Where to Look and How to Capitalize on Them

by Christine Osborne, owner, Wonder Works; principal, Christine S. Osborne LLC

I am often asked three things: What item is trending? How do I find sources for the trending product? Will this trend really help my business? Here are tips on how to spot toy trends and capitalize on them.


The fourth quarter can make or break a specialty toy store. Many have gone from doing 60 percent of their yearly business to only 30 percent during the last three months of the year. I recently spoke with a colleague who was concerned because his business was down 40 percent for the first week in November, yet another colleague’s business was up 40 percent for the same time period. The difference? The second specialty business carried two trending items: Fingerlings and squishies.

Trends will consistently bring customers into your store. Customers understand that their local specialty toy store is the location to find a trending item first, as specialty retailers capture and test them in the marketplace. Neighborhood toy stores are able to move quickly to create displays, market, and provide necessary explanation—and even promotions—for trending products. Traffic into stores and consistent sales are bread and butter for a specialty retailer, and trends are an easy way to create and increase both of these.


Retailers in particular will notice reoccurring themes among showrooms at trade shows. It may be as subtle as a particular color, as in-your-face as sloths everywhere, or even as simple as retro items making a comeback. Take advantage of the surrounding experts, and have a frank discussion regarding what trends they are seeing for the year. Too often retailers bring their personal reactions into play. Imagine if a retailer had a personal aversion to the Rainbow Loom kit or Webkinz plush? These were both trends that not only allowed my stores to stay in business, but also brought in enough revenue to open a new store, refresh their floors from carpet to laminate hardwood, hire assistant managers, and open a central distribution warehouse. I was able to do all of these things as a result of capitalizing on trend profits and the willingness to take a chance on certain items.

Retailers are risk takers. They open their first store not knowing whether it will succeed. They continue to take risks by bringing in the hottest items—lower quantities at first to test, then exponentially increasing future orders—while they vigilantly track sales to recognize when they are no longer trending.

Pikmi Pops, from Moose Toys


Finding expert sources for toy trends may involve a manufacturer, such as Corey Glassberg from Top Trenz, who provides expert advice and quality trend products. Manufacturers like Glassberg will share accurate information regarding the trending item’s arrival date, suggested order quantity, and predictions of trend longevity. He has worked in the toy industry for more than 19 years and sees a great future ahead for those retailers that embrace trends and understand the marketing power they hold. Glassberg is currently working with specialty groups on new sequin products, slime, and squishy products for this year. He began taking orders as early as November for arrival in February.

Additionally, fully utilizing other retailers for their expertise and advice makes an incredible impact. Rick Derr of Learning Express Toys in Lake Zurich, Ill., is always among the first to embrace a trend and thus provide the community with a location to experience the hottest new items on the market. He strongly feels that retailers who change with the times, broaden their offerings, and think outside the box will consistently have an easier time increasing their market share and profitability.

For this year, he sees the tween category as a large opportunity for specialty toy stores to capture gift, jewelry, and room décor sales. “I have steadily seen an increase in this population and sales year after year,” says Derr. He also predicts strong in-store sales next year by offering jewelry/accessories, pillows, and light fixtures for teens and tweens. He predicts that Fingerlings, sequins, and squishies will continue to trend high into 2018. Sharing this trend knowledge with other retailers helps the entire industry.

Aric Klar, principal of On Trend Goods and owner of Toyology Toys, is a cross between a manufacturer and a specialty retailer. This combination lends to sustaining the industry in multiple ways. Not only does he represent great specialty items to consumers, but he brings them to market early, getting a read for the entire industry.

Klar states that jumping on trends early is crucial to a store’s market share of any trend. He advises to buy smart and often, and not to place one giant order for the trending product in order to avoid sitting on trending items that phase out. He predicts that magnets will be hot this year. Finding colleagues like Glassberg, Derr, and Klar are “golden nuggets” for your business and for the specialty industry.

Rep and distribution groups are another keystone for trend product acquisition.Diverse Marketing has even positioned a vice president of marketing and product discovery, Steve Starobinsky, in the marketplace to find and share information on new trends. Starobinsky’s expertise lies not only in spotting future trends, but breaking down these trends so retailers can understand the impact the trends will have on the industry and their businesses. His availability and involvement with retailers and manufacturers alike provide an atmosphere of global sharing unparalleled in the industry. See Starobinsky’s trend outlook for the year below.

Fingerlings, from WowWee

Sandy Ruben, from Sandy Ruben and Associates, recently formed a Hot Toys Trending Group of expert retailers who provide bimonthly information on trend development to the specialty toy industry. Ruben’s acute awareness of trends and his ability to capitalize on them and share with both retailers and manufacturers provides a cornerstone for sustainability of the specialty toy industry. As a former specialty toy store owner, his intense knowledge of the business provides retailers with a calm reassurance in utilizing their intuition to make trend-buying decisions. He shares that based on communication with other stores, trade journals, shows, and previous work experience, more often than not, retailers are able to get it right. Most of his buyers’ strength is intuitive buying, but he also encourages buyers to use their analytical/number-based reports to support their decisions. His Hot Toys Trending Group strongly points to unicorns, llamas, and pandas, as well as awareness of elephants, as trends for this year.

Jayson Esterow, from License 2 Play, notes that home-grown brands marketed the correct way provide huge opportunities for trend development. Esterow points to Moose Toys’ Shopkins and Pikmi Pops, WowWee’s Fingerlings, Cepia’s Magic Wands, and Spin Master’s Hatchimals as a few examples of these store drivers.

Simple tech toys, such as Little Live Pets, provide hours of play, along with little to no mess. DIY (Do It Yourself) Kits such as mess-free slime and bath bomb kits will continue to be popular this year. Marketing channels for these brands vary from TV, digital, and YouTube to school and event giveaways.

Hot new trending predictions for this year include Topps’ new Ring Pops with a collectible ring and surprise puppy figure inside, and Blip’s Silly Squeaks musical pets, each with five songs and 16 surprise silly sounds.

Whether you use your gut instinct, other retailers, manufacturers, rep groups’ highlighted products at shows, publications, or digital avenues, trends are a continual avenue of income and sustainability for the brick-and-mortar specialty toy store. Trends warrant special consideration, as they often can keep stores thriving.


Retro Gaming: Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Atari. The new movie Ready Player One will premiere this year and serve as a two-hour commercial for retro gaming.
Everything ‘90s: Denim jackets, bedazzling, Saved By the Bell, K-Swiss, Nautica, dad jeans, Lisa Frank, and more are all making a comeback.
“The Reveal”: collectibles are less about the actual toy and all about how you reveal what’s inside. It’s the unboxing trend taken home.
Licenses to watch: Cup Head, Exploding Kittens, Aggretsuko, Hello Kitty & Friends, Bob Ross, and Aladdin.


Christine Osborne is the owner of four award-winning and industry-leading toy stores, Wonder Works, and the principal of Christine S. Osborne LLC. She brings magic to the Lowcountry through her spirit and enthusiasm, and her stores celebrate the power of a single child. Wonder Works aims to inspire creativity and wonder through hands-on play. The company’s passion lies within the growth and development of child entrepreneurs, entertainers, and charities.