Capybaras to Kawaii: The Most Popular Themes for 2024

05/23/2024

As Voted by our panel of specialty toy stores

by Sandy Ruben

It wasn’t that long ago when few of us knew what an axolotl was. Now most retailers are carrying axolotl-themed products. (If you’re not, it’s not too late. They are selling extremely well.) With an ever-expanding selection to choose from, it’s easy to create an axolotl section in your store. Axolotls are currently the third most popular theme.

Are you missing out on kawaii? For those of you unfamiliar with kawaii, it is defined as “The culture of cuteness in Japan. It can refer to items, humans, and non-humans that are charming, vulnerable, shy and childlike.”

In our survey of most popular themes, kawaii came in fourth. However, it would have come in much higher if more stores carried it. Forty-eight percent of the specialty toy stores answering our survey ranked kawaii either the first- or second-best theme for their store. The remaining 52 percent for the most part didn’t even have it on their top 10, which leads me to believe they are not carrying it at all. It may be time for change. Knowing where to start can feel overwhelming, but I’d start my search with brands such as Aliquantum, Blippo, Pusheen, Sanrio and then branch out from there.

The other big change is we have a new animal that cracked our Top 12. Capybaras, the largest rodent in the world, came in at number 11, and are moving up quickly. First launched in late 2023, we feel this will be the main new animal theme for 2024. Toy Network has a great selection of low-priced capybara items.

The biggest drop on our survey was miniatures moving from second all the way down to ninth. While still selling well, buyers may want to exercise a little more caution with this category.

On the other end, the theme with the biggest jump is cats. They leaped from 10th to sixth place, and we expect them to continue to rise.

Butterflies also made our list. While they are a great spring theme, the jury is still out as to whether they will be year-round best sellers.

Then there are princesses. This is the “quiet hot theme.” I rarely hear retailers or manufacturers discussing princesses. In 2023, it was our fifth best theme, and in 2024 again it comes in fifth.

The big question is “Are we finally done with unicorns?” The answer is no. Retailers are so over them, but consumers are not. Unicorns finally were knocked off the number one spot (landing in second), but remain one of the most popular categories for every store that we surveyed.

Coming in at number one is … dinosaurs! This theme has been extremely popular the last two years, and it just keeps getting stronger and stronger.

We asked our retailers to write in categories that weren’t on our survey. Their suggestions included Taylor Swift items, puppies, frogs, Bigfoot, ballet and pigeons.

Below is our list of most popular themes as voted on by our nationwide group of specialty toy retailers.

 

Many thanks to the following retailers who participated in our survey: Fantasy Island Toys, Learning Express Chattanooga, Old Tyme Commissary, Happy Up, Five Little Monkeys, Kazoodles, Hollipops Greenville, World of Mirth, Dancing Bear Toys, Learning Express Cary, Timeless Toys, Henry Bear’s Park, Toy Maven, Imagine That Toys, Monkey Business Toy Shop, Play, Snapdoodle Toys, Kiddywampus, Learning Express Lake Zurich, Shenanigans, Kazoo, Brilliant Sky Toys and Books, Snickelfritz, Hakabohu and Learning Express Lexington.

 

Sandy Ruben began his career in Early Childhood Education, working as both a teacher and founder of daycare centers before opening up a specialty toy store. For the past 25 years, he has been the owner of Sandy Ruben and Associates, a specialty toy and gift rep group that covers the Southeast. Astra recognized Sandy in 2015 with the Sales Rep of the Year.

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