Learning Express‘ Founder and CEO Sharon DiMinico shared the retailer’s top-selling toys during last holiday season and predictions about what some of the biggest trends this year will be in the Toy Book’s annual State of the Industry Q&A.

What were the best-sellers at Learning Express during the 2019 holiday season?
Some of the best-sellers last holiday season were the UFO Drone; the Genius Square and Rock & Roll It Rainbow Piano, from MukikiM; Fresh Mart Grocery Store, from Melissa & Doug; PlayZoom Smart Watch, from iTouch; the Lumiela Necklace; 5 Surprise Mini Brands, from ZURU; Speks Magnetic Desk Toys; Doinkit Darts; and the Funtime Tractor, from iPlay.

What trends will have the biggest impact on the toy industry this year and beyond?
Some of the biggest trends this year include:

  • Today’s parents (primarily in upscale areas) are becoming minimalists. Many birthday parties have a “no-gift” invitation;
  • Parents are concerned about sustainability and look for toys whose impact on the environment is minimal;
  • Toy rental programs;
  • STEM toys;
  • Preschool and kindergarten prep toys;
  • Tween, teen, and adult gift selections; and
  • Introduction of other categories, such as general gifts, apparel and accessories, spa, tech, hydration and fitness, jewelry, bags, backpacks and totes, stationery items, and local-sport-team merchandise. 

What is one of the biggest challenges specialty toy retailers face, and how is Learning Express addressing it?
It’s very hard for specialty retailers to compete on price. When I started the business 33 years ago, 90% of the vendors were specialty only. Today, those same vendors are not only selling to the mass merchants, but they are also selling directly to the customer online. They have become competitors, too. We produce eight catalogs a year and try to be as aggressive as possible on pricing, but our stores have to maintain a decent margin because their rent and payroll are typically [more] than that of mass merchants.

Amazon is making it difficult for everybody. It is an amazing company, but it uses predatory tactics in its pricing. For the past three years, we were very focused on the experience our guests had when they visited us. We had costume character visits almost every Saturday and Sunday, silhouette artists, musical groups, petting zoos, and many other events to drive traffic. I believe that last year was a pivotal year — when the lure and ease of online shopping and low prices prevailed.

We will continue to do our best. Our plan is to increase our impressions on social media, increase our loyalty rewards, and focus on building our relationship with our guests.

This State of the Industry Q&A response originally appeared in the February 2020 issue of the Toy Book. Click here to read more!