Specialty stores create that special touch for grandparent shoppers

If one thing’s a given in life, it’s that grandparents know how to spoil their grandchildren. Kids everywhere are in luck because grandparents account for more than a quarter of total U.S. toy industry sales, spending nearly $7 billion on toys in the 12 months ended last June, according to the NPD Group. And this segment will continue to grow as more millennials become parents.

Tons of specialty retailers are using this growing market to their advantage with special programs and events tailored to grandparent customers. Kiddywampus, a specialty toy retailer in Minneapolis, launched Lee & Olive’s Grandparents Group this past April, a monthly gathering for grandparents and their grandchildren featuring interactive events, such as story time, toy testing, and art projects.

“Grandparents are among our favorite customers and the reason that I love them so much is because when they come in the store, they are really interested in spending one-on-one time with their grandchildren,” says Amy Saldanha, owner of kiddywampus. “But we also were finding that grandparents want to connect with each other, and so we’re creating this community of grandparents.”

Membership is free, and even grandparents who don’t have local grandchildren can participate — all members get 10% off any product in the store anytime they shop.

“As a specialty toy store, we have a huge advantage in that we can create that magical experience that no one else can,” Saldanha says. “That is what we do every single day, and that’s what grandparents want with their grandchildren; they want that magical, special event. They want to be the grandparent that knows where the fun store is and can take their grandchildren and just have a blast. They are our ideal customers and to that extent, we, as positioned, independent toy stores, can respond to that like no other store in any other market.”

Learning Express, a specialty toy retailer with more than 100 locations in the U.S., supports grandparent shoppers with discounts, events, and product recommendations. Most of the stores offer a 10% discount to grandparents, and some locations recognize Grandparent Appreciation Day with a free gift with purchase, as well as special events, such as “grandma and me” story time and crafts. The staff can help grandparents build a “Grandparent Survival Kit” filled with age-appropriate toys to have handy when their grandchildren come over. Learning Express’ upcoming fall events include dropping off catalogs at senior centers, clubhouse presentations to grandparents in “55+ communities,” and personal shopping experiences for the holidays.

Who’s Toy House in Rapid City, South Dakota, helps grandparents keep track of their grandchildren’s most-wanted items in the store with a wish list for birthdays and holidays. The store is located next to a local bookstore that has a weekly story time, after which kids are invited to the toy store to try out new products and play while grandparents can grab coffee and treats.

“Grandparents bring their grandchildren in and have a play date and story time together,” says Somer Kinsburg, owner of Who’s Toy House. “Grandparents appreciate being able to have their grandchildren spend time with each other, and parents love the break. It is a win-win for everyone.”

Roger Bildsten, founder and CEO of Hip Hooray LLC, curates Grand Grandparent (grandgrandparent.com), where he writes about the role of grandparents in the play category, in addition to leading workshops, panels, and focus groups to help businesses improve their grandparent customer strategy.

Businesses need to pay attention to the specific interests and concerns of grandparents in order to benefit. “Try to put yourself in their shoes and remember that this is not a one-size-fits-all market segment,” Bildsten says. “Grandparents can be modern and affluent or nostalgic and frugal, for example. What they have in common is that they all care about kids.”

He divulges some tips on how businesses can pay better attention to the grandparent factor: “1. Recognize that grandparents are a specific and considerable component of your revenue stream; 2. Accept that there are many sub-components of the grandparent category; 3. Develop a plan to communicate with these segments; and 4. Realize that you need them — and they need you.”

Don’t underestimate the power of grandparent shoppers because it’s a customer base that’s not going anywhere. “Our over-60 population is a growing share of the general population, and that trend will continue,” Bildsten says. “However, I’d suggest that rather than being a growth spurt, it’s more that we are now starting to pay better attention to the grandparent factor and are in the early days of doing a better job as an industry of quantifying that activity.” Bildsten will address more strategies to reach grandparent customers at ASTRA’s Marketplace & Academy in Pittsburgh this June.

Although it plays a huge role, it’s not solely the in-store experience that grandparents are after. Grandparents’ internet spending is growing greater than any other toy-purchasing group, with the online channel increasing more than two times faster for grandparents compared with the rest of the market, according to the NPD Group. Grandparents are willing to dish out more money on the web, spending 3.5 times more per toy online than they do in store.

This is significant for specialty stores to note because it means having an online presence is equally important as those in-store special touches. Not all grandparents have local grandchildren that they can spend the day with at a toy store, so giving them the option to shop online is another tool that businesses can use to their advantage.

Toy trends come and go, but grandparents never go out of style.


This article originally appeared in the May/June 2019 issue of the Toy Book.