by Kimberly Mosley, President, American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA)
Weathering the rough times is nothing new for the retailers, manufacturers, and sales representatives who are members of the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA). Nimbleness is part of the ASTRA entrepreneurial DNA. Without lumbering, corporate hierarchies and with an ear to the ground in our local communities, we have always prided ourselves on our ability to make quick changes when the competitive environment demands it.
In the past, our ASTRA community has weathered the onset of new technology, 9/11, the financial collapse in 2008, sales tax equity, and concerns about toy safety. Who knew that a virus could make our past disruptions look like child’s play in comparison? But the word from the ASTRA frontlines is that the bulk of our members are hunkering down and playing for keeps.
THE INDOMITABLE ASTRA SPIRIT
While nearly 90% of ASTRA members surveyed during the second week in April reported that COVID-19 already had a negative impact on their businesses, less than half said they had moderate to major concerns about the long-term viability of their company. That is the indomitable ASTRA spirit shining through the dark days we’ve seen, filled with so many economic fears and unknowns.
In the words of ASTRA’s chair-elect Amy Saldanha, CPE, CMR, owner of kiddywampus in Hopkins, MN, “We, ASTRA members, were born for this moment. We are entrepreneurs and out-of-the-
box thinkers,” says Saldanha, “We take delight in beating the odds, figuring out a way to get things done when no one else can. It’s how we survive every single day. Challenge accepted, coronavirus.”
TRANSFORMATIONS AT WARP SPEED
Over the past few weeks—since the words “safe,” “unprecedented,” and
“crazy” began to appear in almost every business email we send and receive — the nimble ASTRA pivot has morphed into a warp-speed transformation.
“We are living in a new world that has not finished changing,” says ASTRA Board member Nick Tarzia, owner of Stamford Toys in Stamford, CT. “We must adapt. The unfortunate circumstance is that the demand for these changes have come upon us quicker than we could have ever imagined, and for many of us, more quickly than we were prepared for.”
MANAGING COVID-19: STRATEGIES FROM ASTRA MEMBERS
• Take action for the future. “We may never get this kind of time to focus,
uninterruptedly, on our businesses again,” points out Saldanha. “Tackle that ‘if only I had the time’ list. Improved website? Finally figure out social media? Always wanted a YouTube channel but weren’t sure how? Want to master Open to Buy? Now is the time,” Saldanha says.
• Upgrade your e-commerce capabilities.“We were already planning on making e-commerce a big part of our vision for 2020, but we quickly realized we needed to get it completed much faster,” says ASTRA board member Brad Ruoho, owner of Legacy Toys in Ely, MN. “We launched our website two weeks ago with online orders. Adding that to our ordering capabilities will be a huge strength coming out of this as we will have another outlet for selling our products,” he says.
• Offer new ways for your customers to shop. Are you a new star on Facebook? You’re not alone if you are suddenly doing Facebook Live product demos. This is a great way to reinforce the personality of your store while you are making sales.
Have you reinvented the shopping experience for your customers with Facetime virtual shopping, curbside pickup, and deliveries? To meet consumer demand, Ruoho added home delivery service at Legacy Toys. “Customers appreciate the service and have been shocked when they’ve ordered something online and a few hours later a happy toy store employee is greeting them at their door,” he says. “This clearly isn’t the most cost-effective measure, but it builds loyalty and relationships with customers during difficult times, which hopefully will lead to a lasting relationship in the good times as well.”
•Live your mission. “Is your company’s mission a poster or a passion?” asks Jamie Gallagher, president and CEO of Faber-Castell USA in Solon, Ohio. “This is one of those times when your mission and values can help you prioritize and make the right decisions for your business, your employees, and your customers.”
COVID-19 has given a whole new meaning to the phrase “times are tough.”
“As a retailer, wondering what will happen with what we have worked so hard to build is extremely difficult,” says Ruoho. I’m sure every ASTRA member out there can relate to that feeling, even as we conduct our businesses through Zoom, Facebook, and FaceTime, and hold them together with gumption and every last ounce of creativity we can muster. We are redefining what “nimble” looks like.
ASTRA Board member Betty Burns, owner of Angellina’s Toy Boutique in Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada, reminds us that tough times don’t last, but tough people do. “We are tough people,” says Burns. “We are mighty together. We are ASTRA.”
This article was originally published in the June 2020 issue of the Toy Book. Click here to read the full issue!