It’s not Black Friday, Cyber Monday or even Small Business Saturday.
Few Americans probably know that Neighborhood Toy Store Day is Saturday. But if kids are on your holiday gift list, Saturday is the day independent toy and hobby stores are flexing their competitive muscle to get you to shop.
“With Toys ‘R’ Us mostly gone, people talk about switching their toy buying to Walmart, Target or Amazon because that’s where the advertising lies, but indie toy stores know about the things that frustrate parents,” said Sue Warfield, director of member relations at the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association, which founded National Neighborhood Toy Store Day a decade ago.
“We’ve tried all the products so we know which ones fall part, which ones kids will play with over and over and what’s age-appropriate for your child.”
Twin Cities indie toy store owners say they didn’t see a big uptick in sales last year after Toys ‘R’ Us closed because much of it went to chain stores or the internet. They may see a boost this year after one of their own, Creative Kidstuff, closed the doors on its six stores in June.
Two of the those Kidstuff locations, in the Galleria and Ridgedale, have already been replaced with Ely-based Legacy Toys. On Saturday those stores will offer special discounts, activities including letters to Santa, demos of Legacy’s Top 10 toys for kids to try, and toy and gift card giveaways.
Most local toy-store owners who have been in business a decade or longer say business is good. Sales are consistently increasing in single or double digits and some are expanding. Some consumers assumed that Creative Kidstuff closed because of declining business, but its stores were still profitable.
Pei Lin Yap, owner of Something Safari in Excelsior, said her decade-old store has seen double-digit sales increases for most of the past five years. Her secret? Good old-fashioned customer service. “I get to know our customers almost like family and watch their kids grow,” she said. “I know their kids’ names and I spend time making them happy.”
Many toy shoppers may not even know of one of the Twin Cities’ largest toy stores, Hub Hobby in Richfield and Little Canada. Now celebrating 40 years, it sells games, puzzles, toys, science projects and art and craft kits. “You always hear you shouldn’t try to be all things to all people, but it works for us,” owner Todd Andersen said. “People do a lot of pre-shopping on Neighborhood Toy Store Day, so we come up with our own ‘best for kids’ toy lists.”
Alisha Adams of Minneapolis has shopped at the Richfield Hub Hobby since her first child was a year old. Now he’s 13 and has a 10-year-old brother and 8-year-old sister. “Their selection is amazing,” she said. “Their stuffed-animal selection is one of my favorite things in the Twin Cities. My son was into llamas for a while and we knew we’d find one there.”
At Kiddywampus in Hopkins, owner Amy Saldanha describes Saturday’s event as “epic.” “It’s a quintessential day for our customers and the toys — a day when we get to show our stuff,” she said. “We’ll have a visit from Spider-Man, Elsa and Anna from ‘Frozen,’ toy demonstrations and raffles.”
She describes her store as thriving even though the toy industry is being disrupted. She hosts about 150 kids’ parties a year in her store, as well as story times and classes.
Brad Ruoho, co-owner of Legacy Toys, said that he intends to make the Ridgedale and Galleria pop-up stores into permanent ones. His newest store will open Nov. 23 in the Mall of America with an 8-foot waterfall, 16-foot-long T.rex, a fiber optics galaxy ceiling and a department for babies’ toys.
What do indie store owners do with so-called showroomers who learn about the toys from them but buy them cheaper somewhere else or ask for a price match? “I Will Price-match when Amazon matches my local charitable giving,” Saldanha said.
Something Safari’s Yap said she offers a frequent-buyer reward program, but ultimately she can’t stop anyone from showrooming. “Even if they showroom, you love them anyway,” she said. “Our personal touch is infectious. Hopefully you win them over, but if not that’s OK too.”