In “Lunch Doodles” on The Kennedy Center’s YouTube channel, Mo Willems, Kennedy Center Education artist-in-residence, invites everyone into his home studio once a day while families are staying at home. | Source: The Kennedy Center’s YouTube channel

by AMY OPHEIM, freelance marketing consultant

The past few months have taken a devastating toll on small businesses everywhere. Many toy store owners closed their doors in compliance with local and state regulations at great personal expense. While we’re all committed to doing our part to protect the greater good, few of us can afford to lose even a day’s worth of income, much less weeks’ and months’ worth. However, some toy stores were able to find ways to continue to do business with — or at the very least to partner with — their customers, cementing their roles as valued community resources. Below are some innovative things store owners and manufacturers have been doing to stay in contact with customers during these recent difficulties:

  • Creative Order Taking: Some store owners already had an online business and shifted their resources to marketing and fulfillment during the shutdown. Others used this time to launch an online business. And still more took orders over the phone, via email, and even by Facebook Messenger, offering curbside pickup service to avoid shipping costs and to maintain social distancing.
  • Drop-Shipping: Many manufacturers and distributors offer drop-shipping. Taking advantage of this service allowed some stores that were unable to stock and ship orders on their own to continue to service their customers, even when their doors were closed.
  • Giving It Away: A few store owners reached deep into their hearts — and pockets — to share some of their inventory with customers whose families were impacted severely by these shut downs, enabling parents in need to brighten their kids’ days.
  • Product Bundles: Making things easy for parents is a great way to get their attention. Some stores marketed bundles of products by age, interest area, or academic subject, which made shopping easier and increased average order values.
  • Free Activities: Finding and sharing helpful resources via email and social media is a great way to stay in touch with your customers when you can’t see them in person. Savvy store owners were on the lookout for things such as free subscriptions, virtual museum and zoo tours, downloadable worksheets and coloring pages, free drawing workshops with famous illustrators, step-by-step instructions for crafts and science experiments, children’s authors reading their stories online, etc. Then, they shared them via social media and email with their own customer base to help keep kids busy during the downtime at home and to build that relationship with parents.
  • Deliver an Experience: Some store owners went so far as to create their own, custom content to share with customers, such as taking a daily video showing different ways to play with toys, reading a story and showing the camera the pictures, or putting on a puppet show. We are in the business of play, after all.
  • Beefing up Your Website: Most manufacturers offer a variety of product photos and videos as well as descriptions, features and benefits lists, and more. Smart store owners used the last few months of downtime to beef up their websites with better imagery and descriptions, gather customer testimonials, add employee picks, and other additional information to help push the sale.

If we can find any silver lining at all in the past few months — in addition to the lives saved and our proven ability to work together for the greater good — it’s a blueprint for survival during future crises. One of the smartest marketing activities you can conduct now to prepare for the next time is to build your customer database and social media followings so they’re available when you have news to communicate or have to shift the way you’re doing business. So start gathering email addresses and promoting your social media pages today!

This article was originally published in the June 2020 issue of the Toy Book. Click here to read the full issue!