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Dear Tim . . . Will People Ever Shop for Toys in a Store Again? tBR Columnist Tim Kilpin Comments

It’s Palm Sunday afternoon as I write this, and I did what I always do on Palm Sunday…store check at Target, of course. It’s a particularly fun and festive time: T-minus 6 days until the baskets have to be filled, and parents are scooping up candy and pondering the plush aisle. And let’s not forget it’s our industry’s second-highest sales period of the year. It’s a good store check day.

I will be walking toy aisles until I keel over. I retired (twice, silly me), and I couldn’t kick the competitive crawl. As my wife and I would head into Walmart for a few quick things, I’d nod my head – you know – over there, and she’d just roll her eyes and tell me to call her when I was done.

First of all, you have to check out your own company’s stuff – on shelf, in-stock, priced right, picked through? Then you scan the aisles for any interesting new competitive entries, or ogle the awesome new LEGO Star Wars helmet display (it lights up! They got power to the plano!).

And of course, there’s the anthropological part – who’s shopping, what’s stopping them in their tracks, what is the kid insisting on? I swear, how some of these kids negotiate, we’re going to be overrun with even more attorneys in 20 years.

So, as we slowly exit the grip of this (I hope) once-in-100-years pandemic, and as we watch ecommerce share of sales skyrocket, the question we ponder about people’s shopping habits isn’t rhetorical. It’s existential. Will parents still buy those impulse items…impulsively? Can a beautifully packaged, artfully displayed doll still turn heads (a tip of my Packers cap to the folks working these days on Rainbow High). Will that focal endcap we slaved over help our new brand introduction turn the corner? Or will families miss out on those little moments that can happen on a shopping trip when a new discovery brings a bit of surprise, or laughter, or even joy?

A few years back, I found myself arguing that the industry didn’t need Toys R Us, the world needed Toys R Us. That the simple serendipity that sometimes happens between parent and child in a toy aisle is the tiniest bit of magic worth preserving. I know what it meant to my kids growing up.

And of course, the best places for parents to still take this journey today are in our industry’s beleaguered, but still standing, specialty toy stores. The owners of these stores took the worst of it when the lockdown came, and rallied with online offers and curbside pickup as soon as they were able. It’s worth remembering, too, that these stores still offer a better, broader, and more thoughtfully curated selection of toys than most of their larger competitors.

The lessons these owners have learned, I predict, will serve them well and be watched closely by all toy buyers, large and small: great selection, arresting displays, a little bit of interactivity.

Because I am certain that, when we can all truly shop freely again, families will seek out those little moments of magic in the toy aisle.

Let’s be ready with our best.


In additional to penning his thoughts here, Tim Kilpin is enjoying his role as President of PlayMonster. To read more about Tim's career in the toy industry, check out this interview with Tim last year! Tim Kilpin - I’m a very proud elf. Every Christmas morning...


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