by Alyssa LaFaro
As summer approaches, the prospects increase for family vacations, otherwise known as car/boat/airplane rides from hell, especially when there are small children to keep entertained. Parents will be shopping for toys, games and books that offer quiet, long-lasting, non-messy fun to get kids from place to place. What would you recommend they buy at your store?
Specialty toy retailer Nancy Teed from Once Upon a Time Toys in popular tourist destination Stowe, Vermont, makes sure to offer portable versions of popular games such as travel-sized chess, checkers and bingo. “There are miniature versions of a lot of games – Apples to Apples To Go is new this year,” she reminded us. “And don’t forget about traditional coloring books and crayons.
To find out what else is new, we spoke with manufacturers about what’s hot and fun this summer for on-the-go toys, and what parents need for stress-free travel.
Compact and reusable
from Stephanie Carver, marketing manager at The Orb Factory
When we make a craft kit with travel in mind, we want to make sure that it
doesn’t cause a mess, is simple to store and can be used in a small space. Our purse kits and sunglass kits fit the bill. Plus, little jetsetters can actually use the completed projects during their vacation.
Reusable travel toys are great, too. Magnetic Mosaics come in their own magnetic tins, meaning the pieces aren’t going to get stuck between seat cushions. Several parents have told me they always keep a set in the car so they can be used no matter how long – or short – the trip.
Parents also appreciate that Magnetic Mosaic kits aren’t electronic. While it may be easy to sit a child in front of a screen for several hours, they still get tired and antsy. Travel toys that require creativity and engagement are better and more stimulating for children. Magnetic Mosaics let children create and experiment with colors and patterns.
Retailers should always have a selection of compact, portable, non-messy toys that kids can play with independently. It just gives parents more options – not only when they’re on the move but also at their destination. Parents have always been more likely to buy toys and trinkets for their children when they’re on vacation.
Make sure to ask customers for the details of their specific trip so that you can best match the trip to the toy. Certain products work better for plane travel as opposed to car travel.
Also, point out products that have simple instructions. There’s nothing worse than getting everyone buckled in, only to have to unbuckle to help someone in the back seat with instructions.
The majority of The Orb Factory kits are mess-free, and can be completed with little to no parental help.
Clean, calm and focused
from Kem Clark, president of Wikki Stix
A good travel toy needs to be clean, and free of any elaborate preparation or a unique work environment. It should have the ability to be used in virtually any setting. Travel is tough on kids – they are out of their normal environment with all its regular stimulation and activity. They get bored and restless under these circumstances, and a good travel toy provides focus.
Retailers should offer travel toys all year. Unlike many toys which fulfill a desire, a travel toy fulfills a need. Traveling kids need to have something to keep them occupied so that parents don’t have to keep answering the question, “Are we there yet?”
Long-lasting independent play when there’s no wiggle room
from Kateva Rosato, social networking specialist at Safari Ltd.
The best travel toys are easy to transport, and engage kids without requiring them to move around. Storage potential, transportability and the capacity to quickly supply entertainment are all important when you need to make a toy compatible with an on-the-go atmosphere.
Travel doesn’t have to mean a long-distance trip – it can simply be a car ride from home to Grandma’s house in the next town. Travel toys are useful in the doctor’s office and other waiting rooms. Families always need convenient toys for such situations, and retailers should take advantage of the opportunity to supply this demand.
TOOBS are our most popular travel product. Each one contains different figures on a theme – Galapagos animals, Powhaten Indians, Sue and Her Friends dinosaurs, and more. The clear, acetate TOOB with a locking cap provides convenient storage and features a carrying cord.
Children have short attention spans, so having multiple and different figures in each TOOB captivates children for longer periods of time. The TOOB is clear so the figures can be viewed without even removing them from the container.
Keep it together while in motion
from Tim Paczesny, founder of Education Outdoors
We consider several factors when we make games for travel. Size is number one; they need to be compact because there’s not a lot of room in the seat of a plane or car. Even more important than that, though, is a way to prevent game pieces or parts from getting lost during the travel. Our CAMP travel game was designed to be played inside a car, RV or other moving vehicle. All the parts except the cards are mounted to the game so they can’t be lost or fall off when playing.
Make sure you explain the educational benefits of a travel toy to parents. The CAMP travel edition, for example, teaches kids about all 50 states.
Hit the Trail is more of a destination game. It is meant to be clipped to your backpack or purse and taken to your destination to play. The packaging is actually a miniature backpack.
from Paul Weibel, sales manager at Jax Ltd.
It’s good to look beyond traditional travel products to point out small, fun impulse/pocket items like our new boys’ action line SkaZooms. Among its accessories is a travel “Clip Case” for fun on the go.
The Game of Chips comes in a satin travel pouch that holds dice, numbered chips and several wonderful card games. All of them are designed to pick up and play with; they require very little explanation.
Travel Sequence is a popular version of our Sequence game. Sequence has been around for 30 years, and it is a mainstay for retailers who sell games. In terms of card games for travel, Rock Paper Scissors transforms the popular finger play into a fast-paced game where players can track their score by winning hands.
All of these games are great for travel and are impulse friendly, especially in terms of price points.
Single-player games promote learning and independence
from Lauren Burke, representing Smart Toys and Games
A big benefit of our travel games is that children don’t need a sibling, parent or friend to play. Many of our games are compact, self-contained, single-player logic games, and consumers tell us that they are so engrossing that long trips just fly by. Our IQ Fit, IQ Twist and Bend-It are compact and self-contained. We also offer a line of magnetic travel games: Travel Noah’s Ark, Travel WaterWorld, Travel Busy Bugs and Travel Magic Forest. Each one has a booklet that features 48 challenges. The booklets button shut to safely hold the magnetic puzzle pieces.
Our Travel Tangoes deliver all the fun of traditional Tangrams in a compact form. There’s Travel Tangoes People puzzles, Object puzzles and Animal puzzles. Our number-one seller to date is IQ Twist – a logic game with more than 100 challenges.
BOOKS ARE CLASSIC TRAVEL TOYS
Debbie Dubrow, mom of three and writer for CondeNastTraveler.com, says “We bring several books – and look for more on the road,” when she talked about travelling with little kids on her popular blog Delicious Baby.
Retailer John MacDougal from The Golden Apple Learning store in Pleasanton, California, recently listed his favorite children’s books on ASTRA’s website for consumers, Discover the Woohoo! Factor (yourneighborhoodtoystore.org).
“Each one is a book with a lesson,” he writes. “I learned so much from books growing up, and I’m glad I have them around me still.”
John is successfully selling these titles in his specialty toy store; perhaps you can, too. Here are four of his eight recommendations. To see the complete list, visit yourneighbor
hoodtoystore.org/play-experts and look for the article entitled “My Favorite Children’s Books.”
Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
“My first favorite is a classic,” John notes. “The wisdom in this book stays with you throughout your life. Each character – Mole, Rat, Badger, Otter, even Toad – presents a blueprint for how to make sense of the world, told in the gentlest way possible.”
How Georgie Radbourn Saved Baseball by David Shannon
John thinks kids leave picture books behind way too early. “They miss out on the power and drama of illustration,” he says. When he talks about books at schools, to fifth and sixth graders, he always brings this book. “It never fails to hook them. Georgie is a rebel, and by saving baseball, he saves the world.”
Stuart Little by E. B. White
“E.B. White wrote at least two of the best books I’ve read in my life,” he writes. “Stuart Little has always been my favorite. While matter-of-factly exploring the world of a mouse born into a human family, he makes your heart ache to explore and experience life. Like Wind in the Willows, this is a book for reading aloud.”
The Mystery of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg
“Chris Van Allsburg’s portfolio of title, first line and image gives your imagination a hard shove! Many books end with the reader wanting more, but each page in this book forces you to want more, and create it yourself.” John uses this book in the store’s writing workshops for kids.
ASTRA developed YourNeighborhoodToyStore.org as a must-read resource for parents. It offers them up-to-date information on creative and educational play, toy trends and news, child development, and where to find the best merchandise on the market. The site encourages them to play and shop locally. It has turned out to be a successful direct-to-consumer marketing tool for the specialty toy industry.
ASTRA members are encouraged to contribute articles to the site, add comments to existing articles, and use articles on their blogs with a link to the Whoohoo! Factor site. To find out how, see the Woohoo Factor Guide for ASTRA members at astratoy.org.
More travel toy tips and trends
At least 50 percent of the business at Once Upon a Time Toys in Stowe, Vermont, comes from tourists, says owner Nancy Teed. That’s why she makes sure that the quaint 1,000-square-foot toy store carries a wide variety of travel toys that have certain characteristics. “The toys I list here and others like them are all winners in my store,” notes Nancy. “Customers – not just travelers – love them. If small parts are a bane for a lot of parents, these are the lifesavers.”
“Magnetic toys are great for travel because the pieces don’t go rolling,” she says. “Lots of companies – like Janod, eeBoo and Imaginatics – make them for kids of all ages.”
“Self-enclosed toys, like the Scratch ’n Sketch from Peter Pauper Press, or the sealed tubes from Find It Games, work well for travel,” explains Nancy. “The clear tubes are filled with beads, and contain tiny toys to find. There are tubes for birdwatchers, for sports and one called ‘Glitz and Glamour’ for teenage girls.”
Games and puzzles for drawing, writing and thinking
“Mindware and Dover both make some great drawing books geared toward older, artsy kids. They are similar to color-by-number, but without the numbers. Another one of my favorites is the World’s Greatest Dot-to-Dot Books from Monkeying Around, which take dot-to-dot play to a whole new level. This is a great item for older kids.”