Dee Farrell Speaks on ASTRA's State of the Union


It’s pretty much impossible to pickup a newspaper or browse your newsfeed and not hear the doom and gloom stories about retail.  Doom and Gloom.  You still hear that Retail is very hard.  And those tariffs – we’re all worried about tariffs and the effects they’ll have. And still too often, there’s news of another retailer shuttering its doors.  Doom and Gloom - we’ve all heard enough about that.


To prepare for my state of the union, I wanted to look beyond the doom and gloom and see if I could find any GOOD news out there.  So, I called many of you, I had some great conversations with fellow ASTRA Board members, and I spent a couple of days in Chicago with a few of the original founding members of ASTRA.


I also did some research outside of our toy world and into the broader area of retail in general.  Still wanting to stay focused on finding good stuff, I even googled “Good news for retail in 2019”.  And you know, I got 1 billion, 360 million hits on my search results list.  So I clicked on one of the first links in the list - an article titled, “Maybe some good news for Retailers” And I learned that if I paid 12.99 and signed up for a yearly subscription to the Wall street journal online, I could maybe find out that good news.  I didn’t do it.


But actually by that point didn’t even need to read that article….I’d already found plenty of good news….even better news than what I was hoping for.


Good news #1 – Specialty retail is up. 


According to an article in the LA Business Journal, “Playing to Win”, NPD reported that while the US toy market dropped by 2% overall.  “Specialty stores saw a 16% jump in sales in the 4th quarter of 2018.”  ASTRA was mentioned in that article.  A survey of 900 of our members at the end of 2018, reported that business was trending up.”  And I heard the same thing when I spoke to Amy Saldanha, ASTRA Board Member and owner of Kiddywampus in Minnesota.   Amy, agreed.  She said YES, she had seen an increase in sales and YES her business was up.  She also told me that quite a few NEW customers were walking in the door.   And that leads me right into good news #2.


Good news #2 People are making the effort to seek out and shop in Bricks & Mortar Specialty stores.  And that is an opportunity for us!


A key word there is effort.  We all know it’s NOT getting harder to shop online –you don’t even need to get out of bed to buy stuff.  Francesca Nicasio, a LinkedIn Top Voice contributor, writes about effort and consumers.  She says, “Consumers need a reason to make the effort to head into a brick and mortar shop.” If we give them a reason, they will make the effort.” 


So what reason did she find will bring them in?  Francesca found the number one reason shoppers will get up out of bed and go out, is for the experience they get in the store.    Community experiences, Treasure Hunt experiences and Personalization were big draws.   I see in my Instagram feed how well you all deliver on the community experience.  Story time, birthday parties, sketch artists.  I love the posts Ann Kienzle makes of all the strollers lined up outside of Play for story time.  I have such wonderful memories of doing things like that when my kids were little.  


And Treasure Hunting – this mean merchandising in a way that makes browsing and discovery part of the buying experience.  Hunting is generally not something people tell me they like to do online.  Usually, you’re on a mission, you know what you want and you wanna get it done fast.  Quite the opposite can be true in specialty bricks and mortar stores. 


Maya Papaya one of my local children’s clothing and toy stores merchandises in truly creative way, and she’s constantly moving and changing where things are.  People just love to come in and browse around, because each time they do it’s a new discovery. 


And Personalization… I know many of you now are doing personal shopping, curb side pickup, even assembly with home delivery.  Have you tried bundling and creating offers that aren’t available anywhere else?  If experiences is what will bring people into the store, ASTRA we have an incredible opportunity here.  The experiences we have been providing all along are now becoming more and more valuable for today’s consumer.  And that brings me to good news #3


Good news #3 Specialty stores have what it take to win new customers over and hang on to them, for keeps. 


I heard a couple of our board members sharing stories about a new customers walking in the door saying, “WOW, this place is amazing.  I’m so glad I found it. How long have you been here??”  Answers…stammering, “Uhhh about tah-twenty years.”  We have been here and we are STILL here.


Nick Stagge, VP marketing at ExpertVoi