocking new worlds and ways to play.

Kids love collecting, so they are going to want to collect all the figures, and at $13.99 for one figure or $30.99 for a three pack, it’s not unreasonable for gift givers to purchase them as a birthday or holiday gift. What’s brilliant, however, is letting kids have some ownership. The tagline “Play in Their Worlds or Create Your Own” might sound a bit intimidating to the average adult. “Create my own world? I don’t know anything about video game coding!” To a kid, it sounds like magic, and it kind of is. Kids can easily create their own world—called a Toy Box—and then show their friends, who can bring over their own figures and they can play together in this newly created Toy Box. Even more amazing, they can share their new Toy Box with players all over the world. A bit heady for a kid, no?

Fantastic, but here’s the really brilliant part. Disney Interactive issues challenges to players to create their own Toy Boxes with a certain theme, for example, the recent Contraption Challenge, where players were tasked to create “crazy, unique and exciting contraptions that perform simple tasks.” The top five submissions were showcased on a Disney Infinity Toy Box Top Five Countdown webisode and will no doubt be downloaded by thousands of kids around the world. Now that’s exciting.

Each Thursday a new challenge is issued, so gamers are continuously being engaged and made to feel like part of a community. Parents are happy because their child is not only making their purchase worthwhile by continuing to play with it, but they are being creative while doing so. That in turn, yields more sales. Because when kids then ask for more figures to enhance their game play experience, parents are more likely to buy.

Check back regularly for more toy industry commentary from Jackie. Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Toy Book as a whole. We hope that you will share your comments and feedback below. Until next time!

 

The Toy Book Chats with Sherry Gunther-Shugarman, CEO, Popstar Club

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Sherry Gunther-Shugarman, CEO of Popstar Club, which is the manufacturer of the fresh, new doll line, The Beatrix Girls. Sherry gave me an overview of what makes her doll line so unique, and why girls are going to be clamoring for them this holiday season.

SherryGunther.BeatrixCEO

 

Where did you get the idea for Beatrix Girls?

The Beatrix Girls came out of the idea of tying music and dolls together. Ultimately the approach to this was to create a multiplatform brand that really reaches kids everywhere that they are, recognizing that kids are not just watching TV and they’re not just playing with dolls or toys, they’re not just online playing games or being social, they’re doing all of the above. A forward-thinking property really needed to have presence in all of those mediums and to have an integration between all of those formats ingrained in its DNA.

The webisodes are done in a very unique way. How did you come about using that style?

It’s interesting because the natural for me was to go with animation as I spent over 20 years in animation, but there were a lot of things that attracted me to doing it this way, creating webisodes that have the dolls featured interacting in real life. It comes out of the fact that the concept itself has the girls as real. So they’re real and they interact in our world. They’re a real pop star band, we9’re creating real music, not composed music like we would for a toy property or an animated show, but real, credible, pop music written by a platinum-winning writer/producer, mixed by a Grammy-winning engineer, so this is really relevant, today, great music and so we really want to sell them as true pop stars.

Animation oftentimes, especially when doing them based on a product or especially dolls, skews a little bit younger, and we really wanted to have the cool factor and have these be edgier. The medium that we used felt so much more current and fresh and innovative and YouTube generation-like and it felt much more fitting to the brand itself. It gives the dolls the credibility of being real in our world. They have a real human manager, they perform in real venues, so it allows us to play up that real factor for them. And then the scale gives us a lot of humor opportunities for 12-inch dolls interacting in a life-size world.

The really nice side effect that we found is that girls are really responding to the fact that they can relate to the way it was done because it was shot on purpose with hands showing and manipulating the dolls. The idea was that kids could really relate to it and feel like I can do that, I can get four dolls and with my friends create a scene and a scenario.

 

For some reason it reminds me of Mr. Bill, the old SNL skit.

That’s kind of what we were going for. We were going for rather than just sort of just straight, weak, almost too young-skewing animation. We wanted it to be edgier and quirky and fun and hilarious and this medium allowed us to do that, to have that feel to it.

[Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Preparing for Baby, Part 3

We recently featured Kids Preferred’s Bunnies by the Bay Buddy Blankets on the cover of Specialty Toys & Gifts’ June issue. (In case you’re unaware, Specialty Toys & Gifts is our NEW TEMPLATEmagazine for specialty toy retailers, and it runs within every issue of The Toy Book.) Bunnies by the Bay is a super sweet line of high-end toys, plush, apparel, and books for infants and toddlers. They even have adorable mini plush backpacks that are perfect for taking toddler essentials (books, snacks, small toys) on the go.

I recently wrote about the Mamas & PapasBaby Snug with Activity Tray. Mamas and Papas is another company that tends toward the high end with its products. They recently introduced me to their soon-to-be-released Bobbin Rocking Horse. At $199 it’s a bit on the pricey side, mamas__papas__bobbin_rocking_horsebut it’s a classic item that will last for many years. It features soft chunky corduroy fabric and solid wood handles for easy gripping, and has a soft and tactile rope mane and tail. Its frame is made of solid wood. It has a classic but modern look in neutral colors that parents won’t mind keeping out on display.

To move away from toys just for a moment, I’ve been noticing the company Boon Inc. quite a bit lately as Boon.GrassI’ve been preparing for baby. They do a super modern take on baby necessities, such as bottle warmers, feeding products, bath time, and storage. The company’s Grass Countertop Drying Rack and accessories are a lot of fun and would really brighten up a countertop rather than giving off the typical “I have a baby therefore my countertop is always cluttered with bottle parts” vibe.

Check back regularly for more baby product reviews from Jackie. Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Toy Book as a whole. We hope that you will share your comments and feedback below. Until next time!

COMMENTARY: Preparing for Baby, Part 2

Preparing for baby’s arrival can be overwhelming, but shopping for adorable new things is just fun. Especially when those new things include sweet new toys! I am particular to Lamaze’s toy line for infants, because they incorporate developmental features designed to engage a baby’s senses through various forms of play. Some of my daughter’s favorite items as an infant were Lamaze products. It doesn’t hurt that they’re just so darn cute and colorful.

Franky the Hanky WhaleTwo of my favorite new Lamaze toys are Franky the Hanky Whale and Push Along Peanut. I fell in love with Franky when I spied him in Tomy’s booth at Toy Fair in February, and knew I had to have him for my son. Designed for 9 months and up, Franky helps develop baby’s motor skills via put in-take out play. A number of colorful, soft handkerchiefs can be placed into the top of Franky’s head, and come out his mouth. A variety of textures with ribbon loops and crackly tail and fins keep baby engaged.

Lamaze PeanutPush Along Peanut also helps develop motor skills for 9 months and up. This elephant on four wheels gets baby moving as he pushes and pulls it along. The high contrast colors and a variety of textures (and a squeaker inside) keep baby coming back for more.

Cloud b’s Bubbly Bunny is a super sweet toy that goes from day to night, great for travel and trips to Grandma’s house or just as a special friend to keep at home. It can be used to soothe infants, but I could see this remaining a must-have through toddlerhood. It bubblybunnyplays four comforting sounds: friendly giggles, soothing winds, a relaxing lullaby, and calming ocean waves, that can be activated with push-buttons and includes a volume control feature. It also has two sleep timer options (23 minutes and 45 minutes) and is super soft to the touch.

Another item I was recently introduced to is the Comfy Cradle Slip-On Pillow. I’d never seen comfycradlepillowanything like this before, and it’s a really great idea. At first glance it sort of looks like a water wing (you know, those inflatable things kids wear on each arm in the pool to help them stay afloat?), but it’s basically a super soft pillow that you wear comfycradleactionon your arm while feeding your baby. It’s recommended for up to 12 months. It’s brilliant because you can get up and move around, switch seats, answer the phone, or reach for the TV remote (come on, like you never catch up on a show while feeding your baby), without disturbing baby’s comfort. It offers gentle support to baby’s head and neck while feeding, and is machine washable. It can be adjusted with a Velcro strip, and then once you have it the way you like it, you can just slip it on and off each time you use it.

Check back regularly for more baby product reviews from Jackie. Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Toy Book as a whole. We hope that you will share your comments and feedback below. Until next time!

 

COMMENTARY: Preparing for Baby… Let’s Go Shopping!

As I prepare for the arrival of Baby Boy Breyer (due in July!), I’ve taken a special interest in toys and other juvenile products for infants. While I’ve saved a good deal of baby items from my daughter, now 3, it’s always nice to have new stuff for a new baby. Plus, since he is a boy, many of the pink, girly things I’d saved just won’t do. Time to shop! Here are some of the cool, sweet, and innovative new baby items I’ve recently uncovered:

Baby Snug w Activity TrayThe Mamas & Papas never fail to come through with modern, fashionable, and functional items. The Baby Snug with Activity Tray is designed for ages 3 months and up. Once a baby can support his own head, he can try out this comfy seat. It’s lightweight, can be used indoors or out, and grows with the child so it has a longer lifespan than some similar items. The removable tray can be easily wiped clean, so it can be used for meal time, or to hold toys for play time. The removable tray comes with a beaded loop, spinning lion, bendy stalk, rattle flower, and more that can be moved around to continually interest baby.

TheShadeSince I’m having a baby in July, I’ll have options I didn’t have with my daughter, who was a fall to winter baby, such as going for walks and sitting outdoors. The challenge, of course, will be protecting my little one from insects, the sun, etc. The Shade, the very first product from Imagine Baby, is the ultimate accessory for car seats and strollers and protects babies from the sun, wind, bugs, and other annoyances. It is available in four sleek colors and is compatible with just about every stroller and car seat on the market, according to the company. It offers a breathable design, and UPF 50+ Protection from UVA/UVB rays.

swaddle.mickeyAll new moms are familiar with swaddling. It takes some getting used to, and it doesn’t work for all babies, but some babies really seem to be comforted when they’re swaddled up in a soft cozy blanket. SwaddleDesigns offers an array of patterns and styles in soft cotton flannel fabric. Swaddling instructions are sewn into the blanket so new parents can swaddle successfully on the first shot. I love the Mickey and Minnie Mouse patterns, as well as the elephants & chickies.

Check back regularly for more baby product reviews from Jackie. Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Toy Book as a whole. We hope that you will share your comments and feedback below. Until next time!