Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket when it comes to merchandising in a specialty toy store. While many toy shop owners specialize in toys and games for little kids, more and more retailers are branching out and marketing themselves toward adults, too. After all, most of the actual paying customers are full-grown adults, so why not capitalize on that?

Instead of pigeon-holing themselves into selling toys and only toys, many retailers are creating more options for their clientele with specialty gift shops, boutiques, and even coffee shops within their stores.

“When we’re looking at why gifts are important, it’s because toy stores not only pull in kids, but because they also pull in parents,” says Christine Osborne, founder of specialty toy store chain Wonder Works, based in South Carolina. “Parents actually love spending money on themselves. If they’re at a toy store and they find a gift for themselves or for another friend, they’re gonna snatch it up. So you have a captive audience there and you really want to take advantage of it.”

Wonder Works carries a wide variety of locally made gifts in all locations. (Photo: Christine Osborne)

In addition to toys and books, Wonder Works carries a diverse assortment of locally made items, including pottery, wind chimes, whiskey glasses, wreaths made from oyster shells, and popular grilling tools, such as the Charleston Hooker and the Butt Grabber, from Charleston Specialty Foods. Osborne says that the Charleston Hooker is one of her top gifts, with the store selling more than 1,000 of them a year.

She credits a lot of the store’s specialty item sales to the hard-working artisans who make the products. “You end up having these local artists who do woodworking, make functional tools and art, and they have a local following, and all of the followers come to the store because they can’t get it online or on Amazon,” Osborne explains. “It brings people into your store on a regular basis who are rabid fans of these local makers. It populates your store with traffic, and it provides you with an edge that nobody else has.”

The above assortment of mugs was displayed at KidStop Toys and Books in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Photo: Kate Tanner)

Kate Tanner, owner of KidStop Toys and Books in Scottsdale, Arizona, says that she took the plunge and expanded her shop’s merchandise with soy-based Votivo candles and luxury blankets from Little Giraffe and Saranoni. She told herself that if any products didn’t sell, she would take them home for her own personal use — but she was stunned to find how many last-minute orders she had for the items that holiday season.

“When I completed the ASTRA Profit Survey last year, I filled in all my percentages for toys and was a tad surprised to see that 34% of my business was not classified as a ‘common ASTRA category,’” Tanner says. Her shop has since expanded with laundry detergent, wine and bourbon accessories, and tech accessories — and so have her average dollar sales.

Similarly, the new Camp toy stores are not limiting themselves to toys either. Each Camp location features a canteen area in the front, which opens up into a hidden toy store in the back. This area acts as a general store with something for everyone, such as apparel, books, mugs, silly office decor, political dolls, and gag gifts. Shoppers can also visit the ice cream and coffee bar, which serves trendy sweet treats from either Momofuku Milk Bar or Ample Hills Creamery, depending on the location.

The in-store Momofuku Milk Bar at the Camp Fifth Avenue location in New York City. (Photo: Jackie Cucco)

“We really feel like we’re engaging the grown-ups, too,” says Camp’s Chief Marketing Officer Tiffany Markofsky. She explains that a large aspect of Camp’s design is not only attracting customers, but also keeping them in the store for a while — and not just to shop. “We have families spending 90 minutes to two hours in our store. The moms could get a great coffee or delicious ice cream and they’re playing, they’re enjoying, they’re interacting, and we’re creating what we feel is a more enriching retail experience.”

The addition of food and beverage makes a typical toy store feel like a full-service boutique. It also makes shopping more inviting and adds a convenience factor for parents. The Awesome Toys and Gifts locations in Stamford and Westport, Connecticut, offers an in-store coffee bar with coffee drinks, tea, snacks, candy, and more. “We noticed that people came in with cups of coffee and then we said, ‘Why don’t we serve coffee?’” owner Nick Tarzia says.

Tarzia’s shop holds events and tournaments for kids to get together to trade and play with popular toys, such as Beyblade, Bakugan, L.O.L. Surprise! dolls, the Pokémon Trading Card Game, Magic: The Gathering, and more. The cafe area evolved into a spot for parents, babysitters, and nannies to hang out while kids play.

“The truth of the matter is retail is evolving,” Tarzia says. “It’s no longer just a place where people walk in just to buy a toy. It has to have something more to offer. Otherwise they can just sit at their desk and push a button on the computer. We try to give them an alternative.”

Here are some tips and tricks on how to supplement your sales with extra merchandise for adult shoppers.

1. Give the people what they want. “First and foremost, you must listen to your customers and ask questions. You might just be surprised at what you can find out,” Tanner says. Get to know your community and you’ll quickly figure out what types of items would be a good fit for your store.

2. Know your stuff. “You must be passionate about the items you pick. Otherwise, they will just sit,” Tanner says. If you choose to stock locally made items, learn about the stories behind them.

3. Attend gift shows and conventions. Gain inspiration by walking the aisles and speaking with vendors. You never know what you might find.

4. Start small. If you want to dip your toe in the water, start with socks or candles. According to Osborne, her stores sell those two items all day long. “Our candles range anywhere from $15-25, and people snatch those up two or three at a time,” she says. “People love it. They do not hesitate to drop money on a candle or on socks.” Birthday cards work well, too, because there is never a shortage of birthdays.

5. You don’t need to revamp your entire store. If you don’t want to carve out dedicated gift sections, you can blend the specialty items into certain categories of toys, such as games and puzzles. You can also create small table displays that won’t take up a lot of space.

6. Create Instagrammable moments. People love a good photo-op. Tanner keeps that in mind while organizing her gift sections in KidStop Toys and Books by artfully arranging blankets on top of ottomans and spreading Jellycat plush animals around the gift items.

Adults are out there shopping. Toy store owners keep up to date with the latest toy trends, so it’s about time they keep up to date with their customers, too. Whether that means offering refreshments, making shopping more convenient, or featuring a large cross-section of products, it’s worth thinking beyond the toys.


This article originally appeared in the February 2020 issue of the Toy Book. Click here to read more!